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.

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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.

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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.

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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.