2016 Toyota Tacoma First Drive [w/video]
Seeing GM's Call And Raising The Stakes
Power278 HP / 265 LB-FT
Curb Weight4,480 LBS
MPG18 City / 23 HWY
Warranty3 Year / 36,000 Mile
As Tested Price$35,240
A minefield of boulders isn't all that stands in the way of the redesigned Tacoma on its path to continued sales dominance. The Chevy Colorado and its GMC Canyon sibling are formidable foes that General Motors hopes can chip away at the Tacoma's 10-year reign atop the midsize truck segment. Continued success is no sure thing for Toyota, in part because GM has a few tricks remaining up its sleeve for small truck shoppers, most notably a new diesel engine option. The good news, at least for Toyota, is that the 2016 Tacoma is improved in every meaningful way over the machine it replaces.
The Tacoma's biggest single change for 2016 is under the hood. A new 3.5-liter V6 engine replaces the previous-gen's 4.0-liter unit, and though it's down on displacement, it's up on power. A peak of 278 horsepower means the new truck has 42 more than in 2015, though torque does drop one pound-foot to 265. Before you pour one out for that lone lost torque, know that the new truck feels genuinely spritely at city speeds so long as you keep the revs in the meat of the mid-heavy powerband, and it's maximum tow rating of 6,800 pounds is 300 lbs greater than before.
Toyota's new V6 engine is filled with some pretty cool technology, starting with Variable Valve Timing with Intelligent Wider Intake (VVT-iW) and both port and direct fuel injection (D-4S). Basically, these two bits of tech help improve efficiency when full power isn't needed, going so far as to rely on the efficient Atkinson cycle when the higher-power Otto cycle isn't needed. Any changes as the engine switches modes go completely unnoticed by the driver.
A six-speed automatic transmission was the only gearbox Toyota allowed me to test, though a six-speed manual will be offered for those who truly want to row their own. In reality, that'll be next to nobody. Also on the options sheet is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine with 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque, available with either a six-speed auto or a five-speed shift-yourself transmission. Either engine can be had with either two- or four-wheel drive.
Taking those engines, transmissions and drivelines into account, and then mixing in extended Access Cab and four-door Double Cab bodystyles, Toyota boasts that the 2016 Tacoma is available in 29 unique configurations. Four-door models with V6 engines and 4x4 make for the most desirable trucks, and in that case, the buyer's biggest decision will be whether to get the 60.5-inch bed or the longer 73.7-inch bed. Picking between the two could be a matter of intended usage – on-road hauling duties would favor the long bed while off-road shenanigans are easier with the more compact 127.4-inch wheelbase of the short bed. Pick your poison and pay your penalties.
No matter which bed length you choose, you'll find a durable and lightweight composite material making up the deck and side walls. A deck-rail system with four tie-downs is integrated into the bed for added utility, the tailgate is now damped, and there's an external AC power adapter near that tailgate.
Toyota dramatically increased the amount of high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel in its latest Tacoma, both for the frame and the body shell. This makes the truck more durable than before while also cutting weight. Unlike the frame that underpins the Chevy Colorado, the 2016 Tacoma's frame is only boxed up front, switching to a C-segment near where the rear leaf springs attach. While there's no doubt a fully boxed frame is stronger, Toyota counters that the Tacoma's frame is designed to flex in order to help keep all four wheels on the ground on uneven surfaces and for a smoother ride.
Is a fully boxed frame necessary? No, probably not. Will some buyers care anyway? Certainly. In any case, the 2016 Tacoma rides well, with enough stiffness in its chassis to feel like a truck that can get some work done without letting any bone-jarring impacts through the suspension and into the driver's back. Handling is predictable, understeering early enough to remind the driver that he's sitting several feet up off the ground and riding on all-terrain tires. It's certainly no sports car – nor should it be – but steering feel is good enough and isn't so overly light that you lose track of what the front tires are doing.
While the truck's front brakes are discs, the rear brakes on all Tacoma models are old-school drums. Why? Toyota engineers and marketing reps say rear discs are only helpful on a truck when it's towing big loads, and internal data tells them that towing ranks in 22nd place, right around rear-seat cupholders, on the needs and desires list of Tacoma buyers. Considering the number of Tacoma and similar-size trucks seen towing small trailers of dirt bikes, jet skis and the like, that assertion is hard to believe. Toyota further claims that drum brakes are better in off-road situations. That also seems dubious at best, especially since all the expert-level all-terrain vehicles I can think of – Jeep Wrangler, Land Rover Range Rover, Toyota's own Land Cruiser – all use four-wheel discs. And the Tacoma has discs in the front, anyway. In practical terms, brake performance feels fine, resisting any sort of lockup and bringing the 4,480-pound, four-door, four-wheel-drive pickup truck down from highway speeds with confidence.
Toyota provided plenty of opportunity for me to push the Tacoma past the off-road limit that I'd imagine those writing a $30,000 check for their own shiny new truck would be willing to go. See the results of my time piloting the brand-spanking-new Tacoma off-road in the video below.
As you can see, the 2016 Toyota Tacoma proved plenty capable of anything I was able to throw at it, and the Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control system worked as advertised. Those hoping to spend a significant amount of time in the dirt will want to opt for the TRD Off-Road model, which gets an electronically controlled locking rear diff to go along with a better approach angle at the front (32 degrees versus 29 degrees) thanks to the removal of the front air dam. All Tacomas boast 9.4 inches of ground clearance.
Another element that sets the TRD Off-Road model apart is its appearance package, and most specifically its fake hood scoop. While it kinda sorta looks cool, it's completely non-functional. If it were used to provide help when fording water, or at the very least delivered air underhood, I'd give it a pass. In reality, the bulging scoop only serves to block the driver's view, particularly when navigating tight off-road sections, which is exactly where the TRD Off-Road model is meant to play.
The rest of the truck looks good. I got a chuckle out of the design ethos of the 2016 Tacoma, which centers around Chief Engineer Mike Sweers directive to "build me a bad-ass truck," but I have to admit that I like the styling, especially the grille, headlights and the stamped lettering of the tailgate. The new look still says Tacoma, but is much bolder than before.
Inside, Toyota made the Tacoma look less like a car and more like a truck. This is a good thing. The blocky appearance and durable-feeling materials seem appropriate for a pickup's mission as a vehicle for work and play, and prove you don't have to give up nice things to drive a truck. Push-button start, Qi wireless charging, and a 4.2-inch LCD screen between the speedometer and tachometer keep the cabin modern. A basic version of Toyota's Entune audio system is standard, and upmarket models with the Entune App Suite include more music options to go along with local point-of-interest programs like Yelp and Facebook Places.
In lieu of Apple Carplay or Android Auto, low-level Tacoma models can be optioned with a system called Scout that connects to compatible phones, sharing the data connection to offer turn-by-turn navigation. Sadly, Toyota didn't have a truck equipped with this feature for journalists to test, but a brief video showcasing the higher-end Entune Premium system can be seen below, along with a short demonstration of the built-in GoPro camera mount.
If there's one interior drawback, it's that the Tacoma's cabin feels cramped. The lack of interior room is especially apparent when two fullsize adult men occupy the front seats – there's a distinct feeling of closeness, and when the front seats are pushed more than halfway back on their rails, there's a paucity of rear-seat space. If you plan to use the rear seat often, the four-door Colorado offers more than three additional inches of legroom.
A look at the Tacoma's spec sheet reveals that the four-cylinder model doesn't actually save fuel when compared to the new 3.5-liter V6. The best four-cylinder (two-wheel drive, automatic) gets ratings of 19 city, 23 highway and 21 combined, while the much more powerful V6 earns 19/24/21 in the same spec. Each rating drops by one mpg in 4x4 guise. Observed mileage on my test route barely broke 17 miles per gallon.
By way of comparison, a four-cylinder Chevy Colorado scores 20 city and 27 highway from its four-cylinder, which, at 200 horsepower and 191 lb-ft, is more powerful than the Tacoma's base engine. Stepping up to the Chevy's 3.5-liter V6 nets EPA ratings of 18/26, again with more power (305 hp and 269 lb-ft) than the Tacoma. Another upcoming feather in GM's cap will be the 2.8-liter Duramax diesel engine that will be arriving in the Colorado and Canyon this fall. That oil-burning mill ought to hit 30 miles per gallon on the highway, and it will have higher tow ratings than any Tacoma. If you'd only consider a small truck because you think it will be more efficient, you'd be advised to check out the larger competition – six-cylinder versions of the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500 post similar mpg figures to the Tacoma, and you can even opt for Ram's excellent EcoDiesel engine without breaking the bank if you're smart with the options sheet.
Pricing for the 2016 Tacoma starts at $24,200 (including $900 for destination). The heart of the Tacoma line are the TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road models, each of which start at $31,665, or $35,240 with four-wheel drive. Top-shelf Limited model retail for a heady $35,645, or $38,720 if the buyer opts for 4WD. Those prices are on par with the GM twins, but before you lay down the cash for a full-bore Limited model, you should know that fullsize trucks with greater capability can be bought, albeit with fewer luxury options, in the same ballpark.
Granted, the Tacoma isn't meant to be cross-shopped with fullsize trucks. It's a smaller option for those who don't want or need the massive tow/haul/push/pull ratings of a behemoth pickup. Viewed in that light, the Tacoma is a shining star, and easily remains competitive with the new Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon.
Interestingly, sales of the current Tacoma have actually increased since General Motors put its big toe back in the midsize truck pool, a fact Toyota attributes in part to newfound awareness brought to the once stagnant segment thanks to new competition. There's little chance that the Tacoma will lose its sales crown in the midsize truck category, and for good reason. It's comfortable, capable and carries with it a solid reputation for durability. There may be a few chinks in its armor, but it's the right size and the right price for a large swath of buyers.
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