2008 Toyota Tacoma Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 22, 2008

The 2008 Toyota Tacoma covers the basics, at a price that’s lower than full-size trucks.

As the experts at TheCarConnection.com compiled this review that covers the 2008 Toyota Tacoma, they consulted with a wide range of respected review sources. Then they brought their own experience driving the Tacoma to this review to make it especially useful to shoppers looking to compare it to rivals.

Ever since it was last redesigned in 2005, Toyota’s Tacoma has been more of a mid-size pickup model than a compact. But it remains available in a wide range of models powered by four- and six-cylinder engines that make it a more fuel-efficient choice than full-size trucks, if not much more maneuverable.

The 2008 Toyota Tacoma comes in a very wide range of models, including Regular Cab, Access Cab, and Double Cab editions with standard or long-bed (LB) lengths, rear- or four-wheel drive, and several different trims ranging from a basic work truck to an off-road-ready ranch vehicle to a long, stable rig good for towing up to 6,500 pounds.

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Standard in the 2008 Toyota Tacoma is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 159 horsepower. 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 noisy. The four-cylinder model 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 2008 Toyota Tacoma handles and rides like a truck--which is to say that the steering is good and communicative--the ride is hard and bumpy, while the suspension hops over bumps if they come in the middle of a corner. Also, shoppers looking to replace their older truly compact pickups with the Tacoma may be surprised to find that it doesn’t maneuver or park much more easily than the full-size trucks.

The inside of the Tacoma’s cargo bed is now made of a composite material, a sheet-molded compound purported to be 10 percent lighter than steel yet more durable. Payload is well into the 3/4-ton category in the 2008 Toyota Tacoma, depending on the model.

Inside the cabin, the new 2008 Toyota Tacoma is roomy and comfortable. The seats could use more support, especially laterally, but there’s plenty of space for about any size driver and passenger in front. Controls are very simple and straightforward, and though the instrument panel and interior aren’t anything special, they fit the Tacoma’s role. For 2007, the mid-size Toyota truck receives minor upgrades to the look and feel, including redesigned seats, a two-tone gauge panel, and chrome trim.

Two specialized models of the 2008 Toyota Tacoma—Pre-Runner and X-Runner—offer equipment focused on off-roading and racy street performance, respectively. 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--thus, 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 skidplate, and badging.

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. The options list on the 2008 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 on the 2008 Toyota Tacoma, and side and curtain airbags are available but only in the Double Cab model. The Tacoma has done 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 in front and side impact tests, though it did get a "marginal" rating from the IIHS in the rear-impact test.

7

2008 Toyota Tacoma

Styling

A happy medium of exterior bravado and interior bravura mark the 2008 Toyota Tacoma.

Introduced for the 2005 model year, the second-gen Tacoma grew considerably in all dimensions, pulling it out of the compact and squarely into the mid-size pickup realm. Toyota also eschewed bland, utilitarian styling this time around, awarding styling 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.”

Of the exterior styling, 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.” 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.”

According to a survey conducted by Cars.com, the truck's styling seems to have found favor with consumers, who rate the Tacoma’s design a 4.7 out of 5.0.

As to the interior, Toyota sticks to its reputation for clean, functional design, while adding a splash of ruggedness and flair. 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. Car and Driver asserts that the Tacoma’s cabin contains “straightforward controls situated right where fingers are trained to find them.”

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2008 Toyota Tacoma

Performance

While it won’t deliver a Cadillac-plush ride or sportscar reflexes, the many iterations of the 2008 Toyota Tacoma span the range from economical workhorse to gutsy, powerful, and capable off-roader.

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.”

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2008 Toyota Tacoma

Comfort & Quality

A well-fitted interior, thoughtful details throughout, yet somewhat typical truck noises and drivability characterize the 2008 Toyota Tacoma.

Interior room isn’t at a premium in the large 2008 Toyota Tacoma, but the rear seat in the Access Cab draws its share of complaints from reviewers around the Web. Edmunds calls the Tacoma’s interior “a spacious cab with Camry-like comfort and ambience.” But ConsumerGuide criticizes the Access Cab body style as having “very little room even with the front seats well forward,” and further complain that, in the Access Cab body style, “the rear bench has a low cushion and bolt-upright seatback, so even those who fit will grumble.”

The Double Cab’s legroom, angled seatback, and “easy entry and exit through fairly large doors,” however, are appreciated by ConsumerGuide and nearly every other reviewer. 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 appreciate “the large rear seat that has a slightly reclined seatback and accommodates adults in comfort.” As to arrangements in the front, reviewers at Cars.com find 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 critics go back and forth regarding the Tacoma’s quality, some faulting the chassis’ structural rigidity after 40,000 miles of abuse (Car and Driver: “door seals were squeaking, felt like things had had loosened”), others complaining about steering feel and feedback. In comparing it to car-based entries such as Honda’s Ridgeline, Kelley Blue Book finds the Tacoma’s ride/handling 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 that “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.”  [Note: this is a repeat of the sentence above.]

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2008 Toyota Tacoma

Safety

Especially in the Double Cab, the 2008 Toyota Tacoma has you and your passengers covered with a host of safety features both active and passive.

The 2008 Toyota Tacoma scores well on safety tests and includes many safety features, though stability control is an option.

For the second-gen Tacoma, Toyota significantly ups the ante regarding safety. VSC (vehicle skid control) and traction control became available on all models across the line, excluding the X-Runner, in 2005; these systems had previously been available only on the 4WD models. Automobile 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.”

Speaking to 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.”

In addition to standard driver and passenger airbags, side impact and side curtain airbags are optional in the Double Cab models.

In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests, the 2008 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 managed a rating of four stars. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) frontal offset and side impact tests, the Tacoma scored that agency’s top “good” rating. Tacomas with bucket seats managed a “marginal” for rear crash protection, a comment on headrest design and whiplash protection.

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2008 Toyota Tacoma

Features

Though eclipsed by car-based rivals in the highest-tech gadgets realm, the 2008 Toyota Tacoma has a thorough list of features that are largely well designed, thoughtfully executed, and useful.

Apart from the host of safety, performance, and utility features already mentioned, even the most basic 2008 Toyota Tacoma comes with a healthy roster 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.”

Kelley Blue Book mentions two new-for-2008 items: a TRD supercharger for the 4.0L V-6, as well as the TRD Off-Road Rugged Trail Package. The 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.

Of the performance-oriented X-Runner option, AutoWeek praises the “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.”

The Tacoma is filled with thoughtful nooks and crannies, following right along with the intelligent design built into its composite rear bed. Automobile feels that “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.”

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. 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.

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7.4
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Styling 7
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 8
Features 8
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