Just in the past two model years, nearly every pickup in this class has grown from a compact to a mid-size, and all have been totally re-engineered in the process. Toyota, Nissan, and Dodge redesigned their smaller pickups from the ground up, keeping little the same but their nameplates; Chevrolet and GMC launched all-new trucks with new names. The aging Ford Ranger is the only truck left from the old generation, and it competes primarily on price.
The latest generation of mid-size trucks features roomier cabs, improved ride quality and increased stability. The boast more power and increased refinement. All are available in the increasingly popular crew cab configuration, and their larger size makes this a more compelling choice. The newest crew cab models are practical alternatives to a sedan, something that wasn't really true of the previous generation. Mid-size pickups offer better maneuverability than full-size trucks, while providing serious hauling and towing utility. With so many good trucks available, this is a fine time to be shopping for one.
Tacoma steps to the front of this class with its comfortable cab, refined ride, responsive handling, proven off-road capability, and quality construction. Properly equipped V6 models are rated to tow up to 6,500 pounds. In every way, this latest Tacoma improves on all the attributes that loyal Tacoma owners have cherished in the past, while increasing interior roominess and refinement. Perhaps most important, Tacoma enjoys Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability.
Tacoma was redesigned and launched as an all-new model for 2005 and there are no significant changes for 2006.
A wide choice of models is available, ranging from a $14,000 work truck to a $30,000 4x4 Double Cab. The former is among the few regular-cab pickups available today as the market has moved to extended-cab and crew cab styles. TRD PreRunner models may make you feel like Ivan Ironman Stewart getting ready to win another Baja 500, while the sporty X-Runner may make you feel like Rod Millen preparing to blast up Pike's Peak.
Tacoma Regular Cab 2.7-liter 5-speed manual ($13,780); w 4-speed automatic ($14,680); Access Cab 5M ($17,220); 4A ($18,120); PreRunner Regular Cab 5M ($14,650); PreRunner Access Cab 5M ($17,980); PreRunner V6 Access Cab w 6-speed manual ($19,435); w 5-speed automatic ($20,315); PreRunner V6 Double Cab 5A ($22,040); PreRunner Long Bed V6 Double Cab 5A ($22,540); X-Runner Access Cab V6 6M ($23,545); 4x4 Regular Cab 2.7-liter 5M ($17,725); 4x4 Access Cab 5M ($21,055); 4x4 V6 Access Cab 6M ($22,610); 4x4 V6 Access Cab 5A ($23,490); 4x4 V6 Double Cab 6M ($24,235); 4x4 V6 Double Cab 5A ($25,115); 4x4 V6 Long Bed Double Cab 5A ($25,615)
The length of the Tacoma varies by body style: Regular Cabs are the shortest, measuring 190.4 inches overall on a 109.4-inch wheelbase. Access Cab and Double Cab short-bed models have a 127.2-inch wheelbase and 208.1-inch overall length. Double Cab long-bed models are quite long at 221.3 inches overall on a 140.9-inch wheelbase. All models have six-foot beds except the Double Cab short-bed, which has a five-foot bed.
How to choose? Regular Cab models pack lots of cargo space in a relatively small package, good for maneuverability in the big city. PreRunner and 4WD Regular Cabs have the best break-over angle due to their short length and therefore offer the best capability off road. Access Cabs feature large dual rear auxiliary doors, not good for people but very good for gear. Double Cabs have long, conventionally hinged rear doors that open 80 degrees for ease of entry or loading gear. Double Cabs offer the comfort of a sport-utility; the long-bed Double Cabs can carry more stuff but are unwieldy in tight places.
Tacoma comes with a composite inner bed, lighter than steel yet tougher and more durable. The bed features two-tier loading and an integrated deck rail utility system with four adjustable tie-down cleats. The rails are compatible with Genuine Toyota Accessories, including cargo bed cross bars, a fork-mount bike rack, and diamond-plate storage boxes.
We found the bucket seats on the upper level models comfortable, with good bolstering, though some thought the seat bottom could be longer and have more thigh support. The manually adjustable seats include lumbar adjustment but no adjustment for seat height or the angle of the seat bottom. The power seats available on the Nissan Frontier have these features. Overall, though the Tacoma provides the driver with a good driving position.
Big mirrors afford a good view to the rear. Solid cup holders are provided in the center console area. The front passenger's seatback flips down to form a tray table or to make room for long objects, a handy feature on models so equipped. The switchgear is easy to operate, and everything is where you expect it to be. Big rotary knobs make it easy to adjust cabin temperature even with gloves on; the knobs are electronic, so they're easy to twist. The radio is fully integrated into the upper center stack and it's easy to operate, though the display is nearly impossible to read through polarized sunglasses. CDs sound good through the JBL speakers. We aren't thrilled with the pull-out handbrake that comes on models with manual transmissions, as we prefer a lever or footbrake. Models with automatics come with a foot-operated parking brake.
The rear seats in the Tacoma Double Cab are particularly comfortable for the class, offering good legroom and shoulder room and decent headroom. The seatback is angled back slightly, making it more comfortable. In a back-to-back comparison test, we found the back seats of the Tacoma more comfortable than those in the Frontier. A younger rider should be okay to ride across the state back there and even adults won't complain too much on short trips. The rear windows go all the way down.
The rear-seat area in the Double Cab is good for carrying cargo. The back seat is split 60/40. Flip the seat bottoms forward and fold the two sections down to form a flat platform for gear. It takes two hands to do this and you first have to remove the headrests, which is a hassle, though Toyota has at least provided a place to store them. The seatbacks are hard, and form a sturdy cargo floor. It's not a bad spot for a dog, better than the bumpy floors in the Nissan Frontier and Dodge Dakota, but still a big jump down. Our experience has been that none of the trucks in this class is particularly good for dogs.
The Access Cab has rear seats, but they're pretty hopeless for humans. The space back there is best used for small cargo that you don't want to put in the bed.
The 4.0-liter V6 engine uses dual overhead camshafts and variable valve technology (called VVT-i) to optimize power and torque over a broad range of rpm. In action, it feels refined and delivers responsive performance. The Society of Automotive Engineers, or SAE, has changed the way power is rated, so on paper it looks like the Tacoma's power has been reduced, but in fact the engine hasn't changed for 2006 and offers just as much power as 2005. The new tests rate the 4.0-liter V6 at 236 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. The Toyota V6 is more powerful than the five-cylinder engine in the Chevy Colorado or the base V6 in the Dodge Dakota, but less powerful than the Nissan Frontier.
The 4.0-liter V6 works well with the five-speed automatic transmission. And that's our first choice for this truck: the V6 and automatic. The automatic is super smooth and very responsive, quickly downshifting when you mash the throttle, and it offers five ratios to better keep the engine at its most efficient rpm. For it's part, the six-speed manual transmission is easy to shift, but first gear is a very low ratio, leaving a broad stretch to second. And the manual does not offer fuel economy advantages: The EPA estimates 18/22 mpg City/Highway for 2WD automatics, 17/21 for 4WD automatics; with the manual transmission the V6 managed only 16/21 with 2WD or 4WD. Toyota recommends 91 octane gas for the V6.
The 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine does offer better fuel economy than the V6 and can run on less-expensive Regular gas. For 2006, the four-cylinder is rated at 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, which about average for the class. The four-cylinder does offer. EPA estimates are 21/27 mpg for 2WD with five-speed manual, 20/27 for 2WD with four-speed automatic. Four-wheel drive bogs it down, however, to just 19/23. Toyota recommends 87 octane for the four-cylinder. As with the V6, the four-cylinder benefits from VVT-i and dohc, which means it's a modern, sophisticated engine.
Handling is quite good on curvy roads. The Tacoma feels steady in sweeping turns and suffers from surprisingly little body roll, or lean, in hard corners. The Tacoma feels big on the road when compared with older compact pickups and, in fact, it is relatively large. It's wider and longer than previous-generation models. Size can be a detriment when parking, and a long-bed Double Cab can be a challenge in tight parking situations due to the amount of space it requires to turn. The Tacoma Double Cab long bed requires 44 feet to complete a circle, while a Double Cab short bed needs closer to 40 feet. For this reason, we recommend the short bed unless you really need the long bed, in which case we'd recommend the long bed. A base Tacoma Regular Cab boasts a turning circle of less than 37 feet.
On pavement, the 4WD and TRD models seemed smooth and refined. A 4WD TRD model is smooth and highly capable off road. The TRD suspension is excellent on rough, rugged terrain. It handles well on rough dirt trails, something we learned while charging up a ski run at Alyeska. It never bottomed on the rough terrain even when we pushed it well beyond socially acceptable standards. The Tacoma TRD easily handled an off-road course that featured steep ascents and descents, moguls and a log step. In short, we'd feel comfortable tackling just about any terrain in a Toyota Tacoma. And it doesn't just get there, it does it in relative comfort. The Tacoma doesn't seem to generate as much head toss as earlier 4WD compact pickups, an important consideration when driving long distances over rugged terrain because we don't want to arrive in the backcountry fatigued from driving.
Toyota Tacoma is among the best of the latest generation of midsize pickups. The Tacoma features a comfortable cab trimmed with quality materials. The 4WD models offer crisp handling, a nicely balanced ride quality, and excellent off-road capability. The TRD models are terrific trucks for rugged terrain. The new X-Runner drives and performs like a sports car.