One of my favorite camping memories was years ago near the lake Superior shore in northern Minnesota. It was fall. The tree line was on fire with bright shades of red, orange and vibrant yellows. My friends and I explored every off road trail we could find. Our chariot of choice was a then new Toyota Tacoma.
There was nothing that little truck couldn’t handle, no matter how rugged the terrain or sharp the incline. From that moment forward this little truck has had a special place in my heart. Needles to say, I was excited to put this “all-new third generation” model to the test and see how it shapes up against my fond camping memories.
Starting with its shape, the new Tacoma’s dimensions remain largely the same as the previous model, but the style direction continues to evolve with bolder features, a more prominent grille and an overall look that bears an obvious resemblance to its big brother, the Tundra. Reshaped headlights get the LED treatment and a 5’ bed in the back is enough to tackle most jobs while still keeping the vehicles length reasonable. My test model came with a very handy tri-fold bed cover. 18” alloy wheels and tastefully flared fenders that round off the look nicely.
Climb inside and the extra money spent for the Limited edition model becomes even more justified. Dark brown synthetic leather upholstery looks and feels great. Seats are heated, with manual adjustments. Unfortunately, they are set low and offer absolutely no height adjusting options. Also, the telescopic wheel has a laughably low range, this combination is not ideal for drivers of an elevated height and weight. Back seats are lacking in legroom as well.
For 2016, The Toyota Tacoma has revamped its interior design with a few contemporary flares to help bring it up to date. Sitting front and center we find the latest touch screen interface. The same unit found in several other Toyota models. Cabin materials seem to have been selected for durability rather than luxury. Big knobs control the air and audio. JBL speakers come in the Limited edition model and offer clear sound with plenty of chest thumping base. The center dash is arranged in a clean, intuitive way and the space as a whole is comfortable and well put together.
The 2.7L 4-cylinder engine from before is still standard equipment in the base model. For a little more though, the somewhat coarse 4.0L V6 has been replaced with a more polished 3.5L lifted directly from the Lexus RX and GX350. This more efficient engine makes 42 more hp and fits Toyota’s philosophy of evolving its vehicles slowly, digging through its own inventory bins to find new applications for parts that have already been proven to work really well. Our V6 engine gets fitted to a 6-speed automatic gearbox, though a manual transmission is optional in the 4X4 models.
Acceleration is poor, with 0-60 accomplished in a small mammals lifetime… or 8 seconds. This is largely thanks to the nearly 4500 pound curb weight and unique transmission gearing with a focus on off-road use. Driving on tarmac, this little truck performs as you’d expect. It feels less connected to the road than an SUV but more connected than a full sized pickup. Leaf spring suspension in the back gives it a bouncy tail over bumps, but the brakes are responsive and perform well despite the lack of rear discs.
Just as I learned 10 years ago near the Canadian border, off road is where the Tacoma has always excelled. With an impressive 9.4 inches of ground clearance and all the same off-road electronics found in the 4-Runner, the competition in this segment can’t quite compete. Good thing too, because the Tacoma is the most expensive model amongst its peers.
Maintenance costs tend to be lower than average on Toyotas which helps, and the Tacoma has always boasted amazing resale value. While the Canyon and Colorado twins from GM might be priced better, with the 2016 Tacoma, you get a recipe that was great to begin with and is only getting better as Toyota continues to tweak and tune. With a pedigree of durability, reliability and all the right moves to help any driver explore the road less travelled, I can hardly wait to see what rock strewn, washed out trail Toyota takes us down next.
Price as tested: $40,020.00
By: Brandon Randall