If Toyota’s commercials, brochures and billboards are to be believed, their all-new small pickup is going to be a bit of an adrenaline rush. As a 2016 Toyota Tacoma owner you’ll clip your GoPro to the integrated mount by the windshield (an industry first), load up your dirt bikes and hit some nearby sand dunes to hang out with your buddies during a near-endless sunset. But once you wade through all the sand boarding and scoop-necked tank tops, the new Tacoma is (thankfully) a pretty benign update to one of the best pickups in the industry.
The Tacoma’s been a mainstay in the truck world since it was introduced in 1995, and for pretty good reason. It’s offered affordable entry into the pickup segment and its simple, dependable construction means that many have stayed on the road over the intervening two decades. With this legacy in mind, Toyota’s gone to great lengths to improve nearly every aspect of the outgoing Taco (and to be competitive with the new GM Canyon/Colorado twins) while retaining the core tenants of their dependable little pickup.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Torque: 265 lb-ft
Drive System: 4X4
0-60 mph: 7.3 seconds
Fuel Economy: 18/23 mpg
Every trim level from the base SR up to the leather-clad Limited has received completely new exterior styling, a much-improved interior, new four- and six-cylinder engines and a whole host of structural and design improvements. The trim levels have received a bit of a shakeup, too, with the city-friendly 2×4 PreRunner morphing into the TRD Sport (the sport also comes in a surprisingly capable 4X4, it’s the blue truck above). Really, though, it comes down to two trim levels: the base model for a cheap and cheerful pickup or the go-anywhere 4×4 TRD Off-Road.
All of these upgrades meant the Off-Road could handle anything I threw at it, including a 30-degree ascent, a rock crawl and me, the ham-fisted driver behind the wheel.
On the road, the new Tacomas are miles above the outgoing model, in terms of noise, handling and comfort. But, in those three areas they still fall a bit short of GM’s offerings, and there’s definitely a gap between what a mid-size and full-size truck can offer here (the TRD Sport is especially, and needlessly, harsh on road). But, if convenience in size and cost are a buyer’s prerogatives, then a Tacoma delivers.
Perhaps the best option for adventure-oriented buyers is the hyper-capable TRD Off-Road, which lands you a bunch of road-less-traveled features like an electronically locking diff, terrain-specific traction control and Crawl control (an off-road cruise control that can make even the most amateurish driver look like a pro rock crawler). In practice, all of these upgrades meant the Off-Road could handle anything I threw at it, including a 30-degree ascent, a rock crawl and me, the ham-fisted driver behind the wheel. Even in these extreme situations, it had no problem going over, around and through the obstacles.
It’s best to think of the 2016 Tacoma as very big incremental update to the previous version. The segment is getting more competitive with GM’s entries, Honda’s impending comeback and even a new Ford Ranger in the works, but for a class of vehicles that demands so much ruggedness and dependability at so low a cost, the strategy of sticking close to a time-tested formula might be the way to go, even if it doesn’t quiet down the cabin or check off every box on your ideal truck list.