We don't get many pickups here at CNET Car Tech, so there's always a driving-style adjustment that has to happen every time I'm tossed the keys to one. The 2012 Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Series that was no exception.
The Tacoma is a small truck, but with the additions of the Baja Series accessories, it's a towering monster, sitting eye to eye with its larger sibling, the Tundra. The high ride height, bright red paint, and crazy Baja Series graphics were attention grabbers everywhere I took the Tacoma around the San Francisco Bay Area. But this isn't just a styling and graphics upgrade. As it turns out, Toyota has crammed quite a bit of tried and true off-roading tech under that bright-red body.
TRD T|X Baja Series
The Baja Series starts with a 2012 Tacoma Crew Cab 4x4 with its 4.0-liter, 236-hp V-6 engine. This is a simple, stupid engine with no direct injection and no forced induction, just Toyota's variable valve-timing technology augmenting its 24 valves. 59 horsepower per liter and 266 pound-feet of torque aren't particularly impressive in 2012, but like most truck engines, the Tacoma's heart is designed to be bulletproof and rugged, not clever. Still, I can't help but think that the addition of DI would boost power and efficiency without adversely affecting reliability.
Speaking of efficiency, the EPA rates the 2012 Tacoma V-6 at 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway.
It's possible that those fuel efficiency estimates could be improved with an extra forward gear. As is, the Tacoma sends its power through a five-speed automatic transmission and onward to the rear axle in its default setting. The 4x4 designation indicates that the Tacoma can also put power to the front axle, but this switch doesn't happen automatically. The driver is able to manually select between 2WD and 4WD HI with the twist of a knob located near the steering wheel. You can make that change with the transmission in D, but only at low speeds or when the vehicle is stopped. Additionally, there's a third 4WD LO mode that can only be used at very low speeds (5 to 10 mph) for controlled application of high torque in, for example, rock-climbing situations.
Also present on our Tacoma was the Towing package, which adds a towing receiver hitch (Class-IV) with seven-pin connector, transmission coolers, an engine oil cooler, a 130-amp alternator and heavy-duty battery, and Trailer-Sway Control (TSC). With the Towing package, the Tacoma's towing capacity jumps from 3,500 pounds to 6,400, and its tongue load grows from 350 pounds to 640.
The standard V-6 4x4 drivetrain seems fairly capable for most light dirt trail off-roading, but our Tacoma is loaded up with even more equipment. The optional TRD Off-Road package adds a user-selectable locking rear differential that can be used to further control the traction shift between the rear wheels in slick situations such as scrambling out of mud. Toyota recommends that you don't use the locking rear differential above 5 mph and only in low-traction conditions to avoid damage to the drivetrain. This package also bumps the Traction Control system up to Active Traction Control and adds Hill Start Assist Control and Downhill Assist Control to aid in stability when ascending or descending steep grades. You also get an engine skid plate to protect the V-6 from rock and log damage from below, a front tow hook in case you want to help a fellow off-roader get unstuck with a pull (or need help getting yourself unstuck), and a 115V/400W deck-mounted AC power outlet to juice any electronic equipment, tools, or toys that you may need on the trail.
The TRD Off-Road package also adds a number of convenience features unrelated to off-roading, including remote keyless entry, sunglasses holders, illuminated vanity mirrors, a rearview mirror with integrated thermometer, compass, and HomeLink, steering-wheel audio controls, and upgraded body and interior trim. A rearview camera is also available on the Tacoma, oddly as part of the TRD Off-Road package, which helps the driver avoid trees when reversing around a camp site and other cars when parallel-parking the tall TRD T|X Baja Series model while in town.
Interestingly, the rubber all-season floor mats are not part of this package and are a separate $165 option.
On top of even the Off-Road package, our TRD T|X Baja Series model finally adds its Baja Series accessories. The suspension is upgraded with TRD Bilstein Race Shocks on both the front and rear axles. The rear dampers use external reservoirs to increase travel and lower operating temperatures thanks to increased fluid capacity. Furthermore, the red 60mm coils of the front suspension and additional plumbing of the rear dampers look pretty cool when parked, if you're into showing off your gear. The Tacoma's 16-inch wheels are replaced with 16-inch TRD beadlock wheels, which clamp down on the BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO tires, allowing low tire pressures to be run when off-roading without fear of the rubber separating from the wheel. The stock exhaust system is replaced with a TRD Cat-Back Exhaust that's, at the very least, louder and the exterior of the Tacoma is slathered in red paint with black TRD T|X Baja Series graphic decals.
Toyota Entune + JBL audio
The basic stereo for the Crew Cab Tacoma is a six-speaker rig with standard USB/iPod connectivity, Bluetooth hands-free calling with audio streaming, SiriusXM satellite radio, AM/FM terrestrial radio, analog auxiliary input, and a CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability. That's a pretty respectable setup to begin with, especially when compared with the entry-level Regular Cab's four-speaker rig with only an analog input.
However, our example was equipped with the Display Audio with Navigation, Entune and JBL package, which substantially boosts this level of cabin tech. The basic stereo is replaced with a 6.1-inch touch screen that serves as the display for the rearview camera.
That same display is where you'll interact with the Entune connectivity suite of apps. This is the lesser of the two Entune systems that Toyota offers, bringing to the table basic navigation with Bing online search for destinations, traffic data, Pandora Internet Radio streaming from a connected smartphone, stock prices, weather updates, sports scores, and simple e-mail and SMS messaging. HD Radio also comes as part of this package. It's a pretty good setup, thanks mostly to the Bing Search's massive and constantly updated database of destinations. However, most of these functions require that you have a smartphone present and connected to the car (via Bluetooth for Android, USB for Apple devices) running the Entune app. Without the Entune system, this is a pretty basic navigation system that can only accept street addresses -- it doesn't appear to have its own built-in point-of-interest database without Internet connectivity. Toyota's system will prompt you upon setting up and pairing your phone that Entune will be using your phone's Internet connection and that keeping a close eye on your data usage is a good idea to avoid overage charges.
Spend a few more bucks and you can specify the top-tier Entune system, which includes more app integration (adding iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, and OpenTable to the feature list), closer integration with the Entune app for smartphones, and a slightly improved navigation system. Our vehicle was not equipped with this option.
The last bit of the Display Audio with Navigation, Entune, and JBL package is the JBL audio system, which replaces the base six-speaker system with a seven-speaker setup that now includes a powered subwoofer located behind the rear bench seat. This system is loud. I mean shake the change in your cupholders loud. Thumping and rolling bass seems to be this system's strongest attribute, but the audio reproduced isn't what I'd call clean. Quantity of sound is clearly more important than quality here, but if you're into kick-drum-driven rock, 808-heavy hip-hop, or the wub-wub distorted bass drop of electronica, you probably won't mind. You'll need the extra dBs to overpower that TRD Cat-Back Exhaust, which tends to drone rather loudly at highway speeds.
I've already stated that we don't get many pickups in the Car Tech garage, and I'm not really the off-roading type. So the majority of my driving in the Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Series took place on public roads. (Hold onto your hate mail, truck nuts.)
Around the lunar-surfaced, pockmarked roads of San Francisco, the Tacoma's overkill suspension soaked up the harshest of the bumps. However, the ride wasn't Rolls-Royce smooth; there was still enough body movement to have me and my passengers bouncing around the cabin during the roughest bits. However, unlike a passenger car, the Tacoma didn't seem to mind it. There was none of the harshness and crashing that I typically get when hitting a pothole at 45 mph, just a gentle bu-bump.
Flooring the accelerator for a fast run up an on-ramp to highway speeds caused the Traction Control (TCS) light to flash madly as the rear suspension, tuned to soak up bumps with its pliability, struggled to keep the rear wheels and knobby tires planted on the asphalt. Even without the TCS stepping in, I doubt the Tacoma's archaic V-6 was up to the task of a truly fast 0-60 run.
Considering the handling, I'm not sure that I'd actually want too fast a 0-60 run. Piloting the Tacoma is, I imagine, a bit like riding a horse. You make suggestions to it with your reins and heels, and then the beast takes action -- hopefully. There was quite a bit of lag between throttle application and actual seat-of-the-pants results. There are just too many elements between the driver and the road: the automatic transmission has to downshift, the engine has to build the revs, the suspension has to react, and finally you feel the results of a quick stab of the pedal a few beats later. The slowness almost works to the truck's advantage here, as the engine never really gets too far ahead of the suspension.
This isn't to say that the Tacoma gets sloppy when equipped with a full assortment of off-roading gear. The truck's ride is very controlled and its steering is quick enough to scoot through traffic (when in its default 2WD mode; 4WD increased steering effort and turning radius significantly). Then again, it's hardly fair to ask this tall off-roader to perform like a sports car -- that's what the low-riding Tacoma X-Runner is for. No, driving the Baja Series on public roads is all about taking it easy, learning the timing of the truck, and, occasionally, jumping speedbumps and making your own shortcuts by climbing curbs.
The 2012 Toyota Tacoma Crew Cab 4x4 V-6 starts at $27,585. However, our TRD T|X Baja Series adds an additional $3,555 for the TRD Off-Road package's upgrades and $5,015 for the Baja Series suspension, wheels, and catback exhaust. Toyota knocks $650 off of the price to discount the Baja package, but we add that money right back for the Towing package's payload increasing upgrades. Add $40 for daytime running lamps, $50 for all-weather flooring, and $165 for all-weather mats to cover that flooring. Don't forget the Display Audio with Entune and JBL package for $1,930 and an $810 destination charge. As tested, our fully loaded 2012 Toyota Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Series weighs in at $39,150, or a whole lot of money for a pickup.
If you're a soft-roader with few intentions of blazing down an uneven dirt road, leaping over molehills, and climbing over rocks, you can easily skip most of those off-road options and save a small fortune.
|Model||2012 Toyota Tacoma Crew Cab 4x4 V-6|
|Trim||TRD T|X Baja Series|
|Power train||4.0-liter V-6, 5-speed automatic transmissions, selectable 2WD/4WD/4WD-LO with optional locking rear differential|
|EPA fuel economy||16 city mpg, 21 highway mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||n/a|
|Navigation||Available Toyota Entune navigation with Bing destination search and traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Yes, standard|
|Digital audio sources||CD with MP3/WMA, USB/iPod, analog audio input, HD Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming|
|Audio system||Optional JBL 7-speaker premium audio with powered subwoofer|
|Driver aids||Optional rearview camera, Hill Start Assist, Descent Control Assist|
|Price as tested||$39,150|