- Neatly organized controls
- Good resale value
- Base versions are quite affordable
- Still offers a four-cylinder engine
- Reliability is part of its street cred
- Thinly padded seats
- Ride gets jittery, even in base versions
- Gets very expensive in specialty, V-6 versions
- Poor street handling
The Toyota Tacoma doesn't make a lot of sense, unless it'll live almost exclusively off-road.
The Toyota Tacoma is a survivor, weathering the shrinking of the compact truck market--and now, the return of two very strong rivals. The Ford Ranger may be gone, but GM has relaunched its Canyon and Colorado twins after a bye-year--and the Nissan Frontier is still in the running.
The Tacoma recently earned some much-needed audio-system improvements, with the standard system incorporating built-in Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, plus a USB/iPod port. The base system now has six speakers, and even that is satellite-radio capable. Also new to the Tacoma line is the Entune system, which packages navigation functions, text-to-voice capability, voice commands, HD Radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, and real-time traffic and weather, among other features.
Outside of these changes, the Tacoma's model line largely has carried over for the past few years, offering a basic pickup package for those looking at the cheapest model, ranging all the way up to the specialized terrain-focused PreRunner model. The PreRunner adds a higher-riding suspension, locking rear differential, and other appearance cues. 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.
For 2015, Regular Cab models have been discontinued, and the TRD Pro Series debuts for hardcore off-roading enthusiasts.
The Tacoma's looks haven't changed much since a 2005 redesign. The grille's a bit more pronounced, and the headlamps are tapered a bit more into a more amped-up front bumper. Elsewhere, it's purely business, without the flair that the Frontier has. The Tacoma's just more chunky, more disjointed, and behind the front pillars, more plain and traditional. In the cockpit, Toyota's improved the texture and appearance of the plastic trim in recent years, and the Tacoma's cabin gets the nod over the Frontier's if only for that slightly elevated sense of quality, enhanced by the backlit gauges and touches of brightwork.
The base 159-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder can manage basic chores well enough, so long as you're riding solo and not towing or hauling much. We'd choose the five-speed manual, and leave off the hefty four-wheel-drive system; the four-speed automatic's gears are too widely spaced for quick acceleration or good fuel economy. The 4.0-liter V-6 on the preferred versions of the Tacoma has a completely different personality: it makes 236 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque, which is more than enough to hustle the Tacoma around quickly, even when you have a heavy load, though things get a little breathless past 75 mph or so on the interstate. The five-speed automatic that's standard on V-6 models is a responsive gearbox, too.
It's the Tacoma's road manners that disappoint the most. Even among pickups, which typically trade off some ride comfort for heavy-hauling ability, the Tacoma feels numb and lifeless in urban environs. The ride is hard and choppy; on pockmarked city surfaces the tires simply lose contact with the road. Maneuverability in the Tacoma doesn't seem any better than that of a full-size truck.
The best way to judge the Tacoma's performance, since its street handling not very impressive, is by towing and payload and off-road capability. The Tacoma's payload is well into the 3/4-ton category, depending on the model, and its tow rating goes up to 6,500 pounds. The Tacoma's a beloved canvas for the off-road community, with everything from a basic four-wheel-drive system and a locking differential to skid plates, huge knobby tires, and off-road suspensions available from Toyota as a model or as an accessory.
Access Cab and Double Cab editions of the Tacoma are offered, with standard or long-bed (LB) lengths, with four- or six-cylinder engines, and they all have the same styling, albeit with different levels of stretch for the cab and bed. As for interior comfort, it's all relative. Compared with full-size trucks, the Tacoma disappoints for interior roominess and seating comfort, but compared with other mid-sizers like the Nissan Frontier it's competitive. That said, even though Double Cab versions have the space for four adults (two kids in back for Access Cabs, which have smaller back doors and seating), the rather skimpy, short and flat seats in front won't win you over for longer trips
2015 Toyota Tacoma
The aged Tacoma outline desperately needs to be reformatted.
This year, Toyota debuts the Tacoma TRD Pro Series, which beefs up the styling and capabilities of the brand's most off-roadable small pickup. It wears extra black trim on the grille, wheels, and rear parts of the truck, intended to give the Tacoma a more menacing look, as it tackles the paths beyond the pavement with more grace than the rest of the lineup.
Inside, Toyota has toned down the matte-metallic onslaught of the outgoing model and blacked out the center-stack area, around audio and climate controls, leaving brightwork around the steering wheel and vents. Likewise, it's thrown out the orange-red lighting and replaced it with a cool-blue backlit look, in line with what's been introduced in other models. And on Access Cabs there's a new rear-console storage box. The plastic trim's been upgraded and in truth the Tacoma dash now has a better feel than the Frontier's cockpit does, if not by a huge margin.
Toyota recently gave the Tacoma a sharper, more defined look in front, with headlamps wrapped into the grille in a new way, and with higher turn signals that stretch the shape of the grille out at the lower corners. It beefs up the Tacoma somewhat, but it doesn't take much to look beyond the nose graft to see the compact proportions peeking out from behind that bulging front end. The offset, flared wheel wells and flared fender sheetmetal adds a hint of aggression or sportiness—brought out, especially, in its off-road trims—and the front end still bears a clear family resemblance with that of the full-size Tundra and Land Cruiser. Also, models with the TRD Sport Package get new side mirrors with integrated turn signals.
Otherwise, at least on the outside, the Tacoma continues its relatively traditional compact-truck design, with a little added flair, paired with the chunky, down-to-business look that nearly all Toyota trucks have had in recent years. Its fundamental design and styling are carried through mostly unchanged since this larger, nearly mid-size version of the Tacoma was introduced, for 2005.
Access Cab and Double Cab editions of the Tacoma are offered, with standard or long-bed (LB) lengths, with four- or six-cylinder engines, and they all have the same styling, albeit with different levels of stretch for the cab and bed.
2015 Toyota Tacoma
On-road handling is ponderous no matter what, but V-6 Tacomas have decent power.
The Tacoma is known for its off-road performance, and for good reason. Many of the models–including the PreRunner and TRD versions–are intended for the shopper who'd rather play in the mud, and this year's new TRD Pro Series is the leader of that pack.
We'd steer you to the countless specialty publications for lengthy discussions of the Tacoma's tuning and off-road capabilities; its four-wheel-drive hardware ranges from a simple locking center differential to highly specialized setups with increased ride heights, knobby off-road tires, special shocks, and skid plates to protect its transfer case. Its customization possibilities go well beyond the usual light off-roading you'll find even in the SUV class--and if you're shopping a Tacoma purely as a dirty weekend plaything, you've probably listed the options and features you have in mind already.
The Tacoma is less happy when it is on pavement, though, while the other remaining mid-size truck, the Nissan Frontier, fares much better.
Ride and handling tend to be low points for the Tacoma, which tends to be thrown off course by bumpy surfaces more than other trucks its size. You typically do trade off some ride comfort and nimbleness for heavy-hauling ability, but the ride can be jarring here, and maneuverability isn't much better than that of a full-size truck. But the steering is a positive; it's good and communicative.
Perhaps the best way to judge the Tacoma's performance, since it's not very impressive, is by towing and payload. The Tacoma's payload is well into the 3/4-ton category, depending on the model, and its tow rating goes up to 6,500 pounds.
The basic Tacoma stocks a four-cylinder engine, and it's seen by some as a substitute for a commuter car. Gas mileage isn't wonderful, though, and in our view, the 159-horsepower, 2.7-liter four just doesn't have enough refinement or fuel economy on tap to justify anything other than its very low base price. It's also strapped to either a five-speed manual, which is fine, or a four-speed automatic with widely spaced gears, which is some of the reason fuel economy is relatively low.
With 236 horsepower and an even more noteworthy 266 pound-feet of torque, the 4.0-liter V-6 provides a completely different personality--with enough torque off the line to move the Tacoma quickly even when you have a heavy load. The five-speed manual transmission in either model shifts smoothly but has long throws; the five-speed automatic that's standard on V-6 models is responsive, but the engine runs out of steam at highway speeds, turning in more ambient road noise than rapid acceleration once it's cruising at 75 mph.
2015 Toyota Tacoma
Comfort & Quality
The Tacoma lacks truly comfortable seats in any position, and headroom is skimpy.
There aren't many smaller-than-full-size trucks left on the market, but amongst its competitors, the Tacoma is one of the least comfortable models we can think of.
Refinement--especially to those who are moving down in size even from a modest full-size truck--could be the Tacoma's biggest failing. From inside the cabin, both engines are louder than you might expect, and the ride can be choppy or jittery over some surfaces. But the cabin does feel durable, with solid-feeling Toyota switchgear throughout and chunky climate controls that would be easy to grip with icy or gloved hands.
That said, road noise is reasonably well filtered-out, and various test vehicles over the years have felt tight and been free of rattles. The cargo bed in the Tacoma remains made of a composite material that's lighter than steel and corrosion-resistant.
The Tacoma comes in two body styles. There's the four-door Double Cab and the in-between Access Cab and its extra space behind the front seats. There's a fair amount of room in the four-door Double Cab, and four adults will be able to sit in it for short trips in reasonable comfort. However, the back seats have a vertical backrest that's not good on longer trips, and head room back there and in front is in short supply. It's even tough to get in the Tacoma if you're taller than about 5' 10"; the roof is low and the floor is high, which means ducking into the cabin instead of stepping in. On Access Cabs, which have smaller back doors and seating, there's enough space for two children in tiny jump seats. In any of the models, the rather skimpy, short and flat seats in front won't win you over for longer trips.
2015 Toyota Tacoma
Crash-test scores are poor, where they're even available for the Tacoma.
The Tacoma's crash ratings aren't as good as they could be, but the truck does come with the expected safety equipment.
The Tacoma is fitted with standard anti-lock brakes, stability control, and brake assist; active front headrests; and six airbags, including curtain and front seat-mounted side airbags. Most models also include an Automatic Limited-slip Differential (Auto-LSD).
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given the Tacoma a top 'good' score in frontal, side, and rear impact, but especially of concern though is that the Tacoma earned a 'marginal' rating in the new IIHS roof strength test, which gauges the roof's protection of occupants in a rollover crash. Relative to other types of vehicles, pickups are especially rollover-prone in accidents.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has tested one version of the Tacoma, the four-door Tacoma Double Cab. For that body style alone, the NHTSA gives the pickup an overall rating of four stars; however, that rating includes a three-star score for frontal impacts, with a five-star score for side-impact protection. No other body styles have yet been tested.
2015 Toyota Tacoma
Utility and off-road gear is plentiful on the order sheet, but the Tacoma lacks some comfort and convenience features.
The Toyota Tacoma can be different things to different drivers, ranging from a capable off-roading machine to some, a sporty personal commuter for others, and a basic work truck for the rest. With that in mind, the Tacoma can be had in a variety of flavors, ranging from a few very spartan base models, all the way out to one very expensive TRD Pro Series pickup.
The Tacoma lineup spans from those base models through a new Limited package, which gets sport seats (still vinyl); a leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio controls; a rearview camera; a garage door opener; and 18-inch chrome wheels. 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. Beyond those street-oriented models, the Tacoma comes into its own with two specialized models, the PreRunner and TRD, which are focused for tough terrain and look the part.
The Tacoma also gets integrated Toyota's Entune system, which brings mobile-app connectivity to the vehicle's audio system. Entune links smartphones to the Tacoma's audio unit and its LCD screen to display 3G-connected navigation functions and real-time weather and traffic information, all accessible by voice commands--and augmented by text-to-voice capability, HD Radio, and Bluetooth audio streaming. In our experience, the system links quickly with the latest Apple software and provides a relatively inexpensive navigation option, though some of the data entry can get tedious--and since voice commands aren't as easily recognized in the Tacoma's loud cabin. Streaming was excellent, though, and so was sound quality itself.
The basic Tacoma is a little sparse, since it's filling a niche that even the Ford Ranger left behind. Buyers are still demanding, though, and Toyota's had to upgrade some of the features; every Tacoma now gets Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, and six speakers to go with its AM/FM/CD player, for example.
For those who want an off-road able truck that really looks the part, it's all here, though. The PreRunner adds a higher-riding suspension, locking rear differential, and other appearance cues. 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.
A number of other dealer-installed accessories are offered on the Tacoma--including a flip-out bed extender, SnugTop Super Sport hard shell, a rubber bed mat, a bed divider, a bed net, cargo crossbars, a Yakima roof rack, a bike rack, and running boards. It's completely customizable to a certain lifestyle, even if that lifestyle is a pretty small percentage of the world at large.
2015 Toyota Tacoma
Full-size pickups earn gas mileage close to the Tacoma's, so what's the point?
Fuel economy isn't normally a strength for pickups, but the availability of a four-cylinder engine helps the Tacoma earn slightly better ratings than we'd normally expect.
However, it's worth considering, that if you're planning to push the four-cylinder model to its limits, your mileage won't be any better in the real-world (perhaps lower) than that of V-6 models. But if it's mostly light commuting you do, you may find better mileage than in the Ram, or Ford's 23-mpg-highway F-150, or even in GM's full-size hybrids—the Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid and GMC Sierra Hybrid.
The ratings for the standard two-wheel-drive, four-cylinder Tacoma peg it at up to 21 miles per gallon city, 25 miles per gallon highway. Not bad, you say? The V-6 version of the latest Ram 1500, with an eight-speed automatic and a lot more room, is rated at 17/25 mpg. The Tacoma, with the V-6, drops to 17/21 mpg, or as low as 16/19 mpg when four-wheel drive is ordered.