The best thing about the new Toyota Tacoma is its chassis. There is high-strength steel in the frame for rigidity and ultra-high-strength steel adds strength to the body shell. And those steely enhancements should prevent the doors from binding when crawling around off-road.
That’s good because Toyota says its ninth-generation Tacoma is all about recreational action and athletic agility. Owners will be able to YouTube their adventures with a standard GoPro windshield mount.
The 2016 midsize pickup has been completely re-engineered and is sold in 29 configurations: There are two cab styles (Access Cab and four-door Double Cab), two bed lengths (5 or 6 feet), rear- or four-wheel drive, a four- or V-6 engine with three transmissions, either a six-speed manual, six-speed automatic or a five-speed manual with the base 4WD model.
The choices continue with five model grades: SR (work truck), SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road and Limited.
Starting prices for 2WD trucks range from $24,200 for the SR Access Cab with 159-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic to $35,645 for the Double Cab Limited 3.5-liter V6 with six-speed automatic.
Four-wheel-drive trucks range from $25,725 for the SR four-cylinder with five-speed manual to $38,720 for the V-6 Limited with six-speed automatic. All pricing includes the $900 freight charge from San Antonio, Texas.
The TRD Sport tester was $35,820 and included just one option for the V-6 tow package, $650.
The new 278-horsepower V-6 is a 3.5-liter Atkinson cycle with direct and port fuel injection. While it has 42-horsepower more than the previous V-6, its peak torque of 265 foot-pounds is at a fairly high 4,600 rotations per minute. The tow package allows up to 6,800-pound trailers, which is 300 pounds more than the previous V-6 — but the engine is hefting about 4,500 pounds. Sixth gear in the automatic seems really tall, so there was not much kick at freeway speeds. And the only time there is reasonably sharp shift response and acceleration is in Sport mode.
Fuel economy for the 4WD model is 18 miles per gallon city, 23 highway and 20 miles per gallon combined. I was averaging in the high teens and up to 21 miles per gallon in a week — 300 miles — of driving, with no hauling, towing or hard work.
The steering seemed vague, with a broad 40.6-foot turning circle. The brakes are a mix of front 10.75-inch vented discs and 10-inch rear drums. The stopping power is adequate, but how will the brakes hold up when trailering? The Chevy Colorado has four-wheel discs with12.2-inch rotors front and 12.75-inch rear.
The TRD Sport model is toughened up with sport-tuned shocks, but the ride quality was jouncy and floaty at the same time — stiffer shocks, softer springs. I expect the Bilsteins on the TRD Off-Road model would be a big help to settle the ride. Bilsteins make every ride better.
Off-Road models with the automatic transmission also get the Multi-Terrain Select system, which can fine-tune traction for loose rock, mud and sand. The system adjusts throttle and brake pressure to limit wheel spin on almost any surface. Other off-road credentials include a locking rear differential and crawl control, which allows the driver to set a speed of 1-5 miles per hour. The system controls acceleration and braking, while the driver just steers.
Hill-start assist is part of the package, too, but only with the automatic transmission. It’s reassuring to have such a rollback preventer when trying to get rolling on a scrabbly uphill start, especially with a manual transmission.
The seating is unlike other pickups but much like the previous Tacoma with a low, legs-out-along-the-floor position. And the bulked-up hood on the TRD Sport crops sightlines and, even worse, has a fake scoop. It’s also seems an oversight that there is no locking gas door.
Access Cab models have fold-up rear seats and under-seat storage. Double Cab models have 60/40 split rear seats with adjustable headrests and under-seat storage.
Interior materials have been improved with more soft-touch materials and metallic trim elements. But there is still much monotone black plastic. Soundproofing was increased with an acoustic windshield, sound-absorbing headliner and a floor-silencer pad. Available extras include wireless phone charging, smart key locking with push-button ignition and blind-spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert.
But even at $35,000 there was no driver seat height adjustment or heated seats.
Toyota has owned this midsize pickup segment for years and has reaped a bed load of awards for it. It hasn’t had to make revolutionary changes. Do it right the first time is Toyota’s philosophy for building vehicles. Then let ’em ride for years, making just modest revisions through the life cycle.
But it’s a tougher midsize-truck slope to traverse now with the benchmark Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, which debuted last year, and the upcoming Honda Ridgeline.
Toyota has made a remarkable update for its legions of Tacoma followers, but others will want to check out the competition..
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage