Heralded by fresh styling, the 2016 Toyota Tacoma boasts a new cabin structure, a new V6 engine, new transmissions, retuned suspensions, improved noise insulation, and an improved feature set.
The more things change, the more they remain the same, however. Though redesigned, Tacoma’s mission and concept is the same as before, that of a highly capable midsize/compact pickup with a high floor and low roof, and a reputation for durability. The Tacoma TRD Off-Road model continues as the hot setup for a rugged, highly capable off-road pickup.
A choice between four-cylinder and V6 engines remains. A 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine comes standard, rated at 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, with an EPA rated 19/23/21 mpg for a two-wheel-drive automatic. We think the four-cylinder is best used for basic work trucks. Its real-world fuel economy is not significantly better than that of the V6.
The new 3.5-liter V6 generates 278 horsepower, an increase of 42 over the previous 4.0-liter V6, and 265 pound-feet of torque at 4600 rpm. Fuel economy is improved: 2016 Tacoma V6 4×4 automatics are EPA-rated at 18/23/20 mpg City/Highway/Combined. The new V6 appears to maintain its performance off road, while revving more freely for improved passing-performance on the highway.
2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road models are the equipped with an off-road suspension, Bilstein shocks, and Multi-Terrain Select system. With their suspension travel, underbody protection, Crawl Control and other technology, there are few places one of these trucks cannot go. Just as important, their rugged construction and underbody protection offer durability for drivers who routinely drive over rough terrain. They excel at hauling a dirt bike into the back country or towing a drift boat over a boulder-strewn river bank. As an everyday vehicle, however, they are a bit rough.
While the styling has been completely updated, the 2016 Tacoma does not look like a new truck. It looks like it’s been around for a couple of years.
Double Cab models feature a full-size rear seat, with underseat storage. Access Cabs have small fold-out seats that are better for cargo than people. Short Beds are about five feet long, Long Beds are about six feet long. Standard cabs do not exist.
Getting in and out of the new Tacoma is a bit awkward and, pinched by its high floor and low roof, it feels a bit cramped inside, as before.
The cabin is traditional in layout but with an attractive flat-topped dash similar to that seen in other recent Toyotas. Bright trim has been abandoned in favor of new materials and finishes. Materials and trim vary by trim level. A GoPro camera mount comes standard.
The front seats look like they are from a 1990 sport compact car. They lack support, feeling like they are made of foam, and they are short on adjustability. Fortunately, the steering wheel tilts and telescopes. A rearview camera makes backing up easier.
The rear seats in Double Cabs are tolerable for two adults, crowded for three children. The rear seat bottoms (split 70/30) flip up to reveal handy storage bins, or cover the area with moving pads and it becomes a usable dog space.
The new 2016 Toyota Tacoma is close to the same size and proportions as the previous version. The sheetmetal is all new but it does not jump out as being all-new.
The hoodline has been lifted, giving the front a bolder appearance more like that of the full-size Toyota Tundra pickup, wioth angled headlights and a hexagonal-shaped grille. From the side, the new model looks a little more conservative than the outgoing model, with redesigned fenders and wheelwell lips. From the rear, it looks like a traditional pickup. The lower portion of the tailgate is sculpted, with the Toyota nameplate stamped beneath.
The tailgate is damped so it lowers slowly when opened, much nicer than having to lower a heavy tailgate by hand or having it slam down with a bang.
As with heavy-duty pickups, the Tacoma’s rear bumper has covered connectors for hooking up a trailer (with both of the common types of connectors). In the bed is a covered 115-volt AC outlet, useful for plugging in power tools or anything that needs house current.
The bed features a deck rail system with adjustable tie-downs up high, along with four tie-downs mounted on the bed, that make it easier to secure different types of cargoes, including dirt bikes.
We have only driven Tacoma TRD Off-Road models.
These trucks excel off road or on primitive trails or in any kind of rugged terrain. Only Jeeps and Land Rovers offer superior off-road capability, and they don’t have open beds. They also work well in desert environments, and ours came with large 265/70R16 Goodyear Wranglers. Being able to handle rugged terrain day in and day out is the Tacoma TRD Off-Road’s forte.
A new Multi-Terrain Select system, like the one in the 4Runner, works similarly to Land Rover and Ford systems. With it, modes for driving conditions from mud to sand to slick rock alter throttle and braking to aid in traction. A new electronic limited-slip and locking rear differential along with hill-start assist are included, plus crawl control that manages the brakes and throttle from 1 to 5 mph when coming down extreme grades or traversing rugged terrain, leaving the driver free to steer around obstacles. The Tacoma provides the driver with excellent outward visibility and sightlines for spotting hazards off road.
On the road and around town, the ride has the feel of an off-road truck on big all-terrain tires, with vague, imprecise handling. Throttle response is a little edgy and the brakes are very sensitive, making them difficult to modulate for smooth, routine stops at intersections.
The all-new 3.5-liter V6 uses an Atkinson cycle with VVT-iW (Variable Valve Timing with Intelligent Wider Intake) and D-4S direct and port fuel injection. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 19/24/21 City/Highway/Combined for a V6 4×2 automatic; 17/21/19 for a 4×4 manual, 18/23/20 for a 4×4 automatic.
The 2.7-liter DOHC four-cylinder with VVT-i is EPA rated at 19/23/21 mpg for the 4×2 automatic; 19/21/20 for a 4×4 manual; 19/22/20 for a 4×4 automatic.
The new 6-speed automatic transmission with electronic shift does a good job, with quick and easy shifting. The V6 can be ordered with a new 6-speed manual transmission. The four-cylinder is available with a 5-speed manual.
With an optional tow package, a Tacoma is rated to tow up to 6,800 pounds, but we would recommend a full-size pickup for anything close to that much weight.
The redesigned Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road is an outstanding off-road vehicle that can haul anything that will fit into a pickup bed into the back country. The new V6 gets better fuel economy and revs more freely than the previous engine. It’s a focused vehicle, so it isn’t the smoothest, most comfortable vehicle for cruising around town or running errands. The base four-cylinder model will likely prove to be a reliable work truck.
Bengt Halvorson reported from somewhere near Mount Rainier, with Mitch McCullough reporting from northern New Jersey.