Last fall, when General Motors unveiled its new pickup twins, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, word at the launch was that the timing was opportunistic since the competition was relatively weak. While Nissan has yet to respond to the newcomers, Toyota has just improved its bid with a completely revised Tacoma that has been under development since 2012.
The new Tacoma family continues with two body-style choices: the extended cab, which Toyota calls the “Access Cab”, or the “Double Cab”. The former comes in five versions, only one of which has 2WD. The latter has four doors, comes only as a 4x4 with a V6, and offers a choice between a 6-speed manual transmission and a 6-speed automatic.
A more unified design
As I learned during my first drive, the Tacoma was designed for fairly serious off-road use. The stylists accordingly endowed it with a tougher look: a prominent grille, bigger wheel opening flares, and a bulge along the lower body panels to suggest more muscle. It now has a broad-shouldered appearance with a profile that matches the concept.
The instrument panel is all-new, and the stylists did not hold back in providing an interior that will stand comparison with whatever the competition is likely to come up with these days. In the 2016 version, the command-and-control centre in the centre stack incorporates the touch screen, with readily accessible controls below it. Lastly, we should mention the wireless charging station for your phone at the end of the centre console. The instruments have digital displays that simulate conventional dials. Between the speedometer and the tachometer is a really useful and easy-to-read information centre. The fit and finish and the quality of materials are what you would expect from Toyota.
The front seats have been redesigned, and while they offer good lateral support, tall occupants may find them difficult to access, because the floor is fairly high, while the door opening is not. The seats are also relatively low-set to provide adequate headroom, but there is no provision for vertical adjustment.
Toyota’s engineers wanted to come up with a versatile vehicle that would be more than a match for the competition in terms of off-road performance. The company representatives at the launch spent a lot of time demonstrating their product’s toughness and its ability to cope with rough terrain.
The 2.7-litre four is unchanged from the previous model, and produces 159 horsepower. The new 3.5-litre V6, on the other hand, puts out 275 horsepower. It is the only engine currently available that offers the Atkinson cycle or regular operation, as the situation demands. The Atkinson cycle takes over when the engine is under light load, and uses less fuel. Toyota did not quote any consumption figures, however.
The chassis has been revised, with changes in both front and rear suspensions. The rear suspension still uses leaf springs, and drum rear brakes were specified in light of the anticipated off-road use.
Only V6 models with automatic transmission were available at the launch. The combination is well suited to everyday use, but it should be noted that the V6 lacks punch. Some of those present actually thought they were driving the 4-cylinder model. The suspension of models not intended to be driven off road is reasonably comfortable, if firm. With the 4x4 versions there was some axle hop on rough surfaces.
The roadholding inspires confidence, and sound insulation is greatly improved. In numerous tests of off-road capabilities, the Tacoma performed impressively, with its electronic systems handling virtually every situation very efficiently with no need for driver input. Even over rock-strewn trails or in sand up to the axles, the electronic Crawl Control system saved the day. The new model is the first with Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select, which allows the driver to choose the right setting for different types of terrain.
To conclude: the Tacoma is one tough truck, with refined highway manners and huge advances in the way it handles off-road driving. Prices were not available at launch time, unfortunately, but if they are competitive, the Tacoma should hold up well against any current or future rivals.