Before we begin, know I’m as far removed from Mick Jagger or Keith Richards as a white man might be. I can’t sing, only dance (poorly) when drunk, and my total net worth wouldn’t secure one of Keith Richards’ guitars. But I can channel their message, and while driving the newish 2016 Tacoma I was reminded of Mick’s ‘can’t get’ lament. I’m still looking for a compact pickup, while Toyota – and everyone else in this specific pickup game – is supplying an oversized midsize.
With that, know that Toyota’s aggressive refresh of the Tacoma franchise is worth a look. In what had been absolute stagnation over the decade-long run of its previous gen, this newest Tacoma doesn’t differ that much visually from its predecessor (and that’s not a bad thing – we continue liking the look of the predecessor), but has been re-engineered underneath, given a much needed redesign inside (make that MUCH NEEDED redesign), and just enough cosmetic tweaks outside to know you’re looking at the ’16. With what is called ‘partial development’ by the Toyota engineering team at Toyota’s technical center in Ann Arbor, one assumes this newish Tacoma will do an even better job meeting the needs of American buyers. (We know – after all – how well Tacomas have worked for the Taliban…)
As we’d hope, the re-engineering begins with a new frame, adding high strength steel to enhance rigidity and overall strength. And Toyota integrated ultra-high strength steel into the body shell, which reportedly reduces weight – although you’d be hard-pressed to verify this by looking at the spec sheet; curb weight with the V6 and 4WD is 4500 pounds. We know it’s a truck, but in light of tightening fuel economy requirements you’d think Toyota’s suits could jettison about 500 of those pounds sooner rather than later.
Typically, a stiffer platform allows for a more refined ride, and that’s the case here. Admittedly, my own 4WD perspective is most often provided by our own Grand Cherokee, but the new Toyota seems amazingly refined, with adequate composure – for a truck – matched with an almost sublime ride. We didn’t have a chance to sample the truck off road (and weren’t invited to the truck’s intro in Washington state, where we’re told it performed way capably), but all reporting since its launch tells us the new Tacoma is as appropriate in Moab as at the mall.
Under the hood, Tacoma prospects have their choice of a 2.7 liter four cylinder (just the thing to renew your 924) or an ‘all-new’ 3.5 liter V6 equipped with a truckload of acronyms. If Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda could accomplish one thing during his tenure (beyond making Lexus products visually polarizing), it might be reducing the number of acronyms. Consider – for a moment – VVT-iW, which is Toyota-speak for Variable Valve Timing with Intelligent Wider Intake. We’d suggest GIABATNY, which is Give It A Break After The New Year…
Regardless of the descriptives, the new V6 supplies 278 horsepower (a 42 horsepower bump over the previous V6) and 265 lb-ft of torque. While substantially improved, these numbers still fall short of the 300+ horsepower offered on Chevy’s Colorado or throughout the full-size pickup category. It also falls short of Ford’s 2.7 liter EcoBoost V6, a mill that would absolutely kill if fitted to a midsize platform.
With all of that, the engine responds well, with its available power directed to an eminently capable 6-speed auto. For those with one left foot – and not two – a 6-speed manual is also available, and while we didn’t sample it, past experience suggests a capable, competent actuation with both clutch and shifter. For those Tacomas equipped with the V6 Tow Package (V6TP?), know the new Taco can tow up to 6,800 pounds – just the thing for your So-Cal Teardrop or Airstream’s Bambi.
Inside, what had been an almost Soviet industrialism is completely updated, with a redesigned dash and seating, along with considerable attention paid to noise abatement. The dash in our TRD Offroad Double Cab enjoyed a splash of the truck’s orange exterior across its front, and the overall impression is decidedly modern. The only negative is the retention of some hard (make that very hard) plastic surfaces, but then, it is a truck – and not, notably, an Audi.
Taken as a whole, we think there’s a lot to like with Toyota’s take on an aggressive update. While not embodying current think on pickup sheetmetal, we like the modest updates (and think Toyota would have done far better with little more than a mechanical refresh of the original Scion xB rather than a wholesale redesign – but that’s for another article). As mentioned, the ride/handling balance seems just about right for the target consumer, although we’d like a more nimble feel engineered into its ride/handling balance. Seating and room up front are great, while the rear seat of the tested Double Cab, while not a penalty box, isn’t what you’ve grown accustomed to in your Ram MegaCab. It’s good for two and marginal – as you’d expect – for three.
Finally, we’ll pause for a moment while pondering the Monroney (window sticker). Although Tacomas start at just over $23K, no one but utility companies or pool services buy those. For any move up the Tacoma’s food chain you’ll probably be spending that side of $30K. Our TRD Offroad Double Cab has a base of $33,700, to which Toyota added its Premium & Tech package ($2330) and towing package ($650). The end result, with destination, is $37,910. And while that’s full-size money, a great many will happily pay for the Tacoma’s almost-fullsize functionality and smaller footprint.
For me, I’m still hoping/wishing someone reintroduces a true compact pickup to these United States. But then you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you just might find…you get what you need. If the new Tacoma is what you need, buy it.