Which to Buy: Toyota Tundra vs Toyota Tacoma

You’re in the market for a used pickup truck and you like Toyotas. Here are two of Toyota’s best, the Tacoma and the Tundra. Which would you choose?

Which to Buy: Toyota Tundra vs. Toyota Tacoma | CarMax

When you’re looking for a used pickup truck, Toyota might not be the very first manufacturer that springs to mind. The Ford F150, Dodge Ram, and Chevy Silverado lead the sales charts these days, but that doesn’t mean you should leave very solid contenders like Toyota’s Tundra and Tacoma off your research list.

The Tundra is Toyota's full-sized pickup. Built in Texas, it goes head-to-head with its rivals from Ford, Dodge, and Chevy. A size smaller than the Tundra, the Tacoma competes against the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon, as well as older, compact trucks like the Ford Ranger and Nissan Frontier. You might also want to compare it to the interestingly different Honda Ridgeline. (To learn more about pickup truck sizes, take a look at our truck buying guide.)

If these trucks are in different categories, why compare them? The answer is that for many buyers, the Tacoma is big and capable enough for their needs. And as the Tacoma outsells its bigger brother by a fair amount, it's easier to find a Tacoma than a used Toyota Tundra for sale.

Tundra overview

Toyota launched their Tundra back in 2000 to compete directly with the Ford F150. A second-generation Tundra arrived for the 2007 model year, and since then it has remained largely unchanged, except for a cosmetic facelift for 2014. We'll concentrate on the second-generation vehicle here.

Like its full-sized competitors, the Tundra is available in a range of configurations. There are three cabs – regular, double, and crew cab, three bed lengths—from five feet, six inches to eight feet long, and two different wheelbases. At launch there were three engines available; the V6 option was dropped after 2014, which left buyers with a choice of either the 4.6L or 5.7L V8.

Tacoma background

The Tacoma first reached showrooms in 1995, and a second generation arrived for the 2006 model year. This model remained in production until a 2016 redesign. On the assumption that someone looking at used trucks for sale is considering something pre-2016, we'll focus on the second generation Tacoma.

At launch, three cabs were offered – standard, extended cab, and double cab – although 2015 saw the standard cab dropped from the range. There are two bed lengths, short (five feet) and long (six feet). Power comes from either a 2.7L four-cylinder engine or, until 2016, a 4.0L V6. (The third-generation Tacoma saw this six-cylinder replaced by a 3.5L V6.)

Size and capabilities

The Tundra looks big. Run a ruler over its muscular sheet metal for proof; standing just over six feet tall and almost 80 inches wide, in its longest configuration the Tundra runs just over 20 feet from nose to tail. Ground clearance is a full 10 inches, and when ordered with four-wheel drive, it's more than capable of traversing rough tracks. Bed depth is just 22 inches, so you might not want cargo left loose to bounce around too much.

The main reason anyone buys a pickup is hauling stuff, and here the Tundra turns in some impressive numbers (it also made our 13 Best Tailgating Cars of 2016 list). In single cab configuration it'll take as much as 2,000 pounds in the bed (bigger cab equals smaller possible payload) but it's towing that produces the really eye-popping numbers: up to 10,000 pounds! That's enough for a good-sized boat or horse trailer.

In comparison, the Tacoma is smaller all around, although not by much. It's a little under six feet tall and it’s 74 inches across, and in its longest configuration measures just over 18 feet, bumper-to-bumper. Ground clearance is eight inches with rear-wheel drive and nine inches with 4WD, so it's still plenty capable off-road. Bed depth is just 18 inches though—something to be mindful about if you'll be loading it up with mulch.

In terms of payload, the Tacoma will hold between 1,175 and 1,500 pounds, depending on the size of the cab. The upper limit on towing is 3,500 pounds, unless equipped with the optional V6 towing package, which boosts this to 6,500 pounds. If you're after a good used Toyota Tacoma for sale and plan on doing a lot of towing, opt for the larger engine.

Accommodations

The single cab Tundra has a bench seat that accommodates three adults. Double and crew cabs will seat five or six in two rows, depending on whether or not the front seat is a bench. While the double cab is plenty big enough, the crew cab is cavernous, providing a limousine-like 42 inches of legroom for riders in the back.

Standard or regular cab Tacomas also accommodate three on a single bench seat while the Access cab gains two rear bucket seats, to allow for a total of four passengers. The four-door, double cab Tacoma seats five. Rear legroom in the crew cab is a reasonable 32 inches, so anyone sitting back there shouldn't feel too cramped.

Trims and equipment

Manufacturers tweak trim levels from year-to-year, and Toyota is no exception. For example, in 2013 the only available trim levels were base, Limited, and Platinum. For the very next year, the 2014 Toyota Tundra was available in SR, SR5, Limited, Platinum, and 1794 Edition trims. A year later, the off road-oriented TRD Pro joined the lineup.

Using the 2014 model for reference, standard equipment in SR trim included 18-inch steel wheels, power mirrors, and an easy-to-lower-and-lift tailgate. Inside were fabric-covered seats, carpeting, air conditioning, and power windows, plus a rearview camera and Toyota's Entune audio system with Bluetooth connectivity.

The SR5 had added chrome bumper trim, a console-mounted shifter and upgraded instrumentation. The Limited edition offered heated mirrors and 20-inch alloy wheels plus automatic air conditioning, leather trim, heated front seats with power adjustment for the driver, and a power sliding rear window.

Platinum Tundras are distinguished by front and rear color-keyed bumpers and turn signals integrated into the mirrors. Inside, the driver’s seat has memory settings and there’s an Entune premium JBL audio system. Essentially the Platinum with some western-themed trim and a power passenger seat, the 1794 Edition Tundra was named for the ranch that originally stood on the site of the Tundra factory.

In contrast, trims on the 2014 Toyota Tacoma were organized a little differently. Standard features included 15-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, and a six-inch touchscreen for the Entune audio system. However, 4WD Tacomas received 16-inch wheels to go with the one-inch higher ride height, front and rear mudguards, and a skid plate underneath to protect the engine. These features could, however, be obtained by ordering a rear-wheel drive Tacoma in PreRunner trim.

Upgrading the Tacoma meant ordering a package of features, and a number of these were offered. These included the Convenience package, the SR appearance package, and the TRD off-road package. These packages included alloy wheels and power windows. Buyers of the range-topping V6 Double Cab were also eligible for the Limited package. This added lots of chrome, synthetic leather upholstery, and heated front seats.

Powertrains

In rear-wheel drive, SR trim the 2014 Tundra came with a 4.0L V6 that put out 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque through a five-speed transmission. EPA mileage numbers were 16 in the city and 20 on the highway.

SR5 Tundras came with a 4.6L V8 that made 310 horsepower and 327 lb-ft of torque and an automatic six-speed gearbox. Gas mileage numbers averaged 15 in the city and 19 on the highway (13 mpg city and 17 highway in 4WD models). Limited and higher trims came with a 5.7L V8 which delivered 381 horsepower and a whopping 401 lb-ft of torque. Mileage numbers were 13 city and 18 highway (13/17 for 4WD models).

As befits a smaller vehicle, Tacoma engine options included a 2.7L four-cylinder engine and a 4.0L V6. This latter engine made 236 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque and delivered average mileage numbers of 17/21 with the five-speed automatic and RWD and 16/21 with 4WD. The four cylinder engine’s output was 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque, with mileage numbers averaging 19/24 (RWD) and 18/21 (4WD). Of interest to those who like to change their own gears, the Tacoma was also available with a manual transmission.

Tacoma or Tundra?

So now that you’ve checked over the features, which do you buy? If you plan on towing or need serious off-road abilities, you’d do well to consider the Tundra. It's a big, sturdy truck with a powerful engine and good ground clearance. Gas mileage suffers slightly in comparison with the Tacoma, but perhaps not as much as might be expected. And as compensation, the Tundra’s higher trim levels offer considerable luxury.

Conversely, if you need a truck for the occasional errand, for bouncing down a rough track once in a while, and for parking in city spaces and hardware store lots, consider the Tacoma. It's not as beefy as the full-sized Tundra, but unless you live on a ranch, it's probably easier to live with. If that's not enough reasons to buy a Toyota Tacoma, keep in mind that it also made CarMax’s list of Top 5 Zombie Escape Cars!

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