2016 Toyota Tacoma: Still Rugged, More Polished

2016, toyota, tacoma, trd, limited

The redesigned 2016 Toyota Tacoma is the descendant of the many small pickups that were all over the place in the 1970s. Most disappeared, but Toyota helped keep the small pickup alive. That brings us to the new mid-size Tacoma, which hasn’t had a major update for about a decade.

The 2016 Tacoma represents good timing for Toyota. That’s because General Motors, recognizing the demand for a smaller pickup, recently introduced its Chevrolet Colorado and similar GMC Canyon mid-sized pickups to truck-crazy America. Nissan still offers its mid-size Frontier pickup, but it’s overdue for an update.

Toyota has sold more than 7 million compact and mid-size trucks since 1964.The Tacoma never lost its reputation for ruggedness, and the 2016 model is tougher than ever. It looks more aggressive, but is noticeably quieter and more comfortable. Tacoma buyers expect a tough, durable pickup. Indeed, the Tacoma has a legacy of winning tough, off-road races and holds up well during demanding daily use.

The redone interior has a sporty design theme for a more driver-focused experience. Soft-wrapped trim and metallic accents contribute to a high-quality look and feel. The Tacoma’s steering is quick and has a pleasantly firm feel. Handling is agile, and the ride of my test top-line Tacoma Limited was good. Braking was strong, with a nicely progressive brake pedal feel. All Tacomas have vehicle stability and traction controls, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and Smart Stop brake override technology. There are lots of air bags, including front and rear roll-sensing side-curtain air bags.

Available are a push-button start, leather-trimmed seats, power tilt/slide moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, an enhanced touchscreen audio that’s easy to work and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. Those items are standard on higher-line Tacomas, such as the top-line Tacoma Limited I tested, but many are optional on lower-line models.Toyota is looking for younger Tacoma buyers, so it offers a variety of option packages to individualize the truck.

The Tacoma’s new 3.5-liter V6 generates 278 horsepower (or 42 horsepower more than the previous V6) and 265 pound-feet of torque. The base 2.7-liter four-cylinder produces 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. Our test Tacoma’s V6 was smooth and provided fast passing and merging on highways and freeways. It emits a soft growl when asked to work hard.

Estimated fuel economy isn’t a Tacoma strong point, although the new Chevy and GMC mid-size pickups aren’t gas misers, either. The best estimated economy with the Tacoma four-cylinder is 19 city and 23 highway, while the worst is 19 and 21 The best economy figures for the V6 are 19 and 24,  while the worst are 17 and 21. However, 87-octane gasoline can be used.

The 2016 Tacoma has a responsive new automatic transmission with an easily used no-lag manual shift feature that can be used with steering wheel paddles or the console shift lever. Both a five- or six-speed manual transmission also are offered.

A retuned suspension allows a smoother on-road ride, and more off-road capability.

Smaller items that will be appreciated in the long run include a locking tailgate with an easy lowering feature that allows it to slowly lower, preventing it from slamming down. For the first time, the Tacoma offers an optional factory-installed tri-fold hard tonneau cover for securing items when you’re away from the truck.

List prices range from $23,300 to $37,820. Our test Tacoma was the top-line $37,820 double cab four-wheel-drive V6 model. It was a lot simpler to order small pickups in the 1970s. That’s no longer the case. For example, the 2016 Tacomas are available in 29 configurations in two cab types. There’s the extended Access Cab and four-door Double Cab. Each cab is available in both rear-drive and four-wheel-drive configurations.  There are five model grades, each with its own “personality” and unique look.

The grades include work-ready SR Access Cab. iconic SR5, athletic TRD Sport, tough TRD Off-Road and top-line Limited. The TRD Off-Road model adds a multi-terrain select system (automatic transmission only) that lets a driver choose between different types of terrain, such as loose rock or mud and sand.

The new Tacoma can tow up to 6,800 pounds with the V6 Tow Package.

The Access Cab models have a 127.8-inch wheelbase and a 73.3-inch-long bed. The Double Cab comes with either a 127.4-inch wheelbase with a 60.5-inch bed or 141-inch wheelbase with the 73.3-inch bed.

The Access Cab models have fold-up rear seats and under-seat storage, while Double Cab models have 60/40 split rear seats and under-seat storage.

The Limited Double Cab had supportive, manually adjustable front seats, but tall rear occupants will want more legroom. Also, the center of the rear seat is too firm for anything but short trips. The Tacoma’s power rear windows rolled all the way down, a feature that will be handy for rear occupants when the pickup is driven through fast-food drive-through lanes.

Climate controls were large, the auxiliary digital speedometer occasionally came in handy, especially in limited-speed zones, and the touchscreen was easy to use. But some secondary controls were set rather low. The thick steering wheel was easy to grip, and the thick shift knob facilitated changing gear positions. A deep front console storage bin with a cover swallowed several large items. Also, there were plenty of cupholders and storage pockets in all doors. The glove compartment’s storage was also generous.

This pickup has good ground clearance for noteworthy off-road prowess, so it’s not surprising that it takes extra effort to get in or out because of its necessarily high floor. But occupants have a good view of surroundings, and large rearview mirrors help give a driver a good view to the rear. The Tacoma has a loyal following, but it will be interesting to see how the new model does against GM’s new mid-size pickups.