2003 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner Double Cab 4x2 V6 - Review


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SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

Toyota's compact pickups have been the standard by which all others are judged since the genre achieved popularity in the 1970s. And, while compact pickups seem to be falling from favor with some manufacturers, Toyota still has a strong commitment. The Tacoma line is responsible for nearly ten percent of Toyota's American sales. Compact pickups may not be flashy, trendy items, but they still fill the bill for many people.

One reason for the Tacoma's popularity is choice. Like the full- size pickups that are the best-selling vehicles in this country, the Tacoma line gives customers plenty to choose from. There are three cab configurations - standard, extended ``Xtracab'' with rear jump seats, and the four-door Double Cab. Drivetrains are 4x2, 4x4, and the PreRunner, which puts two-wheel drive into an increased- clearance 4x4 chassis and body. Standard cabs get a four-cylinder engine, either a 142-hp 2.4-liter for the 4x2 or a 150-hp 2.7-liter for the others. Xtracabs are available with the 2.7 four or a 190-hp 3.4- liter V6, while Double Cabs are offered in PreRunner trim with the 2.7 four or the V6 or 4x4 with the V6. All in all, there are 17 varieties of Tacoma available.

Forty percent of Tacomas sold are 4x4s. But a third are PreRunners, with the Double Cab V6 the most popular PreRunner. The Double Cab also accounts for a third of total Tacoma sales. Crew cab versions of Toyota compact pickups have long been a staple in many overseas markets, but the Double Cab is different and was developed exclusively for the American market. I've just spent a week with a Double Cab V6 PreRunner and am not at all surprised by its success. It's the best combination of compact car with compact truck I've seen yet, matching the refinement expected from Toyota with versatility, practicality, and comfort. Think of it as a family car with a huge trunk and the ability to go places that few family cars should go.

APPEARANCE: As it has been since its debut in mid-1998, the PreRunner is a 4x4 Tacoma without the 4x4 hardware. It shares the 4x4's high stance and big-tire brawny look. ``Double Cab'' is Toyota's term for four full door crew cab, and it looks exactly like you would expect a crew cab Tacoma to look. At 202.9 inches, the Tacoma Double Cab is the same length as the Xtracab model. The longer cab means a shorter bed, in this case 61 inches. It's 58 inches wide above the wheel wells, and 39 inches between them. There is more useful space than in some of the other small crew cab pickups and SUV crossovers, and, with ingenuity and use of the optional roof rack, long items can be carried.

COMFORT: Life if full of compromises, and with the Double Cab the compromise is interior space and a reasonable length for maneuverability over external cargo area. If its cargo bed is shorter, a full rear seat and real-door (not ``access panel'') access mean that four or five people can fit in the same comfort as in a compact sedan like a Corolla. Of course, with the PreRunner's ground clearance, there is a little more of a step when getting in or out. In SR5 trim, it's equal to an uplevel Corolla in appointment, with comfortable manually-adjustable front bucket seats and a split- folding rear bench. Fold the rear seat for access to the tools and jack, or for secure inside storage. Interior styling is more functional than fancy, but that fits it mission well. This versatile vehicle can do the job for family transportation, recreation, and work.

SAFETY: All 2003 Tacomas have dual front airbags with a passenger-side cutoff switch, four-wheel antilock brakes, and headrests and three-point safety belts for all outboard seating positions.

ROADABILITY: Take an off-road capable Tacoma 4x4 chassis and, on my test truck, the TRD Off-Road Package suspension kit with heavy-duty springs and shocks, a larger front stabilizer bar, larger wheels and tires, and a locking differential, and ``car-like ride and handling'' will not be in the PreRunner's description. It's unashamedly a truck. Compared to a car, the ride is a little bouncy, but the springs and shocks handle the unsprung weight of the wheels and tires well, and the Double Cab configuration places more weight on the rear axle than the regular or extended cabs, for better traction. With 10 inches of clearance in standard trim, or 11.2 and a locking differential with the Off-Road Package, the PreRunner is capable of using that traction in many off-pavement situations.

PERFORMANCE: With the 190 horsepower and 220lb-ft of torque from Toyota's 3.4-liter V6 engine, power is not a problem. Don't necessarily judge by the specs. Although the power peak is at 4800 rpm and maximum torque is at 3600 rpm, the engine pulls as a truck engine should - strong right from a standstill. This, matched to a very smooth four-speed automatic transmission, makes it ideal for any sort of driving, be it city traffic, highway cruising, or forest road exploring. And if 190 horses aren't enough, a TRD-developed, factory-warranted, and EPA-approved supercharger kit is available to boost output to 260 horsepower. Standard towing capacity for the V6 is 3,500 lbs, or 5,000 lbs with the towing package.

CONCLUSIONS: The Toyota Tacoma Double Cab pickup combines the best features of a compact sedan and a compact pickup.

SPECIFICATIONS 2003 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner Double Cab 4x2 V6

Base Price $ 19,170 Price As Tested $ 24,625
Engine Type dual overhead cam 24-valve V6
Engine Size 3.4 liters / 206 cu. in.
Horsepower 190 @ 4800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 220 @ 3600 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 121.9 in. / 202.9 in. Curb
Weight 3,475 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 18.3
Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded gasoline
Tires P265/70 TR16 BF
Goodrich Rugged Trail T/A
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone with coil springs / solid axle with leaf springs
Ground clearance 11.2 inches
Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17 / 20 / 18 0 to 60 mph est 10 sec Towing capacity 3,500 lbs

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Roof Rack $ 220
Convenience package - includes: power windows, doorlocks, keyless entry, glove box and front personal lamps, cruise control, sliding rear window with privacy glass $ 1,650
Rear seat back cargo net $ 20
Running boards & mudguards $ 315
SR5 & chrome package - includes: chrome-plated rear bumper, tach & trip meters, AM/FM/cass/CD 6-speaker audio, air conditioning, digital clock $ 1,505
TRD Offroad package - includes: offroad suspension, P265/70R16 BF Goodrich tires, 16" alloy wheels, overfenders, center console box, differential lock $ 1,170 Carpet floor mats $ 87 Bedliner $ 299 VIP-RS3200 security system $ 249 Delivery charge $ 510 Extra value package MSRP discount ($ 570)

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