2009 Toyota Tacoma Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
May 30, 2009

The affordable 2009 Toyota Tacoma is a bargain compared to its full-size competitors.

TheCarConnection.com's truck editors drove the new Tacoma in order to give you an expert opinion. TheCarConnection.com's truck enthusiasts researched available road tests on the new Tacoma to produce this conclusive review and to help you find the truth where other car reviews might differ.

The Toyota Tacoma is available in a wide range of models, including Regular Cab, Access Cab, and Double Cab editions with standard or long-bed (LB) lengths, and powered by either a four- or six-cylinder engine. The Tacoma has grown from a compact truck into a mid-size and lost some of its maneuverability in the process, but the four-cylinder models retain good fuel efficiency.

The standard four-cylinder Tacoma comes with a five-speed manual, which shifts smoothly but has long throws; both the four-speed automatic that’s optional with the four-cylinder and the five-speed automatic that’s standard on V-6 models are responsive. With the four-cylinder engine, the Tacoma is rated as high as 20 mpg city, 25 mpg highway. The optional 4.0-liter V-6 comes in at 236 horsepower. In the smaller models, the four-cylinder engine provides adequate performance if you don’t plan to do much towing, but it’s somewhat noisy during acceleration and not very smooth. The V-6 is a big step up; it gives the Tacoma a very torquey, smooth, and responsive character, although it’s also quite vocal.

Drivers of older-model Tacomas will be surprised to learn that the mid-size proportions of the newer Tacoma do not allow it to maneuver as easily as smaller, compact Tacomas. The 2009 Toyota Tacoma handles like a truck—which is to say that the steering is good and communicative—and the ride is hard and bumpy, while the suspension hops over bumps if they come in the middle of a corner.

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You’ll find the 2009 Toyota Tacoma nearly as useful as a full-size truck. Its payload is well into the 3/4-ton category, depending on the model. The Tacoma’s cargo bed is a composite material, a sheet-molded compound purported to be more durable, and at the same time, 10 percent lighter than steel.

Controls inside the 2009 Tacoma are very simple and straightforward, and though the instrument panel and interior aren’t anything special, they fit the Tacoma’s role. While the seats could use more support, the cabin itself is comfortable and roomy with plenty of space up front for any size driver and passenger.

The Tacoma does very well in crash tests, with top five-star results in frontal and side tests from the federal government and top "good" ratings from the IIHS, though it gets a "marginal" rating from the IIHS in the rear-impact test. All Tacoma models in the 2009 lineup receive the STAR Safety System of dynamic control technologies as standard equipment. The system includes an anti-lock braking system (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), and Traction Control (TRAC). Also standard on all Tacoma models for 2009 are active front headrests, front seat-mounted side airbags, and curtain side airbags, as well as an Automatic Limited-slip Differential (Auto-LSD); TRD Off-road packages are equipped with a separate locking rear differential.

The 2009 Toyota Tacoma lineup includes two specialized models: the Pre-Runner and X-Runner. The Pre-Runner adds a higher-riding suspension, locking rear differential, and other appearance cues. The X-Runner gets wider wheels and tires; a lowered, sport-tuned suspension; and an X-braced frame (hence the name), along with extra interior conveniences. There’s also a TRD Off-Road Package that piles on to the Pre-Runner an off-road-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks, fog lamps, a transfer-case skid plate, and badging.

The options list on the 2009 Toyota Tacoma is expansive, with plenty of heavy-duty upgrades and appearance add-ons, but one item that many people have come to expect, a navigation system, isn’t offered. Anti-lock brakes are standard, as are variable wipers, a composite pickup bed, an AM/FM/CD player, and a tilt/telescope wheel. Tire pressure monitors, curtain airbags, and stability control are among the included safety gear on all models. The base tires are 15-inchers, while 16-inchers are available on PreRunner and 4WD models.

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2009 Toyota Tacoma

Styling

The 2009 Toyota Tacoma blends exterior bravado with a simple, conservative interior.

Toyota eschewed bland, utilitarian styling for the 2009 Tacoma, awarding design duties to its Japanese heavy-duty truck division, Hino. The emphasis seems to be on big and bold, with strong lines, prominent fender arches, large wheel cutouts, and aggressive circular headlights glaring out behind upswept plastic covers. This helps Toyota’s little guy do battle with the traditionally splashier Americans trucks; Kelley Blue Book feels that the Tacoma’s styling “succeeds by blending classic Toyota truck styling with design features of some larger domestic models.”

Comparing the Tacoma to its previous-gen forebear, Motor Trend comments that it no longer resembles a small truck, “thanks to a wider stance, large fender bulges surrounding upsized wheels and tires, sweeping headlamps, and a larger windshield.” Car and Driver remarks that Hino’s styling handiwork “[turned] up the Tacoma’s testosterone with square shoulders, fender arches, and a Kenworth-compatible grille.”

Car and Driver asserts that the Tacoma’s cabin contains “straightforward controls situated right where fingers are trained to find them.” Deeply recessed gauges, each with its own tunnel, alongside a rather avant-garde silver center stack, are a far cry from the generic, boxy truck interiors of yore. Said silver treatment might be a bit polarizing (Car and Driver: “it may seem dated when the industry finally tires of plastic painted like naked aluminum”), but this is mitigated by Toyota’s first-rate ergonomics, simple and sizable dials for HVAC, and high-quality switchgear throughout the cabin.

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2009 Toyota Tacoma

Performance

From economical workhorse to gutsy, powerful, and capable off-roader, the 2009 Toyota Tacoma spans the range.

The regular and Access Cab models are powered by a 2.7-liter four-cylinder that churns out a modest 159 horsepower and, more importantly, a respectable 180 pound-feet of torque. It’s a trusty, torquey workhorse of an engine, the kind Car and Driver says they'd choose “to power a backup generator for a field hospital.” But it’s not going to win any races. Edmunds.com advises, “owners planning on frequent hauling or towing will certainly want to choose the V6.” The tractable 4.0-liter V-6 is an enthusiastic motivator The Auto Channel describes as yielding a “smooth and usable broad spread of power.” ConsumerGuide praises the aural quality of the 4.0-liter V-6, particularly its “refined growl under acceleration.” The V-6 is standard in the Double Cab and optional in other models, and it produces 236 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. To back up their subjective impressions, The Auto Channel posts a fleet 7.8-second run to 60 mph with their heavily optioned 4WD, long-bed Double Cab V-6.

A five-speed manual gearbox is standard equipment on four-cylinder models, and a four-speed automatic is optional. For the V-6, a six-speed manual is standard and a five-speed automatic available. While both automatics are generally praised for smooth and seamless operation, Cars.com finds the six-speed manual a bit notchy and claims it “makes shifting gears more difficult than in some other trucks.” Nonetheless, Car and Driver celebrates the number of ratios in both transmissions paired with the V-6, contending “there's a reason the big rigs have dozens of gears, and laden with payload, the Tacoma's extra ratios, both manual and automatic, will be celebrated.”

Downhill Assist Control—a feature usually reserved for luxury vehicles from manufacturers such as BMW and Range Rover—is a drivetrain option on the 2009 Tacoma. As described by Motor Trend, this feature “automatically pulses the brakes to maintain a steady five-mph speed while descending steep trails and tracks.” There's also a differential lock that’s standard on the off-road package and an available locking differential simulator on non-off-road package Tacomas (except for the X-Runner) that uses the ABS system to quash unwanted wheel spin.

Official EPA numbers put the regular cab, four-cylinder five-speed manual at the top of Tacoma efficiency with 20 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Interestingly, the six-speed manual V-6 combo nets the lowest efficiency, with a 15/18 mpg, city/highway rating in 4X4 guise. The five-speed automatic V-6 combo splits the difference, with a city/highway rating of 16/20 mpg with both two- and four-wheel drive. Lead-footed Car and Driver editors average 18 mpg over 3,964 miles of Alaskan terrain.

The Auto Channel finds the Tacoma “excels in off-road situations and is reasonably comfortable on the street. But depending on how it's equipped and whether it's carrying a load or not, the Tacoma can seem skittish or bouncy at times.” Driving the street-oriented X-Runner, Autoblog reinforces others’ impressions of a bouncy ride and numb steering, lamenting that “even though the X-Runner adds another brace to boost steering feel, the truck still comes up short.” Car and Driver praises the Tacoma’s body structure on a drive in Alaska, declaring its ride “expunged of creaks and body shivers, even when clobbered by the mini-McKinley frost heaves” (ironically, after 40,000 miles, they weren’t quite as thrilled). Edmunds’ consumers complain about “occasionally rough ride quality.”

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2009 Toyota Tacoma

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Toyota Tacoma is characterized by a rather noisy cabin and truck-like drivability, countered with a roomy interior and thoughtful details.

ConsumerGuide criticizes the Access Cab body style as having “very little room even with the front seats well forward,” and further complain, in the Access Cab body style, “the rear bench has a low cushion and bolt-upright seatback, so even those who fit will grumble.” Edmunds calls the Tacoma’s interior “a spacious cab with Camry-like comfort and ambience.” Interior room isn’t at a premium in the large 2009 Toyota Tacoma, but the rear seat in the Access Cab draws its share of complaints from reviewers around the Web.

As to arrangements in the front, reviewers at Cars.com attest that “front occupants have ample space. The seats are snug, supportive and well-cushioned. Depending on the model, buyers can choose a front bench seat, bucket seats or sport seating.” The Double Cab’s legroom, angled seatback, and “easy entry and exit through fairly large doors,” are appreciated by ConsumerGuide and many other reviewers. Motor Trend backs up the rear seat accolades: “Accessed through large doors, the back seat feels comfier than in some compact sedans, an achievement in this class of cramped quarters.” Car and Driver editors also commend “the large rear seat that has a slightly reclined seatback and accommodates adults in comfort.”

Comparing the Tacoma to car-based entries such as Honda’s Ridgeline, Kelley Blue Book considers the Tacoma’s ride a bit rough around the edges. All agree, however, that Toyota selects nothing but first-rate materials and switchgear for the interior. Furthermore, innovative touches such as the standard fiber-reinforced sheet-molded-compound truck bed add value and durability to the Tacoma’s design.

Motor Trend praises the subtle details in the Tacoma, stating, “Toyota has found a way to make the patterns, colors, and surface textures on the dash, console, and door panels look engaging, something you might see in a considerably more expensive near-luxury sedan.” Car and Driver notes, “generous sound insulation hushes the cabin against wind noise and pebble spray from the wheels.”

8

2009 Toyota Tacoma

Safety

The 2009 Toyota Tacoma ups the ante with a host of active and passive safety features.

With many safety features standard and stability control an option, the 2009 Toyota Tacoma scores well on safety tests.

In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests, the 2009 Tacoma scores five stars for driver and passenger side frontal impact, as well as five stars for both front and rear occupants in side impacts. In rollover resistance, it manages a rating of four stars. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) frontal offset tests, the Tacoma scores that agency’s top “good” rating. Tacomas with bucket seats manage a “marginal” for rear crash protection, a comment on headrest design and whiplash protection.

Automobile Magazine notes, “ABS with brake assist is standard. You can add stability control with traction control, as well as hill-start assist to prevent rolling back from an uphill stop.” Regarding the effectiveness of the standard brake assist feature, which incorporates a valve that increases vacuum assist when the brake pedal is enthusiastically applied—as in a panic situation—Car and Driver finds that their test Tacoma “conduct[s] four rapid stops from 70 mph in less than 190 feet, fleet performance for any pickup.”

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2009 Toyota Tacoma

Features

The 2009 Toyota Tacoma has a thorough list of useful, well-designed, and thoughtfully executed features.

The 2009 Toyota Tacoma is available with a plethora of comfort and convenience items. As Motor Trend says, “even the base 2WD regular-cab truck features standard carpeting, a CD player, tilt/telescope steering wheel, tachometer, digital clock, an SMC composite bed with utility rail system, and a flush rear bumper. Automatic transmission Access Cab and Double Cab models get a gated shifter.”

AutoWeek praises the performance-oriented X-Runner, “special X-brace out back to keep cowl shake to a minimum” and the limited slip differential that “helps put the power down.” But they are less impressed with the “silly ground FX (like a hood scoop that doesn't actually do anything)” and the “Big Brake Kit, which strangely is paired with rear drum brakes.”

TRD, or Toyota Racing Development, supercharger includes an intercooler and may be purchased and installed at the dealership. It boosts the horsepower of the V-6 from 236 to 304. The Off-Road Rugged Trail Package includes a locking rear diff, 16-inch Baja wheels, additional skid plating, black overfenders, and Bilstein shocks.

Automobile says, “the wide variety of standard and optional features (among them under-the-floor and behind-the-seat storage cubbies, rear seats that fold flat, a 400-watt outlet in the cargo bed, bed storage boxes, a bed extender, and TRD sport and off-road packages) makes the Tacoma useful both for work and for play.”

Cars.com reports “well-heeled Tacomas include a JBL premium stereo with a six-CD changer, power windows, remote entry and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio controls.” That highest-level JBL/satellite option includes a free three-month subscription to XM radio and Bluetooth compatibility. But proving that, indeed, this truck was new in 2005, no nav system is offered, an omission that may well hurt the Tacoma when judged side-by-side with car-based rivals such as Honda’s Ridgeline. Other accessories include a bed divider, bed net, cargo crossbars, Yakima roof rack, bike rack, running boards, flip-out bed extender, SnugTop Super Sport hard shell, and a rubber bed mat.

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September 7, 2015
2009 Toyota Tacoma 4WD Access I4 MT (Natl)

great truck,peppy 4 cyl. best pick-up for the money

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bought this truck to replace an older Mazda B3000.no comparison,the Toyota runs and shifts so much better.nice fit and finish.wasn't sure about the 4 cyl. with the 4x4,but so far no complaints.Cruises nice at... + More »
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April 21, 2015
For 2009 Toyota Tacoma

TRD Cool for the family

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Not a work truck but a cool little ride the whole family can enjoy.best mpg and features of all trucks
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7.4
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 8.0
Features 8.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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