1. Upgrades for 2009 include standard stability and traction control, side front-seat airbags, side curtain airbags, active head restraints in the front and a limited-slip differential.
2. The Tacoma’s 4.0L V6 offers a good balance between power and fuel economy, with 236 hp and 266 ft-lbs of torque and an EPA rated 17/21 mpg rating for the 4×2 and 16/20 for the 4×4.
3. An optional TRD package includes some nice aerodynamic trim bits as well as 17-inch rims and Bilstein shocks.
4. The Tacomas maximum towing capacity is rated at 6,500-lbs.
Over the last couple decades, Toyota has proven itself as a company that knows how to build and sell cars. If you beg to differ, take a step out your front door and count the number of Echos, Camrys and Corollas sitting in the driveways of your neighbors. After much success in the North American car market, Toyota has yet to really show the big three who’s boss when it comes to trucks.
Towing power and re-sale value are just a couple of examples how the import truck makers have come up short while competing with domestic truck builders. Perhaps the largest obstacle that Toyota faces is overcoming brand loyalty that exists in this segment. With the current volatility of fuel prices and an uncertain future for General Motors, Ford and Dodge, however, the stage may be set for the faithful masses to look elsewhere sometime soon.
POWERFUL AND FUEL EFFICIENT 4.0-LITER V6
While the 2.7L four-cylinder base engine (producing 159hp and 180 ft-lbs of torque) doesn’t exactly offer tire-shredding power, some drivers are more interested in fuel economy than the quarter-mile. The four-banger certainly delivers in the first of those categories with a rating of 19/25 mpg (city/highway) for the 2X4 and 17/22 for the 4×4 model. Step up to the 4.0-liter V6 model, like the one in my TRD equipped Double Cab tester, and you will be rewarded with 236 hp and 266 ft-lbs of torque.
Thanks to Variable Valve Timing with intelligence, (VVT-i) and sequential multi-port electronic fuel injection, the V6 powerplant has decent acceleration whether pulling away from a stoplight or passing on the highway and it also delivers decent fuel economy with a 17/21 mpg rating for the 4×2 and 16/20 mpg rating for the 4×4. The V6 engine even has enough gusto to shoot the Tacoma to 60 mph in roughly eight seconds
TRD PACKAGE DELIVERS GREAT HANDLING
Braking is confidence inspiring thanks to front disc brakes with standard ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA). The rear brakes are drum units, which while less sophisticated in the car world offer superior durability for when your travels take you off the beaten path.
Thanks to an optional $3,055 TRD Sport package that includes larger 17-inch wheels, a set of 265/65/17 tires and Bilstein shocks, handling is equally competent. The ride quality is firm and stable without being jarringly harsh and the steering is sharp and precise.
STANDARD EQUIPMENT UPGRADES FOR 2009
Upgrades for 2009 include standard stability and traction control, side front-seat airbags, side curtain airbags, active head restraints in the front and a limited-slip differential. The standard audio system has also been updated, while the Access Cab models get standard power windows and door locks and a new rear-seat design. Much of the appeal to the Tacoma platform is that it offers a wide variety of choices depending on the intentions of its owner. Regardless of the preferences and duties to be performed, the Tacoma offers something for most. The $15,170 price tag on admission to the entry level model and top out price of $25,285 for the X-Runner doesn’t hurt either. Options can drive the price up, however, with my TRD Double Cab model topping the $30,000 mark.
While the owner who opts for the X-Runner will be unlikely to tow more than a couple dirt bikes or Sea Doos, other variants have the potential of 6,500 lbs of towing capacity and a payload of up to 1,445 lbs. The Tacoma may not be able to tow a house like your neighbor’s F350 Super Duty but 6,500-lbs is still a considerable amount – and it doesn’t cost a month’s worth of groceries to fill the tank with gas. And for those who don’t need a pickup truck all the time, this more versatile platform means you don’t have to compromise. The updated Tacoma might be larger and more powerful than the last model but for those who require a machine for heavy-duty tasks, the Tundra is the better option.
STYLE TO SPARE OUTSIDE, BUT NOT INSIDE
The Tacoma’s appearance is brawny and aggressive thanks to the wide stance and muscular shape, which are accentuated by the fender flares and hood scoop on the TRD equipped testers. While badass and brooding from the outside, the hood scoop proved to be an annoyance as it managed to consistently reflect the sun directly into my eyes every evening on the way home from work.
Those in search of a real looker are sure to be impressed with the X-Runner – especially in Speedway Blue.
While the exterior is strikingly stylish, the interior is rather bland and leaves something to be desired. Layout and ergonomics are utilitarian and there is no option for leather on U.S. models (although it can be had on Canadian Tacomas).
SMALL GRIPES: TILT STEERING AND BACKUP CAMERA
While the Tacoma excels in most categories, there were a few shortcomings I feel should be addressed that could be quickly and easily rectified. The tilt steering can be adjusted roughly an inch, which makes me wonder why they even bothered. If you are going to take the time as a designer to configure such an option, why go half way? Secondly, the backup camera, which appears in the rearview mirror once the switchgear is set in reverse is a nice thought but could be improved; The Chevy Traverse I recently tested had the same option but the camera offered a wider, clearer and more accurate view behind the vehicle than that of the Tacoma. It is unlikely that you recall the last time you heard someone say they wished a Toyota was more like a Chevy, but GM is stepping up its game across the board, meaning Toyota need not rest on its laurels for long.
THE REAL TEST: DOES THE OLD MAN LIKE IT?
While I immediately enjoyed driving the Tacoma, in my eyes the ultimate test for any truck is whether it manages to win over my old man. The proud owner of many GMC Suburbans over the years, my father was driving SUVs long before they were considered chic and will continue to drive them long after. In addition to limiting his vehicle options significantly, standing six-foot-five and weighing a ‘tad’ over 200 lbs has helped him earn the nickname, “The Bear.” After only a few minutes on the road in the significantly smaller Tacoma, I slowly witnessed his grimace turn to a grin. “It’s no Suburban, but it’s not as bad as I expected,” he reluctantly admitted, which in Bear-speak means he liked it.
Whether you are looking for a daily driver, a family hauler or a medium grade workhorse, (or a little bit of each) you are unlikely to be disappointed by the Tacoma in any of its various forms.
Balance between power and fuel economy