SEATAC, Wash. – Shocking: in a walk-through of the 2016 Tacoma, a brassy Toyota engineer suggested that a rival pickup has the off-road abilities of a Toyota Camry. Take that, General Motors and your Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins.
Now you know how Toyota plans to position the all-new Tacoma – serious off-roader/work truck. We’re told the “re-engineered, redesigned, re-equipped” Tacoma heading to showrooms in October is the real deal – the end product of “80 years of building the world’s toughest trucks,” argues Toyota Canada vice-president Stephen Beatty.
At an off-road course not far from the press briefing, we put this Tacoma in the dirt. The goal: test this mid-size pickup’s bona fides. We played with the five different settings of the computer-controlled Multi-Terrain Select system – mud and sand, loose rock, mogul, rock and dirt and rock. We couldn’t get stuck, even in sand up to the axles.
We eased down a 37-degree grade using one of the milder settings of the five-setting Crawl Control. The more rigid body and frame – not fully boxed so that the Tacoma has greater wheel articulation (if you must ask, ugh!) – didn’t squeak, twist or bend. The new 3.5-litre V-6 mated to a new six-speed gearbox had enough low-end grunt to climb steep, soft and slippery grades.
We also took the measure of the cargo box with its no-rust composite deck and noted the 120-volt outlet, useful for running a mitre saw or such. This is a truck aimed at renovation pundits popping their pecs in shirtless overall on HGTV.
Except the cabin looks inspired by the latest Toyota designs in the Camry and the Corolla. Seems tough guys want conservative comfort. The materials are an upgrade over the ancient and outgoing Tacoma and the full-on infotainment interface is very Millennial. Seat comfort remains mediocre, however and the undersized steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope — a massive mistake if you’re a driver who wants optimal comfort.
Toyota also didn’t have the other available motor on hand for a test, the carryover 2.7-litre four-cylinder, and the new six-speed manual was a no-show, too. But we didn’t need to test the four-banger here to tell you this is not the engine for a tough Tacoma guy.
Point is, you’ll like this SUV if you want a pickup almost as capable as a full-size rig, but one you can park at the mall or a local hockey rink without consuming two spaces.
Looks: + Toyota should be ashamed for putting a non-functional air scoop on the hood of the otherwise macho looking 2016 Tacoma. Really? A fake scoop? This truck has 9.4 inches/2,685 mm of ground clearance, a 32.1 degree approach angle, projector headlamps with LED daytime running lights, an integrated spoiler on the locking tailgate, big wheel arches and cut sheetmetal. Not the look of a sissy truck.
Interior: <> – The new materials don’t feel cheap like those in the outgoing Tacoma and the layout is as clear and sensible as you’ll find in a Toyota Corolla – which apparently inspired this design. The seats are not particularly well-padded for long rides. The steering wheel tilts but does not telescope. A colour display within the instrument cluster is very useful. The infotainment interface and all the off-road system controls are dead easy to manage.
Performance: + The 3.5-litre V-6 (278 horsepower/265 lb.-ft. of torque) is solid, but the power is mind-blowing. There are new six-speed automatic and manual gearboxes, too. The V-6 operates for fuel efficiency in the Atkinson cycle (it delays the valve timing) but most of the time you’re driving in the normal auto cycle. Slick engineering, though. No real lack of power, but not an over-abundance of it, either. Toyota’s engineers argue the rear leaf springs are best of serious outbacking, but they don’t deliver the ride comfort of coil springs – which you get in the Colorado/Canyon.
Tech: + Inside, you can re-charge your mobile without a plug using the Qi cycle, there’s a standard rear camera, and the list of off-road and towing features is long – electronically controlled locking rear differential, Hill Start Assist Control, Craw Control, Multi-Terrain Select, and a maximum tow rating of 6,500 lbs/2,948 kg.
Cargo: + You’ll be able to load a 4×8 sheet of plywood back there, the tailgate locks, there’s a standard 120V outlet and the composite bed won’t rust.
Score: 8.5 – Very good midsize truck, but will Toyota be able to price it below the many bargain-basement priced full-size rigs on the market today.
- Price range: TBD
- Engines: 2.7-litre four-cylinder, 3.5-litre V-6.
- Transmissions: five- and six-speed manual, six-speed automatic.
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBD.
Alternatives: Nissan Frontier, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon.