The Toyota Tacoma is arguably the best truck in a field of outstanding midsize pickups. It's certainly the most popular: The Tacoma dominates the market for mid-size pickups. It comes in a wide range of configurations to please a wide range of buyers.
For 2009, all models and trim levels of the Tacoma receive as standard equipment Toyota's Star Safety System, which includes anti-lock brakes (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TC). An Automatic Limited-slip Differential (Auto-LSD), which uses brake intervention in place of a mechanical-type limited-slip to help reduce wheel-spin, is standard on all 2009 Tacoma models with the exception of those fitted with TRD Off-Road packages; those will have a separate locking differential. The Auto-LSD replaces the mechanical limited-slip in all applications where it was previously available. 2009 Access Cab models have a redesigned rear seat for improved comfort, as well as standard power windows and door locks. 2009 Tacoma SR5 models get new seat fabric.
The audio systems have been upgraded for 2009 and all come satellite-radio ready. The optional Premium JBL six-CD system is now Bluetooth-compatible and has an integrated satellite radio system that includes a three-month trial subscription to XM Satellite Radio. And there are numerous interior and exterior trim enhancements and changes for 2009.
For those who drive hard, there is a dealer-installed TRD Big Brake system developed by engineers with the Toyota Technical Center and Toyota Racing Development to provide effective braking performance under sustained heavy use. It improves pedal feel and substantially reduces brake fade from repeated high-speed applications.
The Tacoma offers a comfortable cab, a refined ride, and quality construction. Its on-road handing is responsive, its off-road capability is proven. The Double Cab delivers more rear-seat comfort than most of the competition, with enough room to rival a small sedan. Properly equipped V6 models can to tow up to 6,500 pounds.
Models range from a $15,000 work truck with a four-cylinder and 2WD to a loaded V6 4WD Double Cab Long Bed with all the candy. The base model is among the few regular-cab pickups still available, as the market has moved to extended-cab and crew cab styles; it excels at durability and reliability.
Tacoma PreRunner models can make you feel like Ironman Ivan Stewart practicing for the Baja 1000, while the sporty X-Runner may make you feel like Rod Millen preparing to blast up Pike's Peak.
Compact pickups aren't what they used to be. For one thing, they're no longer compact. Nor are they uncomfortable. They're more comfortable and more capable than ever before.
The Toyota Tacoma is an attractive truck, more conservatively styled than the stylish Nissan Frontier and Dodge Dakota. Big headlights and a bold grille highlight the Tacoma's front end. Flush rear surface glass and flush surface structures between the bumper sides and body give it a polished look. PreRunner and 4WD models are distinguished by bold overfenders.
Overall length of the Tacoma varies by body style: Regular Cabs are the shortest and most maneuverable, measuring 190.4 inches overall on a 109.4-inch wheelbase. Access Cab and Double Cab short-bed models have a 127.4-inch wheelbase and 208.1-inch overall length. Double Cab long-bed models are quite long at 221.3 inches overall on a 140.6-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. Regular Cab PreRunners and 4WD models also 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 people-carrying comfort of a sport-utility. 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 numerous Genuine Toyota Accessories, including cargo-bed cross bars, a fork-mount bike rack, and other useful items.
All of the latest-generation midsize pickups have decent interiors, but the quality of Toyota's interior materials seems just a little better. The lower dash and console are a lighter color than the main upper dash, brightening the interior. Trim rings surround the three clustered gauges, the cloth upholstery is decent and the seats look nice. The manually adjustable seats include lumbar adjustment but no adjustment for seat height or the angle of the seat bottom. Overall, the Tacoma provides the driver with a good driving position, and big mirrors afford a good view to the rear.
Cup holders are provided in the center console area. On models that don't have sport seats, the front passenger's seatback flips down to form a tray table or to make room for long objects, a handy feature. 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. 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 than the overly upright rear seats in some other compact pickups. In a back-to-back comparison test, we found the back seats of the Tacoma more comfortable than those in the Nissan Frontier. A younger person should be okay to ride across the state back there, and even adults won't complain too much on short trips. The rear windows even go all the way down.
The rear-seat area in the Double Cab is also good for carrying cargo. The 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 backs of 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 adult humans. The space back there is best used for small cargo that you don't want to put in the bed.
The Toyota Tacoma drives well and cruises nicely. It offers plenty of power from the V6. It handles well and feels relatively refined. Off-road models offer better capability over rugged terrain than previous-generation models as well as improved ride comfort.
The 4.0-liter V6 engine uses dual overhead camshafts and variable valve technology (Toyota calls it VVT-i, for Variable Valve Timing with intelligence) to optimize power and torque over a broad range of rpm. In action, the V6 feels refined and delivers responsive performance. It is rated at 236 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque.
Toyota's 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 its part, the six-speed manual transmission is easy to shift, but first gear is a very low ratio, leaving a broad stretch to second. The automatic even delivers better gas mileage, according to the latest EPA estimates, with 17/20 mpg City/Highway; vs. 15/19 for the V6 and manual with 2WD and 14/19 for the V6/manual 4WD.
The 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine gets better mileage and runs on regular gas. As with the V6, the four-cylinder benefits from VVT-i and dohc, which means it's a modern, sophisticated engine. It is rated at 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, which is about average for the class. EPA estimates are 20/26 mpg with 2WD and the five-speed manual, and 19/25 mpg for 2WD with the four-speed automatic.
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 a little over 40 feet. For this reason, we recommend the short bed unless you really need to carry something that won't fit in it. A base Tacoma Regular Cab boasts a turning circle of less than 37 feet.
On pavement, the 4WD and TRD Offroad models seemed smooth and refined. Off-road, a 4WD TRD model is smooth and highly capable. 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 also 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 you don't want to arrive to your backcountry camp fatigued from driving.
Switching into 4WD and 4WD Lo is as easy as twisting a rotary knob. It works very well, for the most part, but we tried to confuse it by switching the knob around underway and we succeeded. The low-range lights wouldn't turn off until we stopped, shut it off and restarted, the automotive equivalent of rebooting your computer.
The Tacoma's brakes are smooth and easy to modulate, and they can bring the truck to quick halt without drama. The rear brakes are drums, however, less desirable than the rear disc brakes that come on some of the other pickups in this class. The available TRD Big Brake system uses floating 13 x 1.25-inch directionally vented rotors, forged aluminum four-piston fixed calipers, larger pads with higher coefficients of friction, and braided steel brake lines.
The X-Runner is a lot of fun to drive and handles like a sports car. It corners flat and generates lots of grip in the curves. We pushed it hard up a hill climb and were not able to reach its cornering limits. It tracks well and is very stable in tight corners even when spinning the inside rear tire under full throttle. The ride is firm, but the X-Runner seems to ride better than our recollection of the Ford SVT Lightning. However, we didn't care for the feel of the clutch pedal, the steering was vague on-center, and there was that aforementioned inside rear-wheel spin. Wind noise seems higher in the X-Runner than in the other models. But much of this is nitpicking. This is a tight, sporty truck, and probably the best of the genre. There's no cowl shake. The exhaust sounds cool. If you want a truck that can hang with a sports car, the X-Runner is the ticket.
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 Offroad models are terrific trucks for rugged terrain. The X-Runner drives and performs like a sports car.