Toyota has left their Taco sitting on the counter since 2005, and it has gotten stale. Nobody wants to eat a crusty taco, but that’s all there’s been on the menu for the longest time. By default, those hungry for a mid-size truck have had no choice but to clog their noses and scarf down what Chef Toyota was cranking out of its San Antonio kitchen — until the new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon came out. Now Toyota’s cooked up a new taco, but it doesn’t taste quite as new as it should.
[Full disclosure: Toyota needed me to drive the 2016 Tacoma so badly they flew me all the way to Seattle on a last-minute flight, put me up in a sweet hotel, served me food, and didn’t make fun of my cargo shorts or my generally nerdy demeanor. They then let me take their new Tacoma off-roading. I like off-roading.]
We’ve already told you what we think about the current crop of mid-size trucks. With the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, General Motors simply offers more refinement and better performance in the segment.
Yes, that’s right. Toyota, the long-time king of the mid-sizers, has been displaced from the top of the leader board. And that’s what makes this 2016 model so important – Toyota now has incentive to get off its lazy butt, stop watching Netflix all day, and actually start cooking.
Here are the specs you’re fiending for: The ‘16 Tacoma starts at $23,300 for an extended-cab 2WD base model, with same old 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine (159 horsepower, 180 lb.-ft. of torque) we had in the last generation. Fuel economy is claimed at 19 MPG city, 23 MPG highway and 21 MPG combined, losing one mile on the highway presumably due to the added heft of about 300 pounds in the new model.
Top of the range is the $37,820 four-door Limited 4x4 with the new 3.5 V6, that’s rated at 278 horsepower (up 42 HP from the old 4.0 V6) and 265 lb.-ft. of torque at 4600 RPM. Fuel economy is posted at 18/23 and 20 combined in the automatic, 17/21 and 19 in the manual. Yes, the EPA thinks Toyota’s automatic six-speed is more efficient than you rowing your own gears. But at least you have the option.
In between those are the SR, TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road, which have the cool stickers we like. Plus new safety features and some genuine capability.
So, how’d they do? Well, that depends on what terrain you’re driving on.
The front of the third generation Tacoma looks wildly different than that of its predecessor. The more pronounced grille gives the truck more of a “big rig” look, and the slim, projector beam headlights exude confidence.
The hood is a couple of inches taller than last year’s, making the truck look a bit beefier. Below the grille, the “chin” that wraps up from the bottom — there for pedestrian protection — does look a bit awkward, but overall, the front still looks handsome.
On the back of the truck, the new lockable, damped stamped tailgate looks pretty slick, and the taillights are a simple and clean design. But the rest of the truck kinda just looks like the outgoing Taco. It’s not a huge step forward in styling for this third generation truck, but we think it’s a nice evolution from last year’s model.
If you’re buying a truck, you probably like towing and hauling stuff. If you don’t, you’d better get used to it, because your friends will definitely ask you to help them move and you’re going to run out of excuses (“I have to walk my goldfish” isn’t gonna fly). When you’ve got a motorcycle in the bed and a U-Haul trailer filled with your friend’s anvil collection, you’re gonna want some grunt under the hood.
Want to drive up Davis Dam at 40 miles per hour with your air conditioning on in 100 degree weather? Well, you can now do so while towing 6,800 lbs and hauling 1,620 lbs. That’s a 300 lb and 200 lb improvement, respectively. Once again, these numbers aren’t revolutionary and only the payload figure is class-leading.
And then you’ve got the base engine, which has no power. And no torques. And by “no” I really mean “159 HP and 180 lb-ft.” It’s the same engine as last year’s four cylinder, and has the unfortunate burden of having to haul around 4,000 lbs of truck. Poor little four banger.
If you’re buying a mid-size truck, you might want better gas mileage than a full-size truck. Otherwise, what’s the point, right? Well, the Tacoma really ain’t that great at the pump.
In fact, the 2016 Tacoma really doesn’t move the needle much on the fuel economy front. If you get the 2.7-liter boat anchor, your city/highway/combined fuel economy numbers max out at 19/23/21 with the automatic and 4x2. The V6 in 2WD form will get you up to 19/24/21 MPG.
How do these numbers compare to last year’s model? Well, the 2015 four banger would do 25 on the highway and 22 combined, so somehow the ‘16 is less efficient. The V6, though, is much improved for 2016, besting its predecessor by 3 MPG highway and 2 MPG combined — pretty substantial numbers.
But still, despite the better V6 fuel economy than the outgoing model, the Tacoma isn’t quite a class leader. The Colorado’s four-cylinder is not only 41 horses more powerful, but also manages 4 MPG better on the highway than Toyota’s small four pot. Chevy’s V6 offering gets an MPG less in the city and 2 MPG more on the highway than the Taco’s, but pumps out 22 more horsepower.
It’s surprising that the Tacoma doesn’t do better in highway fuel economy, since it has best in class aerodynamic drag, and aero drag is a major contributor to highway fuel economy.
Driving the 2016 Tacoma on road was, well, pretty uneventful. It felt floaty, and its high center of mass didn’t exactly shine in the corners. But the brakes and steering felt solid, and the V6 engine in our tester never left us wanting power. The six-speed automatic transmission did a good job at managing those horses, and did a remarkable job at keeping engine speeds down on the highway. The truck was turning only 2,000 rpm at about 70 MPH, which helps with both noise and fuel economy.
Despite that, considering how much Toyota flaunted its NVH improvements, it’s really not all that quiet. In the end, the Tacoma drives very much like a truck. It’s heavy, has a high center of mass, and has an old-school leaf sprung rear axle.
But all of that is okay once you get off the pavement, because off road is where this truck shines. And not just the TRD Off-Road trim. All trim levels can actually be really capable on the dirt and rocks. Sure, only the TRD Off-Road model gets to ditch the dorky looking air dam up front, but all trucks have at least 29 degrees of approach angle, 9.4 inches of ground clearance, a 23 degree departure angle, and significant underbody skid plate treatment.
The solid axle in the rear offers quite a bit of flex, as does the truck’s ladder frame. That’s a good thing, because the independent front suspension isn’t going to win any awards for articulation. The soft suspension soaked up rocks and ruts without issue, and the standard backup camera made navigating tight trails a breeze.
Though all trims can handle the rough stuff, the TRD Off-Road model is a different breed. It gives you Bilstein shocks, an electronic rear locker, Multi-terrain Select, a higher 32 degree approach angle, offroad tires, and a feature called Crawl Control, which supposedly helps maximize traction during low speed driving.
Toyota set up some steep inclines and declines for us, and even showed a sand demonstration where they got the truck stuck and used Crawl Control to get it out. The whole time, they were showcasing Crawl Control, which lets the driver set a speed, let go of the brake and gas pedal, and watch the car slowly climb a hill, descend a grade, or get unstuck from a sand or mud pit.
I wasn’t really all that blown away by Crawl Control. To me, the major benefit over just putting the truck in 4-low is the hill descent control capability. Its ability to modulate each brake caliper individually to ensure that the truck’s yaw aligns with driver input can really make going down steep grades a lot less hairy. This helps especially when that grade is slippery and one tire is on a rock and another on sand. In such a situation, the truck will have a tendency to yaw. Crawl control can use individual brakes to apply a moment on the truck to keep its nose pointing straight.
The sand demonstration wasn’t particularly convincing. Getting a truck stuck by goosing it in sand in drive, and then using Crawl Control to slowly reverse out doesn’t convince me that a simple switch into 4 low wouldn’t have achieved the same results. Still, the truck did really well off-road.
Yes, the courses were tailored for the truck, but the rear locker, high ground clearance, skid plates, and excellent approach/departure angles means the truck can not only keep traction on cumbersome obstacles, but it can overcome them without incurring damage. I drive off-road quite frequently, so you can call Toyota the Royal Navy and call me an 18th century merchant sailor, because I was impressed.
The interior of the truck is fine. Nothing to write home to the kids about. It’s functional and comfortable. It’s not really all too stylish, and there’s a fair bit of hard plastic, but it’s a decent enough place to spend time. The seats are comfortable, the new switches are nicely placed, and there’s sufficient room in both the front and rear for moderately sized adults.
See? It’s just okay in there.
The 2016 Tacoma is new, but it’s not that new. Like last year’s model, there’s a solid rear axle, a double-wishbone setup up front, and a C-channel frame (partially boxed up front). Sure, the V6 gets more power, and the fascia looks completely different, but this 2016 Tacoma isn’t exactly revolutionary and fuel economy figures are unimpressive.
While it definitely delivers in the dirty and on the rocks, I don’t think Toyota has done enough yet to keep General Motors from grabbing conquest buyers out of Toyota showrooms.