2010 Toyota Tacoma Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
December 26, 2009

The Tacoma is a workhorse truck that gives a little more space and capability than a true compact, yet offers decent fuel efficiency and a low price.

To bring you an expert opinion of the Toyota Tacoma, the editors of TheCarConnection.com have driven several variations of the Tacoma—and hauled a few items. Then, to bring you the most useful information for your shopping process, TheCarConnection.com has researched the range of available road tests on the new Tacoma and produced an adjacent Full Review.

The Toyota Tacoma got some significant revisions for 2009 but returns for 2010 with few changes. A little larger than compact and more mid-size, like the Nissan Frontier, the Toyota Tacoma serves those who don’t need the hardcore hauling and towing ability of the full-size trucks but still require the day-to-day durability of a pickup.

Though the Tacoma saw some changes last year, its fundamental design and styling are carried through, essentially unchanged since its last full redesign in 2005. Despite offset, flared sheetmetal around the wheelwells, the Tacoma looks a little more aggressive, especially if you outfit it with one of several off-road trims. Inside, it depends on the trim; although entry Tacomas look basic and even a little drab inside, the top trim levels have an interior that uses more matte-metallic panels and upgraded upholstery that has more in common with the Camry and Avalon sedans. Regular Cab, Access Cab, and Double Cab editions of the Tacoma are offered, with standard or long-bed (LB) lengths, with four- or six-cylinder engines.

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The 159-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder that’s standard on some models of the Tacoma somehow manages quite well—provided you’re not trying to move too quickly or take too much of a load. It comes with a five-speed manual transmission, 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. The 4.0-liter V-6 that’s offered on the rest of the lineup provides a completely different personality, as it produces 236 horsepower and an even more noteworthy 266 pound-feet of torque—enough to move the Tacoma quickly even when you have a heavy load. With the four-cylinder engine, the Tacoma is a reasonably fuel-efficient choice, rated as high as 20 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, while the V-6, 4WD models rate at just 16/20 mpg. Ride and handling are a low point for the 2010 Toyota Tacoma; it handles like a truck—which is to say that the steering is good and communicative, but the ride is hard and bumpy. Push a little too hard over bumps and the tires simply lose contact. Maneuverability is another disappointment; the mid-size proportions of the newer Tacoma don't allow it to turn around any easier than a full-size truck.

Inside, the 2010 Toyota Tacoma isn’t as spacious as a full-size truck, and though there’s plenty of space in Double Cab versions for four adults (two kids in back for Access Cabs), the front seats are a little short and flat. All the fundamentals are here, though; the Tacoma’s 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. Refinement might be slightly disappointing to some; both engines are louder than we would have hoped.

With top five-star results in frontal and side tests from the federal government and top "good" ratings from the IIHS, the 2010 Tacoma gets very respectable ratings—a "marginal" rating from the IIHS in the rear-impact test being the only blemish. Anti-lock brakes, brake assist, and electronic stability control are now included across the model line, as 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 2010 Tacoma model line covers a wide range of needs in base form, especially if you're willing to add a few options, but two specialized models, the PreRunner and X-Runner, are focused for tough terrain and look the part. The PreRunner 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. Also available is a TRD Off-Road Package that brings special badging, plus an off-road suspension with Bilstein dampers, fog lamps, and a transfer-case skid plate. 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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2010 Toyota Tacoma

Styling

The 2010 Toyota Tacoma is brawny-looking and overt on the outside, but its interior is simple and straightforward.

Though the Tacoma saw some changes last year, its fundamental design and styling are carried through, essentially unchanged since its last full redesign in 2005. Despite offset, flared sheetmetal around the wheelwells, the Tacoma looks a little more aggressive, especially if you outfit it with one of several off-road trims.

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.” 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.”

Inside, it depends on the trim; although entry Tacomas look basic and even a little drab inside, the top trim levels have an interior that uses more matte-metallic panels and upgraded upholstery that has more in common with the Camry and Avalon sedans. 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; however, Car and Driver asserts that the Tacoma’s cabin contains “straightforward controls situated right where fingers are trained to find them.” The same reviewer isn't as wild about the matte-metallic surfaces that are throughout the instrument panel: “it may seem dated when the industry finally tires of plastic painted like naked aluminum.”

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2010 Toyota Tacoma

Performance

The 2010 Toyota Tacoma, like most pickups, drives quite differently depending on the model; on-road commuters might be slightly disappointed with the handling, while off-roaders won't be let down.

The 159-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder that’s standard on some models of the Tacoma somehow manages quite well—provided you’re not trying to move too quickly or take too much of a load. Reviewers tend to like the base four-cylinder, a trusty, torquey workhorse of an engine. 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 4.0-liter V-6 that’s offered on the rest of the lineup provides a completely different personality, as it produces 236 horsepower and a noteworthy 266 pound-feet of torque—enough to move the Tacoma quickly even when you have a heavy load. To back up their subjective impressions, The Auto Channel posts a fleet 7.8-second run to 60 mph with a heavily optioned 4WD, long-bed Double Cab V-6, and describes the engine 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.”

Both the four-speed (four-cylinder) and five-speed (V-6) automatic transmissions 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.”

One very useful feature that aids performance and safety on steep, slippery slopes is Downhill Assist Control—a feature usually reserved for luxury vehicles from manufacturers such as BMW and Range Rover. Motor Trend says that the optional feature “automatically pulses the brakes to maintain a steady five-mph speed while descending steep trails and tracks.” With the Off-Road package, there's a differential lock, while non-off-road Tacomas use an electronic system, employing the anti-lock brakes.

Provided you choose the four-cylinder engine, the Tacoma is quite fuel-efficient. Ratings go as high as 20 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, while the V-6, 2WD or 4WD models with the automatic rate at just 16/20 mpg. Car and Driver editors averaged 18 mpg over 3,964 miles of Alaskan terrain in a V-6 model.

Ride and handling are a low point for the 2010 Toyota Tacoma; it handles like a truck—which is to say that the steering is good and communicative, but the ride is hard and bumpy. Push a little too hard over bumps and the tires simply lose contact. Maneuverability is another disappointment; the mid-size proportions of the newer Tacoma don't allow it to turn around any easier than a full-size truck. 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.”

But if you intend to take the Tacoma off-road, you won't be disappointed. 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.”

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2010 Toyota Tacoma

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Toyota Tacoma is characterized by a rather noisy cabin and trucklike drivability, countered with a roomy interior and thoughtful details.

Inside, the 2010 Toyota Tacoma isn’t as spacious as a full-size truck, and though there’s plenty of space in Double Cab versions for four adults (two kids in back for Access Cabs), the front seats are a little short and flat.

Reviewers aren't entirely in agreement here. 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, meanwhile, calls the Tacoma’s interior “a spacious cab with Camry-like comfort and ambience.”

All the fundamentals are here, though; the Tacoma’s payload is well into the three-quarter-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.

As for 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.” Refinement might be slightly disappointing to some; both engines are louder than we hoped, although Car and Driver notes the lack of wind and road noise: “generous sound insulation hushes the cabin against wind noise and pebble spray from the wheels.”

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). However, Edmunds’ reviewers complain about “occasionally rough ride quality.”

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2010 Toyota Tacoma

Safety

Toyota focuses more intensely on safety with the 2010 Tacoma compared to most other compact or mid-size truck makers.

With top five-star results in frontal and side tests from the federal government and top "good" ratings from the IIHS, the 2010 Tacoma gets very respectable ratings—with a "marginal" rating from the IIHS in the rear-impact test being the only blemish.

Anti-lock brakes, brake assist, and electronic stability control are now included across the model line, as are active front headrests, front seat-mounted side airbags, and curtain side airbags, along with an Automatic Limited-slip Differential (Auto-LSD); TRD Off-Road packages are equipped with a separate locking rear differential.

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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2010 Toyota Tacoma

Features

The 2010 Toyota Tacoma is available with a long list of optional and dealer-installed add-ons, though it's missing some tech features.

The 2010 Tacoma model line covers a wide range of needs in base form, especially if you're willing to add a few options, but two specialized models, the PreRunner and X-Runner, are focused for tough terrain and look the part. The PreRunner 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. Also available is a TRD Off-Road Package that brings special badging, plus an off-road suspension with Bilstein dampers, fog lamps, and a transfer-case skid plate. Taking the concept to an extreme is the Off-Road Rugged Trail Package, which includes a locking rear diff, 16-inch Baja wheels, additional skid plating, black overfenders, and Bilstein shocks.

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.”

Available as a dealer-installed accessory is a supercharger kit from TRD, or Toyota Racing Development. It boosts the horsepower of the V-6 from 236 to 304. 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.

Automobile Magazine 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.”

The options list on the 2010 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.

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 the equipment list is beginning to look a little dated. Any 2010 Tacoma without that JBL system doesn't come with Bluetooth, and there's no factory navigation system option.

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