Let me get this bit out of the way up front, I’m going to sound old in this section. Depending on how old you are, you may think that almost-40 is legitimately old, and doesn’t just “sound old”. If so, screw you buddy. Sorry, where was I. Oh right, get off my lawn, and such. Right, back to the truck. It’s a dreadful commuter vehicle, it really is. The seats are hard, the manual adjustments never quite got them to where they were comfortable, and the ride is punishing. In the end, it’s the ride that was the deciding factor on why I could never own a Tacoma and drive it every day. This is where my truck naivety comes in; I don’t really know exactly why the ride sucks so much, but I’ll make an educated guess.
First, it’s capable off road. We all know that Tacomas are known in the off-road community as out-of-the-box fun in on rugged terrain. So perhaps that’s part of it, this truck is meant to be good off road. Although so was my 2012 Wrangler Unlimited, and I drove that cross-country without complaint a few years ago. So, if that’s why its sub-par on the road, it’s not a great reason. It’s not like we tested the TRD model, this is the Limited.
Second, it’s light(er) than most of the big full size trucks. Now this is where my understand of truck physics fails me, I have some assumption in my head that heavier vehicles ride better. Makes sense, right? Tell me in the comments if that’s wrong, I’m happy to do some learnin’ today. But the Tacoma weighs in at around 4500 pounds, depending on options. If you know anything about trucks, and I had to look it up, most full size trucks are in the 5000+ pound range. For reference, Toyota’s Tundra Limited weighs in at 5225 pounds. A significant bit more. So, while weight is the enemy of performance and economy, it can make you feel more planted and help absorb some of the bumps.
In the end, regardless of the “why”, I found that numerous hours sitting in traffic around DC resulted in a sore back and a generally bad experience as a commuter vehicle.
How about Performance and Economy?
Which brings you to the logical next question, is it fast or economical?
No, it’s neither.
The 3.5L V6 in the Tacoma delivers a, typically adequate, 278hp and 265 ft-lbs., both at 4600 rpm . I have a daily driver Grand Cherokee that makes close to the same level of power from its 3.6L V6 (290hp if we’re counting) and weighs a little bit more. However, it feels faster, it really does. Perhaps it has to do with gearing, or wind resistance (the Tacoma has a pretty upright windshield in comparison) but from a stop, and while merging onto the DC beltway, the Jeep feels quicker. The Taco’s engine, paired with the 6-speed automatic transmission, required me to keep my foot pretty deep towards the carpet to get it moving with any haste. I know, it’s not a sports car, but there are times when you need to get going and I just never felt confident it was going to happen. Not to go back to the F-150 well too often but 1) it’s the only other truck we’ve tested and 2) it’s the benchmark for most trucks, at least based on sales figures. The Ford had roughly 50 more horses, over 100 more ft. lbs of torque and most certainly felt faster. It also made the rear tires disappear in a cloud of enthusiast-grade smoke.
Which brings me to economy, it’s a smaller, lighter, truck with less power than the big boys. It must get better gas mileage, right? Unfortunately, no.
Toyota Tacoma 18/23 vs. 19/26 F-150 2.7 EcoBoost
Sure, that’s near-as-it-makes-no-difference in the grand scheme of MPG, but for the power difference, that’s immense. I’m trying to figure out the value proposition of the Tacoma. Perhaps it’s in the size, what if you need a smaller truck.
It’s Not a Small Truck
Only the Tacoma isn’t that small anymore. It’s 212.3 in. long which is 17.66666666666667 feet long. That’s almost two feet longer than my Jeep and only a foot and a half shorter than a new Tundra. In fact, take a look at the pics below, that’s our Tacoma tester parked next to the previous generation Tundra. The wheelbase was damn near the same and if anything the Tundra was bit wider.
Sort of defeats the purpose of “I need a smaller truck”, which may legitimately be the case for some. If you have an 18 foot garage, or live in the city but need to haul some stuff, you could potentially need a smaller truck. The F-150 is a full 3 feet longer, but it’s got an 8-foot bed vs. the Tacoma’s 5-foot bed. So that’s sort of a wash.
Just like every other vehicle on the market, that’s been on the market for several years, the Tacoma has continued to get bigger. And more expensive.
It Ain’t Cheap
Like most press vehicles we have delivered, this is a $40,000 vehicle. That’s not a humble brag, that’s meant to highlight how just about every vehicle can be optioned to that level, including a Tacoma. Our Limited model came with heated leather seats—although as I mentioned above, they were manually adjustable—and a leather steering wheel. I really liked the leather and stitching along the right side of the dash. Overall, the interior was laid out well, if a bit haphazard with regard to materials and shapes. I like the chunky vents and buttons, felt very truck-like.
The infotainment system is displayed on a nice, large 7″ touchscreen with crisp resolution. Like most systems, I found something to dislike. The volume knob is right where you would hope it would be, bottom left. However, there were two problems with it. One, like some people I’ve dated, it’s pretty shallow. Two, as your index finger and thumb struggle to get a grip on the knob (come on, you’re better than that) your other fingers inadvertently change the radio station. Oops. So in a critical moment of “oh…that’s my jam!” you swap over to talk radio. Son of a bitch!
Overall though, I liked the system, it was straightforward and easy to use. Plus, there is a redundant volume button on the wheel, which I had to train myself to use as the first resort. Specifically, and this is pretty specific, nay nit-picky, I loved how you could hit the station preset button three times and it would hop to the 3rd preset down. None of this delay-while-the-XM -station-tunes, and eventually…”oh now you can keep going”. Simple, but a great feature.
The Taco also had a standard moonroof, back up camera, parking sensors, blind spot assist, excellent LED headlights, push button start, and wireless cell phone charging. All standard on the Limited. It’s great that you don’t need to add a bunch of packages to what is already supposed to be a feature-laden vehicle. The only options in our $40,020 tester were a nice folding tonneau cover for the bed and a towing package, each $650.
Still, if you look back at our F-150 tester, which we have established is more powerful, more economical, and hauls more, you’ll notice that it has an $800 lower MSRP. Optioned as we tested it, the Ford came in at around $3,000 more, and had cloth (but power) seats vs. the manual leathers in the Toyota. My point is, it’s comparably priced, and will only come down to option packages when comparing the final price.
So, we’ve established that it’s not small, so how does it do hauling people and stuff? Well, that depends. I have three kids, so depending on how many of them were with me, it was pretty practical. On one grocery & booze run, I had enough room for someone in the passenger seat, and someone in the back seat. The baby seat had bags on it, as did the middle of the back seat, and the floor. On a second, much larger grocery run, I had room for my Wife in the front and the baby in the back, and that was it. So hauling people and groceries, it was manageable, but not with all five us in the truck. We took a trip to Pennsylvania for the night and between (minimal) bags, five people and two small dogs, we decided we needed to take the Jeep.
The folding tonneau cover makes for a pretty secure cargo area, which I liked. With the tailgate up, and locked, you would have to pry the cover off, or try and remove it with some tools to get to what was underneath. I imagine there are some nice bed organizers that would have allowed me to stash some of those groceries in the bed. But as equipped, I would have had a disgusting menagerie of food and drink commingled in a heaping pile of broken containers and glass in the bed once I got home from the store.
Rugged Good Looks
The Tacoma is a great looking truck, I even liked it in Barcelona Red Metallic. It’s chunky and beefy looking, like it’s got purpose and substance. The front styling is quite striking, and I like how they integrated the LED headlights. Toyota has managed to keep a nice brand identity across the lineup, but give the Tacoma a look that belies its abilities in bad weather and non-paved surfaces. We absolutely loved how well the 2016 4-Runner that got us from DC to Detroit and back in the snow for the 2016 NAIAS.
Trans: 6-Speed Auto
Engine: 278-hp 3.5 Liter Atkinson Cycle Dual VVT-i V6
Exterior: Barcelona Red Metallic
Interior: Medium Camel Cloth
Delivery Process & Handling Fee: $900
Packages & Options
- Tonneau Cover $650
- V6 Tow Package $650
Total MSRP: $40,020.00
In the end, I just didn’t get it. If you need a truck, to do normal truck stuff, get a full size truck. If you need a small truck for some reason, well there really aren’t any left. The new GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado are similar in size to the Tacoma. If you need a cheap truck, you can get a Tacoma that starts around $23,000 mark, which is pretty great. The cheapest F-150 is $3,000 more than that. And doesn’t even have an extended cab. Adding that takes you to $30,000.
Unfortunately, it’s not hard to get to that price in a Tacoma either, once you start upping trim levels and adding options. So it comes down to this, is your garage or parking area smaller than 20 feet? If you have nowhere else to park your truck, and for some reason you have to own a truck, go check out the Tacoma. And even then, be aware that it’s not a great daily driver if your commute is longer than a half hour. If not, there are a lot of options in truck land for you to choose from. Even within Toyota, you can head to a dealership and spend $38K for a Limited Tundra that comes with a standard V8. I will say that my toddler loved it. He would say “truck, truck, truck!” emphatically every time he saw it. That’s got to be worth something.
Toyota says that the Tacoma is “Built for the endless weekend” and that is probably where it thrives.