An all-new 2016 Toyota Tacoma goes on sale fall 2015.
Until then, the 2015 Toyota Tacoma is available, a second-generation product launched as a 2005 model. Tacoma is unchanged for 2015, although there is a new Tacoma TRD Pro model available. TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development.
Toyota has been off-road racing for three decades and has more than 300 victories, and the 2015 Tacoma TRD Pro continues that heritage. There are also TRD Pro models for the Tundra and 4Runner.
Tacoma TRD Pro has its own suspension geometry with fat Bilstein dampers, tuned stainless twin exhaust, unique interior color, big BF Goodrich offroad tires, black bead-lock 16-inch alloy wheels, TRD trim and badging, and more.
Tacoma has been the most popular pickup in its class for a decade, with many awards over that time. Its main rivals are the new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Tacoma dominates the segment with more than 100,000 sold each year, while some competitors have left the stage, namely Ford Ranger and Dodge Dakota.
Tacoma offers a comfortable cab, refined ride, responsive handling, and quality construction with proven offroad capability and durability. It comes in many configurations to meet a wide range of needs, from 2WD work truck with four-cylinder engine and 5-speed manual transmission, to a loaded V6 4WD Double Cab Long Bed with rear seats that offer sedan-sized room. Properly equipped Tacoma V6 models can to tow up to 6,500 pounds.
The tried-and-true no-frills bench-seat Regular Cab Tacoma has been dropped, long may she live. Even the base Tacoma has rear seating and three doors.
Toyota Racing Development offers parts to sharpen the performance, both on and off road. The Off Road Package includes much of the equipment on the TRD Pro models, including Bilstein off-road shocks, locking rear differential, advanced ATRAC traction control and other electronic off-road assists, an engine skid plate, tow hook, many luxury and convenience items and special graphics.
The Tacoma TRD Pro with its big black grille replaces the limited-edition Tacoma Baja, while using its beefed-up chassis and body, with black alloy bead-lock wheels and BF Goodrich LT265/70R16 All-Terrain KO tires. The ride height is raised 1.75 inches in front, using TRD springs with decreased rate for better control over rough terrain. The front suspension adds 0.75 inches of wheel travel, using Bilstein high-performance shocks with 18mm shaft (stock is 12mm), 60 mm pistons (stock is 32mm) and remote reservoirs to increase oil capacity and run cooler. The rear shocks are 46mm-piston Bilsteins (stock 30) also with reservoirs, with TRD springs that add 1.5 inches to wheel travel.
The TRD Pro comes in black, white, or its own color, a burnt orange called Inferno. A TRD cat-back exhaust makes the 4.0-liter V6 growl, and adds 5 to 8 wheel horsepower.
The SR Package is more sporty than rugged. It comes monochrome, with bumpers, grille surround, fender flares, door handles and mirrors all one color, with smoked headlight lenses and black Baja wheels.
The Tacoma is clearly a Toyota truck, looking tough without going over the top like American trucks we might mention. A thick arch over the grille and a big air opening under it, makes the truck look like a menacing fish. Fog lights flare out from the fish mouth.
Length changes everything, when it comes to looking menacing. Access Cab and Double Cab short-bed models are 208.1 inches long on a 127.4-inch wheelbase, while Double Cab long-bed models are 221.3 inches overall on a 140.6-inch wheelbase. All models have 6-foot beds except the Double Cab short-bed with its 5-foot bed.
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, as durable as steel; it offers two-tier loading and four tie-down cleats on rails, that accept cross bars, a fork-mount bike rack, and other Genuine Toyota Accessories.
The Toyota Tacoma cabin is comfortable in a familiar kind of way. There’s no guessing where things are, it all makes sense, no distraction from switchgear or controls trying to be clever or cute. The instrument panel and display is simple and clean, including the icons. The information display between the speedo and tach is tidy. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has car-like styling but feels great to grip, although when you turn the wheel sharply, your right elbow might hit the big padded center armrest, where the cupholders live.
The climate and audio controls are in a blacked-out panel (for contrast) in a slightly bulging center stack. Big rotary knobs make it easy to adjust cabin temperature even with gloves on. The radio in the upper center stack is easy to operate. CDs sound good through the JBL speakers. We were totally thrilled with the air conditioning, which blasts real cold real fast.
Models with automatic transmissions come with a foot-operated parking brake, while the manual transmission models use a pull-out handbrake, a blast from the past we could do without.
There’s black trim on the switch bezels and door panels, with carbon touches on the dash in the TRD Pro, which also has its own TRD-badged shift knob and floor mats.
We loved the fit of the seats in the TRD Pro, the same seats in the Sport Package, except the Pro’s are water resistant. Sturdy fabric with excellent bolstering and driver lumbar support. An overhead console includes a compass and outside temperature gauge.
The driver’s seat is height-adjustable, delivering an excellent seating position for women; there’s a good view of the Tacoma’s nose and corners. Big mirrors offer a good view to the rear. Excellent grab handles on both A-pillars make it easy to climb in and out.
On models without sport seats, the front passenger seatback flips down to form a tray table.
The rear seats in the Double Cab are particularly comfortable for the class, offering good leg and shoulder room and decent headroom. The seatback is angled back slightly for comfort. A younger person should be okay to ride across the state in the back seat of a Tacoma Double Cab, and even adults won’t complain too much on short trips. The rear windows go all the way down.
Flip the 60/40 seat bottoms forward and fold the backs down to form a flat cargo bay inside. It takes two hands and you have to first remove the headrests, but at least the space is there. The hard backs of the seats make a sturdy cargo floor, good place for a dog, as long as he can jump to get there.
The Access Cab has kid-sized rear seats, with the access coming only on the passenger side. Our kids are 5′ 0 and 5′ 5 and they were okay for a short ride but said they would rather have ridden in the bed with the dog.
The Standard audio system is AM/FM with single-disc CD and Bluetooth, using a 6.1-inch touch-screen display the view from the optional backup camera is now also displayed, rather than in the rear-view mirror as before.. Toyota’s Entune is standard. . Entune is a media-savvy technology that links with your smart phone and allows you to access its apps through the Tacoma’s audio controls. Entune’s features are operated using the vehicle’s controls or, for some services, by voice recognition. Entune requires no subscription.
Access Cabs and Double Cabs can upgrade to Entune Audio Plus ($680), which adds HD Radio with iTunes tagging, SiriusXM, and HD Traffic and Weather (90 day trial subscription); or to Entune Premium Audio ($730), with navigation plus the Entune App Suite, which includes Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, Pandora, Yelp and Facebook Places; plus real-time traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports and stocks.
V6-powered Double Cabs can opt for the Entune Premium setup plus a JBL GreenEdge audio system with seven speakers ($2,330). GreenEdge technology helps reduce fuel consumption by lowering the electric power demand on the vehicle.
We got a lot of seat time in the 2014 Tacoma, and a few miles on Oregon forest service roads in the 2015 TRD Pro. In the Tillamook Forest (where they make the cheese), we faced a natural obstacle course with deep moguls and rock steps, which our truck aced. Shifting into 4WD and 4WD low range is as easy as twisting a knob.
Sadly, we didn’t get to go bounding across the boonies in Baja. Our suspension remained unchallenged. However, testing a 2014 Tacoma with the TRD suspension, we were lucky enough to bound up a ski run at Alyeska Resort in Alaska, and our truck had no trouble meeting that challenge.
Surprisingly, given that the springs are softer in the TRD Pro, we found it to be way stiff in what could be called around-town driving. It must be from those fat Bilsteins that make the truck Baja-worthy, while helping its handling on the road.
We managed to find a couple of 50-mph sweepers on bumpy pavement, and the cornering was confident even with the tall all-terrain tires. The 16-inch rims are made with high-pressure alloy, light and strong. An aggressive +10 mm wheel offset gives the truck a wider track (and look) without changing fender flares. Toyota chose to go with the TRD 16-inch wheels for their light weight of 23.5 pounds, while allowing room for the tires with tall sidewalls.
But Tacoma doesn’t need the TRD suspension to handle well. Any Tacoma drives well, cruises nicely, and feels fairly refined. The smooth V6 delivers responsive performance. The 4.0-liter engine uses dual overhead camshafts and variable valve timing (VVT-i, or Variable Valve Timing with intelligence) to optimize power and torque over a broad range of rpm. It is rated at 236 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque.
It’s easy to peel out and lay down a chirp when upshifting to second gear, while the strong torque makes it easy to cruise in 5th or 6th gear without needing to downshift to accelerate.
The V6 works well with the 5-speed automatic transmission. That’s our first choice for powertrain. The automatic is smooth and responsive, quickly downshifting when you mash the throttle.
The 6-speed manual transmission is easy to shift, but first gear is a very low ratio, leaving a broad stretch to second. The 6-speed gearbox requires long throws but takes downshifts well. It’s a good, solid truck transmission, without a lot of room for error; you have to press the clutch pedal all the way to the floor when shifting gears or you’ll hear a crunch.
For fuel mileage, the V6 with automatic is EPA rated at 17/21 mpg City/Highway mpg, while the V6 manual gets 16/21 with 2WD and 15/19 with 4WD.
The four-cylinder engine is no throwback, it’s a double-overhead cam 2.7-liter with VVT-i. It makes 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, and is EPA-rated at 21/25 mpg with 2WD and the 5-speed manual, and 19/24 mpg for 2WD with the 4-speed automatic.
Tacoma is large for its size, a so-called compact truck. The long-bed Double Cab needs 44 feet to make a circle, while the short-bed Double Cab needs a bit more than 40. Parking can be a challenge.
Brakes are smooth, easy to modulate, and halt the truck without drama. The rear brakes are drums.
The Toyota Tacoma is basically a fault-free pickup. It has a comfortable cab with quality materials, clean instrument panel and simple controls. Powertrain reliability and offroad capability is proven. Even the 4WD models offer reasonably taut handling and a balanced ride. The new TRD Pro model is ready for anything, including floods and blizzards.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.