Since its debut in 1995, the Toyota Tacoma has been synonymous with off-road capability. From casual weekend warriors to serious dirt races like the Baja 1,000, you can find stock and modified "Tacos" challenging the desert at every turn.
But how did they get to the dirt? More than likely, they had to drive on the pavement. This week, I had the 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD 4x4 Off Road, and while I didn't have the opportunity to test its mettle in its natural habitat, my colleague, Antuan Goodwin was lucky enough to get the Tacoma out in the dirt with professional drivers from Toyota. Here's what he had to say about its performance:
"Toyota wanted to demonstrate how Crawl Control used in concert with the Tacoma's low-range transfer case to to scale a steep rock incline. We lined the Tacoma up with what looked like a rock face so steep that we could barely climb it on foot holding a rope, and activated the Crawl.
"Most 2016 Toyota Tacoma's have a new, front air dam that boosts fuel economy on the highway, but is situated far enough back to not affect the 29-degree approach clearance. However, the Taco TRD Off-road lacks this bit and boasts a 32-degree approach angle.
"It would appear that we'd need every one of those degrees as the digital inclinometer located in the dashboard display sharply rose and then pegged at 35 degrees, even as the incline grew more severe and nothing but sky was visible out of the Taco's windshield. The truck continued to angle upward until we heard the tow hitch at the tail end scrape slightly on the ground below as the climb continued. Toyota's guides reckoned the steepest part of the climb was easily more than 40 degrees."
But while Antuan got down and dirty, I kept things clean with a 1,500 mile road trip.
Literally hopping up behind the wheel because of the 9.4 inches of ground clearance, I settled into the cloth seats nicely. The interior is built for ruggedness, not luxury, but it still offers up some impressive features.
A 6.1-inch touchscreen is standard, but the TRD makes the jump to a larger 7-inch screen with navigation. Toyota's Entune system is perhaps the most responsive I've seen in quite some time. Inputs onto the touchscreen were instantaneous, and the system switched between the home screen, apps and navigation quickly and easily. The screen can get a little crowded at times, and I noticed that the traffic guidance was often wrong, showing green while I was stopped dead in traffic, and showing red when I was happily cruising at 65 mph.
As expected, Bluetooth and USB connectivity are also available. It was a snap to pair my phone \and sound quality was excellent. Entune quickly recognized my phone through the USB connection, and it was easy to navigate to my music and podcasts.
The Tacoma also has Qi wireless charging, but iPhones aren't compatible with that technology yet. There aren't too many driver's aids save for a back-up camera, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind-spot monitoring. All are welcome in the Tacoma, as it's larger than many people are used to handling.
The interior is not a place you'd be afraid to get dirty, but it's still a vaguely comfortable place to spend a commute. Road noise is not much of a problem, though you will hear the roar of the V-6, even over the stereo. The seats are comfortable but neither they nor the steering wheel offer much in the way of adjustability. A GoPro mount is built into the windshield for those extreme wheelers.
Part of my 1,500-mile trek included a four-hour delay on the side of the road in the rain due to a mudslide. Outside temperatures were in the mid-thirties, but the cabin maintained warmth for over an hour without keeping the engine running. Additionally, the front seats recline back enough for a comfortable snooze. You might not consider these points when buying a car, but anyone who has taken a truck off-road knows they are one broken axle from a night spent in the desert.
Power is provided by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, but a smaller 2.7-liter four-cylinder is available on lesser trim lines. This larger engine knocks out 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. When not in four-wheel-drive, power goes to the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, but an available six-speed manual transmission takes $1,600 off the price. EPA fuel ratings are 18 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined. My mostly highway driving netted me 17.8 mpg.
The six-speed automatic transmission is more on the finicky side, rather than the dominant decision maker I have come to expect in the Tacoma. I wish I'd had the six-speed manual option, as the automatic can't seem to get out of its own way. It upshifts as quickly as possible, to the detriment of off-the-line acceleration, and searches for gears at lower speeds. You can shift manually between all six gears, but in a truck with an automatic transmission, the only time I want to shift manually is if I'm going up or down an extreme hill.
Like a baby Trophy Truck
The Bilstein shocks are tuned for smooth sailing over the "whoops," those small rolling bumps that can wreak havoc with a truck if not tuned properly. When put on the pavement, those shocks produce an exceptionally soft ride; a bit on the bouncy side but never floaty.
The Tacoma's hydraulic power steering gives both on- and off-road benefits, with an excellent on-center feel and a hand that weights up nicely with speed. It's direct without being twitchy, so you are able to place the wheels exactly where you want them.
My test model came with 16-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Goodyear Wrangler All Terrain Adventure tires. These tires feature a semi-aggressive tread that didn't hinder the Tacoma on the pavement at all. Unlike beefier tread patterns, the Goodyears do not produce a ton of road noise, and you don't need to use brute force to get them to turn.
The TRD Off Road is available with an access cab and a 6-foot bed, or a double cab with either a 5- or 6-foot bed. The double cab with the shorter bed on this one allowed for plenty of room for rear passengers, even full-size adults. The 5-foot bed has a 120-volt outlet, so you can bring modern electronics on your outdoor adventures. A locking bed cover is also available.
Toyota faces tough competition in the form of the Chevrolet Colorado, which is now offered in a diesel, and the GMC Canyon. However, the Tacoma has a long and storied history of off-road prowess combined with stellar reliability. Plus, the aftermarket scene is littered with specialty suspension and drivetrain components for the Tacoma from places like Total Chaos Fabrication and Camburg Engineering. The only limit is the thickness of your wallet.
The base model of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma starts at $23,300 and our TRD Off Road 4x4 Double Cab starts at $33,750. With the bargain priced optional tow package for $650 and the premium and technology package adding $2,330, our final bill comes to $37,610 with destination. The Tacoma is sold as a Hilux in Australia for AUS$61,690 and as a Hilux commercial truck in Britain for £27,555.