For years, the Toyota Tacoma ruled the midsize truck roost. Sure, the Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon and Nissan Frontier had some success, but they were mostly bit players. The Taco was king in both performance and sales figures. That’s not the case anymore. Since Chevy introduced the second-gen Colorado and variants like the Colorado ZR2, the Taco has had some serious competition. Sales are still strong, but it’s facing competitors that are stronger than ever.
Our test truck is a Tacoma TRD Off Road 4×4 Double Cab Long Bed, meaning it’s the biggest Tacoma Toyota builds. Only the TRD Pro trim sits above it. Standard features include a two-speed transfer case, a limited-slip differential, a locking rear diff, Bilstein shocks, crawl control and 16-inch wheels with relatively knobby tires. This truck has a few options, including a $650 factory tonneau cover, a $120 bed mat, $129 mud guards and a $3,035 premium package. The latter includes a JBL audio system, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, automatic headlamps and a moonroof.
Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: Toyota must be selling these Tacomas on name, style and off-road ability alone because I can’t think of any other good reasons to buy this over something else. Seriously, this truck feels about 15 years behind the times when it comes to on-road driving. The engine feels underpowered and noisy, the transmission takes longer to shift than me when I’m getting out of bed, and the handling, oh the handling. Turn-in is slow, the steering is vague, and there’s no grip. The body lists, the whole thing feels more ship-like than road vehicle.
Even here, though, there are issues. Like almost every Toyota, it’s way behind the times when it comes to infotainment. It does basic stuff fine, but it’s still missing standards such as CarPlay and Android Auto. The seating position isn’t particularly comfortable, either.
Associate Editor Reese Counts: Man, what a bummer this truck is. I want to love the Taco. I want to be head over heels for it. Frankly, it’s underwhelming in nearly every aspect, from handling to the powertrain to the subpar infotainment system. Like Joel said, Toyota has to be making sales on name recognition and resale value, because this truck is kinda miserable anywhere that doesn’t take advantage of its sizable off-road prowess.
The engine, despite being new when the truck debuted, is coarse and sluggish. Part of that is the abhorrent transmission. I can’t remember the last time I despised an automatic as much as this one. It’s so eager to save fuel that it’s constantly upshifting. That means you need to wait for a downshift if you want to pass. Sport mode fixes this a bit, but I’d love to drive a manual-equipped Taco and skip the auto altogether.
If you value off-road capability over everything else (and can’t shell out for the Colorado ZR2), then the Taco is the truck for you. For everyone else, stick with the GM twins or maybe hold out for the new Ranger or Jeep Scrambler.