As a person who enjoys doing small-scale outdoorsy work or towing the odd small camper, car, or boat, I really like “small” trucks like this Toyota Tacoma, the Nissan Frontier, and the Dodge Dakota, among others. Compared with their full-size kin, such pickups are generally more economical both in initial cost and upkeep, and they’re more reasonable daily drivers. This particular Tacoma, however, sports a ton of options and costs nearly $8000 more than a base crew-cab Tacoma. I must admit, though, that its most costly option, a TRD off-road package, makes this Toyota a more desirable truck to me, as it’s equipped with lots of four-wheelin’-friendly additions, such as a locking rear differential, skid plates, tow hooks, and an off-road-spec suspension. It’s no Ford Raptor, but I’m sure this Toyota could get the job done on most trails that aren’t super hard-core.
One option that was particularly annoying were the $399 running boards, which are only a few inches below the truck’s floorboards and seem to work best as pantleg scuffers and shin scrapers. The $119 bed mat, however, was so nice and clean that I plopped my infant daughter in the back for a quick photo opportunity.
Also, the Tacoma’s decent-size back seats made it easy for me to safely plug her into her baby seat during transit. The Toyota’s interior was generally functional, plain, yet attractive. Unfortunately, I found the driver’s seat to be too flat, too firm, and simply not very comfortable. Luckily, the ride wasn’t terribly harsh for a pickup.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
The Tacoma’s size is perfect for driving and parking in the city, yet it still packs appreciable utility with a payload capacity of 1295 pounds and maximum towing weight of 6500 pounds in our particular tester. However, at $33,000, this Tacoma isn’t that appealing to me. By contrast, the Tundra Double Cab that we drove in a few weeks ago came in at less than $31,000 and could pull 8300 pounds or carry an extra 220 pounds in the bed. That Tundra didn’t have the off-road equipment of this Tacoma, but it did include essentials like keyless entry, towing hardware, and decent audio along with the 4.6-liter V-8.
To keep things fair, I went over to Toyota’s Web site to spec out a Tacoma without the TRD off-road equipment. Sticking with the Double Cab and four-wheel drive, I opted for the cheapest package that delivered keyless entry and cruise control. Out-the-door price: $29,539. That’s just $1395 less than the Tundra we drove and it doesn’t include Bluetooth, satellite radio, V-8 power, or the additional towing capacity. I’d spend the extra money for the Tundra.
That being said, if the Tacoma is the truck you want, you won’t be disappointed. It actually drives very nicely for a truck, with comfortable steering effort and above-par feel, decent power, and surprisingly relaxed ride. The low dash, tall seating position, and tidy dimensions of the Tacoma also inspire confidence as you can actually sense where the vehicle’s corners are – a rarity in driving larger pickups.
Along with the unusable and in-the-way running boards on the Tacoma, I was a bit confused by the 115-volt household power outlet being located in the bed of the truck. I’m sure some marketing person loved the thought of a brochure or commercial showing a burly American man slicing through 2x4s on the Tacoma’s tailgate, but the truth is this outlet doesn’t have the power output to support anything with a motor. Instead, it’s perfect for charging a laptop, cell phone, iPod, or batteries for a cordless power tool. I’d rather charge all of those items inside the truck and not worry about theft or weather consuming my belongings. Even if this outlet were being used at some kind of worksite, I’d prefer to run an extension cord out of the cabin while the vehicle’s parked rather than deal with a cord hanging out the truck’s window at 70 mph so my passengers can power a laptop.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
As a former owner of a small Toyota Pickup, I see several benefits to having a power outlet in the bed of the truck. If you’re off-roading, camping, or performing a variety of other tasks where it might be dark, that outlet is a great place to plug in a shop light. There have been a few times I was off-road and a 115-volt outlet would have made a task at hand much, much easier. No, it’s not going to run an air compressor or welder, but that doesn’t make it useless.
I disagree with Rusty that these mid-size pickups are any cheaper to purchase or maintain than a full-size truck would be. As Eric points out, bigger trucks tend to include a lot more content for very little extra money. Historically, full-size trucks have offered better incentives and returned nearly the same fuel economy as mid-size trucks like the Dodge Dakota or current Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. The only true small truck on the market is the Ford Ranger, but it has been neglected to the point of being irrelevant.
I wish Toyota would return to its small-truck roots and offer something the size of the 1985 Toyota pickup I owned. That truck struck the right balance between size, fuel economy, and capability. I would love to purchase a new pickup with a regular or extended cab (NOT a four-door behemoth crew cab) and a reasonably sized bed that would accommodate a load of 2x4s, a dead deer, or other traditional truck cargo. This truck should be able to get out of its own way with a four-cylinder engine and offer a six-speed manual transmission with four-wheel drive. I need just enough off-road capability to get down muddy two-tracks to find a great hunting or fishing spot, but not oversized tires that add weight and hurt fuel economy. Until then, it looks like I need to shop for a late-1980s Toyota pickup from a part of the country without rust problems and perform a few upgrades of my own to fit the rest of my needs. So much for progress…
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
I thank my colleagues for doing the research that proves to me my suspicion: that the Tacoma is so close in price to a full-size Tundra, a much better-looking, powerful, and more comfortable and usable truck, that you might as well move up to the bigger truck. Yes, the Tundra with the smaller of its two available V-8 engines (4.6L) is rated at 14/19 city/hwy mpg whereas the Tacoma is rated at 16/20 mpg, but those differences aren’t huge.
I agree with Phil Floraday that a small truck should be SMALL. Small in size, small in engine displacement, small in fuel consumption. Small. And they have moved away from that, blurring the distinction between them and the full-size models. What’s the point?
That said, this Tacoma has its charms, including a firm suspension fashioned by Toyota Racing Development to make it a serious off-road machine but one which doesn’t unduly beat you up on city streets. The brake pedal is overly firm and engages somewhat abruptly, but you get used to that. As others have noted, the running boards are silly and just impede ingress/egress. The driver’s seat sits too low to the floor of the vehicle. The Tacoma itself is none too attractive in this Double Cab configuration, because it looks so badly proportioned: you’ve got this relatively large, boxy cab with this weirdly diminutive cargo bed hanging off the back. It just looks wrong.
What I do like about the Tacoma’s size is that it makes the vehicle more maneuverable and easier to see out of and easier to park.
For what it’s worth, I plopped ten 50-pound bags of softener salt into the bed of the Tacoma and it appreciably, and unsurprisingly, smoothed out the ride.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
Though small pickups have grown in the past decade, the even more noticeable bloating in large pickups still makes for a pleasant contrast. It was nice to hop into a pickup truck and not worry about hitting the roof of the parking garage, as I do in our Four Seasons Dodge Ram, though that relief was spoiled a bit as a scraped my leg on the absurdly placed running boards. There’s also no need to look out your side mirrors as you round corners to make sure you’ve cleared the long bed past a post, which someone apparently did in our Ram some months back.
That said, I’ll join everyone else here and wonder why one would pay $33,000 for a smallish pickup when a more capable, and, let’s face it, much cooler full-size ride can be had for basically the same price. And it’s not like you’re getting an enormous fuel economy benefit, as even most V-8, four-wheel-drive big trucks are within a few miles per gallon of this Tacoma’s 18 mpg combined rating.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2009 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4×4 V-6 SR5 TRD
Base price (with destination): $27,320
Price as tested: $33,026
4.0-liter V-6 engine
5-speed automatic transmission
4WDemand 4×4 system with electronically controlled 2-speed transfer case
Auto limited-slip differential
Brake assist and vehicle stability control with traction control
AM/FM/CD with 6 speakers, aux audio input
MP3 capabilities with XM radio
Options on this vehicle:
TRD off-road extra value package – $3820
-Off-road tuned suspension
-Locking rear differential
-16-in alloy wheels with BF Goodrich tires
-Downhill assist control
-Skid plate, front tow hooks
-Overhead console with compass
-Steering wheel with audio controls
Daytime running lights – $40
V-6 towing package – $650
-6500-lb towing capacity
-Class IV hitch
-Transmission and Oil coolers
-Heavy duty battery
-7-pin connector with converter
Running boards – $399
Carpet floor mats & door sill protector – 199
Bed mat – $119
VIP RS3200 plus security system – $479
Key options not on vehicle:
TRD off-road extra value package JBL, satellite radio, bluetooth – $4739
-Includes everything in TRD off-road extra value package plus:
-JBL premium audio package with in-dash 6-disc changer, six speakers and subwoofer
16 / 20 / 18 mpg
Size: 4.0L V-6 24V DOHC with VVT-i
Horsepower: 236 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 266 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Weight: 4155 lb
16 in. alloy wheels
265/70R16 BF Goodrich tires
Look for: Ride, off-road capability, utility.