If you want a new midsize truck, you have four-and-a-half options. The geriatric but delightfully trucky Nissan Frontier, the recently reintroduced unibody Ridgeline, the insipid GM Colorado/Canyon twins, or the relatively fresh Toyota Tacoma. Each of these trucks has something to recommend it, but the midsize segment is not the dynamic space it once was. There are more station wagons available to American consumers today than mid-size pickups.
Amid the thin field of competition, the Toyota Tacoma is the undisputed sales leader. In 2016 it outsold its next closest rival by 46,000 units on its way to a 43 percent market share. And despite the lack of choice, consumers acquired 25 percent more midsize trucks in 2016 than they did in 2015. Thankfully, growth ensures that this highly visible yet under-served corner of the market will soon offer a selection more like Amazon than a Soviet-era grocery store. The Ford Ranger returns to the market in about two years, along with the much-anticipated Wrangler pickup. Nissan will soon update the prehistoric Frontier. And both Volkswagen and Mercedes are contemplating midsize entries.
Sales are robust for Toyota’s mid-sizer, but is it ready for tomorrow’s competition?
The Tacoma, like many Toyota products, has a no-nonsense, practical point A to point B appeal. Such market positioning may lack excitement, but it speaks to vast portions of the market, as evidenced by Toyota’s position as the number two brand in the land. But unlike — for example — Corolla and Camry, Tacoma has a more challenging remit. It must also move people and things between points A and B, but in order to do so it must be capable of leaving the pavement. And according to Toyota, a refreshing 45 percent of Tacoma owners do just that.
Trucks possess limitations inherent to their class that inhibit designer creativity. Load carrying, towing, and footprint requirements constrain ingenuity in design and elevate the importance of styling in the pursuit of product differentiation (Ridgeline is the exception that proves the rule). Toyota compromised none of the mandatory truck elements, and to this reviewer’s eye nailed the Tacoma’s styling.
From afar, Toyota’s traditional high-riding 4×4 stance provides the truck with a confident presence. Drawing closer, the front end portrays strength in a straightforward workmanlike manner. The headlights do not resemble boomerangs, nor are they bedazzled with LEDs. The grille also eschews over-styling with a hexagonal evolution of the previous generation’s facade. Its prominent wheel arches make no excuses, and in some trims a skid plate peeks out from under the front bumper — underlining that this truck promises more than just a poised appearance.
The 2017 Tacoma is a dimensional doppelganger for the previous generation, with one exception. In the common double-cab, short-bed configuration, the 127.4 inch wheelbase is unchanged. However, the new truck grows four inches longer overall. Drivers and front passengers get 1.1 inches of extra leg room and 0.2 inches have been added to the length of the bed. The incremental stretch will be immaterial to most consumers. But shoppers in California — where garages skew small and more mid-size trucks are sold than any other state — are advised to verify their garage depth before bringing a new Tacoma home.
Unlike an SUV striving to shroud its truck-based origins, or a car-based crossover attempting a butch appearance, Tacoma is not trying to be anything other than a truck. And for that I applaud Toyota. My tester came well equipped with all kinds of comfort and safety items: blind spot warning, dual zone climate controls, power moonroof, Qi wireless phone charging, touch screen navigation, cruise control, and heated seats. It did not have leather or power seats. And, as a truck traditionalist, I neither want nor appreciate such extravagances in my truck, anyway.
The instruments and most controls are found where one would expect, though the dashboard, center stack, and center console appear to have been designed by three separate teams. The fit between each element is Toyota-solid, but the controls lack alignment, the USB charging port has a rubberized button of odd fragility, and the assorted off-road related switch gear is divided between the dash and overhead console. Transitioning from the aesthetic to the practical, there are several ambiguously labeled buttons. Unable to identify them, I visited the owner’s manual to decode their purpose.
I now know that the “ECT Power” button mounted in the lower echelon of the center stack stands for Electronically Controlled Transmission. When activated, it alters shift points to hold gears longer. Okay, no problem. How about the limited-slip rear differential, known as Auto LSD? I must discover how to activate that little off-road magic maker. Answer: there is no LSD button. Instead, you turn on the diff lock by turning off VSC (Vehicle Stability Control). The owner’s manual explains how to interpret the dashboard lights when LSD is tripped: “If the rear wheels spin, the slip indicator flashes to indicate that the AUTO LSD system has been controlled the spinning of the rear wheels.”
Much of the manual is written in Google Translate — do not attempt to read it before your first cup of coffee.
The base Tacoma engine is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder producing 159 horsepower. However, most Tacomas receive Toyota’s modern, direct-injected 3.5-liter V6. The new 2GR-FKS code V6 is found across the Toyota and Lexus range, whereas the outgoing 4.0-liter was exclusive to trucks and SUVs. Horsepower and torque peaked lower in the 4.0-liter and provided a correspondingly lower redline than the new V6.
In the Tacoma, the 3.5-liter delivers 278 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 265 lb-ft of torque. That’s 42 slightly more refined horses than in the 4.0-liter. And although the 3.5-liter provides torque equal to the retired 4.0, it arrives 600 RPMs higher. Acceleration is on par with the previous generation truck but is delivered in a rather un-truck-like fashion.
Toyota’s decision to realign its high-volume Tacoma engine with the rest of its product range, regardless of application type, is consistent with industry trends. Trading engine production volume for fit with application has undeniable operating and financial efficiencies for Toyota. The realignment does deliver one significant benefit for Tacoma owners, however. In spite of no material weight reduction and its being mated to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission, the new generation truck offers real fuel economy gains, increasing from 16 city/21 highway to 19 city/24 highway. Observed fuel economy was 17.5 mpg across a city- and off-road-heavy 210-mile test cycle.
This truck does not invite stop light challenges nor does its top-heavy feel make it a canyon carver, but the Tacoma provides a composed ride on-road. The hydraulically assisted power steering is all but an exact facsimile of the previous generation, providing adequate road feel. Brake feel is similarly unchanged and will be familiar to the 1.8 million 2004 to 2015 Tacoma drivers. And Tacoma continues to operate with off-road ready rear drum brakes.
This truck is equipped with a litany of tools intended to make it a legitimate off-pavement machine right out of the box. And although it took some frustration with the owner’s manual to sort out the various systems, once dialed in, it exceeded expectations. This truck includes the fundamental tools prerequisite to off-road success, including a low-range transfer case (first-gear crawl ratio 36.2:1), the aforementioned limited-slip rear end, and four grippy P265/70R16 Goodyear Wrangler Kevlar reinforced tires. In TRD Off-Road guise it also includes the latest generation of electronic wizardry, such as Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control. This rig can turn Joe Consumer into Ivan Stewart, almost.
The Taco was a confidence-inspiring companion over deeply rutted, rock-strewn single tracks, through virgin sand-filled washes, and up and down 45 degree loose banks. The 23-degree departure angle was the only aspect of the truck that came in for criticism, but if one cannot tolerate the rear overhang they will need to omit a bed altogether and get a Wrangler. There are very few places I would refuse to take this Tacoma.
Aside from various aesthetic differences, the most significant advantage the TRD Pro enjoys over the TRD Off-Road are its FOX 2.5 Internal Bypass shocks and front springs with a 1-inch lift. The rear is also equipped with Fox shocks and the rear leafs are progressive units tuned for more aggressive off-road use. Their 1,175 lb payloads and 6,500 lb tow ratings are identical.
The Tacoma TRD Off-Road absolutely looks the part of an off-road-ready machine. And its appearance is backed not only by legitimate hardware and a truck-appropriate spec sheet, but by five decades of truck experience. It can haul your toys or be your toy, all while serving as a family friendly daily driver. This truck may not impress with its power or sound, but it possesses an undeniable charisma. This is a truck’s truck that will continue to acquit itself just fine against today’s and tomorrow’s competition.
Article Courtesy of: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2017/01/2017-toyota-tacoma-trd-off-road-review/