2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited Review - Off-road Taco Truck [Video]
2016 Toyota Tacoma
Toyota’s small trucks have long been associated with bulletproof reliability ( and occasionally militant militias). Despite the Tacoma splitting from the legendary Toyota Hilux bloodline in 1995, the Taco (as some fans refer to their trucks) has continued Toyota’s rugged and reliable image. A big factor in the Tacoma’s long-term reliability is the Toyota’s philosophy to change: it should happen slowly and only when necessary.
Although the 2016 Tacoma is dubbed an “all-new third generation,” just like we see in the Camry, large portions of the design are carried over from last year’s model. This is excellent news for some, but may come as a disappointment for others. The changes are enough to keep brand loyalists happy, radical enough to be called a re-design, but sedate enough that folks eyeing a GMC Canyon may not be swayed by the lure of Toyota’s legendary reliability.
In a nutshell, Toyota swapped in a set of tried-and-true transmissions, fitted a Lexus V-6 under the hood, tweaked the frame with stronger steel and covered the truck in new sheetmetal. On the inside, we get a new dashboard, infotainment systems from the Toyota Highlander and a steering wheel from the larger Toyota Tundra. If you’re a Taco man, that’s all you need to know before you run out and buy one. For the rest of us, click past the jump.
According to Toyota, American customers want their small pickups to look bold, so instead of making the American market truck look like the new Hilux found in the rest of the world, we get one styled after the 4Runner and Tundra (though it thankfully skips the foglamp design that makes the 4Runner look like it is crying). The large front grille is designed for improved cooling when towing, and the lower air dam can be removed for those interested in improving approach angles when attacking a rocky incline.
Its 127.4 and 140.6 inch wheelbase choices remain as before, but overall length and front overhang has grown. As this is a compact pickup, you won’t find an 8-foot bed in the back. Access Cab models are given a 73.5-inch (6.1 foot) bed. Double Cab models make do with a shorter 60.3-inch (5 foot) bed as standard, but can be optioned up to the longer 73.5-inch bed. Approach and departure angles for most models are down versus last year because of the added length and despite ground clearance improving by 1/10th of an inch. There is still a TRD off-road package which comes close to the 2015 Tacoma’s off-road angles, but it’s still a few degrees less capable than before. Despite the reduction, the Toyota beats GM’s compact options by a wide margin and absolutely crushes full size, off-road trucks. Out on a tight trail, the new Tacoma can occasionally feel a little large, but it’s positively nimble compared to a Silverado, Ram, F-150 or Tundra sibling
The Nissan Frontier is stuck in interior timewarp and GM styles the Colorado and Canyon with conservative cues from their large SUVs. Over at Toyota, the engineers went in a different direction. Controls are placed in groups on the dash, and each group is set closer or further from the driver. Those groupings are surrounded by plastic of a different color to help them stand out at a quick glance. The overall design is a little too busy for my tastes, but it does set the Tacoma apart.
Although Toyota made the cab of the new Tacoma wider than before, the other dimensions didn’t change appreciably. This means instead of sitting upright as you do in full-size trucks, the Tacoma’s seats are close to the floor. This results in a seating position that’s closer to a Mustang or Camaro with your legs and arms stretched out in front of you while driving. Although the seat fabric and cushion design has been improved for 2016, the seat frame seems to be the same with a limited range of motion, a short bottom cushion, no lumbar support and no power adjustment at any price. The Tacoma is a hair more comfortable up front than the Nissan Frontier, but the GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado win big in this area with power adjustment in many models, optional lumbar support in top-end trims and more seat padding in all trims.
Out back, the rear seats have lost a little leg room in the Access Cab model, but the Double Cab remains the same as before with a respectable 32.6 inches of appendage space and seat cushions a little higher off the floor than the front. Thanks to the extra width for 2016, it’s now possible to put three average child seats across the rear bench comfortably, although rear facing seat room is still somewhat limited. The rear compartment is one of the big differences between the Tacoma and the world-market Hilux: we get a wider back seat.
Toyota has been accused of following, not leading, when it comes to infotainment. This is an assessment I have found justified in some models, but the Tacoma has turned over a new leaf. Although base SR models only get four speakers as standard, the head unit features a 6.1-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth speakerphone integration, a single-slot CD player, backup camera and full USB/iPod integration with voice commands. Entune Plus adds HD Radio and HD Radio-sourced traffic and weather displays. Optional on SR5 and above is a 7-inch version of the same system with smartphone app integration and optional navigation software.
Toyota’s Entune software received important updates back in 2014 and still compares well to GM’s latest systems with a snappy interface and easy to navigate design. In a nice touch, traffic and weather data is downloaded via free HD Radio broadcasts so you don’t need an XM subscription. Toyota has also killed their subscription-based program for the Entune smartphone integrated services like Pandora, OpenTable, and Bing.
Base models use a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that, strangely enough, is not related to the 2.7-liter in the Highlander. Power figures remain unchanged from 2015 at 159 horsepower and 180 lbs-ft of torque. Versus the Highlander’s four cylinder, the truck engine features a wider bore, shorter stroke and 26 fewer ponies than the crossover engine, but the torque does turn on a little lower at 3,800 rpm. You can still mate a 5-speed manual to the 2.7-liter engine, but thankfully ye olde 4-speed automatic has finally been replaced with a 6-speed auto. As you’d expect from Toyota, four-wheel drive is available on the automatic and standard on the manual.
The thirsty 4-liter V-6 used in 2015 has also been sent out to pasture, replaced by a most interesting choice: a Lexus 3.5-liter V-6 that was, up ’til now, used only in the RX 350 and GS 350. For truck duty, Toyota detuned its power to 278 horsepower and left the torque essentially the same at 265 lbs-ft. Setting this engine apart from the V-6 in the Highlander and Sienna is a D4S direct injection system and a more advanced variable valve system that can adjust valve timing and duration across a broader range. This allows the computer to delay closing the intake valve when torque demands are low, thereby increasing efficiency. This modified Otto cycle is colloquially referred to as an “Atkinson cycle” and is the same cycle used in the Prius and many other hybrids.
D4S is interesting in that it combines both direct and port injection, which allows the software to choose the best injection method for the situation and prevents any carbon buildup on the intake valves. Sadly, Toyota decided to leave the Lexus 8-speed transmission on the parts room floor and mated the engine to one of its 6-speed automatics instead. On the bright side, you can still get the V-6 with a 6-speed manual and four-wheel drive.
Toyota retained the same basic suspension and frame designs but tweaked them for the new Tacoma. The frame is formed out of a different material that’s stronger and more rigid than before, but because the basic designs remained constant, payload and towing numbers barely increased this time around. Towing starts at 3,500 pounds if you select the 2.7-liter four cylinder and jumps to 6,400-6,800 pounds with the V-6, depending on the options selected. The highest tow rating happens in the rear-wheel-drive Access Cab with the optional V-6 towing package. If you plan on towing, this package is essential because the base Tacoma is only rated for a slim 350 pounds of tongue weight. Adding the towing package increases that to 670 pounds.
Payload capacities range from 1,120 to 1,620 pounds for 2016 and the high payload trim is actually the rear wheel drive, four-cylinder model. Filling out the low end is, as you’d expect, the Double Cab V-6 4×4. Toyota tells us that Tacoma owners are far more likely to take their pickup off-road than tow a trailer or haul heavy loads, so more time was spent on those aspects of the Tacoma’s development.
If you plan on towing with your compact truck, GM’s new diesel is the most competent option with gobs of torque, an integrated trailer brake controller and a ginormous price tag. Aye, there’s the rub: GM’s 2.8-liter Duramax is a $3,980 option, but you can’t get it on every trim. That makes the price of entry for the Colorado diesel around $34,000, or $3,o00 more than a base RAM 1500 EcoDiesel.
Although Toyota has continued to update the drivetrain, the engineer’s conservative upgrades mean that the Tacoma is outgunned by GM’s Colorado and Canyon. Although GM uses a smaller 2.5-liter base engine, it cranks out 41 more horsepower and 11 lbs-ft more torque than the 2.7-liter mill in the Tacoma. Likewise, the Chevy and GMC 3.6-liter V-6 delivers 27 more horsepower, 4 more lbs-ft, and torque comes on at 600 fewer revs than Toyota’s Atkinson-style V-6. In terms of shove, this puts the Tacoma between the GM trucks and the Nissan Frontier.
Because Tacoma owners have off-roading in mind, Toyota brought some of their latest off-road electronics down from the 4Runner. TRD models gain a Range Rover-like multi-terrain select controller that helps coordinate the traction control, stability control and drivetrain systems based on your choice of five different surfaces. You can add an electric locking rear differential, but Toyota says that leaving the front diff open and controlling slip with the electronic systems actually results in better off-road performance than a traditional locker. Forward crawl control and hill start assist are also bundled into the TRD model, but selecting the manual transmission removes hill start assist.
Due to the transmission gearing, final drive gearing and the nearly 4,500 pound curb weight of our Limited model, acceleration to 60 mph takes nearly 8 seconds in the V-6 4×4 model. That’s about 6/10ths slower than a comparable Chevy Colorado. A closer look at the numbers reveals a sluggish 3.5 second 0-30 mph time, which makes the Toyota feel sluggish when hooked to a 5,000 pound trailer, especially on up-hill starts. On the flip side, the Tacoma is positively sprightly when compared to a full-size truck with a V-6.
Although many have complained about the lack of rear disc brakes, the average person is unlikely to ever notice. Stops from 60 took 133 feet, which is two feet shorter than the Accord we recently tested. Although the Tacoma’s brakes will fade more rapidly than your average mid-sized sedan, the numbers are excellent for a pickup. Toyota claims the reason for the rear drum brakes are that they resist dirt and sand better than a disc design when off-roading. The real reason is likely cost: it’s cheaper. Since Toyota claims that towing was literally number 22 on the list of things Tacoma shoppers cared about, and towing would be the only big reason to want disc brakes in the back of a pickup that’s light in the rear, I’m going to call this a non-issue.
In terms of general road manners, the Tacoma’s steering feels overboosted compared to the Colorado and Canyon, the ride is a hair firmer and handling is comparable in models with similar tire sizes. Just as you’d expect, the Tacoma handles like a small truck, so expect it to feel less connected to the road than a Highlander but more connected than an F-150, Silverado, RAM or Tundra. What you might not expect is that you’ll actually get better fuel economy on the highway and a similar or higher average in real world driving in certain trims of the F-150 and RAM 1500. Over the course of a week with the Tacoma, we averaged 19 mpg. On the same course, I averaged a similar score in a 5.3-liter V-8 Silverado. Small pickups don’t necessarily mean high fuel economy numbers.
Starting at $23,300 for the four cylinder and $26,995 for the least expensive V-6, the Tacoma is the most expensive option in this segment when comparing similarly configured vehicles. The Nissan Frontier may be ancient, but with a base price of $18,190 and more cash on the hood than Toyota, it’s the least expensive truck in America. The Chevy Colorado bridges the gap at $20,100 starting and $23,960 for the V-6. Adding all the options to the Colorado, including the diesel, and you top out at just $2,800 more than a Tacoma despite having nearly $5,000 in additional equipment. That said, resale value on the Tacoma is better and expected maintenance costs are lower than the GM trucks, so your final cost is a factor of how long you plan to keep your truck.
Toyota seems to put a reasonable distance between the base Tacoma and the larger Tundra, which starts at $28,640. However, a six-cylinder Tacoma is just $1,600 less than the larger truck. In a country where “more for less” is usually better, you should know that the RAM 1500 will cost you less than a Tacoma V-6. Although a Silverado V-6 stickers for a little more than a Tacoma, there’s likely to be enough cash on the hood to even things out. If that sounds too good to be true, there is a catch. Those full-sized trucks won’t have a rear seat at that price. That said, our Limited model’s sticker price was over $40,000, which is enough to buy you a 1/2 ton truck with enough options to satisfy.
So who is the Tacoma for in the end? Its target is the daily commuter that wants a rugged, off-road capable truck with the utility of a bed but without the need to fit 4×8 sheets of anything in the back. It’s for the person that values a go-anywhere reputation over the creature comforts offered in the competition. It’s not for the shopper looking for the most efficient truck or the most capable for towing (that’d be the Canyon/Colorado with the diesel and the integrated brake controller). It is for the person interested in modding their ride. Because so much of the Tacoma is only slightly tweaked versus the 2015 model, expect to see more aftermarket snorkels, brush guards, lift kits and the like for the plucky Tacoma than the Canyon or Colorado.
Toyota is a company that believes in product evolution and not revolution. In addition, digging through the tried-and-true parts bin is strongly encouraged when developing a new vehicle. This design philosophy is vexing to some and comforting to others. By using parts that have been proven in other products, Toyota is able to refresh the Tacoma without the reliability concerns you’d find in a truly all-new design. The rear drum brakes, naturally aspirated engine lineup, proven 6-speed automatic, low number of drivetrain variants, manual seats and frame and suspension designs heavily based on the past are key to the expected high reliability and durability of the Tacoma. On the flip side, it’s also what makes the Tacoma less exciting than the Canyon or Colorado. The GMC and Chevy feel fresher, are more comfortable, the beefier four-cylinder is a more viable base engine, the V-6 is stouter and fuel economy is slightly better as well. This means that if my money were in the line, I’d buy the GMC Canyon because I prefer its looks to the Colorado. The Tacoma may be the better vehicle off road and it may have better resale value and better reliability, but when it comes down to it, the GM and Chevy are just better trucks.
Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of fuel for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30: 3.47 Seconds
0-60: 7.93 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.8 Seconds @ 91 MPH
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