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.”