MANSFIELD, Mass. — For the past 11 years, Toyota has sent the same Tacoma pickup truck to market. Stout, solid, reliable, and with a loyal customer base, eventually everything must change — even the top-selling small Toyota pickup. For 2016, Toyota makes a host of revisions meant to keep this small-to-midsize offering at the head of what is shaping up to be a more competitive pack.
With clear autumn skies welcoming members of the New England Motor Press Association to the Xfinity Center in southern Massachusetts, Toyota set the stage for a demonstration of the new Tacoma’s enhanced off-roading capabilities. Wearing no license plates, 16 carefully selected, and already muddy, Tacomas awaited our ham-fisted attempts at finding the (supposed) limits of this new Toyota over a man-made obstacle course. Mud flaps would be torn off, side steps would crunch and wheels would dangle in the air, but no one got stuck.
Except for the first demonstration where the Tacoma staff promptly buried a TRD Sport Double Cab right up to the frame rails in soft sand, wheels digging what seemed like an insurmountable hole. But the point of the whole day was to illustrate that the latest Tacoma — when properly equipped — carries an extensive array of added electronic aids that help prevent you from every having to extricate yourself (with straps and winches) from situations such as deep sand holes.
The latest Tacoma now comes in five trim levels: SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, plus new Limited — which is only available in double cab layouts. The 2.7-liter 159-hp four-cylinder engine remains the base offering for two-wheel-drive trucks and entry level four-wheel-drive models, while a brand new 3.5-liter 278-hp V-6 is the optional powerplant. Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are supplied for most trucks, with one lone five-speed manual in the base 4WD models.
For budget shoppers, the regular cab model is dead. However, you can get a “base” SR Access Cab 2WD model with manual gearbox, four-cylinder and a 6-foot bed and then start deleting features to get a bare-bones work truck — if so inclined.
Pricing will start at $23,200 for this configuration, while a 4WD version of this SR truck will list for $24,825. The popular SR5 4WD Double Cab model begins at $31,060 with V-6 power while the well-equipped Limited starts at $37,820.
Some notable additions to the lineup include a new electronic shift 4WD system, a tri-fold hard rear tonneau cover that is removable, upgraded Entune audio, parking sonar, heated front seats, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert system, power moonroof, navigation, Class IV tow ratings up to 6,800 pounds, keyless ignition, new off-road suspension with Bilstein shocks, wide angle front fog lamps, dual-zone automatic climate controls, wireless smartphone charging, automatic limited slip rear differential, power leather seating, plus a new info panel that carries a portfolio of electronic driving menus that include “crawl control.” I think the folks at Toyota have been busy, or they have been saving things up for the past 11 years.
Most of our sample rigs included the new electronic locking rear differential, the V-6 powerplant, hill-start assist, the new 4WDemand system, plus the “crawl mode” programming. When engaged, crawl mode operates the brakes and throttle, over any terrain, to provide precise forward motion at a controlled pace. All the driver does is steer — and never touch the pedals, unless you arrive and need to stop.
Uphill, downhill, over outsized berms as well as undulating mudholes, the Tacomas never stopped, truck after truck performing flawlessly. That previously mentioned sand hole? The Tacoma climbed out of it as if it was on dry pavement, slowly and in control, without sand flying everywhere, no over-execution on the driver’s part shooting down the hill, nothing that would make one think that this was anything but normal.
Styling wise, the trucks don’t look a lot different — so the loyalists won’t balk. There are more features in the bed for cargo carrying, the rear outlet persists, and the dent-resistant polymer bed remains. Even the (non-functional) hood scoop is available for certain trim levels.
The only fly in the ointment — we did not get to see how the new Tacomas drive in the real world, in traffic, on pavement, where 99 percent of Tacomas normally work. We will apparently have to wait another day to see if the latest Tacoma is as good in that environment as it is in the rough-riding, off-roading world that we see in all of those wild and wooly TV ads.
The newest Tacoma is on sale now. With pickup truck sales still surging — in all classes — the newest Toyota (built in Texas) should not have a hard time holding onto its class domination.