Among my pickup truck owning friends, there seem to be two clear divisions.
The full-size truck guys that generally poo-poo the compact trucks and wax lyrical about rear differential ratios, engine specs, and towing capacity.
Then you have the compact pickup guys, who shoot back with how the full-sized trucks are gas guzzlers, cumbersome in parkades, pondourous around town, and are far too big for tighter off-road trails.
Having reviewed a few full-sized pickup trucks over the past year, including Toyota’s own full-sized Tundra, I figured it was high time that I take a look at Toyota’s popular and smaller offering, the Tacoma.
The mid-sized truck everyone seems to want
When it comes to the compact truck segment, the line in the sand seems to be drawn quite clearly. Those who have a Tacoma, and those who wish they did. I honestly have to say that while I knew they were popular, I did not notice how many of them there were in town until this review. They’re everywhere!
In fact, the Tacoma is indeed Canada’s top-selling compact pickup truck. With 23 possible configurations, Canadians seem to have voted with their pocket books in finding a model that suits their needs and tastes.
Ask a Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier, or GMC Colorado owner why they didn’t buy a Toyota Tacoma and you will probably find that many wish they did but settled because it was out of their budget. Indeed even pre-owned Tacomas command a significantly higher premium compared to their competitors in the same class. On the used car market in Vancouver, you can even buy a newer full-sized Ford F-150 (which costs significantly more when new) for the same money as a used Tacoma.
For the fifth consecutive year in a row, the Tacoma has won the Canadian Black Book’s Retained Value Award and for the fourth consecutive year the ALG Residual Value Award.
So the questions is why?
2015 is the year that Marty McFly vaults forward to in the Back to the Future movie. He even lusts after a black Toyota pickup in the flick. For a large number of Gen-X’ers, the Tacoma and its Hilux predecessor are an integral parts of what is and was cool.
Aside from appearances on the silver screen, Toyota pickup trucks have also had a reputation worldwide for their longevity and quality. Whether it’s in remote parts of the globe or war-torn nations, Toyota trucks overloaded with goods, soldiers, and more are a familiar sight in television news footage. What better testament for longevity can a product get?
While truck buyers can appreciate vehicles that can put up with the demands of the construction job site, more than ever, these consumers are unwilling to put up with industrial-grade machines with not so much as a whiff of creature comforts or sophistication. After all, no one wants to be stuck with a daily driver that dishes out its own abuse.
And here’s where the Tacoma shines with its comfortable SUV-like ride, stiff frame, and stout underpinnings.
While many auto manufacturers use hard plastic in the interiors of their compact trucks, Toyota utilizes a mix of different surface textures, patterns, and colours on the various panels to make the place look engaging and durable.
It doesn’t scream of “lowest cost supplier” although it doesn’t shout “luxury” either. Let’s settle at “utilitarian”.
That being said, while the Tacoma’s cabin generally has good ergonomics, the unashamedly unchanged go-kart-like seating position makes the step into to the cabin a bit of a jump if you’re short. The dashboard layout also looks a bit old fashioned compared to the newer mid-sized offerings from GMC and Chevy.
The seats, covered by a water repellent fabric as part of the TRD Sport Package, are wonderfully supportive despite having only limited manual adjustments. I also liked the thick perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The Tacoma’s rear seats are surprisingly comfortable, although rear legroom is a lot less commodious than in its big brother Tundra DoubleCab. Under the 60/40 split rear bench you’ll find a couple of handy plastic storage lockers for the odds and ends.
Fiddle around with the HVAC switchgear and you’ll find that the knobs feel durable and are a model for simplicity. But like the headliner texture, they look like they’re shared with a mid-1990s Camry.
And this has to be the first vehicle that I’ve driven in over 15 years without an outside temperature readout!
The infotainment system has a 6.1” touchscreen that controls FM/AM audio, XM satellite radio, and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. Step up to the “Limited” package if you want GPS navigation thrown into the mix along with leather-wrapped seats.
SMC stands for “Sheet-Molded Composite” in reference to the Tacoma’s smooth-texture, fibre-reinforced Sheet-Molded-Composite truck bed. It’s double-walled, won’t rust, and resists dents.
Included with the composite bed is a deck-rail utility system with four tie-down cleats that slide in channels that can be adjusted to various positions. There are two more tie-down rings bolted to the rear of the cargo box floor and four non-locking storage boxes on the inboard sides of the cargo box. Unfortunately there is no locking tailgate.
My TRD option package truck also included a handy 115-volt 400-watt household three-prong outlet under the hinged cover.
Equipped in DoubleCab extended form with the six-foot truck bed, my tester vehicle’s excellent rearview camera was much appreciated. The video feed quality was excellent even in low light.
While there are no dynamic gridlines, the fixed lines were useful enough and even feature a useful centre point mark to aid in hooking up to a trailer.
Giddy-up and Go
The Tacoma’s 236-hp 4.0-litre VVT-i V6 engine feels gutsy off the line with its 266 ft-lbs of torque at 4,000 rpms. Unfortunately, the engine note is a bit coarse and the engine is not eager to rev. Compared to newer competitors on the market, it feels a bit past its sell-by date.
Likewise, the 5-speed automatic gearbox is smooth enough in day-to-day driving with well-matched ratios. However its shift behaviour is a bit agricultural by today’s standards especially when you get on the loud pedal.
Equipped with the TRD Sport package, my test truck was uprated to tow 6,400 lbs with its included Class IV hitch. A transmission cooler, engine oil cooler, upgraded alternator, and Trailer Sway Control were also included as part of this package.
Fuel consumption-wise, the Transport Canada rates the Tacoma V6 DoubleCab with the 5-speed automatic at 14.8L/100 kms in the city, and 11.6L/100 kms on the highway. I averaged 16.3L/100 kms in almost exclusively city driving, or about 25-30% better than that in the full-sized Tundra MegaCab pickup truck.
Like most modern pickups, the Tacoma comes with a full roster of electronic ads. All 4×4 Tacomas are equipped with a part-time 4WD system with an electronically control transfer case and an automatic rear limited slip differential (LSD).
Interestingly, the VSC stability control and traction control system have to be turned off in order for the auto LSD to be activated. VSC comes back on at higher speeds even with the traction control off and the auto LSD engaged.
It’s easy to see why many households have chosen the Tacoma DoubleCab as a family vehicle.
It has the obligatory bed for the occasional utility run and unlike full-sized pickup trucks, you can still drive them without worrying about inadvertently encroaching on other street lanes or not being able to find parking.
By the time you read this review, Toyota Canada would have just celebrated its 50th anniversary and an all-new Tacoma will have been officially unveiled at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Undoubtedly, the new third generation truck will have new powertrains, new infotainment technology, and a more carlike cabin.
However given the fact that the tried-and-true Tacoma is an enduring mainstay in its category and that demand for used Tacomas is high, I have no doubt that this current (second) generation of Tacomas will still appeal to many. Why? Because it proudly stands out as the square peg that refuses to be hammered through the round hole of carlike conformity.
Now, has does anyone know where I can buy a Hoverboard?