The Toyota Tacoma, one of my all-time favorite off-road exploration vehicles when equipped properly, continues in that vein with a redesign for 2016, especially with our test vehicle, the TRD Off Road model ($34,340 plus $900 freight) with – of course – trail-ready four-wheel drive.
This truck, which is a product of the San Antonio Toyota plant, can handle everyday city driving duties, especially with its Double Cab configuration that gives it room for up to five people to ride comfortably.
But where it shines is on the trail, where its rugged nature takes over, taming the toughest hills, thickest mud and deepest sand.
The newest generation of Toyota’s midsize pickup has a new, bolder exterior, and comes with a new 3.5-liter Atkinson cycle V-6 engine that is standard on the TRD Off Road model. It’s coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
The V-6 produces a whopping 278 horsepower and 265 foot-pounds of torque, making this the most-powerful Tacoma ever.
Our TRD Off Road 4x4 is on the high end of the Tacoma spectrum. Prices for the 2016 two-wheel-drive models begin at $23,300 for the base SR Access Cab with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission, and range as high as $34,745 for the Double Cab Limited 3.5-liter V-6 with a six-speed automatic transmission.
With four-wheel drive, prices start at $24,825 for the SR four-cylinder model with a five-speed manual transmission, and go as high as $37,820 for the V-6 Limited with the six-speed automatic.
The Tacoma has been America’s top-selling midsize pickup for the past 10 years, largely because it’s not only a good truck, but it’s been one of just a few small trucks left. Ford has discontinued the Ranger, and until 2015, both the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon had been out of production for three years. The only Tacoma competitor during that period was the Nissan Frontier.
But this newest generation of the Tacoma continues the vehicle’s off-road prowess, as well as its legendary quality and longevity.
This newest version was partly developed by the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. The center’s engineers started with the frame, adding high-strength steel to help enhance rigidity, Toyota said. Ultra-high strength steel was integrated into the body with a new hot stamping process that helped reduce the vehicle’s weight while building strength at the same time.
The TRD Off Road model’s suspension was tuned to help deliver a smooth on-road ride, while making it even more capable off the road, Toyota said.
The base 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine produces 159 horsepower and 180 foot-pounds of torque, and has the best fuel economy ever for a Tacoma.
EPA estimates for the rear-drive base model with the four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission are 19 mpg city/23 highway/21 combined; for the four-wheel-drive four-cylinder with manual transmission, the ratings are 19/21/20, and for the automatic, 19/22/20. The manual gearbox is not offered with two-wheel drive.
But for those who want more power, the Tacoma offers the segment’s first Atkinson cycle V-6 engine, which features Variable Valve Timing with Intelligent Wider Intake. The Atkinson cycle engine design is what Toyota uses in its hybrid vehicles, which leads to speculation that there might be a Tacoma hybrid on the way.
This engine has 42 more horsepower than the previous Tacoma’s V-6. EPA estimates are 19/24/21 for the two-wheel-drive automatic, while the ratings for the four-wheel-drive manual are 17/21/19. For our TRD Off Road, the ratings are 18/23/20.
Both engines can be paired with a new six-speed automatic transmission with electronic shift. The four-cylinder can also be ordered with a five-speed manual gearbox, and the V-6 with a six-speed manual.
When equipped with the V-6 Tow Package, the new Tacoma can pull trailers weighing up to 6,800 pounds, which is up 300 pounds from the previous V-6 model. Our TRD Off Road came with the V-6 Tow Package, a $650 option that adds a Class IV tow-hitch receiver; automatic transmission, engine oil and power steering coolers; 130-amp alternator; trailer-sway controller; and four- and seven-pin lighting connectors (with converter).
As for styling, the new Tacoma looks like a junior version of the full-size Tundra from the front, sporting the same chiseled front end with a hex grille. There is also a new, taller hood, projector-beam headlights and optional LED daytime running lights.
At the rear is a new locking tailgate with an integrated spoiler for improved aerodynamics. It has a stamped Tacoma logo. The tailgate also has a new easy-lowering feature, which allows it to drop slowly rather than slamming down.
Also, for the first time there is a factory-installed tri-fold hard bed cover available for securing cargo. Our truck came with a composite bed, and because it was the Double Cab model, we had the short cargo bed – five feet -- which isn’t great for hauling long items. We were using our vehicle in a move to a new home, and found that some items, including a three-section sofa, wouldn’t fit without leaving the tailgate down.
The interior also gets lots of refinements. There is a sporty design theme for the instrument panel, and the new soft-wrapped trim and metallic accents give the cockpit a premium feel. The TRD model has its own special touches, including the contrast stitching.
Among available premium features are Qi wireless phone charging and a smart key system with pushbutton start, both included on our TRD model.
Our truck came with the Premium and Technology Package ($2,330), which brought front dual-zone automatic climate control; a power /tilt/slide moon roof; a blind-spot monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which caused the chrome rear bumper to be replaced by the color-keyed TRD bumper; heated front seats; rear parking sonar; and automatic headlights.
The interior is quieter than before, thanks to enhanced door and window seals, a multi-layer acoustic windshield, and a sound-absorbing headliner. There is also a floor silencer pad to help reduce road noise.
As before, Tacoma is available in Access Cab and Double Cab models. Interior storage is maximized in Access Cab models with fold-up rear seats and under-seat storage. The Double Cab models have a 60/40 split-folding rear seat with adjustable headrests and under-seat storage.
Our TRD Off Road’s four-wheel drive came with a two-speed transfer case for low-range gearing. Other features to enhance off-road performance include an automatic limited-slip differential; off-road-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks; locking rear differential; multi-terrain-select with crawl control; and hill-start assist. Sixteen-inch machined-alloy wheels are standard.
Overall, there are 29 configurations offered, in the two cab types, and both cab types are available with rear- or four-wheel drive. There are five trim levels: base SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, and Limited.
Toyota says the two TRD versions were “inspired by Toyota Racing Development’s more than 35-year history in desert off-road racing and a heritage of vehicles that have helped off-road enthusiasts conquer the toughest terrains in the most remote locations around the globe.”
Every new Tacoma comes with a GoPro video camera mount located near the rearview mirror.
Access Cab models have a 127.8-inch wheelbase and 73.7-inch cargo bed, while Double Cab models are available in two versions: one with a 127.4-inch wheelbase and a 60.5-inch bed; and the other with a 141.0-inch wheelbase and the 73.7-inch bed.
The cargo bed has a sheet-molded composite deck and walls that are 10 percent lighter than steel, Toyota says. The bed deck has two-tier loading and an integrated deck-rail utility system with four adjustable tie-down cleats. A 120-volt power point is located in the cargo bed.
Eight exterior color choices are offered, including three new shades: Quicksand, Inferno, and Blazing Blue Pearl. Carrying over were Super White, Silver Metallic, Magnetic Gray, Black, and Barcelona Red. Our vehicle came with the Inferno (orange-red) exterior.
Inside, all models feature a four-way driver’s seat with lumbar support and four-way adjustable front passenger seats. SR and SR5 models have fabric seats; TRD Sport and Off-Road models get an embossed fabric with a rugged feel; and Limited models come with leather.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com, or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4x4 Double Cab
The package: Midsize, four-door, V-6 powered, four-wheel-drive, five-passenger, off-road ready pickup truck.
Highlights: Toyota's midsize pickup in the largest configuration, the four-door TRD Off Road Double Cab, offers refinement, ruggedness and reliability in a package that combines great on- and off-road capability, along with cargo and seating versatility, a decent ride and excellent handling.
Negatives: Five-foot-long cargo bed is too short for serious hauling.
Engine: 3.5-liter Atkinson cycle V-6.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 276 HP./265 foot-pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/drum, antilock.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Air bags: Front; front seat-mounted; side-curtain both rows.
Overall length: 212.3 inches (Double Cab with 5-foot short bed).
Curb weight: 4,480 pounds.
Payload: 1,175 pounds.
Towing capacity: 6,400 pounds, with optional tow package ($650).
Major competitors: Nissan Frontier, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon.
Fuel capacity/type: 21.1 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 18 mpg city/23 highway/20 combined.
Base price: $34,340, plus $900 freight.
Price as tested: $37,610, including freight and options (TRD Off Road Double Cab four-wheel-drive short bed with Premium and Technology Package and V-6 Tow Package).
On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.