The undying Tacoma – still one of the best
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
How much has the Tacoma changed over the years? Remarkably little. I had a friend who had one 25 years ago, and in many ways, it still feels the same. Sure, there have been changes inside and under the hood – but the truck’s core mission remains the same. For better or for worse.
Pricing: 2020 Toyota Tacoma
Base price (4×4 Double Cab 6A SB trim): $43,750
Options: $3,000 TRD Off Road Premium package
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $48,690
To say the Taco, as its fans call it, remains instantly recognizable is to state the obvious. The shape has changed little, and any exterior styling variations have been incremental. This truck literally looks almost the same way it did 20 years ago.
To my eye, that’s a good thing. It’s got a character all its own, with a slight body sitting high off the ground, usually on top of some serious boots.
My review sample’s Voodoo Blue paint is beautiful, and the TRD package adds a nice mesh grille and black fender flares. Filling those flares are 265/70-sized off-road-worthy rubber mounted on rugged-looking 16-inch rims.
There’s nothing new here, but its sculpted, no-nonsense lines invoke nearly 80 years of Toyota trucks on the road, and anyone who is familiar with Tacoma also knows its reputation.
There’s nothing new inside – virtually everything is familiar over the last few years. Materials are almost invariably cheaper hard plastics – the exceptions are padded door panels, a rubberized panel on the dash in front of the passenger and the armrest lid. That’s it.
Ergonomics and design-wise, it’s still the same too. Which means if you love buttons, you’re going to be in heaven in the Tacoma. There are buttons for everything!
The heated leather seats (only the driver’s side is power-adjustable) are one of the age-old Tacoma quirks. Or rather the seating position is. You basically have to stick your legs straight forward, so it feels like you’re sitting on the floor – which you are. This is what allows the Tacoma to have its amazing ground clearance. The seats are comfortable once you get used to that position.
The driver’s information is pretty old-school fare – two traditional analog gauges separated by a 4.2-inch information screen.
Centered in the dash is the 8-inch touchscreen that handles your phone, audio, navigation and vehicle settings and integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Inputs include a USB port as well as an auxiliary port if you’d like to be transported back a decade or so. Thankfully there is also wireless charging with this trim, which is appreciated – it’s located below the centre stack.
Cabin comfort is taken care of by the dual-zone automatic climate control system. Overhead is a standard-sized sunroof.
Toyota’s standard suite of driver assistance technology gets a few additions thanks to this upgraded trim – my vehicle had automatic high beams, lane departure alert, blind-spot monitoring, a pre-collision system, a surround view camera with truly awful resolution and adaptive cruise control.
As it has been since the beginning of Tacoma time, getting into the back as an adult is no fun. Even in this “bigger” double cab, it’s a tight fit. I’m 5’10”, and sitting behind my own driving position, my knees touch the back of the front seat and I had about 1/2″ of headroom to spare.
Also, rear passengers get no creature comforts at all – there are a couple of cupholders at the back of the centre console and that’s it. No charging ports, no air vents, nothing. There’s a power sliding rear window, but of course that only works from the front.
There are a few nooks and crannies up front to put stuff, but I’d love to see more – other than the bin under the armrest, most of the spaces aren’t that useful.
You can flip the rear seat cushions forward to reveal a hidden storage bin under the seats. You can also fold the seatbacks forward to create a kind of full-width parcel shelf almost like a little trunk.
And of course, there’s this cool thing out back called the truck box if you need to transport things.
Under the Hood
We loved the remote start on the key fob – very handy for our cold winter mornings. It faithfully fired up the 3.5L V6. It puts out 278 HP at 6,000 RPM and 265 lb.ft of torque at 4,600 RPM. The power gets sent through a 6-speed automatic and on to the Taco’s 4×4 system.
Toyota rates the Tacoma at 13/10.5 L/100 km (city/highway). I averaged a horrifying 16.8 L/100 km during my week in the Taco, but in its defense, this was almost exclusively city driving. But still… I was almost always in rear-wheel drive and taking it easy.
I’ve said this before about this new engine – it always feels like it’s working hard, and even then, it never feels particularly powerful. It’s grunty off the line, and that might be lovely for off-roading, but I’d rather see the power spread out a bit more for daily driving.
The gear selector allows you to choose a Sport mode for the transmission, as well as a manual mode.
The brakes are very powerful, but also very grabby and difficult to modulate – once again, wonderful news for the off-roader, and not nearly as much fun for on-road driving.
Off-Roading & Truck Stuff
Of course, you start off with a genuine 4×4 drivetrain – with a selectable 4WD mode, a 2-speed electronically-controlled transfer case allowing for a low speed mode, automatic LDS (limited slip differential) and a true locking rear differential.
Toyota adds an electronic crawl control, multi-terrain select, Bilstein shocks that can soak up the most insane hits and a multi-terrain view monitor on the screen. The undercarriage is protected by scuff plates.
When you hit the trails, knowing your Tacoma has an approach angle of 32 degrees and a 23 degree departure angle is comforting. Combined with its exceptional ground clearance, this will get you up and over a lot of stuff.
The truck box (which would classify as small) is fitted with a cab-switchable 400-watt 120V household plug, storage containers and adjustable heavy-duty tie-down hoops and has a super-tough dent-resistant composite surface.
If you tow, the Tacoma can be outfitted to tow up to 6,500 pounds and has trailer sway control.
Want a throwback? The Taco still sports drum brakes in the back. Yep, those same drum brakes straight out of the 1950s. Also, considering the price of this little truck, it’s a bit surprising that Toyota doesn’t throw in things like LED headlights and a power tailgate lock until you pony up the full admission price for the Limited trim – which will set you back well over $50,000 everything in.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was low, low, low. She didn’t like how it felt to get into it, she didn’t like the interior and she didn’t like driving it. Definitely not the demographic for this truck.
As I said at the beginning, anyone who knows the Tacoma is also familiar with its reputation. A reputation carved out of years of hassle-free ownership, seemingly bomb-proof reliability, shocking abilities off-road, unique driving traits and nearly unassailable resale values.
All this continues to hold true to this day. When you get right down to it, the Tacoma is the right truck for those who are after those things, and it’s not the right truck for those who aren’t. It’s much like a Jeep in that it’s a lifestyle vehicle, and plenty of people buy both that will never use their true capabilities but think it’s ultra-cool to be seen in one or to be driving one – even if it never leaves the pavement. You don’t need my opinion on this ride – you’ve already made up your mind if this is the right truck for you or not. Whatever your reasons are.
With that said, you might still be cross-shopping other similar-sized trucks, so click here to read my review of the 2020 Ford Ranger.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Toyota Canada.
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