Full-size light-duty pickups remain wildly popular here in the States with domestic Big Wigs Ford, Chevrolet and Ram (formerly Dodge trucks prior to a 2009 spinoff) leading the sales charge. All three ranked first, second and third respectively as top-selling nameplates among all cars and light-duty trucks sold in America during 2018.
Mid-size pickups, a notch-down in size from F-150s, Silverados and Rams, tell a slightly different tale. Toyota's Tacoma has dominated sales (with 245,659 units sold in CY 2018), registering as the America's best-selling mid-size pickup for 12 years and running as domestic brands find themselves playing catch up.
To that end, Ford brings back a mid-size Ranger pickup this 2019 model year after a decade-or-so hiatus. General Motors has doubled down on its two mid-size flatbeds, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, which received next-generation redos in the 2015 model year after a near two-year absence from the market place. However, Tacoma's not ready to surrender sales supremacy soon.
Tacoma debuted in 1995 with a second-generation revamp in 2005, Gen Three, which this week's tester is based, arrived in the 2016 model year. Trim levels back in 2016 included entry SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD off-road and top-shelf Limited all with a plethora of mix-and-match opportunities when combining engine selections, cab lengths (access cab or double cab), bed lengths, transmissions (six-speed manual vs six-speed automatic) and 4 x 2/4 x 4 configurations.
Double cabs include seating for five and conventional swing-out doors. Access cabs seat four total with a shortened back row. Two cargo bed lengths are available (five foot and six foot) with the smaller access cab opting exclusively for the longer six-foot version.
Tacoma introduced a new TRD Pro trim in the 2017 model year. During last year's 2018 Chicago Auto Show, a 2019-model year TRD Pro took center stage tweaked with a visually dominant, snakelike 'desert air intake' tube snuggling and snorkeling up against the passenger-side "A" pillar. The 'upstairs' placement allows air ingestion to occur in a cleaner region above the windshield instead of down lower near dirtier wheel wells, benefitting air filter longevity and overall engine health; great if traversing deserts of the western U.S., but of limited benefit here in the lush (at least during summer months) Prairie State.
The TRD designation reflects 'Toyota Racing Development.' Think of TRD Pro as the ultimate off-road Tacoma. This trim comes well equipped with scant few available stand-along options (save for the desert air intake) or packages from the factory
Under hood of TRD Pro is a 3.5-liter, naturally-aspirated (non-turbo) V-6 delivering 278 horsepower and 265 lbs-ft of low-end torque. It's connected either to a pedestrian six-speed automatic transmission or six-speed manual. Part-time 4 x 4 four-wheel drive comes standard. Other Tacoma trims offer a second engine option; a 2.7-liter, naturally aspirated inline four cylinder generating 159 horses and 180 lbs.-ft. of torque. Both engines digest regular 87-octane fuel in a rather generous 21.1-gallon tank. Fuel economy rates average at best with the V-6, but the 6,400-pound tow rating is more than respectable.
Toyota builds a majority of Tacomas in San Antonio Texas alongside its full-size Tundra pickup at a facility dedicated to pickup truck assembly. Baja Mexico serves as a second Tacoma assembly home.
Tacoma wraps itself within ToyotaCare, a complimentary plan covering normal factory-scheduled maintenance and 24-hour roadside assistance for two-years or 25,000 miles. Toyota's 'Safety Sense P' nicely combines radar-enhanced cruise control, lane departure warning, automatic high beams and forward collision warning and adorns all company vehicles large and small in 2019.
Our 'Voodoo Blue '(an exclusive exterior hue for TRD Pro) V-6 double cab with five-foot bed checked in at $45,365, the most opulently-priced 2019 Tacoma but sans the desert air intake pipe. The only add on was the pesky $1,045 destination charge for a $46,410 bottom line. At the opposite spectrum end, a Tacoma SR 4 x 2 with access cab rear doors starts at $25,700.
Expect just ancillary additions in TRD Pro 2019 compared with last year's Chicago intro including two additional center console USB plug-in ports benefitting portable electronics. Also, a moon roof and upgraded JBL audio system now come standard.
While most other Tacoma trims sport a double wishbone coil spring front suspension and leaf spring rear suspension, TRD Pros opts for a reworked suspension with an extra inch of front lift via TRD-tuned springs and progressive rate off-road leaf springs. These help smooth out both on-and-off-road bumps, large and small.
Visually, an aggressively-designed black hood scoop adds panache. It's the sole trim offering TRD Pro-badged black alloy wheels and black sport bezels highlighting projector beam headlights and tail lights. Up front, the grille includes a heritage theme with TOYOTA spelled in all caps within hexagonal frame. A composite black compound surrounds squared-off wheel wells to help alleviate ding damage.
A power-sliding rear glass window pane comes standard for quick bed access from the cab. As with most recently redesigned pickups of any size, the tail gate features an 'easy-down damper' when lowering, eliminating the unwanted 'thud' alternative. Toyota utilizes newer tech rotary dampers rather than struts popular in other makes for easing down of the tail gate.
Inside, TRD PRO features unique leather-trimmed front heated buckets with driver's seat boasting back lumbar support. An electronic dashboard dial just right of the electronic push-button start helps designate either two-wheel rear drive, 4 x 4 high and slower-speed off-road 4 x 4 low. A manual narrow pull handle left of the floor-mounted transmission shifter activates the parking brake.
Double cabs include 60/40 split seat cushions which fold forward, allowing seat backs to fold forward (one removing headrests) creating a flat surface for yet another hauling option (this time indoors).
The bold dash includes four circular air vents with brushed aluminum trim, two at the far end and two flanking the center seven-inch, high-resolution split-screen in-dash monitor. This medium-sized, well-designed touch-screen operates in tandem with nearby old-school volume-on-off and station select twist knobs. Dials remain sizeable enough to operate while donning winter gloves.
Currently, Apple Car Play and Android Auto Smartphone interplay are absent within Tacoma, although Toyota's Apple CarPlay commitment in other Toyota makes should reach Tacoma sooner rather than later.
During Tacoma's next redesign, drivers could benefit from either an interior ceiling handle, A pillar handle or both. Shut-gun passengers enjoy an extra thick B Pillar assist and those of us the dark side of 50 need all the grab-able assists available.
The easy-glance instrument panel includes two large analog dials flanking a multi-panel multi-information digital display with outside temperature and average fuel economy display.
Below the in-dash color screen resides a compact HVAC unit with rectangular digital window above three twist dials (a center ventilation speed dial flanked by dual front temperature dials). Fan direction selects via the center ventilation circle's inside push plate.
At a Glance
2019 Tacoma TRD Pro
Price as tested: $46,410
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Wheelbase: 127.4 inches
Overall width: 75.2 inches
Overall height: 71.6 inches
Curb weight: 4,425 pounds
Powertrain warranty: Five years/60,000 miles
Fuel economy: 18 mpg city/22 mpg highway
Assembly: San Antonio, Texas