Many adventure seekers and working folks alike have an inclination for smaller pickups, which is a niche that the Toyota Tacoma has dominated for years.
Since its previous incarnation, which was introduced for the 2005 model year, the mid-size Tacoma has outlasted the Dodge Dakota, Ford Ranger and Explorer Sport Trac, Honda Ridgeline and General Motors’ original Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon duo. (The absent Ridgeline returns for 2017, while the two-year hiatus of GM’s small pickups ended with their 2015 re-launch.)
Toyota has had no such need to pause and regroup. In fact, the Tacoma remains the automaker’s top-selling pickup, out-doing the full size Tundra by a fair margin. Not many vehicles have achieved that level of year-over-year success, especially considering only minor adjustments and updates have been applied over an 11-year lifespan.
For 2016, the Tacoma closely resembles the previous truck in terms of size, although all the sheetmetal is new. The overall redesign exudes a bolder appearance; the hexagonal grille is more aggressive, and the fenders display more flare (and flair). The headlights are now of the projector-beam variety, to which can be added LED running lights.
There is a notable absence of the regular-cab Tacoma; the extended Access Cab and four-door Double Cab are your only choices.
The restyled cabin has an equally distinguished look, with a quartet of large air vents dominating the dashboard and control panel. The extra-large dials and switches are more easily operated without first having to remove your work gloves.
The interior environment also benefits from extra insulation, including a sound-absorbing headliner, a “floor silencer pad,” thicker door seals and multi-layer acoustic windshield.
The powertrain is a mixture of old and new. Returning for base-engine duty is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder that makes159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. Optional is a new 3.5-liter V6 that produces 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. That compares to the outgoing 4.0-liter V6 that generated 236 horsepower and 266 pound-feet.
The four-cylinder Tacoma can be paired with a five-speed manual transmission, while the V6 gets a six-speed unit. An available six-speed automatic is common to both powerplants.
Four-wheel-drive can be added, regardless of engine or cab choices, however manual-transmission-equipped Tacomas will automatically come with 4x4.
For top fuel efficiency, the V6 Tacoma 4x2 is rated at 19 mpg in the city and 24 highway, but in reality all drivetrains are rated similarly. That pretty much leaves price and towing/hauling capacity as your primary considerations when choosing the Tacoma best suits your needs.
At a starting price of $24,200, including destination fees, the base SR Access Cab — the work truck of the bunch — is understandably thin on features, but does include air conditioning, a six-inch touch-screen, six-speaker audio system and a windshield mount for your GoPro-brand video camera. You can also delete the rear seat for more interior stowage space.
The SR5 model pumps up the content with a sliding rear glass panel, cruise control, remote keyless entry and an enhanced audio/communications package.
The TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Sport and Off-Road trims include a number of extra goodies. You’ll get sport-tuned or off-road Bilstein-brand shocks, a Multi-Terrain Select system (that regulates the transmission, throttle and brakes for mud, rock or sand conditions), locking rear differential and a crawl control for taking it slow and easy for extreme trail conditions.
For cruising while avoiding a bruising, the Tacoma Limited lives it up with, literally, a truckload of luxury items ranging from leather-covered seats, navigation system and a power moonroof to chrome trim with 18-inch polished wheels.
As with most pickup trucks, the list of options and available packages is a lengthy one, not including numerous dealer-installed accessories.
Providing plenty of choice along with style and ruggedness has kept the Toyota Tacoma at the top of its game for the past decade and its legion of fans coming back for more.