One of the most durable, reliable and capable trucks in the world gets updated. Finally!
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
The Tacoma has always sported a pretty wide stance and presented itself with a tough, sporty image. The new Taco gets a slightly more chiseled-looking face with an expressive chrome hex grille, and a set of bright LED running lights that grab your attention as it comes toward you.
The overall package looks more aggressive and more muscular to me. A detail that I really liked – the new stamped “Tacoma” logo on the tailgate and the LED brake lights flanking it. My review sample had black fender flares, TRD decals and 16-inch TRD wheels fitted with big 265-70-sized boots.
The truck got a lot of looks, particularly from drivers of older Tacomas. Of course, the inferno orange paint probably helped garner some attention too.
Once you’ve conquered the Tacoma’s high step-in height and plop yourself into the comfortable heated sport seats, you’ll notice that the Tacoma’s car-like driving position remains the same, with the driver sticking his legs and feet toward the front rather than the sitting-on-a-chair feeling you’ll get in most trucks.
Materials are nearly all hard plastics, with a couple of rubbery inserts on the dash in front of the passenger seat and on the door panels. I liked the body-coloured trim pieces, which brightened things up a tad. Toyota’s excellent 7-inch touchscreen (which handles the usual stuff including the navigation system) and a dual-zone automatic climate control system take up most of the dash space.
In this trim, the Tacoma has relatively limited driver assistance technology – a back-up camera, the smart key system and a push-button starter is all you get.
Here you will find a pair of jump seats that, thankfully, fold up and out of the way. The headrests also fold down so they’re not blocking your rear view. And this is where those seats and headrests belong.
To say the access cab seats 2 people, which Toyota claims, is misleading. Perhaps amputees or well-behaved (and small) dogs. But not whole people. Nope. My kids (only two of them fit, obviously) felt completely cramped back there and hated driving in it. The two I took with are 5 and 8 years old. And not very big. I did commit to trying it out myself – so don’t say I don’t do anything for you. With the front seat all the way forward, I was able to squeeze myself into the back seat, jamming my knees against the back of the front seat. That was, may I remind you, all the way forward and thus, completely unusable for most drivers. Not only was I squished, but I was sitting on completely flat, way too low seat cushions that are way too hard, and my back was completely upright and vertical against what barely qualifies as a seat-back. And my head was touching the roof.
If the CIA wanted to force a confession out of someone and they weren’t cracking under pressure, I’d say put them in the back of the Tacoma’s Access cab and drive them to the nearest 7-11. By the time you’ve arrived at Slurpee Heaven, that bird will be singing all their state secrets just to be let out of that torture chamber. Have I made it clear that the rear seats suck?
Now with that said, when they’re folded up and out of the way, there’s plenty of space back there to put your stuff (including some handy floor bins) and I found that convenient. Other than having to open that weird half-door after you open your front door. I can’t imagine why anyone would go for the access cab, personally, but hey, that’s just me.
As I’d expect from a well thought out truck, there are plenty of places to put your stuff. Great door bins, a useful glove compartment, an open bin under the centre stack and a sizable carpeted bin (with a 12V plug) under the armrest lid make for a very storage-friendly cabin.
Of course, the 6-foot cargo bed is the truck’s real storage solution. I loved the removable, locking tail gate with the Easy Lower functionality, which slowly and softly drops the tail gate down once you’ve unlatched it. In terms of functionality, the Tacoma’s box is well thought out. It comes with tie-downs in the cargo bed, and four tie-down cleats that can be moved along the deck rail system for infinite positioning possibilities – and a ton of flexibility. Not to mention the 400W 120V household plug (which is switchable from inside) and a couple of in-bed storage compartments. You can throw 1150 lb (520 kg) worth of payload in there.
Under the Hood
There’s a new-to-the-Tacoma 3.5-litre V6, running on the lean Atkinson cycle, motivating things. It puts out 278 HP at 6000 RPM and 265 lb.ft of torque at 4600 RPM and gets paired to a 6-speed automatic. And of course a proper part-time, on-demand 4×4 system with a 2-speed transfer case.
Fuel economy is good for a truck – Toyota rates it at 13.1 L/100 km (18 US mpg) in the city and 10.5 L/100 km (22 US mpg) on the highway. I averaged an impressive 12.9 L/100 km (18 US mpg) which absolutely blew my previous Tacoma experiences (where I got somewhere around a ridiculously horrible 19 L/100 km) out of the water.
The push-button ignition fires up the V6 with a loud whoosh. Trucks aren’t usually this light – in this trim, the Tacoma tips the scales at 4225 lb (1916 kg) – and so Toyota is able to make this one handle well. I’d go so far as to say this is the best-handling truck on the market – it was actually kind of fun to drive, something that trucks usually aren’t. And it has plenty of power off the line, so there’s no shortage of pull around town. There is an interesting functionality here that I haven’t seen before. You’ll find an “ECT Power” button, which nobody seems to understand. Even the user manual is very nebulous. After some research, I found that it defeats the Tacoma’s normal transmission programming which is an endless search for the best fuel economy. It alters the throttle response and shift points, allowing you to get more out of your Taco’s powertrain. Of course that will come at the expense of some mileage, but what are a few litres of fuel between friends, right? It is an excellent way to augment your driving experience in the mountains or while towing.
Sport mode for the transmission that isn’t very transformative, and doesn’t make things any more sporty – it just hangs on to gears a bit longer from what I could tell. You can shift gears manually. As you might expect, the changes are slow, but this is useful when off-roading.
The Tacoma doesn’t just handle well – it rides really nicely! What a pleasant surprise to get into a truck that rides almost like a car over most surfaces.
When you step on it, the V6 makes a lot of noise, but otherwise, the Tacoma has become surprisingly quiet, even at highway speeds. With that said, the Firestone Winterforce tires my review truck was equipped with have to be the loudest tires I’ve ever driven with. The road noise is insane. On the freeway at about 80 km/h, we couldn’t even hear ourselves talking, never mind thinking. I can’t imagine anyone buying those tires and keeping them. Of course, that’s not a knock against the truck itself.
If you’re pulling things, you’ll like the Taco’s 6500 lb (2950 kg) towing capacity. It comes with a trailer hitch (with a 7-pin wire harness) and trailer sway control.
Toyota has imbued the Tacoma with now-legendary off-road capabilities from day one. The new one comes better equipped than ever, particularly in TRD trim. There’s a standard skid plate to protect the engine and the impressive 9.4-inch ground clearance (238 mm) for starters. Going climbing? You’ll love the 29 degree approach and 23.5 degree departure angles.
There’s the independent front end and leaf springs in the back, all controlled by heavy-duty Bilstein shocks which are part of the TRD Off-Road package. This package also nets you a 4-wheel crawl control, multi-terrain select, rear differential lock and protective plates for the fuel tank and transfer case. I didn’t do any true off-roading, but did some soft-roading that would have got some smaller crossovers in trouble. The Tacoma clears absolutely anything you drive it over. It doesn’t even hesitate. The suspension feels perfectly tuned and capable of handling anything.
The crawl control automatically adjusts acceleration and braking, minimizing wheelspin and maximizing traction obviously, which allows you to focus on nothing but the steering. It lets you choose a speed from 1-5 miles per hour (about 2-8 km/h). Truly a crawl function, and perfect for tackling the most challenging terrain. And yes, you can lock the rear differential.
A nifty detail – all Tacoma models come equipped with GoPro camera mounts on the windshield. It’s located right near the rear-view mirror and allows you to capture every moment of adventure, successful or not.
The 2016 Tacoma is definitely an improvement on a truck that didn’t have much to prove. It’s already a legend, and Toyota has improved on many facets.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was low, as she’s not a big truck fan. But she’s about as far away from this vehicle’s intended demographic as it can be.
If you’re looking for a small truck, the Tacoma remains the champ. It delivers on everything it promises to do. It remains highly competent and capable. It should be extraordinarily reliable, and should retain stratospheric resale value. Just don’t get that silly Access Cab.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Toyota Canada.
If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.
Pricing: 2016 Toyota Tacoma
Base price (4×4 Access Cab V6 trim): $35,425
Options: $2,475 TRD Off-Road package
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $39,730