The 2015 Toyota Tacoma outsells every other midsize truck by a two-to-one ratio. Tacomas are so popular, in fact, that they have the highest resale value of any other car on the market, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association and Kelly Blue Book.
But here’s the thing: The Tacoma hasn’t had a complete revamp in a decade. So for 2016, Toyota upgraded everything from the transmission and the engine to the drivetrain and the cabin. Result: a totally new, feature-rich workhorse (prices range from $23,300 to $37,820). Here are our first impressions of the adventuremobile after a week of testing in the woods north of Mount Rainier.
The outgoing Tacoma was plenty capable in the muck, and the new version is even easier to take off-road. We tested it on 40-degree slopes and a mini Toyota-built mountain and found that it handled this terrain with ease, thanks to a 29-degree approach/23-degree departure angle (translation: the truck’s nose and tail will not scrape when you want to climb something steep).
Toyota’s new Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control technology (available only on the six-speed automatic) also helps. Here’s how it works: Select the terrain you’ll be driving over (like sand or rock), and the truck regulates wheel spin and brake pressure according to the conditions. Finally, pick the Crawl Control Speed of 1-5 kph and just steer—no gas pedal or braking required.
Do the TwistThe new Tacoma can twist. That’s right, twist. This essentially means the truck bed can flex, so all four wheels stay on the ground when you’re powering over a boulder. While the front of the truck remains stiff, the rear has some built-in play.
The integrated GoPro mount on the windshield of the new Tacoma got a lot of buzz when the company announced this feature last spring. This action cam rig is nifty, but the truck has even more cool mounts. The bed’s rail system has a spot for a fork-mount bike rack, and there’s an optional 120V/400W power plug in the bed so you can quickly inflate air mattresses or recharge batteries.
Back to the FutureSome of Toyota’s off-road vehicles from the 1980s had analogue pitch and roll meters. The company has revived the idea in a digital version.
The 2016 Tacoma got some rear-end upgrades, including a tailgate that’s easier to open and close, and a three-piece bumper that makes repairs simple: If you dent one section, you can replace it without having to buy an entirely new bumper.
Toyota is also offering an aftermarket trifolding locking tonneau—a sturdy locking cover that fits flush with the top of the bed—that lets you convert the truck into a giant, mobile gear locker.
AeroAerodynamic vehicles get better fuel economy and make less noise. Toyota says the new Tacoma is the most aerodynamic truck it’s ever built. The company achieved this feat by adding things like a new air dam up front and more defined creases in the sheetmetal—and even in the taillights—that help reduce drag. The tailgate’s rear spoiler is also more prominent. On the road, all these improvements make the truck far quieter, especially at highway speeds. Toyota also added a double-glass windshield—taking a page from brand-mate Lexus’ book—to further reduce noise in the cabin.
ConfigurationsThe cab comes in two styles: The Access Cab has jump seats; the Double Cab has full-size rear seats and full-size back doors. Beds are either five or six feet long. You can get the longer bed with either cab.
Different FacesFor 2016, Toyota offers multiple grilles depending on whether you want a “street” or off-road look (the silver truck has the off-road version, and the orange truck the urban-styled edition). The hood scoop is nonfunctional and comes standard on the TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road models. We dig the orange and beige editions, but the truck looks excellent in blue, too.
A Better Cabin
Toyota gave the interior a big update. It now features higher-quality plastic, and new, comfier fabric seats that work better in extreme temperatures. In my test, I found the cabin workmanlike sharp—but still utilitarian (as it should be).
In the Double Cab, the rear seats fold forward and provide a hard-plastic loading surface that’s big enough for a pair of 80-liter expedition packs and your grimy hiking boots. You can also get the SR Utility Package, essentially a version of the Double Cab sans rear seats, giving you as much interior cargo space as possible.
Under the Hood
Toyota borrowed technology from the gas motors it puts in its hybrids to create a 3.5-liter V-6 that’s smaller than the outgoing 4.0-liter engine but still 42 hp more powerful (278 hp). The new motor is also quieter than its predecessor, and the torque curve broader. The prior five-speed automatic is being replaced with a six-speed automatic, and you can still get a six-speed manual transmission.
Bottom line: We like the engine improvements. The new V-6 is far better at providing midrange passing power but still has enough low-end grunt for easy off-roading. The transmission is smooth around town and far less likely to hunt for the right gear on sustained climbs. The only fly in the sauce? The middling fuel economy, which is less than GM’s current V-6, but still better than the old Tacoma (the 2016 gets 19 mpg city/23 mpg highway, whereas the old, weaker engine just got 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway). When GM brings an efficient diesel engine to this category—which it will this fall—those higher fuel economy numbers may finally start to dent Toyota’s chokehold on this category.