Toyota Tacoma: 2016 AutoGuide.com Truck of the Year Nominee

Battling for Pickup Truck Glory

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Toyota redesigned its Tacoma midsize pickup truck for the 2016 model year, making it one of three pickups that qualified for the 2016 AutoGuide.com Truck of the Year Award.

Toyota would have you believe that this is an entirely new truck, but that isn’t exactly the case. In what seems to be a trend with the large Japanese automaker, Toyota did just enough with the Tacoma to make it relevant in today’s market, without trying too hard to jump in front of its competitors. As proof, you need merely look at its rear drum brakes and incredibly heavy steel hood to see that Toyota didn’t blow the bankroll on this truck.

Interior dimensions also remain the same as the previous truck, which means that the back seat still only offers 32.6 inches of legroom, not enough to to accommodate an adult in comfort or to compete with its main competition, which offers just more than three inches more. Seating is even less comfortable for the driver, thanks to a seat that sits too close to the floor and doesn’t have any height adjustment. It means that your right leg ends up sitting too flat, quickly becoming uncomfortable.

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While the dimensions inside didn’t change, the interior is where the new generation truck has most improved compared to the last-gen Tacoma. A thoroughly modern look, along with great fit and finish and a sensible layout, greets the driver along with a colorful new display found in the gauge cluster. Adding to this, the interior has been made much quieter, while the ride overall seems to offer more comfort than the previous model.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Toyota Tacoma Review

On paper, the new 3.5-liter V6 is all new for this truck as well, making 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque, which is actually down 1 lb-ft compared to the old 4.0-liter V6. In practice though, the new 3.5-liter feels very similar to the old 4.0-liter, which means it offers solid grunt when it’s needed, though the tacometer does work itself high into the rev range often to churn out max power. That small torque loss is not noticeable thanks to a beefier 3.90:1 rear-end axle ratio in this truck and an extra 42 hp from this new engine. A new six-speed automatic transmission that is eager to downshift and deliver maximum power is another welcome addition to this powertrain.

Fuel economy for the new engine is pegged at 20 mpg combined with four-wheel drive, a rating that isn’t all that impressive, given that it is beaten by some larger half-ton pickups.

Overall, the drive of the Tacoma is more refined than before, while a nicely weighted steering wheel reminds you that this is a small pickup.

Adding a trailer to the mix changes this truck considerably. We had roughly 5,000 pounds hitched to the back of our Tacoma Limited model, and it already felt as if it was nearing its limits. The lack of a trailer brake controller was noticeable and ABS lockup even engaged a few times during what I felt was regular braking. Power was adequate to get the trailer up and running at highway speeds, but it was working hard to maintain that speed. Toyota has even admitted that the Tacoma does not prioritize towing, and I would say the sweet spot on this truck for complete comfort with a trailer is between 3,500 and 4,000 pounds.

2016-Toyota-Tacoma-Profile

On the road, the Tacoma has a few strengths and many weaknesses. Once you get this truck off road though, it’s the best in the business. With an approach angle of 29 degrees, a departure angle of 23 degrees and a ground clearance of more than nine inches, the Tacoma is unstoppable off-road, thanks also in part to its compact size. Opting for the TRD Off-Road model can net you even more fun thanks to crawl control, a system that acts as an off-road cruise control and allows you to forget about the brakes and accelerator and just deal with the steering. Some purists may reject it, but the system is well dialed in and can provide hours of fun while climbing the trails.

Overall, the Tacoma manages to convey a fun, energetic attitude that is backed up by a solid powertrain and off-road prowess. It’s when the real work begins, whether that means hauling a crew of guys or a trailer load of gear, that the Tacoma shows its faults.

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