Trucks are macho, always have been. But as our society becomes more confrontational and in-your-face attitudes more commonplace it’s only natural truck styling sheet metal follows suit.
Today’s Toyota Tacoma will go toe-to-toe with any pickup in the attitudinal Olympics. Its fenders bulge like a body builder’s abs and its hood bulges like pecs gone wild. Muscular doesn’t begin to describe it.
That’s to be expected from the new, restyled 2016 Tacoma, the leading mid-size pickup in the U.S. market, the pickup that has been kicking sand in the faces of its competition for years. Market reports say Tacoma owns more than half of the truck sales in its segment.
And now, as if it weren’t already dominant enough, Tacoma is marking its territory with increased horsepower, better gas mileage and a quieter interior. Take that Nissan Frontier, Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. Never mind that a few of those will tow more or still get better gas mileage, Tacoma is ready to rumble.
Let’s start with power, as that’s what most pickup owners are looking for, whether to tow, haul or simply impress their buddies and significant others.
Tacoma features a 278-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 that uses the Atkinson cycle, technology that burns fuel more efficiently than a standard V6. Several Mazda engines use the Atkinson design. Tacoma’s torque is 265 foot-pounds and tow capacity is 6,400 lbs.
The mid-size – 127.4-inch wheelbase, 212.3-inch long – pickup will scoot up to highway speeds with ease, maybe even spin the rear drive wheels if the road is a bit damp. Power is there, but the new 6-speed automatic transmission in the tested Blazing Blue Pearl test truck did not match up well with it. The tranny was jerky, like it was constantly looking for the correct gear. And at low speeds when you tromp the gas pedal the tranny seemed to want to hold the gears so long that the engine became noisy.
The test truck was the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Sport model double cab with 4-wheel drive. So when we had a bit of snow on the roads I could turn the dial on the dash to engage 4WD; when the roads were clear, I’d quickly flip it off.
Ride is typical bouncy truck, so you bound over road imperfections and pot holes. It’s comfortable enough on the highway, but you notice the bounce on side streets and driving into and out of parking lots.
Braking seemed fine, but it’s worth mentioning that the front brakes are discs, while rear brakes are drums. This is across the Tacoma line, so even on the priciest SR5 TRD Off-Road Sport and Limited models there are old-school drums in back.
Yet the interior has been upgraded and quieted, with an equipment level high enough to make you feel, at least visually, that you’re in a sedan with all the whistles and balloons.
Better sound deadening keeps out much of what is usually substantial road noise in trucks due to their big, wide wheel wells to magnify road noise. Tacoma noise levels are similar to a compact or mid-size sedan.
The test truck, with a starting price of $33,730 (but with delivery and options hit $38,995), came with a rearview camera, a rear parking sensor, blind-spot warning system, cross-traffic alert and three-level heated front seats. Much of that is part of a tech package that adds $3,065 to the price, but these are items, many of which, you would find on cars in the $35 grand (about average now), price range.
A sunroof is also part of the package, as is a JBL audio system and dual climate controls, all goodies you’d expect in your family sedan and rightly now expect in your truck.
Good news is that four adults will fit in the 4-door double cab with the rear bench being fairly comfortable. The manually adjusted front seats (power seats are not available in any Tacoma) certainly are well shaped and comfy. Toyota also delivers a nicely laid out dash with round main gauges and digital readout between them, plus a moderate sized touchscreen for the radio and navigation system, plus this one includes satellite radio.
Wisely Toyota includes knobs for radio volume control and tuning and the touchscreen did respond most of the time even though I was wearing gloves. Many touchscreens will not respond to a gloved hand.
Push button start is standard along with three large climate control knobs and the knob to shift from 2- to 4-wheel drive. There are even three cup holders and a square juice box holder in the console. Naturally a big armrest divides the front seats and below it is a sizeable storage box.
Overhead visors slide and there are a couple electric accessory hookups in the console, plus Tacoma offers wireless charging, a bonus if you regularly carry cell phones, iPads, etc. in your truck. But there are some bugaboos too. The roof’s A-pillar is giant and the mirror is set up against it creating a large blind spot. Also the rear seat’s headrests stick up high enough to create a narrow view out the back window.
In back is a short, 5-foot bed. You can get a 6-footer for about $1,500 more. A composite bedliner is standard and Tacoma’s tailgate will lock. The test truck added the nifty hard, three-piece, folding tonneau cover for $650. Once you figure out where the releases are it can easily be folded back to allow for taller loads. Standard too are adjustable tie-down cleats on the bed’s side rails.
Tacoma also has additional storage space as its rear seats fold flat to allow cargo to ride inside.
Gas mileage has improved roughly 1 mile per gallon from previous models, with an EPA rating of 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. I got 19.9 mpg in about 60% highway driving, with mostly two people on board.
Note that there are multiple trim levels for Tacoma, plus two engine choices, two cab sizes and two bed lengths. The base SR comes with a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine and is rear-drive. It lists at $25,030 and that engine delivers just 159 horses. Moving up to the SR with the V6 and 4WD bumps the starting price to $29,815, including delivery. An access cab model (2-door extended cab to most of us) also is available if you would rarely use a back seat. A manual transmission is available in a few models.
For the record, the average delivery price for a truck these days is right about $40,000, so the test truck edged in at slightly less while being loaded with options.
FAST STATS: 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 4×4 Double Cab
Hits: Macho-looking truck with good power, quiet interior and room for four adults. Nicely laid out dash, rearview camera, blind-spot warning system, comfy seats, sunroof, 3-level heated seats, bedliner and four-wheel drive.
Misses: Giant A-pillar/mirror combo creates blind spot, ride is typical truck bouncy, jerky automatic transmission, narrow view out rear window due to rear-seat headrests.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 3.5-liter, V6 w/Atkinson cycle, 278 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 4,480 lbs.
Length: 212.3 in.
Wheelbase: 127.4 in.
Tow: 6,400 lbs.
MPG: 18/23 (EPA)
MPG: 19.9 (tested)
Base Price: $33,730
Tonneau cover, $650
V6 tow package, $650
Premium & Technology package (Entune JBL premium audio, dual zone climate control, heated front seats, rear parking sensor, blind-spot monitor w/rear cross-traffic alert, color-keyed TRD off-road bumper, auto-headlights, moonroof), $3,065
Floor mats, trunk mat, trunk net, $220
Test vehicle: $38,995
Sources: Toyota, www.autos.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage