As much as we like to kvetch about the lousy state of Michigan roads, none are bad enough to need a Toyota Tacoma with skid plates and upgraded shock absorbers. I always think it’s wasteful when people buy tough off-roading machines and never actually take them off-road, but I suppose it’s no worse than those who buy a BMW M3 for commuting downtown. With that in mind, I fully underutilized our Tacoma’s optional TRD off-road package by driving on paved roads to Kroger and Panera Bread.
The Tacoma embodies automotive traits that I usually disdain — an uncomfortable ride, wobbly handling, binary brake feel — but for some reason I like it. Driving such a simple, primitive vehicle is a refreshing change in a market saturated with insulated, technology-laden new cars. Getting behind the wheel is empowering; I feel like I could drive the Tacoma anywhere, over anything, for any reason. I’d like this truck for tackling deep snow, as the combination of locking four-wheel drive and high ground clearance should make it just about unstoppable.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
My only comment after driving the Tacoma home after a particularly late evening at work is that the interior could use additional ambient lighting for nighttime driving. At night, the lower console, footwells, and doors turn into black holes in which nothing is visible. The lack of lighting is most annoying on the lower console because it makes it impossible to see the cupholders and their contents — like a mobile phone — and, because the back half is actually tucked under the central console, the storage area and 12-volt outlet become completely useless. A lighter, or two-tone interior might help, but pale materials probably wouldn’t hold up very well in the serious off-road and work duties this Tacoma with TRD off-road package is meant to perform.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
I’ve always had a soft spot for the small (well, smaller) Toyota pickups, and the current Tacoma is no exception. This is a vehicle Toyota has mastered years ago and one that it does better than anyone else. I’d also argue that Toyota does a better job at this vehicle than it does with the rest of its lineup. To me, a Tacoma is exactly what a pickup should be, and it would meet the legitimate needs of 90 percent of the F-150 buyers.
It seems that many full-size pickup buyers don’t really need a pickup for the bed or the off-road capability and that they want their truck to be needlessly oversized, yet still carlike. Not me. If I were in the market for a light-hauling and outdoors-oriented vehicle, the Tacoma would be the first place I’d turn.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
The luxury of owning a pickup truck as a white-collar suburbanite is in its ability to help with the occasional dirty chore or heavy haul. In my weekend with the Toyota Tacoma, I loaded the bed with firewood and later picked up a bulky, muddy, stinky tiller. The only other class of vehicle that could handle the tiller would be a minivan. I’ll stick with the Tacoma, thanks.
Not that I’d be settling or anything. The Tacoma is a great truck with hearty power delivery in the middle of the rev range, a pleasant cabin, and a nice set of convenience features. The ride is decidedly truck-like, with the rear end jostling quite a bit over rough roads, but I don’t find it uncomfortable or irritating. The tidy, somewhat tight cabin injects a sense of smallness and charm that makes it extremely well suited to the city as well.
Despite the appeal of these smaller trucks, it looks like they’re all destined for extinction. The problem is that, shy of improved maneuverability, they don’t offer much of a benefit over full-size pickups. For about the same money as this $32,772 Tacoma, you could pick up a four-wheel-drive, crew-cab Tundra with a 4.6-liter V-8. What about fuel economy? That Tundra is rated at 15/20 mpg city/highway, compared with the Tacoma’s 16/20 mpg, and offers better hauling capability and more interior space. Choosing the bigger truck isn’t just about image — it’s the rational choice. Unless there’s an automaker willing to take a risk with a radical re-do of the small pickup — think a turbocharged four-cylinder, aerodynamic body, and smartly restrained hauling abilities — they frankly deserve to die.
Eric Tingwall, Assistant Editor
There’s no mistaking this Tacoma for anything but a truck, especially with the TRD off-road package. The ride is jouncy and the brakes engage at a very high point and can be hard modulate around town, but I imagine this thing handles very well in off-road situations.
Thanks to the fact that it’s a mid-size truck, the Tacoma is easy to maneuver in traffic and, best of all, fits in my garage, even the Double Cab. That might not seem like a big deal at this time of year, but in January, when the snow is flying, being able to park in the garage is a big plus.
The interior design is generic Toyota, with decent but not great plastics and lots of storage space, with a very deep center bin and an array of cupholders for both the front and the rear passengers. The upholstery is a mesh material that looks as if would wear quite well, but as the owner of a dog that sheds like crazy, I can’t help but think about how pet hair would wind itself around the mesh and be impossible to vacuum away.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I like the off-road package. It gives this smaller truck a look of confidence. I was particularly impressed with the bed — great liner with the addition of a second durable mat. The standard 120-volt power plug is a nice addition in the sidewall. I seriously doubt that I could get my motorcycle in the bed, however well built and useful it may be; I’d need a tailgate extender of some kind. For the price of this truck, however, that is something I’d overlook, and this Toyota would move to the top of my list.
Kelly Murphy, Creative Director
Is this a De Lorean? It sure feels like a time machine. Old switchgear teamed with a trucky ride and a workmanlike powertrain to instantly transport me back a decade or so. But I’m not complaining. Back then, small pickups were more popular, and I find this Tacoma to be a very desirable package — capable of hauling the family, towing a smallish trailer, but getting slightly better fuel mileage, costing a bit less, and taking up less space in my garage than a full-size truck.
This Tacoma is good-looking, too; it even caught the eye of my Chevy-loving brother-in-law. The seats felt a bit flat to me, but the little Toyota became more and more cozy, familiar, and desirable over a weekend, during which I used it to haul pavers and uproot a couple hedges from my yard. Long live the small pickup! (I hope Eric Tingwall is wrong about the demise of this segment, although I can’t really argue with his logic.)
This is my new favorite Toyota-badged product, by the way. It wouldn’t really work for me, though, because you can’t get a Double Cab Tacoma with a stick shift. What I’d really love, then, is a four-wheel-drive, stick-shift, V-6 Nissan Frontier SV crew cab, which I just built on Nissan’s website for less than $29,000.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2011 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab
Base price (with destination): $27,835
Price as tested: $32,772
236-hp 4.0L DOHC V6
Part-time 4-wheel drive system w/2-speed electronically controlled transfer case
Automatic limited slip differential
Power-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes
Front & rear mudguards
Vehicle stability control
ABS, electronic brake force distribution, & brake assist
Tire pressure monitor system
Sheet-Molded Composite inner bed with steel outer panels
Deck rail system w/4 adjustable tie-down cleats
Options on this vehicle:
TRD off-road extra value package w/JBL Audio — $4850
Off-road tuned suspension w/Bilstein dampers
Locking rear differential
16-inch alloy wheels w/ 265/70R16 tires
Engine skid plate
Front tow hook
Power outside mirrors
Remote keyless entry
Chrome grille surround & rear bumper
Color-keyed front bumper & over-fenders
Smoked headlamp trim
Sport seats with driver lumbar support & sport fabric
Leather-wrapped steering wheel w/ audio & Bluetooth
6-disc in-dash CD changer w/ MP3/WMA playback capability
Six speakers & subwoofer
TRD off-road graphics
Overhead console w/compass & temperature gauge
Daytime running lights — $40
V6 tow package — $650
Class 4 hitch
Transmission & supplemental oil coolers
Heavy duty battery
7-pin connector w/converter
Carpet floor mats & door sill protector — $199
First aid kit — $29
Bed mat — $119
Key options not on vehicle: None.
16 / 20 / 18 mpg
Size: 4.0L V6
Horsepower: 236 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 266 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Curb weight: 4155 lb
Wheels/tires: 16-inch alloy wheels