- Touchscreen infotainment
- Off-road-ready TRD editions
- Good on resale
- Big engine, big wheels, big times
- Not quick
- Rides stiffly
- Get ready to spend
features & specs
The 2021 Toyota Tacoma wears its age like a badge of honor.
The 2021 Toyota Tacoma gains new Nightshade and Trail Special Editions this year, but otherwise carries over the things that keep it the top-selling mid-size pickup truck in the U.S. It’s excellent at off-road driving in TRD spec, has a useful pickup bed and an available crew-cab body, and can be configured with part-time four-wheel drive and a manual transmission.
It’s also bouncy to drive on public roads, has a skimpy back seat, and though it has automatic emergency braking standard, crash-test scores aren’t great. We give it a TCC Rating of 5.0 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Being one of the best-looking mid-size trucks doesn’t make the 2021 Tacoma a Lexus LC, though. It’s chunky and expressive from the massive grille back to the end of the headlights. That’s where the party stops, and the hard work begins. Tacomas have a spit of detail here and there, but it’s the interior that wins us over, with its wash-and-wear sensibility and big, useful knobs and buttons; it’s bro culture’s own Playskool in there.
The Tacoma fills a pedestrian need in stock SR trim, with a 159-horsepower 4-cylinder and a 6-speed automatic transmission, but guzzles fuel as it puts in those long hours. Swap in four-wheel drive, a 278-hp V-6, a 6-speed manual transmission, and lift the ride height and swap in Fox shocks, and the Tacoma TRD Pro or Off-Road models are ready to cruise the kind of dusty berms and crested ridges that stock photographers dream about. Towing rates up to 6,800 pounds, so bring along the Seadoos, too.
Tacomas can be configured as work trucks, too, which means a toolbox fits behind the front seats in extended cabs where people should not. Even crew-cab Tacomas aren’t great at hosting people; the seatback sits too bolt upright, like it’s waiting to sit for a deposition. But the cabin’s trimmed with durability in mind, and the bed’s useful, too; at 5 or 6 feet long it’ll bring home as much flat-pack furniture as you’re willing to assemble.
Toyota builds automatic emergency braking into every Tacoma, and gives each power windows and mirrors, a sliding rear window, and at least a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Lightly optioned SR5 Tacomas strike a sweet spot, and get better front seats than the base SR; TRD models can be fitted with an under-truck camera that can flush out obstacles before the truck grinds over them, expensively. A Tacoma TRD Off Road, in desert tan, with an in-bed tent and a week’s worth of provisions, would only be missing one prop in the recurring adventure fantasy of ours: a drowned iPhone.
2021 Toyota Tacoma
Tough truck doesn’t have to mean rough truck.
Toyota’s had a hit-or-miss run designing pickups. The Tacoma’s a hit, in relative terms; the Tundra’s the whiff. We give the Tacoma a 6 for its exterior and interior; sometimes age works in your favor.
The Tacoma, for the most part, is an unpretentious truck, one with boxy outlines and moderately curved fenders that show how it’s been regularly updated—though it’s essentially the same design that bowed in the early years of this century. The grille sits high and bold and upright; LED running lights frame out a grille that’s grown more pronounced and versatile over the years. The upturn to the rear glass of the cabin’s been around for a long time, though. Base SR trucks are spartan in look, while TRD Pro editions crank up the visual volume to 11 with blacked-out trim, big Toyota badges, and chunky tires.
The Tacoma cockpit plants a touchscreen in the middle of the dash in a rare concession to modernity, but otherwise, it’s a wall of controls, upright and all business. Climate and media systems get big round knobs to match the Tacoma’s big round air vents, and the only things not covered in grey or black plastic in the cabin probably have a pulse and a driver’s license. Spelunkers will feel right at home with the low dark roof and slim windows. You won’t feel a moment’s remorse for getting this truck dusty or muddy. That’s part of the appeal.
2021 Toyota Tacoma
The Tacoma gets a gold star for its service off-road, and a couple of demerits for its street attitude.
The Tacoma’s not a vehicle designed for commuter use, though you’ll see plenty pressed into that duty. Its strengths come where the road ends. We give it a 4 for performance, and not because it’s incapable off-road. It’s the opposite, garnering a point for its rock-and-rut attitude, but losing two for handling and acceleration.
Toyota sells some basic Tacomas with a 159-hp 2.7-liter inline-4. With 180 lb-ft of torque and a 6-speed automatic mandatory, this Tacoma’s the one to leave off the shopping list. It’ll be hard to find anyway: Toyota builds most Tacoma pickups with a 278-hp 3.5-liter V-6 that turns in 265 lb-ft of torque. The bigger engine’s also offered with a 6-speed manual, which makes it the superior of the BMW 8-Series and the Lamborghini Huracan, in pedal count if nothing else.
The Tacoma can be trimmed out with standard part-time rear-wheel drive, but most will get four-wheel drive that pairs with its ladder frame and leaf-sprung solid rear axle like Moon Pies with RC Cola. Better wait to open either until the next truck stop: The Tacoma’s ride bucks and bounces on all versions—and on TRD Pro models with Fox shocks, it’s even stiffer. That gives it the resilience it needs where there is no road, but on any urban grid the Tacoma will leave you shaken.
The tried-and-true enthusiasts who praise the Tacoma for its trail-riding talents point to its high ground clearance, and to the locking rear differential, crawl-control system, standard tow package (rated up to 6,800 pounds), and traction modes of the TRD Off Road and TRD Pro editions. Rightfully so—and a wealth of aftermarket parts keep the Tacoma forever young in the eyes of those drivers. For everyone else...there’s a less expensive, more efficient, more comfortable, and more routinely useful RAV4 just across the showroom lot.
2021 Toyota Tacoma
Comfort & Quality
The Tacoma’s better for plywood than people.
A mid-size pickup might be the last vehicle we’d choose to carry more than one extra passenger, but the Tacoma does a fair job of comfort in crew-cab trim, and an awesome job at workhorsing in extended-cab long-bed mode. It’s still a 5 here, because the rear seats are uncomfortable, which offsets the point we give it for utility.
The Tacoma’s front seats have average comfort and in cheaper versions, minimal adjustability. On the SR5, the driver seat can be moved 10 different ways, at least, and the passenger seat adjusts in four ways; the latest Tacoma seats do much better at providing a higher driving position and better leg support, too. The cabin won’t win any kudos for lavish trim or upscale finishes, but it looks ready to gut it out for the next decade of styrofoam cups, tool boxes, muddy boots, and Salt Life window stickers.
The Tacoma’s deficient in head room, even in front, and the back seat suffers from limited leg and head room, even in the crew-cab edition. Don’t even think of putting adults in back in the extended-cab version; it’s cargo-only, as far as we’re concerned.
The bed doesn’t have all the fancy tricks and features of some full-size pickups, but crew-cab Tacomas get a 5-foot bed standard, and a 6-foot bed can be had on it (the long bed’s standard on the extended-cab Taco).
2021 Toyota Tacoma
The Tacoma’s overdue for new crash tests.
The IIHS hasn’t crash-tested the Tacoma in some time, though the NHTSA gives it a four-star rating overall. That’s offset by its standard suite of advanced safety technology, including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams.
We give it a 5 for safety—and we’ll update this section if the IIHS puts it through tests soon.
2021 Toyota Tacoma
Fresh features keep Tacoma drivers happy in the wild, but it lacks some basics.
The Tacoma has off-road hardware to entice the hardcore crowd, and its infotainment’s not saddled with a terrible touchpad, like some other Toyota vehicles. It’s a 7 for features, since standard features, warranty coverage, and value all are average.
Beyond the choices of body styles, bed lengths, and drivetrains, all Tacomas have a standard 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, as well as Amazon Alexa service. The base SR trim also has cloth upholstery, power windows and locks (but not power mirrors), and a sliding rear window, all for about $27,000. We’d spend a little more for the SR5, which gains a 10-way manual driver seat, power-sliding rear window, keyless entry, and fog lights. Options are limited to things like a tonneau cover and an appearance package.
The TRD Sport bundles styling add-ons, while the TRD Off Road is the real deal with its locking rear differential, Bilstein shocks, hill-descent control, and terrain traction control modes. It’s our backup pick, if the Tacoma’s venturing anywhere off-pavement on a regular basis, but there’s also a pricey TRD Pro with black 16-inch wheels, a 10-way power driver’s seat, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen, as well as an under-truck camera to keep an eye on obstacles below the truck.
The ritziest Tacoma, at about $40,000, is the Limited. It gains 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, a surround-view camera system, a sunroof, premium audio, navigation, and wireless smartphone charging.
2021 Toyota Tacoma
Gas mileage isn’t the Tacoma’s best look.
The EPA rates the Toyota Tacoma in the low 20s to high teens for fuel economy. It straddles the border here, but since it’s most popular with four-wheel drive, it’s a 3.
Base rear-drive, 4-cylinder Tacomas earn EPA ratings of 20 mpg city, 23 highway, 21 combined. That’s when outfitted with the 6-speed automatic transmission; with four-wheel drive, numbers dip to 19/22/20 mpg.
With the V-6 and rear-wheel drive the Tacoma’s rated a little higher, at 19/24/21 mpg, but loses that advantage with four-wheel drive, its most popular configuration. It’s 18/22/20 mpg for non-TRD automatic Tacomas, 17/21/18 mpg for 6-speed-manual versions.
The TRD Off-Road gets pegged at 17/20/18 mpg with the 6-speed manual, while the TRD Pro checks in at 18/22/20 mpg with the automatic, 17/20/18 mpg with the manual.