2016 Toyota Tacoma Review

The Toyota Tacoma has been sold in its current form for nearly a full decade, getting only minor updates in that time. By today’s fast moving auto market standards, which see some companies replacing models every five years, that is ancient.

And while the Tacoma is still the best selling midsize pickup truck, the new competent offerings from General Motors, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, are closing that sales gap. To keep the Tacoma relevant in a quickly developing market, Toyota is bringing its midsize truck into the modern decade with new technology inside and under the hood.

Interior Overhaul

Let’s start with the interior, easily the biggest change you’ll find on the new 2016 Tacoma. Fresh style comes courtesy of an all-new dash design that gives the truck a modern feel, something the last Tacoma desperately lacked. A 4.2-inch display comes standard on most trucks, while 6- and 7-inch touchscreens are available. A slick integrated design for each one of these screens goes a long way to making the truck feel fresh along with an optional body color dash surround which ties the whole interior together.

TacomaInterior4Five trim levels are available with the new Tacoma which from bottom to top are: SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road and Limited. While cloth seats are standard fare on four out of five trims, the Limited gets leather seats and hickory trim, along with some other goodies like an upgraded JBL audio system. TRD models get unique seats finished in black and orange with contrast stitching, playing up the fun aspect of the off-road specific models.

Other major improvements include the addition of optional Qi wireless charging, push-button start, sunroof and blind-spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert.

A new standard GoPro mount has been added as well, so that you can capture your adventures, on and off road. While the mount worked great for us (you can see footage using the mount in the video review), having it so far from the driver makes it hard to reach, limiting it to a feature that the driver shouldn’t use while on the go.

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TacomaExterior4Finally, a New Engine

The Tacoma has a new engine and it’s about damn time. It is a 3.5-liter V6 capable of running on the Atkinson cycle which produces 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. That puts it up 42 hp over the old 4.0-liter V6, but actually down 1 lb-ft of torque.

Like most people, your first question is probably, what the hell is Atkinson cycle? First off, it’s nothing new, with the process patented in the U.S. back in the 1880’s. The short technical answer is: the intake valve stays open a little longer than usual, creating a shorter compression stroke. This means that there is less pressure on the piston when it compresses the air/gas mixture, resulting in less parasitic drag.

So why should you care? Because this old technology should help this new Tacoma be quite a bit more efficient.

While official EPA numbers aren’t available yet, Toyota’s predictions have the Tacoma pegged at 17 mpg in the city, 21 on the highway and a combined 19 mpg for the V6 4×4 model with a manual transmission while the automatic is supposed to get 18 mpg in the city, 23 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. The two-wheel drive model with the automatic transmission is rated at 19 mpg city, 24 highway and 21 mpg combined.

In our time with Tacoma, which stretched over a 50 – 60 mile drive route that included a little more city than highway, we averaged just over 16 mpg, falling short of Toyota’s marks. But where the truck seemed to excel was on the highway. Sitting with the cruise control at 70 mph, our mpg meter read between 25 and 26 mpg, a respectable number that over time would probably drag that average up.

TacomaExterior1

These estimates put the Tacoma right in line with the Chevy Colorado V6 4×4 which is also rated at 20 mpg combined.

The Drive

In driving the new Tacoma, there is a sense of familiarity, but also some notable changes, the biggest of which is the lack of interior cabin noise. That quiet atmosphere along with the truck’s newly tuned suspension offer a comfortable ride which helps the Tacoma feel refined, or in other words, like it belongs in the year 2016. This was the one major difference between the existing Tacoma and its new rivals, but Toyota has made sure that refinement was a priority on this truck to keep it competitive.

TacomaExterior10Proportionally, the 2016 model is nearly identical to 2015, the biggest difference being the 2016 is a few inches longer, an unnoticeable change while piloting the new truck.

Familiarity also comes with the engine and with the steering. The new Tacoma makes up for its loss of 1 lb-ft of torque by offering a beefier axle ratio of 3.90:1 over the current truck’s 3.73:1. Thanks to that change, it’s pretty hard to distinguish this new V6 from the old 4.0-liter. There is plenty of power for this small truck and torque down low is adequate. The new six-speed automatic loves to downshift and give you more power immediately, while shifts are smooth.

One of this engine’s biggest tricks is that it can switch between Atkinson and the more conventional Otto cycle. While under load, Otto cycle kicks in to deliver maximum power, while highway cruising sees the motor running in Atkinson to help save fuel, and the switch between the two is completely seamless.

Steering feel remains quite good, with a great connected setup that keeps your in hands aware of what the front wheels are doing at all times.

TacomaInterior8Our first outing with the Tacoma did not include any towing or payload hauling, though the ratings are in. The 2016 Tacoma will tow a maximum of 6,800 lbs while maximum payload is rated at 1,620, although the popular 4×4 double cab V6 automatic is only rated to haul 1,120 lbs of payload.

While the drive is hugely improved, the seating position in the new Tacoma remains a problem. The lack of a driver’s side footwell keeps my leg uncomfortably straight, while the 39.7-inches of front headroom is barely enough to accommodate me, mainly due to the driver’s seat not being able to drop low enough. What’s even worse though is the back seat of the double cab models. Double cab rear seat legroom stays identical for 2016 at 32.6-inches, while 38.3-inches of rear headroom has my head on the ceiling.

What may have been acceptable 10 years ago for people hauling is certainly not today, especially considering the backseat of the Canyon/Colorado crew cab, with 35.8-inches of legroom, is actually big enough for an adult to sit in over a long period of time.

TacomaOffroad2

Hit the Dirt

Off-road prowess has always been part of the Tacoma’s DNA and the 2016 has been made even better. Even though a plastic air dam has been added in the front to improve fuel economy, the 2016 Tacoma sports an approach angle of 29 degrees and a departure angle of 23 degrees. Opting for the TRD Off-road model eliminates the air dam, giving the truck a 32 degree approach, easily the best in the segment and even better than the 2015 Tacoma TRD Pro.

Besides the excellent height, two new systems have been added to aid with hitting the trails. The first, crawl control, is nothing new to Toyota, coming from the 4Runner and Land Cruiser. This system allows you to set a predetermined speed between about 2 and 5 mph and forget about the pedals. The truck will keep you at the same constant speed despite inclines or obstacles, allowing you to focus on the steering.

TacomaOffroad1The second added system is multi-terrain select, allowing you to choose between rock, sand and mud modes, each of which will tailor the truck’s torque distribution to suit that specific terrain.

In our short time off-road with the new Tacoma, both setups worked exceptionally well, making the Tacoma the clear choice in the segment for heading off the beaten path.

What’s It Cost?

Base price for the 2016 Tacoma SR begins at $24,200 including destination, while the top-trim Limited V6 4×4 model will sell for $38,720. Both the TRD Sport and TRD Off-road models have the same price starting price, going for $31,665.

At its base, that makes the Tacoma roughly $4,000 more expensive than its American counterparts, though as you go up in trim level, pricing seems fairly competitive.

TacomaInterior7

The Verdict: 2016 Toyota Tacoma Review

The overhaul of the Toyota Tacoma can certainly be described as modest. Toyota did just enough to make the Tacoma a relevant purchase option, without pushing hard to try and outdo its competition.

But they did hit the right points, refining the drive of the truck significantly, improving the fuel economy and bringing the interior out of last decade, making this Tacoma a strong option in the midsize pickup segment.

Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 10 years for another major update.

  • Kallan

    I love a Toyota

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    A smart move for Toyota would be to bring over the Hilux as a Scion and beat the other manufacturers back to the North American market with the small truck. Profit.

  • Shiratori1

    There is no money in importing a light truck with the chicken tax still in place.

  • Dave Foley

    It has a nice Taurus grille though. Ugh!

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  • PDY

    The only reason Tacomas are still so popular is the “Toyota” name. If you took the same truck and slapped a different logo on it, people would be saying its a terrible choice compared to the Canyon.

    The big selling point is that ‘its a Toyota’ and ‘it depreciates slowly’ which is ironically a circular reason as it depreciates slowly because people keep buying them, not because its a better truck.

  • Jeff T

    That is the first comment in a while I read that is logical. Would be a good idea. Better then a hatchback corolla that is for sure.

  • Robert Severson

    $31k? I can get a tundra for that money.

  • Superglider

    I think if they made it in the Tijuana plant, it wouldn’t get the chicken tax.

  • Superglider

    well I’m on Toyota pickup #10… and I’ll have to admit that resale is certainly enough reason to keep buying them… but they’ve also been VERY dependable. Several of the ones I’ve owned, have averaged less than $1000 a year depreciation. And I actually still love my 2009 Prerunner TRD Sport. I’ve also owned a few new American vehicles in the last 15 years… and invariably went back to a Toyota or Honda. Bottom line… even if I absolutely LOVED the competition, it’s hard to imagine I’d buy one… until they can prove their dependability and resale value.

  • Hannibal Dobbs

    Where is the 4 cylinder?

  • Hannibal Dobbs

    Got it.

    The second engine is the 2.7-liter, four-cylinder engine. This engine will produce 159 hp and 189 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 RPM. The transmission options are a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

  • tom

    I thought the 2.7 4 cylinder was beefed up to around 185 HP.

  • Hannibal Dobbs

    Will there be a single cab? 2 door regular cab? Nissan and GM dumped the single cab.

  • Jim Farnsworth

    Bringing the Tacoma out of the last decade? Hardly, rear leg room and head clearance pretty much the same as last decade, rear drum brakes just like my 1992 Ranger, no electrically adjustable seats, no heated and cooled seats available. Oh I forgot that’s all moot because of the integrated go pro mount. Guess I’m just too old to appreciate the significance of that. I’m sure there are those that are happy with the limited upgrades, I’m not impressed nor was I with my 07 Prerunners reliability.

    Re: the Atkinson cycle as applied by Toyota. Leaving the intake valve open a little longer allows the piston to push some air back into the intake manifold decreasing the volume of air in the cylinder. Less air volume = less fuel, the smaller charge volume is also allowed to expand to the full displacement of the cylinder to extract more energy.

  • Mad Max

    I’m finding it harder and harder to justify buying another Toyota. The Canyon seems to offer so much more for the money, leather power seats, 8 inch display, more leg room, and a 305hp V6. The Canyon/Colorado make the Tacoma look like a base model work truck.
    Toyota is making all this money, but they can’t seem to spend it on a better development department.

  • Michael

    The reason the Tacoma didn’t change for so long is because they got it right. You don’t change right.

  • trex

    I can’t believe Toyota made the investment to redesign the Tacoma without making the interior roomy enough for guys over 6′ tall! And drum brakes in the rear?! Disappointing to say the least. Definitely a deal breaker.

  • Croco

    Yes! a 10 year update = 1-2mpg increase??? this just strange engineering

  • Croco

    Superglider, that has been true. But I doubt that it will be true in the next few years for this truck barely averaging 20 mpgs when duramax diesels will be available with mpgs in the 30s.

  • Croco

    Same for me. I guess its canyon for me next March

  • Orion Antares

    Something big that goes with the ‘Toyota’ name is reliability and durability. Something GM is definitely not well know for.

  • Orion Antares

    Diesel is a hit or miss. Depending on what part of the country you are in it can cost significantly more to run a diesel per mile than it costs for a gasoline engine.

  • Orion Antares

    It’s a diesel engine most people want to see in Toyota’s truck lines.

  • Bill Marshall

    Or maybe it’s because they had no competition, but that’s not the case now. GM twins out now, Nissan Frontier update soon and the rumored Ford Ranger returning in 2018 means Toyota better do some updates before 2026.

  • Bill Marshall

    Good luck. Have you seen the mpg for the Tundra? They do even less meaningful updates to it.

  • Robert Severson

    Mpg is almost the same as tacoma… both are sad. At least the tundra can haul.

  • McGregor Jones

    I have had Tacoma trucks ever since they started making them. I wish they would listen to the consumer and make what we value. Drum brakes is not one of them. I have been wanting a TRD off road in a long bed, another thing they can’t seam to make. How hard is it to make the full line up with a long bed? I agree with one of the other comments as well, about the focus of new features being a mount for a gopro, I have one, but It sure does not make a difference on my decision to purchase a truck because there is a mount, a suction cup works just fine if that is important to a person. How about a little better payload capability? Maybe I am the only one that actually likes to put stuff in the back of a pick up. It looks like they put a bunch of new plastic on the old truck and a few token upgrades and decided their work was done for another ten years.

  • McGregor Jones

    It doesn’t matter how much you love one, you have to admit they could have done a much better job of updating their truck after having ten years to work on it.

  • Superglider

    Though I’m a gas mileage freak (I’ve had a Scan Gauge installed in the last 2) I’d guess that the cost of fuel is still the least expensive part of owning a vehicle for most of us. Depreciation is almost always #1. License and insurance are often #2. If you buy a new one to replace your current one… in order to get another 5 MPG… it’ll take several years just to recoup the sales tax on the new one.

  • Kallan

    I agree, but Toyota always has a plan up its sleeves. So lets wait for Toyota to strike at F-150 and knock it out of the market soon.

  • Sprite

    Toyota has such loyal Tacoma buyers that major changes (expensive) were simply not necessary. Did they invest in a brand new high strength steel frame? Nope. How about a brand new cab structure? Nope, just slightly modified the decade old frame. The topper are the front and rear doors. They should look familiar, the use the same decade old stamping dies!

  • scott

    Exactly.. I like the Tacoma. I just can’t fit in one. Thought this would have been addressed but again its just Toyota doing the bare minimum and trying to force people into the Tundra. I’d buy a Tundra but i have no intention of sinking 40-50k into what is esencially a 10yr old truck

  • scott

    it could have been more but they put in a larger axle ratio to compensate for a smaller power plant

  • Brian Cochran

    No mention that the new 2GR-FKS engine also incorporates direct injection and port fuel injection.

  • I test drove a 2016 Limited 4×4 yesterday, ugh was I disappointed. I’ve been holding off on purchasing a mid-size truck for a couple years because of this vehicle. I was sure after 10 years they’d knock it out of the park. It’s under-powered, lacks rear-discs, lacks power seats or a rear power window, the stereo sounds terrible and the driving position isn’t thought out well. In addition to lacking a drivers side foot well, the drivers side left armrest does’t extend far enough. So your elbow is either resting on your knee or your arms are straight out. In other words, I get the impression this truck was designed without competition in mind. It seems like an even worse value when sitting right next to a Tundra which has everything the Tacoma is lacking and for the same trim/configuration costs only a couple grand more. Now I’m annoyed b/c I need to either look at full size, which I really don’t want. Or gasp, do the unthinkable and go to the GM dealer to check out a Canyon. You know its bad when even the die-hard Taco fans on Tacomaworld are saying things like “uh, not bad, but Toyota could have done a lot better”.

  • Exactly. And the new truck feels like they still don’t believe they have competition.

  • Croco

    I agree. Loyalty in the tacos was driven by lack of competition in the midsize trucks. But with the new canyon & colorado, the scenario is going to change quick. Whichever way you spin it, Tacoma has the worst rear legroom and mpgs now in this class. With the duramax engines now, Toyota will have to respond in a totally different way to keep its spot at the top.

  • Daniel Pintilie

    I wonder why nobody notices that the previous model had better approach angle (35 degrees vs new mostly 29, or 32 without dam) and better departure angle (25 degrees vs new about 23). Also very important, all the fancy crawl controls, multi terrain select and so on are available ONLY in TRD Offroad model, all others, including TRD Sport, have just a basic 4×4 with two differentials.