2016 Toyota Tacoma (A More Civilized Off-roader) First-Look Review By Steve Purdy +VIDEO
2016 TOYOTA TACOMA
A More Civilized Off-roader.
By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
The Toyota folks brought wave after wave of journalists, bloggers and influencers, along with groups of dealer reps, to the forested hills not far from Tacoma, Washington to experience the new Tacoma pickup. This mid-size truck is thoroughly refreshed and updated with a renewed emphasis on off-road capability. They demonstrated all this by literally building from scratch an extensive off-road park in an abandoned coal mining area in the foothills east of Seattle.
Mid-size pickups sales have not been strong over the past couple decades. Ever more popular SUV and CUVS, and the oft-freshened, full-size pickups offer bottom-end models at comparable prices. These slightly smaller trucks have had trouble competing for buyers, partly because the difference in price was minimal as was the difference in fuel mileage. So, why not just buy the big one?
Let’s take a look at the new Tacoma and see if we think it will be able to grow its niche.
Tacoma is the mid-size pickup most involved in off-road and desert racing. Toyota continues to go after enthusiasts who play intensely with their trucks and to add an exclamation point they’ve added a GoPro mount in the windshield as standard on all five Tacoma models – an inspired marketing move, I contend.
Two powertrains are offered: a carryover 4-cylinder with 5-speed automatic making just 159 horsepower and a modest 180 pound-feet of torque, and an all-new Atkinson Cycle, 278-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 featuring both direct and port injection. The latter makes a good 265 pound-feet of torque and comes with an all-new six-speed automatic transmission. The exhaust manifold is integrated into the head and they’ve included a self-cleaning system for the injectors. A new six-speed manual transmission is still offered with either engine for loyal Tacoma customers who insist on shifting themselves but they expect only about a 5% take rate.
Tacoma’s chassis gets lots more high-strength steel, retuned spring rates and other dynamics but is mostly unchanged. We have lots of protective skid plates standard underneath the whole line of trucks and these also contribute to aerodynamics by smoothing airflow down there. Tacoma engineers have made the controversial decision to continue with drum brakes on the rear while everyone else has gone to discs. They say the drums are entirely competent for all but the most demanding towing needs and they are much less prone to trapping dirt and other stuff to foul the brakes.
Towing capacity is listed at 6,800 pounds for trucks equipped with the trailering option. Payload is 1,620 pounds.
The big news, and the emphasis of our drive experience here in Washington State, is the emphasis the Toyota designers and product planners have put on off-road capability. A new lighter, tougher transfer case and new rear differential for those trucks with four-wheel drive and low range integrates with crawl control and a slate of other stuff to make this easily the best mid-size pickup at off-roading.
The new Tacoma pickups begin arriving at dealers in early September. Prices begin a $23,300 for the SR model and go to $37,820 for the V6 Double Cab Limited. The TRD Sport and TRD Off Road models both start at just over $30,000. Wheels range from 16 to 18 inches and both wheels and grille designs differ with each trim level. Two box lengths are offered.
The target market, we’re told by the Tacoma team, is “young active males”. Women will purchase only about 15% of these trucks.
Now to 2016 Toyota Tacoma Driving Impressions
We stopped for pictures at a lovely and deserted state park along the way where the cloudy skies allowed for soft, even light on our bright blue truck. Parked by itself in this natural setting gave us an opportunity to admire the nicely updated styling details and overall personality of the truck. We hadn’t finished our shoot when a surly park ranger chased us off saying we should be paying a fee for using the park and we should not be shooting it in this deserted no-parking zone.
Mother Nature provided great snacks at every stop as endless acres of wild blackberry patches in full production presented themselves. But, I don’t think I’ve ever seen more tenacious thorns protecting a bush. I snagged plenty of those sweet berries anyway.
Heading back to town we drove the scenic route by Snoqualmie Falls then into the congested urban environment of Issaquah. The whole Seattle area proved to be a good test for a competent, multi-functional truck like the Tacoma. We’ll have a more complete evaluation once we’ve had some more time with it later in the fall. Until then . . . stay tuned.
©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved
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