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