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It's almost difficult to separate the sheetmetal from the mythos for a vehicle with as strong a cult following as the Toyota Tacoma. That reputation has been well-earned over the decades, but with stiffer than ever competition from the likes of the Chevrolet Colorado and the upcoming Ford Ranger, the humble Taco has no time to rest on its laurels.
Fortunately it's still a great truck no matter where you take it, but specifically for buyers whose aspirations entail antics more focused on asphalt than the trail, this TRD Sport version may be the perfect choice.
Toyota offers several flavors of Tacoma, ranging from the base, $25,200 SR and rolling all the way up to the totally bonkers TRD Pro. Sitting below the Pro are the TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road, and the one you choose should depend on what exactly you plan on doing in it.
As its name suggests, the TRD Off-Road is the right choice if your plans begin where the pavement ends. Its Bilstein suspension has been tuned for compliance and its drivetrain configured with a variety of rock-crawling modes to get you up and over just about anything that stands in your way.
The TRD Sport I'm talking about here, however, while still a capable off-roader, has made some concessions for on-road handling. Stiffer suspension makes this model Tacoma more responsive on the asphalt, as do lower-profile 17-inch wheels and tires. Additional bodywork on the nose helps improve aerodynamics in exchange for a slight reduction of approach angle.
That improved aero gives the TRD Sport a theoretical max MPG of 24 on the highway for the 4x2 version of the truck with an automatic transmission. Opt for the 4x4 and that drops to 22 highway, 18 city, but go for the six-speed manual transmission as I had and it drops down one more. My test truck was rated for 21 highway, 17 city and 18 combined. In my rural testing I saw 17.4.
With the $650 towing package, the TRD Sport is capable of pulling up to 6,800 pounds, falling a scant 200 short of the 7,000 pounds the Chevrolet Colorado can manage, but still handily ahead of the 5,000 pounds in the Honda Ridgeline. Sadly, those who choose the manual lose out again here, with Tacoma max towing falling to just 6,400 pounds.
Knowing the TRD Sport was the most road-friendly of the TRD options, I'd expected an engaging, smooth drive. And it is engaging to some degree. That V6 pulls cleanly, is impeccably smooth and sounds respectably nice, too. The lower-profile tires also give the Tacoma relatively good turn-in feel and the six-speed shifter is commendably slick -- though the throws are every bit as long as you'd expect in a truck.
The suspension is still on the stiff side, however, and the truck easily gets unsettled on broken pavement while cornering. The Colorado handily edges the Tacoma in ride quality, with the Ridgeline pulling even further ahead, but those going instead with the TRD Off-Road package will find a softer, though less-responsive, ride.
Acceleration is reasonably brisk and, after Emme's complaints about the six-speed auto in the Tacoma she tested a few years back, I was glad for the manual here. It does make the truck far more engaging to drive and definitely helps that V6 to feel far more responsive. However, given the decrease in both fuel economy and towing, it's still hard to make a case for the three-pedal setup unless you're entirely averse to autos.
The Sport may lack the TRD Off-Road's trick drivetrain modes, but even on a frozen lake the road-focused tires found plenty of grip. You'll be hard pressed to find a real-life scenario the Sport can't get you out of.
My test truck had the so-called Access Cab, which augments the main doors with a pair of half-width suicide doors, providing access to two tiny, uncomfortable seats that are best suited for kids or cargo. The seats do fold up out of the way, but they sadly don't leave a flat floor beneath like you'll find in the back of Honda's Ridgeline. Instead they expose a series of plastic storage cubbies. Having more storage is great, but a flat floor would be even better.
The Access Cab means you get a full six-foot bed here, while the default configuration for the four-door Double Cab is a shorter five-footer. However, the six-foot bed is available there, too, as an option. The bed is not the deepest, but it is very configurable, making it a great place to haul just about anything.
My test truck was outfitted with a set of handy, sliding tie-down cleats on rails (a mere $30 option) as well as the $120 padded bed mat, an accessory that will make it infinitely easier to get out every piece of your next load of gravel. The 120V outlet situated near the tailgate came in particularly handy during a long, cold shoot, letting me recharge batteries while on the go. Literally.
The Tacoma is still making due with Toyota's older, CarPlay-free Entune system and, while it's functionality is basic, it is at least very responsive. The navigation system won't win any awards for graphical clarity nor does the voice recognition system accept much in the way of nuance, but it does at least let you quickly speak an address and start going. The integrated Qi wireless charger means you won't need to plug in to juice up, but curiously the truck makes you manually turn on the charging pad every time you start it up, which does diminish the convenience somewhat.
On the driver assistance front, the Tacoma does offer blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts, plus rear-mounted proximity sensors for parking and of course a rear-view camera. Automatic lights are available as well, but modern niceties like adaptive cruise and lane-keep assist are not available.
You can get into a TRD Sport for as little as $32,390. My truck had a number of desirable options, like the $650 towing package and the $1,510 Premium Technology Package, which adds in all the ADAS the Tacoma has to offer plus dual-zone climate control and some of the most disappointingly tepid seat heaters ever sampled by my backside. Still, it's a package worth adding.
That will get you to about the $35,000 mark, about where you'll probably want to start, but really the sky's the limit with the Tacoma. Toyota's own options catalogue is as thick as an '80s metro phone book, and that doesn't begin to address the aftermarket community, which is robust to say the least.
That's part of the joy of the Tacoma. You can make this thing be whatever you want it to be. Or, at least whatever your budget will allow.
The 2018 Tacoma TRD Sport is not the fastest truck, not the greatest off-road nor most comfortable on it. It doesn't have the greatest towing nor hauling capacity and its in-cabin technology is passable at best. But it's a great all-rounder wrapped up in one of the most identifiable, engaging exteriors on the market. This is a truck with character, and in the modern world of the automobile, character is getting awfully hard to find.