Toyota has been building pickup trucks since the 60s, but the Tacoma name didn't appear on its trucks until 1995. The Tacoma originally launched as a compact pickup but has since grown up to be a mid-size truck. It is currently in its fourth generation that debuted in 2015 and received a mid-cycle refresh in 2020 with updates that included a new grille, new wheel designs, upgraded multimedia, and electronic power adjustable driver seats. 2021 saw the Nightshade edition get added to the lineup along with Toyota Safety Sense P becoming standard on all trucks. As we roll in to 2022, the lineup again expands with the introduction of the 4x4 only Trail Addition that features a suspension lift, bronze 16" wheels, heritage grille, and more. Also new is an even more advanced TRD Pro model with an increased suspension lift, TRD control arms, new wheels, and the very bold Electric Lime color.
The Tacoma continues as a body on frame truck that's offered in extended cab and crew cab form. The extended cab known as Access Cab comes with a 6.1 ft bed and the crew cab called Double Cab comes with either a 5ft or the 6.1ft bed. Access cabs seat four with two in the back that have access via a half-door. Double cabs are more traditional with four doors, twin front bucket seats and a 3-seat rear bench. The Tacoma is offered in 7 trim levels known as SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off Road, Limited, Trail, and TRD Pro.
The SR and SR5 come standard with a 2.7 liter 4 cylinder engine that makes 159 horsepower with 180 lb.-ft. of torque. All other models come standard with a 3.5 liter V6 making 278 horsepower and 265 lb.-ft. of torque. The 4 cylinder is available only with a 6-speed automatic while the V6 is offered with either a 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual. Tacomas are offered with either rear or part time 4WD. Prices start at $26,500 for a 4x2 SR Access Cab and climb up into the $47,000+ range for an automatic TRD Pro Double Cab. While Tacoma sales have generally been rising annually since 2010, competition in the segment has increased as the truck craze carries on. Competition includes the Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline, Jeep Gladiator, and Nissan Frontier. I spent a week in the Tacoma TRD Off Road and here's what stands out...
The consensus on the base powertrain is that it is generally underwhelming and worth upgrading to the V6. Having spent my time in a V6 model, I found that it delivered ample power and acceleration. The overall ride felt somewhat sporty. Upgrading to the V6 also provides greater capability in the form of towing capacity (6,400 lbs) and payload (1,155 lbs). Tires and suspension will greatly influence the ride and my TRD Off Road model provided a bouncier and noisier ride on the highway than a Limited model would. The ride is very much as expected from a body-on-frame truck with an off-road suspension and tires. Despite being a bit bouncier, the ride still remained controlled and stable, but with looser steering at higher speeds. My test truck was also equipped with an available TRD Performance exhaust that gave it a deeper exhaust tone that sounded good.
One of Tacoma's strengths is in its off-road capability. Three of its seven models focus heavily on getting off the pavement and onto the trails. The TRD Off Road, Trail Edition, and TRD Pro all provide various levels of off-road capabilities with the TRD Pro being capable of just about anything without modifications. Standard on all of these trims is an electronic locking rear differential which will deliver engine power evenly to both rear wheels to keep them moving at the same speed on uneven terrain. Also available is crawl control which takes the guess work out of managing the throttle off-road and lets the truck manage the brakes and power on five low-speed settings. Multi-Terrain Select (MTS) is another advanced feature that offers five modes including mud & sand, loose rock, mogul, rock & dirt, and bigger rock. The system is fairly intuitive for anyone into off-roading. In order to operate, the truck should be shifted into neutral to select low-4WD which will also turn off stability control and pre-collision braking system. The MTS dial is above the rear-view mirror on the roof for selecting the modes and graphics will change on the digital cluster display to alert the driver of which mode is active.
The off-road features continue with hill start assist control and a multi-terrain monitoring system. Hill-start assist will minimize slippage when releasing the brake on a hill and the monitoring system provides visuals of the immediate surrounding such as rocks or debris that may not otherwise be seen. Bilstein shocks come on the TRD Off Road while the TRD Pro models will get FOX 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks tuned by TRD engineers. Standard ground clearance is a respectable 9.4 inches. The upgraded shocks and lift on the Tacoma will give it even more ground clearance to tackle more serious off-road terrain. All models also come with appropriate skid plates to protect the undercarriage of the truck.
Fuel Economy (-)
When the Tacoma arrived with a full 21.1-gallon tank it offered a range of around 320 miles. Fuel economy is estimated at 18/22/20 MPG city/highway/combined. These ratings are below-average for the class. After a week of suburban driving, I averaged 17.5 MPG. Regular grade fuel is sufficient.
Exterior Style (+)
Styling on the Tacoma hasn't changed much since the third generation debuted in 2015, however it did get a mild facelift in 2020 with new grille and wheel designs. The styling remains relevant with a rugged design well-suited for personal modification. TRD Sport models can be distinguished with a non-functioning hood scoop that gives it a more muscular, sporty look. The front grille will vary based on trim models. Both the new 2022 Trail Edition and TRD Pro models feature a Toyota heritage inspired grille with Toyota spelled out across the center. The rest of the front fascia sits high for maximum ground clearance and include both front corners angled up to aid with off-roading clearance. The side profile features flared fenders with plenty of room for to increase the tire size for more extreme off-roading. Around back TACOMA is stamped into an indented portion of the tailgate. The truck really pops in some of the Tacoma's bolder colors such as Barcelona Red Metallic, Army Green, Voodoo Blue, Lunar Rock and Electric Lime.
One very common feature on new cars and trucks is LED lighting and unfortunately, that feature is only available on the Limited and TRD Pro trims. The projector beam headlights on all other Tacoma models just didn't illuminate the roadways in the same way LEDs can. Having been in a $47k+ truck I was disappointed the LEDs weren't even an available option. The LEDs on the top trims look great, but not every truck buyer is going to want all of the other features in those models.
Tacomas are available with wheels ranging in size from 16" up to 18" in a variety of styles and finishes. Wheel designs were updated in 2020 and the designs generally match up to the trim level well. Limited models get the largest 18" polished alloys that complement the chrome grille nicely. Other available finishes include black, dark gray, bronze, and machined alloys. Regardless of the truck, all have a rugged look to them. I particularly like the new bronze wheels coming on the Trail Edition and the new design of the black wheels on the 2022 TRD Pro.
Interior Layout (+)
The Tacoma is a truck for someone that doesn't need glitz and glamour. The interior is simple, but looks tough and ready to get dirty. The overall build quality is top notch with durable materials and tight gaps. Drivers will face a traditional cluster set-up with an available 4.2" information screen in the middle. A seven- or eight-inch touchscreen is in the middle of the dashboard with navigation buttons/knobs surrounding it. Dual zone automatic climate control is standard on V6 models and an available power sliding rear window adds some fresh air. All of the controls are well placed and straightforward. The overall design focuses on function. Off-road multi-terrain controls are placed within the headliner which is atypical but also easily within reach. The center stack features a traditional gear shifter, multiple cup holders, wireless mobile device charging and a center console storage.
Infotainment Technology (-)
Despite being updated to integrate with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa the system falls short. There was a significant lag every time I started the Tacoma before the system was fully functioning. Even then, there seemed to be a delay for most of the controls. Standard is a 7-inch screen on SR models while all others have an 8-inch screen. The buttons and on-screen graphics feel dated and overdue for an update. The system is an improvement for the Tacoma overall, but it still feels like it's a generation behind as technology advances so quickly.
Passenger Space (+/-)
Getting in the truck will take some efforts for shorter individuals as the truck rides higher than some other mid-size trucks. Opting for the double cab will provide seating for five with a bench seat in the back. Toyota updated the Tacoma in 2020 to finally give it power adjustable seats on most grades. This improvement helps with driver positioning significantly as the seats are mounted low to the floor. Both cloth and leather upholstery are available as are heated seats. The seats are comfortable and there is sufficient head and leg room up front. Rear passenger space is tighter, but not terrible. Three adults would feel cramped, but three kid were reasonably comfortable in the back.
Tucked under the rear seats are some small, but usable storage compartments. Additionally, the seats fold forward to provide a flat surface. Double cab models come with either a 6-foot-1-inch or a 5-foot bed. Access cabs come exclusively with the larger bed. It also comes standard with a removable tailgate and bed rail system with adjustable tie-downs. Trail editions will add even more utility with insulated storage in the truck bed that can be used as a cooler.
Standard Safety (+)
Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) is standard on all Tacoma trucks and includes pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, high-speed dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert, and automatic high beams. Also standard is the Star Safety System which includes vehicle stability control, traction control, ant-lock braking system, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and smart stop brake override technology. The Tacoma rates well in both IIHS and NHTSA safety ratings. Additional features such as rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert are also available.
The Tacoma has become a benchmark in the mid-size truck segment that is proving to stand the test of time. It's a true truck with plenty of capability off-road and all the basic modern technology needed on road. There are a few areas that would benefit from updates to make it even better, but it remains a solid, reliable choice that holds its value.
First Impression Summary:
Test Vehicle: 2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4x4 Double Cab
Exterior Color: Army Green
Interior Color: Black Leather
Notable Options: Advanced Technology Package ($1,700), TRD Premium Off-Road Package ($3,815), 5" Oval tube step ($469), TRD Front Skid Plate ($499), TRD Performance Exhaust ($799), Soft Tonneau Cover ($739), Bed Step ($300), and more.
Price as tested: $47,863 (with destination charge)