If you're a small truck in today's automotive climate, you've probably got a pretty healthy bead of sweat forming across your brow right about now. With full-size truck prices and fuel economy figures slowly pushing the once cheaper to buy, cheaper to run mini trucks into the dark corners of showrooms everywhere, the modern small truck buyer seems to be an individual that's less concerned with economy than they are with scale.
This all makes the Toyota Tacoma a very interesting vehicle to consider. Once sharing its medium-sized market with the now defunct (and similarly named) Dakota, the Tacoma has been offering truck buyers a compromise of size and capability that lands somewhere between the truly small truck, as defined by the Ranger archetype, and the full size pickup, as defined by Toyota's own Tundra. Wearing fresh sheetmetal that's all new for this year, the Tacoma's evolution has become ever more incremental in recent years, with 2012 bringing about some seriously minute improvements. Most apparent, of course, are the purely cosmetic updates to the front end that help distinguish the new model from those that came beforehand. Incorporating new sheetmetal from the A-pillar forward, all 2012-and-up models will boast the same new hood, grille, headlights and fenders as those seen here, with the TRD-equipped trucks also benefitting from the addition of a new 17" wheel design to the Tacoma's optional wheel catalog.
Inside, the revisions are yet more difficult to discern. The centre console is now rendered in "high contrast" black, with new switch plate covers, dash, and upper door trim completing the range-wide revisions. SR5 models get new seat fabrics, and the top-echelon TRD model gets a bunch of new and exciting stuff, like heavy-duty flooring and water-resistance seats. But, no matter what Tacoma you opt for, you'll still be endowed with (or be forced to endure, depending on your taste) the unique seating position that's been a Toyota minitruck hallmark for eons. With a relatively large amount of ground clearance under the cab but a pretty standard roof height, the Tacoma's cab is one that's quite squat. To conserve headroom in the short cabin, the seats are placed nearly on the floor in an almost car-like way, which in turn means the pedalbox places your feet and legs substantially more forward than down, at least when compared to how they'd be a conventional pickup.
Of course, the high-floored cab doesn't just mean the Tacoma enforces a strange seating position, it's also a large part of what's given these trucks their legendary surefootedness. With bodywork that really does sit on top of the chassis more than it does around it, there's a metric ton of ground clearance to be found under the sills, and that's with the stock suspension in place. Toyota's done an excellent job tuning the high-riding Tacoma's dampers and sway bars, and even with its seemingly top-heavy nature, the truck rides and handles excellently. It'll never be confused with the likes of luxury sedan, but it's far from unpleasant, and the combination of its independent front suspension and manageable size make for a very manoeuvrable pickup. And although its tractable nature and friendly manoeuvrability might have earned it a real following amongst off-road enthusiast, those same traits are just as useful for getting into (and out of) those tight parking spots.
Which brings me to my final point: the Tacoma's trump card. With an available, and popular, crew cab layout that incorporates forward-facing rear seats and proper rear doors, the Tacoma offers near big-truck comfort in something quite a bit smaller than a full size pickup, and does so at a very reasonable price. Tipping the scales at just $29,900 for the V6-equipped double cab variant, the Tacoma's excellent price point echoes the truck's unique stature, and pretty much splits the difference between the smaller Rangers, Colorados, and Canyons, and those trucks' bigger brethren. And although the Tacoma's overall level of technological advancement and overall refinement might still be hampered by its relatively old design, it's unique positioning in the market and great pricing strategy both ensure that there'll still be plenty of life to be found in this particular old girl for at least a little while longer.
|Test model||2012 Toyota Tacoma|
|Trim level||4X4 V6 Double Cab (auto)|
|Price range||$22,100 - $29,900|
|Price as tested||$32,400|
|Warranty (basic)||3 years / 60,000 km|
|Warranty (powertrain)||5 years / 100,000 km|
|Competitive models||Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier, Suzuki Equator|
|Fuel consumption||The powertrain's still a step behind the cutting edge|
|Value for price||You get a lot of truck for not a lot of money, that's for sure!|
|Styling||Still looks like a Tacoma|
|Comfort||Strange seating position may not be your cup of tea|
|Performance||Good engine and pleasant manners|
|Overall||It's a very compelling value proposition|