Toyota has had a long run as the leader in midsize truck sales. Despite its relatively dated platform and powertrain, the rugged Tacoma continues to please its loyal customers. Toyota has opted for only incremental upgrades to the Tacoma, despite competition from the significantly revised Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger, and Chevy Colorado. In 2021, Toyota introduced the Nightshade Edition and a Trail Special Edition; both models were discontinued in 2022.
The current Tacoma range starts with the SR ($26,500) and ranges up to the TRD Pro ($44,325). Other models include the SR5 ($28,190), TRD Sport ($33,410), TRD Off-Road ($34,690) and Limited ($39,255). Note that the prices listed are for the 2022 model year. The SR, SR5 and TRD Off-Road are available as a 2-door Access Cab or 4-door Double Cab. All other models are 4-door Double Cabs. Two bed lengths are available: 6 ft. (all models except TRD Pro) or 5 ft. (Double Cab only).
Our test vehicle was a 2021 TRD Off-Road 4x4 Double Cab with the 5-ft. bed ($37,280). Both the Advanced Technology Package ($1,700) and TRD Premium Off-Road Package ($3,815) were fitted. Other minor options include: door edge guard ($140), mudguards ($129), oval tube steps ($469), TRD front skid plate ($499), all-weather floor liner ($248), TRD air filter ($90), black emblem overlay ($160), TRD shift knob ($140), and black chrome exhaust system ($799). Add the $1,175 delivery fee and the MSRP totaled up to $46,644. We would skip the purely cosmetic options such as the black emblem overlay, TRD shift knob, and the black chrome exhaust system to slice nearly $1,100 off the price. Significant standard equipment includes: moonroof, standard equipment includes leather seats (heated in front), 10-way power driver's seat, leather-trimmed steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, JBL 6-speaker audio system, 8-in touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, navigation, and in-vehicle Wi-Fi. Active safety technologies include: pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control, multi-terrain monitor with camera, and rear parking assist sonar.
The Tacoma continues to offer two powertrains: a 159-hp 2.7L inline-4 or a 278-hp 3.5L V-6. Only the SR and SR5 are equipped with the 2.7L; all other models get the 3.5L V-6 (optional on the SR and SR5). The Tacoma's V-6 runs on the Atkinson-cycle for greater fuel-efficiency. Dual overhead cams and variable valve-timing on both intake and exhaust valves also enhance power and torque. Rated at 278-hp @ 6,000 RPM and 265 lb.-ft. @ 4,600, the 3.5L delivers competitive power and torque output. The V-6 is coupled to either a 6-speed manual (TRD models only) or 6-speed automatic (all models). For the automatic, both fifth (0.69:1) and sixth (0.58:1) are overdrive ratios coupled to a 3.909:1 axle ratio. The test vehicle was equipped with the 6-speed automatic and a part-time 2-speed transfer case (2.57:1 low range ratio). EPA fuel consumption ratings are 18/22 MPG (city/hwy.) for the 3.5L/4WD combination. Substituting the 6-speed manual drops fuel efficiency to 17/20 MPG (city/hwy.). We averaged 16-17 MPG in mixed highway and city driving.
Toyota maintains the typical pickup truck suspension setup of an independent front and a solid axle rear design. The front suspension consists of double wishbones, coil springs, dampers and a stabilizer bar. Controlling the rear axle are leaf springs and staggered outboard dampers. TRD Pro models get an off-road suspension with Fox coil-overs and rear remote reservoir dampers. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is geared for 3.64 turns lock-to-lock. Front disc brakes (10.75-in. dia. rotors) are complemented by rear 10-in. dia. drums. For the TRD Off-Road, Toyota fits 16-in. alloy wheels mounted with Goodyear Wrangler P265/70R16 all-terrain tires. Other Tacomas get 16-in., 17-in. or 18-in. alloy wheels, or 16-in. steel wheels (base SR only). The V-6 4WD Double Cab payload rating is 1,155 lbs.; curb weight is 4,550 lbs. A Class 4 towing hitch is standard on all Tacomas. Towing capacity is 6,400 lbs. when equipped with the towing package. TRD Off-Road and Pro models equipped with the 6-speed automatic get multi-terrain crawl control (CRAWL) and an electronically controlled locking rear differential for navigating difficult trails.
The Tacoma's interior design focuses on function and usability. Most surfaces are hard plastic, but touch points are padded surfaces for a blend of durability and comfort. The driver faces a four-spoke steering wheel rimmed in perforated leather. Secondary controls for audio, phone and active safety functions are integrated on the spokes. An analog tachometer and speedometer are complemented by smaller inset fuel and coolant temperature gauges. A multi-function screen displays vehicle data, configurable via steering wheel-mounted buttons. The infotainment display is flanked by buttons and knobs for quick access to frequently used functions. Next to the dual-zone climate controls is the rotary knob to shift from 2WD to 4WD. A USB port, 12V power outlet and a wireless Qi pad enable convenient mobile device charging. Outdoor enthusiasts and contractors will appreciate the 120V power outlet in the pickup bed next to the tailgate.
The Tacoma's front seats are reasonably comfortable, but the flat bolsters offer minimal lateral support. Front headroom is sufficient for occupants up to 6 ft. tall. Rear seat accommodations are similarly spacious with ample legroom, but headroom is restricted to passengers up to about 5'-10" height. The shallower rear footwell results in less thigh support, so overall seat comfort is only adequate for short trips.
Considering the Tacoma's over 2-ton curb weight, the standard 3.5L V-6 does an acceptable job moving the Tacoma through traffic. The V-6 delivers decent throttle response and acceleration, but only in Sport mode or when shifted manually. Leave the shifter in "D" and the transmission upshifts as early as possible into fifth or sixth gear. At highway speeds, passing maneuvers require a downshift into fifth or fourth gear. It's unsurprising that Toyota optimized transmission programming to minimize fuel consumption, so we used Sport mode or shifted manually when needed.
Driving the TRD Off-Road reminded us that its intended domain is dirt roads and trails. On paved surfaces and highways, the Tacoma felt ponderous and sluggish. The slow-geared steering is optimized for threading through narrow trails, but is unsuited for maneuvering in urban traffic. Partially responsible for the Tacoma's numb steering and slow turn-in response are the Goodyear all-terrain tires, a trade-off for superior off-road traction. The off-road tires are also responsible for the Tacoma's unimpressive directional stability above 70 MPH. Significant understeer and body roll are also a consequence of the suspension tuning. Contributing to the jittery ride over lumpy pavement are the solid rear axle and leaf springs. Typical for body-on-frame pickups, the Tacoma's ladder frame flexes over potholes and patched road. Cruising at highway speeds, engine and wind noise are tolerable, but the Goodyears generate considerable tire noise. Brake performance is acceptable, yet the pedal feel and actuation convinced us that the Tacoma's disc/drum brakes are from an earlier era.
Toyota's Tacoma lineup attracts mainstream customers in the market for a midsize pickup, but the TRD Off-Road is aimed at enthusiasts who enjoy crawling through trails regularly. We didn't spend any time in dirt and mud, so our evaluation is based on the typical paved roads that most customers experience daily. Unless you regularly drive off-pavement, the Tacoma SR5, TRD Sport or Limited are better alternatives for daily driving, hauling cargo or trailering.