Is there such thing anymore as a good, honest, back-to-basics pickup truck? Barring base trim F-150s used for commercial purposes, most pickups sold in the U.S. have become high-riding luxury vehicles with a bed in the back.
Toyota, however, has kept the honest truck flame alive with its midsize Tacoma, and for the full refresh they performed for the 2016 model year, not much has changed below the surface, though they’d like you to think otherwise.
Fun fact: the Toyota Tacoma holds the largest percentage of market share in a specific segment of any car in any segment. If that statement doesn’t read clearly, think of it this way: more midsize truck owners drive Tacomas than midsize sedan owners drive Camrys. That’s a huge deal for the largest automaker in the world, and other automakers have come up fighting for the top spot in recent years.
In the face of massively-improved offerings from GM in the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, the 2016 Tacoma will have to fight extra hard to keep its crown. But does it? We got behind the wheel of one for a week to find out.
If you’ve seen a Tacoma before, the 2016 model will be instantly recognizable. Sure, there are LED headlights and new styling cues, but the stance, doors, and overall size are almost identical to the outgoing model. Our tester was finished in the handsome “Blazing Blue Pearl” paint, one of the more look-at-me hues in the brochure.
Fitted with four-wheel-drive, this particular Tacoma TRD Sport Double Cab rang in at a total price of $38,290 (including $900 destination charge). That’s a lot of coin for a midsize truck, but it doesn’t come without rewards. In that spec, the Tacoma packs a 6-speed automatic, limited slip differential, 17-inch alloys, brake assist technology, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, and a 7-inch touchscreen with navigation and Entune audio. The $2,360 Premium and Technology package adds dual zone climate control, heated front seats, rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, automatic headlamps, and a moonroof. Tack on another $650 each for the tonneau cover and tow package, and you’ve got our truck.
The TRD Sport trim comes standard with a completely redesigned version of Toyota’s venerable 3.5-liter V-6, which now uses an Atkinson Cycle design to increase thermal efficiency. That may sound like a lot of jargon, but the goal is simple: allow pressure in the combustion chamber of a cylinder to be equal to atmospheric pressure at the end of the combustion cycle. This allows more energy to be converted from heat into horsepower and torque.
Atkinson cycle engines are typically found in small four-cylinders and hybrid drivetrains, such as Toyota’s Prius, because of their high efficiency. To apply this to a big, thirsty pickup, then, seems like a bit of a waste of time, but Toyota has pulled it off well.
The V-6 in the Tacoma makes a respectable 278-horsepower and 265 lb.-ft. of torque. Those numbers won’t make a V-8 owner nervous, but they’re more than enough to do the job for Toyota’s smallest pickup. However, we can’t help but wish they’d spent less time on the engine and more on the rest of the truck, but more on that later.
The TRD Sport package adds all the fender flares and hood scoops you could want, and in practice, it looks great. This is arguably the best-looking Tacoma yet, and even garnered some stares in its brash blue paint job. Though we weren’t able to, the knobby tires and high ride height begged to be taken off road, and we were tempted to oblige.
Inside, it’s standard Toyota fare. Rental-grade plastics line the interior, soft touch materials sit on the door sills and dashboard, while zig-zagged cloth seats make for comfortable enough thrones for a long journey. Remember, this is no super-luxury Silverado or Ram. This is a good, honest truck, and the interior will remind you of that with every bump in the road.
We can’t help but feel like fit and finish is still behind the GM twins, and it would have been nice to see some of that engine development money go towards making the Tacoma feel like an all-new truck, and not a new suit on an old one.
Despite the letdowns in fit and finish, I couldn’t help but fall for the Tacoma over my week with it. Back-to-basics pickups are a dying breed, and Toyota keeps the flame alive with character and fun. Everyone who got a ride with me in the “Taco” loved it, and some were even tempted to contact the dealership afterwards.