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2010 Toyota Tacoma 4x2 PreRunner – Click above for high-res image gallery

There was a time when pickup trucks came in three sensible sizes; small, medium and large. That's changed in recent years, as most pint-sized trucks have grown substantially to maintain distance compared to the similarly inflating half-ton pickup truck segment. The Toyota Tacoma is no different, as the second generation of the popular pickup is eight inches wider and over a foot longer than the 1995 Taco. And don't even try comparing the latest Tacoma to Marty McFly's stellar 1985 Toyota Pickup in the Back to the Future films, which could almost fit in the bed of a modern heavy-duty.

But while the Tacoma has adjusted to fit the growing whims of U.S. truck buyers, sales have dropped anyway. Over the past three years, nameplate sales have plunged by over 60 percent, and 2010 isn't looking any better. Has the Tacoma – last redesigned way back in 2005 – become long-in-the-tooth, or are car buyers simply turning away from the mid-size truck? We spent a week reacquainting ourselves with a TR5 PreRunner Double Cab to find out.

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Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Shunk / AOL

The Tacoma isn't infinitely configurable like most full-size trucks, but it can still be had in an impressive 18 configurations – plenty for this segment. Our tester arrived nearly loaded with four full-sized doors, the PreRunner package, Class-IV towing hardware and the $4,335 TRD Sport Extra Value Package, which includes P265/65R tires wrapped around 17-inch alloys, Bilstein shocks, satellite radio with Bluetooth and a backup camera with its screen located in the rearview mirror. Our tester was a 4X2, but the PreRunner bolt-ons imbue this Tacoma with the look and swagger of a true 4X4.

Most pickups don't attract much attention, but the Tacoma in our driveway commanded a surprising amount of ogling, courtesy of its over-the-top Speedway Blue Metallic paint and a Subaru-esque (non-functional) front hood scoop. But while we're quite certain that our $30,438 tester garnered a few stares, we're still not sure they were all favorable. The front end's design remains a bit obtuse for our tastes, with too many oddly intersecting lines and busy shapes around the grille and headlamps, with the decoy hood scoop only accentuating the problem.

The opposite is true in the rear, as the cargo area in our tester was limited by a short box at 60.3 inches in length that's also a bit shallow at 18 inches deep. Combine the puffed-up front end, prominent asymmetrical fender flares and the diminutive bed with over 208 inches of Speedway Blue real estate, and the resulting proportions are somewhat awkward. Thankfully, a long bed model with over a foot of extra capacity (73.5 inches total) is also available, and it helps balance out the Taco's visuals. While the box fitted to our tester was on the small side, we found the liner with its deck rail system and four adjustable tie-downs both rugged and useful.

Between the Taco's stem and stern is a Double Cab for a driver and up to four passengers. Since it's still quite a bit smaller than a full-size pickup, rear seat legroom is less than ideal, while limited shoulder and hip room makes it difficult to fit three adult passengers in the back. Front row occupants have much more room, though, with well-bolstered, comfortable seats and well-placed knobs and switchgear.

Like most trucks of its ilk, the Tacoma isn't blessed with high-end interior materials. What you get instead is a typical array of hard plastics and inhospitable touchpoints. Perhaps we've been spoiled by the nicer materials in the Tundra, but we didn't find much to get excited about in the cabin. At least the controls are straight-forward and ergonomically friendly. Build quality isn't exactly stellar, sadly. In one instance, a plastic panel behind the driver-side door handle somehow popped out, revealing a shiny screw charged with holding the door assembly together. In all, the interior is an area where the Taco is looking and feeling its age.

When it comes to pickups, there are a couple things we've come to expect: less-than-ideal living quarters, and perhaps surprisingly, a bit of fun behind the wheel. See, when you're not hauling peat moss and pulling stumps, pickups enjoy a few key similarities with sports cars: rear-wheel drive and big, torquey engines, which can't help but be entertaining no matter what size vehicle you're thrashing. And since our tester came equipped with the optional 4.0-liter V6, we were looking forward to the Tacoma fitting this bill quite nicely. Sadly, it wasn't to be.

The Tacoma has yet to receive the 270-horsepower version of Toyota's biggest V6. Instead, the creaky old 236-horsepower mill producing 266 pound-feet of torque still rests under our tester's bonnet. AOL Autos claims a 0-60 time of 7.4 seconds for the Tacoma, but our seat-of-the-pants-o-meter indicates viscous acceleration and a drop in serotonin levels. We're guessing part of the blame lies with our tester's hefty crew-cab configuration and PreRunner gear, but it was 2WD, so we can't imagine how labored it would feel toting around 225 additional pounds worth of four-wheel-drive system. Too bad, because the Tacoma is otherwise pleasant to live with on a daily basis. It sits on a firm yet compliant chassis, steering is solid (if a little muted) and an elevated height makes the Tacoma drive like the bigger truck that it's become.

Critically, fuel economy is another downer, as the truck's 17-mile-per-gallon city and 21 mpg highway EPA ratings aren't much better than you might expect from a full-sized pickup. And while we're on the subject, our tester's $30,000 price tag puts the Taco in the same price range as a well-equipped Tundra or perhaps a Chevrolet Silverado. Sure, the Taco can tow up to 6,500 pounds and it serves the trucking needs for many who prefer a pickup bed behind the cabin, but this is the Tacoma's dilemma – and indeed that of the entire compact and mid-size pickup market.

What were once small, less capable trucks have grown so much in size and weight that their value has been blunted, especially as exponentially more development money has been spent by automakers looking to make their full-size pickups as capable, hospitable and fuel-efficient as possible. And why not? The big bruisers sell in larger volumes and are disproportionately important both to their parent company's CAFE scores and bottom lines.

When the Tacoma first hit the market 15 years ago, it won over buyers with a bigger bed, expressive looks and improved performance compared to rivals like the Chevrolet S-10, Dodge Dakota and Ford Ranger. But with the S10 long dead (and its replacement, the Colorado nearly so), the Dakota doddering along and the Ranger operating on life support for more than a decade, it appears the Taco and its fellow Japanese rival, the Nissan Frontier, have won the mid-size truck title by default. That's a good thing for Toyota, because the Tacoma needs an improved powertrain, better fuel economy and more refinement to provide truck buyers with a palatable alternative to today's half-ton pickups.

Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Shunk / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      I have a 07 tacoma , small cab, 4 cyl , 5speed , 4wd, great truck , 20 to 22 mpg all the time. Bigger than ranger yes but at least I can see out of it.The taco can pull a trailer with 3500lbs at 70mph all day, I've done it. Unloaded it's like a sports car from the 60's , except it shifts better, gets better mpg , and gets me home! I've owned 15 pickup trucks and I feel my tacoma is the best all around .
      • 4 Years Ago
      I had a 1998 Standard Cab Tacoma when I lived in Colorado. 4 Cyl., K&N, Manual, 4x4, studded snow tires. Not the fastest truck but it would go anywhere and I never missed a ski day.

      I bought it used for $13,500.00 in 2000 and sold it for $13,500.00 in 2003 when I moved to London. I've regretted selling since the day it was gone. It was perfect. I hate how big and expensive they are now.

      At least I kept the old 911.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Seeing as this is really a Toyota Hilux- which has done many great feats.. why don't they just make it the way they have for years, instead of adding all these changes? America, although we love trucks here, needs to downsize and discourage large trucks and cars. It's crazy how some people even jack up their vehicles on larger wheels and suspension to drive around. It should be about quality not quantity or compensation for penis sizes.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It's a shame that compact trucks are disappearing, especially for us North of the Border. In my home town the Ford Ranger is a huge seller. Its discontinuation will leave a major hole in the truck market that some smart manufacturer will fill.

      You want to know a major market for a compact-sized truck? Older buyers who can't/don't want to to hike themselves way up into the cab of a full sized truck; homeowners who want somthing handy for chores but want good fuel economy/don't want to the stigma of owning a massive full-sized truck in a suburban neighbourhood; small business owners who want the cheapest price/fuel cost possible.

      At least we don't have the silly "chicken tax" in Canada, which makes importing a foreign built truck at least a possibility. Unfortunately, we're a very small market which probably works against the economics of doing that.

      But as a Mazda dealer, boy would I love to sell the Mazda BT-50 with a diesel. We'd setthe world on fire with that truck.
      • 4 Years Ago
      "Finally the price, despite the Ranger having higher MSRP, the actual Ranger advertised price is lower then the Tacoma."

      ...and so is the resale value.

      Besides, you don't necessarily have to pay MSRP for the Tacoma either.

      I researched and drove them all. At the time, the Tacoma was the best bang for the buck hands down as far as I was concerned. I suspect it still is.
      • 4 Years Ago
      With small and mid-size truck sales down, what are people driving? Have they abandoned their trucks for cars? They can't all be in full-sized trucks.

      I had a '95 2.7 5-spd 4WD Reg-cab Taco and I LOVED it. Reliable, economical, and sorta fun to try to drive hard. Those big tires gave a surprising amount of grip.

      I have no interest in the 'new' Taco. The 4cyl isn't enough, and the 6 is a gas hog. Too much money for too much/too little truck.

      In 8 years, the Mahindra may be just the ticket. I can't hep but think there's a market for something small, cheap, economical, and durable, WITH TURBO DIESELS! Make the damn thing usable every day and easily modded for serious off-road use. (a smart manufacturer would make sure that Jeep aftermarket parts bolted right on)

      I've done all I can do here. Carry on.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I owned one of these.


      -Much better day to day fuel economy than a full size truck (19mpg overall)
      -Easier to park, fits in any garage. Smaller "feel" in city driving.
      -Can still tow quite a bit, surprisingly good for work use in that regard.
      -Shorter wheelbase makes maneuvering with a trailer easier than crew cab full size trucks, which can be so long an inattentive driver can hop curbs and such.
      -Smoother ride than some full size trucks.
      -100% reliable and trouble free in 3 years of use.
      -Amazing resale value (paid $28K, sold for $22,500 3 years and 36K miles later)


      -Flimsier bed construction vs "real" trucks. In this regard it's much more limited than in payload.
      -Narrow and tall truck means tippy feeling in turns. Steering nothing to write home about.
      -Seating area tight, driver sits more like in a car. Rear seats are still barely big enough for adults. Beware sport seats if you are broad shouldered or muscular. They pinch lats.
      -Nearly as expensive as some full sizers due to discounting/rebates.

      For someone who only rarely needs the truck attributes and who commutes a lot, it could make sense. The fuel savings, especially if prices rise, would make it worth a look.
      • 4 Years Ago

      Purchased a '07 Tacoma new. Tail gate was weak and had to be reinforced (warranty). The rear springs were weak and the rear end would sag badly with a 465 lb motorbike in the back. The fix was (warranty) was to add a leaf to the rear spring pack. This made the truck ride more like a lumber wagon. Finally there was the crappy V/6 mileage.

      Purchased a '10 Ranger XLT new for much, much less $, the tail gate doesn't bend, and the rear does not sag even close to as much as the Tacoma with the same bike in the back. It has a metal bed instead of (weak) plastic like the Tacoma. It got 22.4 city (4 cyl auto) on the second tank of gas. (I admit to driving both like there was a cup of water on the dash). It has all of the equipment the Tacoma had + it comes with sat radio as standard equipment.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Dear Truck Manufacturers,

      Please build a small pickup truck with a 4 cylinder turbodiesel mated to a 5+ speed automatic with a rugged, comfortable but not fancy interior. I will buy buy this truck. I have no need to tow 10,000 pounds and no desire to squeeze an huge pickup down the small street that I live on.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Manual transmission please.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I wish they would also use conventional radios so that we can buy a decent, small, economical pickup then stick a killer touchscreen aftermarket radio in it rather than having to buy the crap from the manufacturer.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I agree w/ all of the comments so far. Give me that '85 Truck w/ the 22R (or RE depending on which scene your watching ;-) ). I have owned a 1st gen Tacoma 4x4 TRD and felt that it was the perfect size. I never liked the 2004+, they got to big and lost the formula all together. According to the bulider on the Toyota site, you can't even get a 4x4 4cyl anymore! Toyota: please stop making trucks bigger, believe it or not some people would like a capable, solid axle, 4-cyl, 4x4, with basic creature comforts- AC and Cruise, but make the Power Windows and Locks optional, mm kay?
        • 4 Years Ago
        Agreed, the 1st-gen Tacoma was maybe the pinnacle of small trucks (and, tellingly, they still command a premium on the used market).

        One of the things Toyota seemed to forget when they developed the new Tacoma was that the narrowness of the 1st-gen was actually an attractive quality for off-roaders, because it could fit between obstacles easier.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Why does Toyota feel the need to employ fake hood scoops on the majority of their vehicles? News flash Toyota: you are not fooling us into thinking your blandmobiles are sporty.
      • 4 Years Ago
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