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2011 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner Review - Late Production

2011 Toyota Tacoma
	PreRunner (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner PreRunner

FYI: 2011 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner Comparisons, Specs and Prices

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Of all segments in the car and light truck market in the US one of the weakest is what are sometimes called “compact” pickups. Some, like the Nissan Frontier and its derivative Suzuki Equator, are a bit more like mid-sized. Others include Chevy Colorado, Ford Ranger (due to go away soon, maybe not to be replaced) and Dodge Dakota.

The differential in cost, efficiency and utility between these smaller trucks and their full-size rivals is not great. As a result many buyers opt for the bigger, more macho trucks - hence fewer customers to go around in this genre. As fuel prices rise that dynamic may change.

This week we are testing what some say is the leader of this pack, the Toyota Tacoma PreRunner (in this case in the “Access Cab” configuration) which comes in either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Our rear-wheel drive tester, starting at $21,315, is about the middle of the Tacoma’s range as defined by the bottom-of-the-line Basic truck at $16,365 and the top-of-the-line X-Runner starting at $25, 735. You can easily option the X-Runner to over 30 grand if you want.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Our pretty Speedway Blue Tacoma PreRunner Access Cab shows a base price of $21,315. This one has a $740 premium audio system, 16-inch alloy wheels worth $400, daytime running lights at $40, the $2,155 Extra Value Package (which includes a bunch of stuff standard on many cars today like power mirrors, cruise control, variable speed wipers, dual sun visors along with a bunch of other upgrades) a $119 bed mat, floor mats and sill protector costing $179, a $29 first aid kit and a superfluous running board at $369. With the $810 delivery charge, and what is apparently a temporary discount on the Extra Value Package worth nearly $1,000 our bottom line is $25,213. Included in the Value Package, by the way, is a handy, high-res back up camera.

This current Tacoma is just the second generation of this full-frame truck, the original having been introduced in 1995 and the update in 2005. So, Toyota has gotten lots of mileage (pun intended) out of this truck design. It certainly resembles big brother, Tundra, with trucky good looks. A meaty profile and vertical grille makes it look poised to haul and tow with the big boys. More on capability later.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The business-like, but reasonably well-appointed, interior is easy to get into and out of with a sill a bit lower than I expected – hence my earlier description of the running board being superfluous. You’d have to be mighty short to need it and it’s mighty shallow besides. I found the controls simple and easy to manage and the gauges adequate for the job. Materials are good, fit and finish good as well. I found nothing inside to either complain about nor rave about.

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The back seat, accessed though a half door, isn’t much good for seating. Perhaps tiny people or midsize pets would be comfortable back there but don’t ask me, or any adult, for that matter, to squeeze into that narrow space or ride those thin seats. The seats seem to be designed as an afterthought being just a flat, padded surface that folds up when released. Beneath the rear seats are latched cubbies where we can hide our smaller stuff.

Power, in this case, comes from a tepid 2.7-liter 4-cylinder making just 159 horsepower and a decent 180 pound-feet of torque. A nice V6 with 236 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque is available and preferable if you have need for substantial hauling or towing. A 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual are available with either engine depending on trim and drive configurations. This smaller engine is certainly adequate for light use and easing around town. It’s rated by the EPA at 19-mpg in the city and 25 on the highway on regular fuel. With a 21.1-gallon fuel tank we have an admirable cruising range of over 500 miles.

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Following traditional truck practice we find a solid axle and leaf springs in the rear with outboard mounted gas shocks. Front suspension is a typical independent, double wishbone setup. Styled 16-inch wheels with P245/75 all terrain tires hide the front disc and rear drum brakes. A full-size spare is mounted under the bed. The frame is made of one-piece rails with eight cross members and fully boxed subframes.

Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds, maximum payload is 1,340 and tongue load is 350 pounds. Curb weight is 3,250 to 3,560 depending on configuration. The bed measures 73.5 inches long by 56.7 inches wide (41.5 inches between the wheel well incursions) and 18 inches deep. The Nissan Frontier is the only one of the genre to exceed these numbers.

In terms of safety, the Tacoma leads the pack. It earned IIHS “Top Safety Pick” and NHTSA 5-Star rating for front and side impact. Front and rear head airbags and dual front side-mounted airbags protect driver and front passenger. It also has all the chassis dynamics we expect like ABS, TC, brake force distribution, etc.

The truck is fully warranted for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the drivetrain is covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles. Free maintenance and roadside assistance is included for the first 2 years or 25,000 miles.

I remember a day when an unloaded pickup truck of any kind would dance the jitterbug over on a bumpy road. That’s not the case anymore as suspensions have gotten ever more sophisticated. I didn’t get a chance this week to test it loaded but drove it all over empty. While it rides firmly as we would expect, it was not unpleasantly rough even on some of our winter-damaged back roads.

In researching the Tacoma I find that most reviewers agree that it leads the pack. The domestic offerings have not been updated in years. The other Japanese competitors can only be had in a V6 so can’t match the mileage. I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve driven some of the others.

In the meantime I’ll just say that this Tacoma would be an easy smaller hauler to live with.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions. All Rights Reserved