By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
For those of us that think full-size trucks are too large, the 2016 Toyota Tacoma is a great option or as they say in the fairy tales, a ?just right? size. For us it was just nice to be driving a truck that fit into the garage without having to inch ahead and check to make sure the door would close.
The latest Tacoma, represents the third generation of Toyota?s mid-size truck offering and it does so with rugged style. Our 4×4 Double Cab TRD test truck looked great from the bold chrome grille back over the double fender flares to clean tailgate with TACOMA tastefully embossed on the lower edge.
The Tacoma interior shines with high-quality materials and clean functional design. Controls are easy-to-handle large dials and buttons? although a couple of the center stack controls require a short reach. The center console has drink holders and several storage spaces. The instrument cluster is a straight-forward tachometer and speedometer with a handy 4.2-inch Multi-Information Display (MID) between that displays trip information, audio selections, tire pressures, etc.
Several available Entune audio systems offer a variety of infotainment services like satellite radio, HD radio, Siri, voice recognition, navigation, Bluetooth and an apps suite. The display screen doubles as the screen for the integrated backup camera and cross traffic alert systems. In the front of the console there are receptacles for USB 2.0 port with iPod? connectivity, audio jack and 12-volt plug.
Our test vehicle had nicely bolstered and comfortable cloth seats and included the important heated seats feature. Leather seating is standard on the Limited model. Of course, all the models have the requisite power windows, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, etc. so there is no such thing as a stripped Tacoma. For those so inclined to record all your activities, there is even a standard integrated GoPro? camera windshield mount.
Toyota engineering did an excellent job on the five-foot bed on this truck. It is a fiber-reinforced Sheet Molded Composite, rather than steel. This means no bed liner needed, no rust – ever and a greater impact strength. The tailgate locks and there?s an available ($1,300) locking tri-fold tonneau cover for extra security, plus the tailgate is on dampers so it opens smoothly and is easier to close. Inside the bed there is a standard deck rail system to help with tie-downs, a couple of storage compartments and an available 120-volt outlet.
The 2016 Toyota Tacoma is available in two configurations, two-door Access Cab (with a small seat which can be folded to carry cargo) and four-door Double Cab with seating for five. The rear seat also folds to provide more interior cargo room when needed.
Interior storage is maximized in Access Cab models with fold-up rear seats and under-seat storage.?Double Cab models feature 60/40 split rear seats with adjustable headrests and under-seat storage.
There are two engine choices, two transmissions and five trim levels (SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off Road and Limited) and a choice of two- or four-wheel drive.
The 159-hp 2.7-liter DOHC four-cylinder with VVT-i is a holdover from the previous generation but the optional V-6 is all new. This is the first time a fuel-efficient Atkinson cycle V-6 has been offered in the mid-size truck segment. Rated at 278-hp (42 horsepower more than the previous V-6) the 3.5-liter has VVT-iW (Variable Valve Timing with Intelligent Wider Intake). The four-cylinder engine comes with a standard five-speed manual transmission, while the V-6 has a standard six-speed manual.
Both engines are available with an optional six-speed automatic transmission with gated shift linkage for manual shifts. The V-6 4×4 with the automatic transmission has an EPA fuel economy rating of 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. We actually averaged 19.7 mpg during a week of mixed driving conditions. Buff magazine acceleration tests indicate a 7.2 second 0 to 60 mph time for the V-6 double cab model and a 6.8 second time for the Access cab V-6 model.
The 4×4 models have a 4WDemand part-time 4WD with an electronically controlled transfer case and Automatic Limited Slip Differential (Auto LSD). The 4WDemand allows the driver to choose between different terrain settings (mud, sand or loose rock) and then it automatically adjusts the braking and throttle for the maximum traction. The 4×4 models are also equipped with a locking rear differential, Hill Start Assist, Active Traction Control and Crawl Control to maximize off-road capabilities. The manual transmission V-6 4×4 also has a Clutch Start Cancel system so the driver can creep over rocks using the starter motor.
The TRD off-road model has an off-road turned suspension with Bilstein? shocks, while the Sport model we drove has sport-tuned shocks better tuned for on-road driving.
The smaller size of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma gives the truck a sportier sensation than the full size trucks which we believe translates to a more enjoyable drive. It even has a relatively tight 41-foot turning radius which contributes to the trucks agile feel. The steering is precise and returns good road feel. The Tacoma does ride like a truck with a bit more harshness than some of the full size competitors. Overall we think the slightly smaller size is a big advantage for most truck owners, unless someone needs to pull a heavy trailer or carry a big load. The new Tacoma has a maximum towing capacity of 6,700 pounds when equipped with the optional towing prep package and a maximum cargo payload of 1,620 pounds.
The 2016 Toyota Tacoma pricing starts at $24,200 for the four-cylinder 2WD SR model and peaks at $40,020 for the Double Cab Limited V-6 4×4 with all the available options. Our TRD Sport model was configured with a $2,360 Premium and Technology Package which added dual zone climate controls, heated front seat, rear parking sonar, blind sport monitor with rear cross traffic alert, color keyed rear bumper, automatic headlights and moonroof. That, and the $650 tow package, took the final price to $37,640. Toyota also offers more than 30 dealer-installed accessories to customize the Tacoma.
The new Tacoma is a big step up in the mid-size truck market and in our mind is an excellent alternative to the full size trucks.