Both Tacoma engines feature a version of Toyota’s variable valve timing called VVT-i, which helps maximize torque and horsepower across the engines’ operating spectrum. Standard motivation for the regular and Access Cab models is provided by a 2.7-liter four-cylinder that churns out a modest 159 horsepower but, 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.” Consumer Guide praises the aural quality of the 4.0-liter V-6, complimenting 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.
For the four-cylinder, a five-speed manual comes standard and a four-speed automatic is available. For the V-6, a six-speed manual is standard and a five-speed automatic available. While both automatics were generally praised for smooth and seamless operation, Cars.com finds the six-speed manual a bit notchy and claims that 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, claiming “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.”
A drivetrain option in 4WD models--one usually reserved for such tony company as BMW and Range Rover, which calls it Hill Descent Control--is the Downhill Assist Control. 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 wheelspin.
As to fuel economy, the Tacoma averages 18 mpg over 3,964 miles of Alaskan terrain with lead-footed Car and Driver editors at the helm. 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.
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.” And 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.”