2016 Toyota TacomaPosted on August 17th, 2015
All-new midsize truck is the king of the rock pile
By Nina Russin
I’m sitting behind the wheel of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD pickup truck and all I can see is sky. The forty-degree grade the truck is climbing has me pinned back against the headrest, with no view of the horizon.
As the name of the park we suggests, this is the Black Diamond of off-road driving: requiring a vehicle with exceptional capability and a certain amount of driving skill. Trails of this type can intimidate experienced drivers because of the risk of rollover. The old adage: ‘Go as slowly as possible and as fast as necessary,’ applies, since cresting the hill requires gunning that throttle at just the right time and then backing off to remain directional control at the summit.
A new feature called crawl control on the 2016 midsize pickup takes the guesswork out of the scenario by using anti-slip regulation, throttle and antilock braking to maintain a preset speed.
Think of it as downhill descent control, only better, because in this case the vehicle controls uphill speed as well. After selecting one of five speeds using controls on the truck’s overhead console, the driver eases off the gas pedal and lets the truck take over.
The sheer rock face is one of several off-road exercises Toyota’s product team has devised to show off the new Tacoma’s off-road capability at a former coal-mining site outside Seattle. Others include a steep downhill called Wicked Hill that is about the same grade as the sheer rock uphill, but comprised of loose dirt and rocks. In this case, a multi-terrain select system that adjusts throttle, braking and suspension for a variety of surfaces ranging from rock to mud and ruts works in tandem with the crawl control to get the truck down the hill safely.
Finally, there is a rock pile known as the Bone Yard to demonstrate wheel articulation and traction over that type of unstable surface. In each case, the newest Tacoma proves that it is a force to be reckoned with: a proud descendent of a heritage dating back to the end of the Second World War.
Heritage of small truck performance
In the beginning, Toyota built trucks, beginning with the BJ Land Cruiser first introduced in 1947. Over time, Land Cruiser diversified, at one point including a long wheelbase model and a small pickup truck called the FJ25.
Although Toyota’s first vehicle entry to the US market was the Crown Toyopet, it wasn’t long before the automaker added a pickup truck called the Scout. The Stout struggled to find a following stateside, but the Hi-Lux that followed four years later was a different story. Known simply as the compact pickup in the United States, it attracted legions of fans thanks to its sturdy 22R engine and affordable price tag.
The truck grew in size, moving into the midsize segment with the Tacoma nameplate in 1995. Although the newest Tacoma is only slightly smaller than the full-size Toyota Tundra, it speaks to a different market: primarily male with a high percentage of off-road performance enthusiasts.
Toyota’s extensive experience in engineering and building small trucks is one reason for its dominance in the segment that also includes the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon and Nissan Frontier. But it would be a mistake to say that the Japanese automaker is resting on its laurels. The 2016 models feature a new V-6 Atkinson cycle engine, new rear axle and new transmission.
A revised exterior meets new standards for pedestrian safety and achieves a twelve percent improvement in aerodynamics. Both on and off-road, the package is hard to beat.
Priced from $23,300
The new Tacoma comes in five trim levels, with the base SR grade priced from $23,300. Both the TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road models appealing start at $30,765 while the Limited 4X4 with the V-6 engine and automatic transmission is priced from $37,820. The automaker expects about 85 percent of sales to be double cabs, with extended cabs making up the remainder of the mix. The standard cab is no longer available.
Buyers can choose between the new 278-horsepower V-6 engine and a four-cylinder block. Manual transmissions are available on the base SR and TRD Sport/Off-Road models. SR5 and Limited grades come exclusively with the six-speed automatic transmission.
The Atkinson cycle direct injection engine extends fuel economy by using variable valve timing to keep intake valves open longer when engine loads are light. Keeping the valves open into the beginning of the compression cycle briefly lowers the engine compression ratio, achieving similar fuel economy benefits to competitive start/stop systems.
All models come with a limited slip differential with the exception of the TRD Off-Road that comes with an electronically controlled locking rear differential for better control on extreme terrain.
The most noticeable difference on the Tacoma exterior is its front end, inspired by TRD trophy trucks that Ivan Stewart drove to victory in Baja. Each trim level features a unique grille. A new front air dam improves aerodynamics on all models except the TRD Off-Road where the dam is eliminated to raise the approach angle from 29 to 32 degrees.
On the sides, high lift fenders frame wheels ranging in size from 16 inches on SR and SR5 models to 18 inches on the Limited.
A new rear spoiler and vortexes located around the side mirrors and tail lamps reduce coefficient of drag. A locking tri-fold tonneau cover protects items in the bed against rain and dirt and contributes to a better coefficient of drag.
Inside, designers focused on better fit and finish and a more masculine design, with strong contrast color elements in the instrument panel. Available infotainment features including Bluetooth, Siri Eyes Free, a seven-inch touchscreen and Qi wireless charging appeal to tech-savvy millennial buyers.
Test drive in Seattle, Washington
Although I spent to bulk of my time in the new Tacoma driving off-road, I did have some time on surface streets and highways in and around our Seattle, Washington base. Although the body-on-frame Tacoma can’t compete with unibody crossovers in terms of passenger car-type ride comfort, the midsize pickup proved itself to be competent in some challenging rush-hour traffic, and easily capable of being its owner’s only car.
The test car comes with keyless entry and start that saves the owner from fumbling for the key fob and adds a measure of safety in urban areas after dark. A standard rearview camera on the TRD Off-Road makes it easier to monitor cross-traffic in crowded parking lots.
Blind spot monitoring on the test car illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots, make it easier to weave through dense rush-hour traffic. Dual-zone climate control keep both the driver and front passenger comfortable in temperature extremes.
Buyers with active lifestyles will appreciate the standard cloth upholstery on the TRD Off-Road model: easier to clean than leather. Second-row seats fold flat in double cab models to add some interior storage space.
A 120 volt/400 watt outlet in the deck comes in handy for camping. The 2016 Tacoma with the V-6 engine tows up to 6800 pounds.
A cargo tie-down system in the composite bed includes tracks with moveable cleats and tie-down hooks on the sides for securing large cargo. The OEM is also working on a variety of racks for holding bicycles, kayaks and the like.
The Toyota Tacoma comes with eight airbags including ones to protect the driver and front passenger’s knees, antilock braking, traction control, stability control and tire pressure monitoring. The new Tacoma rolls out at the beginning of the third quarter.
Likes: A stylish, versatile truck with true off-road capability
Dislike: Manual transmission is not available with the base SR with the V-6 engine or volume-leading SR5.
Model: Tacoma TRD Off-Road
Base price: $30,765
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 278 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 265 lbs.-ft. @ 4600 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 18/23 mpg city/highway2016, Best Value Offroad Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, performance, pricing, standard safety, Toyota