2002 Toyota Tacoma
MSRP
$11,900
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2002 Toyota Tacoma Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

A truck for all reasons.

Introduction

Toyota knows what compact truck buyers want, and its Tacoma pickup delivers the goods. Toyota Tacoma boasts a heritage of solid service as a work truck along with a hard-earned reputation as a winning off-road race truck. 

Toyota makes a Tacoma to fit almost any work-related or recreational pursuit. The Tacoma line starts with a simple two-wheel-drive work truck loaded with nothing but quality, durability and reliability. The line tops out with fancy four-wheel-drive models. 

Lineup

Tacomas are available in regular, extended, and four-door cabs. 

Base rear-wheel drive (4X2) Tacomas start at just under $12,000. Frugal in features, these are working machines powered by an economical 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine that will push them along for many years of reliable service. 

Four-wheel-drive Tacomas come with either the 2.7-liter four-cylinder (starting just over $16,000) or the 3.4-liter V6 (starting at just over $19,500). 

An SR5 option package adds luxury equipment such as air conditioning, tilt steering, and variable intermittent wipers. The price and content of the SR5 package varies with cab, engine, and driveline. V6 Doublecabs and V6 Xtracab 4x4's can be ordered with a similar Limited package, which includes most SR5 content plus power windows, locks and mirrors. Again the precise content depends on the body style. 

A StepSide bed option ($310) features bulging fender flares over the rear wheels and a small step behind the doors. 

PreRunner is a 4x2 truck with an off-road suspension patterned after pickups specially prepared to pre-run off-road desert racing courses in the weeks and months prior to the big race. PreRunners are available in either regular, extended (Xtracab) or four-door Double Cab configurations. Choose between a 2.7-liter inline-4 and a 3.4-liter V6. PreRunners start at about $14,000. 

Xtracab S-Runner is a low-riding street sports model with a suspension tuned for handling on pavement, a 3.4-liter V6, and color-keyed trim. 

The TRD (Toyota Racing Development) off-road package can be added to 2WD PreRunner or 4WD Xtracab models (except those equipped with four-cylinder engines and automatic transmissions). The TRD package adds Bilstein shocks, locking rear differential, increased-rate front and rear springs, a larger stabilizer bar, P265/70R16 B.F. Goodrich tires, overfenders (color-keyed on Limited models), and special graphics. 

Also available from TRD is a fully warranted, dealer-installed supercharger for the 3.4-liter V6. The TRD blower boosts output by 40 percent, from 190 to 260 horsepower. 

Walkaround

For 2001, the entire Tacoma line received an exterior makeover to give it a more aggressive appearance. Otherwise, the styling has changed little since the Tacoma was introduced in 1995. 

We've recently spent time in 4x4 Limited, S-Runner, and four-cylinder StepSide models. 

The Limited and the S-Runner each had the 3.4-liter V6 and Xtracab body style. But that's where the similarities ended. 

The 4x4 has a tough, off-road look to it, with big, beefy tires and enough ground clearance to hop over medium-sized rocks and stumps. The S-Runner is much lower to the ground, and is graced with tasteful bodywork add-ons that go well with its handsome five-spoke alloy wheels and low-profile tires. In fact, several people stopped to admire the S-Runner and wanted to know where they could get one. 

The four-cylinder StepSide is a more modest-looking, practical truck, ready to do some work; although the StepSide body features elegant external fenders, more shapely and less radical than most similar retro-truck designs. 

Interior

Tacoma's interior benefited from a major redesign last year. Changes included new door trim, orange instrument illumination and available white-faced gauges, a new fabric bench seat, full cut-pile carpeting, door pockets, two auxiliary power outlets located under the cigarette lighter, dual cup holders, a driver-side foot rest, tinted windshield glass, auto-off headlights and adjustable front seatbelt anchors. Electric rotary climate controls added a touch of convenience, and a new four-spoke steering wheel provided a variety of comfortable places to rest lazy thumbs. We found the large instruments easy to read, the controls well placed and functional. A new assist strap on the driver's-side windshield pillar was added for 2002. 

Drivers over six feet tall will find the regular cab a mite cramped for space. The Xtracab has a little more legroom (41.7 inches versus 42.8), plus room to recline the seat. 

Xtracabs also get a 60/40 split front seat, comfortable for driver and passenger. The big bucket seats in the Xtracab Limited we test-drove felt too big for the cab, giving the space a cramped feeling. But they sure were comfortable. And that lumbar support in the driver's seat was a godsend on a long drive. The cloth trim seems to be of good quality. In the extended rear cab area there's a little table that folds up to serve as either a cup holder or as a support for a child-restraint seat. 

Double Cabs are reasonably roomy in the back seats. There's lots of kneeroom and good headroom, but the upright seatback makes them most suitable for short trips. Getting in and out of the back seats is awkward because it requires swinging your feet around the B-pillar. 

The Tacoma has a pull-out hand brake, which is inconvenient and seems old-fashioned. 

Driving Impression

These are nice-driving pickups. They drive quite a bit differently depending on the way they are set up, but all do a good job in the roles for which they are designed. The two-wheel-drive basic work trucks ride smoothly and handle reasonably well. Rugged off-road versions offer impressive handling and capability in the rough stuff. And for street rodders, the S-Runner is fun to drive. 

Two four-cylinder engines are available. The base Tacoma 4x2 uses a 142-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which compares well with competing four-cylinder models from Nissan, Ford and Mazda. The Toyota 2.4-liter is economical to run, with an EPA-estimated city/highway mileage of 22/25 mpg when matched with a five-speed manual transmission. For 4X4 models, Toyota offers a 150-horsepower 2.7-liter four-cylinder. 

The V6 is available for 4x2 and 4x4 models. It delivers 190 horsepower at 4800 rpm, with 220 foot-pounds of torque at 3600 rpm. Even at that it's still reasonably economical with an EPA city/highway mileage rating of 18/22 on a 4x2 with a five-speed manual. 

The five-speed manual transmission shifts smoothly and makes the Tacoma more fun to drive. It makes accelerating into traffic a joy. 

Toyota's 3.4-liter V6 is also a good match for the optional four-speed electronically controlled transmission. This combination offers good acceleration performance for passing slow-moving semi trucks on two-lane stretches of highway. 

A Toyota Tacoma 4x4 equipped with the TRD treatment offers impressive handling on rough, primitive roads as we found out near Big Sky, Montana. It feels like it would go anywhere, and get there in a big hurry. The TRD suspension is fantastic, whether going slow or hauling. Even deep, bounding ruts failed to upset the handling in medium-speed corners. Handling on dirt roads is much better balanced in four-wheel drive than in the two-wheel-drive mode. 

The TRD Tacoma rides reasonably well, though it's stiff at low speeds. That stiffness pays off at higher speeds, however. Like all pickups, it feels much smoother with a little weight in the bed. The TRD suspension developed by Toyota and its off-road racing teams does a good job of smoothing out rough ground. 

On dry pavement, the Tacoma 4X4 holds corners surprisingly well. With its high center of gravity you don't want to try anything too radical, but it really hangs on to the decreasing-radius turns on freeway on-ramps and in other moderate maneuvers. 

Auto-locking hubs and a 4WD-High button let you shift on the fly at speeds less than 50 mph. The shift-on-the-fly button also lets you slip into 4-High when a good road goes bad. 

The available push-button locking differential forces the rear wheels to turn at the same speed. This enables the Tacoma to walk out of ankle-deep sand with absolutely no trouble. The locking rear differential is indispensable for driving in an area prone to mud and snow. At moderate speed over desert moguls the Tacoma suspension keeps the tires on the terrain for good grip without jarring the occupant's internal organs loose. 

The 2WD S-Runner offers responsive handling. Cruising down your favorite twisty road with the S-Runner will never fail to brighten your day. Its 190-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 produces a deep-sounding (but not obnoxious) exhaust note. The sport-tuned suspension setup includes Tokico gas shock absorbers, increased-rate springs, and front and rear stabilizer bars. Ride height is reduced by one inch from the standard 4x2. Though a little jouncy when empty, the ride never felt harsh, and handling was superb. As long as the weather doesn't get too slippery, the S-Runner is as entertaining as anything we've recently driven. It is so much fun that we kept searching for reasons to go for a spin. 

We used an S-Runner to move some furniture from Maryland to Virginia and, like all pickups, it rode better when loaded down. The lower ride height of the S-Runner is a real benefit when it's time to do some wor. 

Summary

You can't beat Toyota pickups for quality, durability and reliability. So look no farther if those benefits are at the top of your list. Overall, the Tacoma is an impressive package. 

There are bigger trucks and there are more powerful trucks than the Tacoma. But there are few 4x4 pickups that offer the combination of style, comfort, and rugged performance that you'll find in the Tacoma Xtracab 4X4 Limited. The Double Cab (introduced last year) adds rear seating or some needed interior cargo space. 

Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.

Model Lineup

Regular Cab 4x2 ($11,900); Regular Cab 4x4 ($16,310); Xtracab 4x2 V6 ($18,060); Xtracab 4x2 PreRunner ($18,340); Double Cab 4x2 PreRunner V6 ($18,970); Double Cab 4x4 V6 ($22,120). 

Assembled In

Fremont, California. 

Options As Tested

Limited package ($3,625) includes air conditioning, power windows, door locks and mirrors, intermittent wipers, cruise control, spot seats, tachometer leather-trimmed tilt steering wheel and shift knob; TRD off-road package ($1,380) includes off-road suspension, rear locking differential, 265/70R16 Goodrich tires; high-4WD selector switch ($135); floor mats ($76); bed liner ($299); receiver hitch ($359). 

Model Tested

4X4 Xtracab V6 Automatic ($20,420). 

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