The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Review +VIDEO By Steve Purdy

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Review by Steve Purdy

The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

It was just about a year ago when Toyota invited us to Tacoma, Washington for the Tacoma pickup launch event. This segment leading, mid-size pickup was just redesigned with an emphasis on off-road competence. The company spent a great deal of money and effort developing a truly remarkable off-road experience for us all at a wilderness site in the nearby foothills. We came away impressed with the new Tacoma in all its iterations but, of course, a few days experience is not enough for a thorough review.

Now we have the Tacoma TRD for a weekly review, so we’ll see if our initial impressions hold up. I was thrilled to find that our tester is a bright orange one with six-speed manual transmission and V-6 engine. This truck will be both good lookin’ and fun, I predict.

TRD means “trail rated” and comes with lots of great off-road content including electronically controlled two-speed transfer case, automatic limited-slip differential, special off-road suspension with Bilstein shocks, locking rear differential, skid plates and a few inches extra ground clearance. When redesigning this mid-size pickup the Toyota folks decided to make it the most off-road competent in its class.

Exterior styling and design for the entire Tacoma line got modernized, dressed-up, bolder and more aerodynamic. They say the design goal was to make it look “Bad Ass.” That might be a bit hyperbolic but standard projector beam head lights, a larger trapezoid grille with big Toyota emblem in the center and lots of black accents in the front fascia provide an imposing presence. The front appears higher in the air implying a better break-over angle. Bulging wheel arches and new character lines on the side with slightly narrowed green house and more black trim give it a no-nonsense look. The damped and lockable tailgate with “Tacoma” embossed into its lower panel has a slight top lip – they call it a spoiler - for improved aerodynamics.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Inside we see vast improvement in both design and materials over the outgoing truck. A horizontal theme to the overall design makes the cockpit appear wider. The shape is more complex and stylish but not complicated. The materials used to finish the inside project a quality and attention to detail not seen in the earlier Tacoma. We found the layout of controls and gauges to be logical and easily managed including the updated 7-inch multifunction screen vastly improved over previous iterations. Fabric seats in all but the top model reflect a practical value and represent the least impressive element inside. The top-of-the-line Limited gets real leather seating. Most impressive inside is a level of quietness that surprised us, both on the road and the trails.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

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 this all-new Atkinson Cycle, 278-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 featuring both direct and port injection. This V-6 makes a good 265 pound-feet of torque and comes with an all-new six-speed automatic transmission or the six-speed manual we have in our tester. The exhaust manifold is integrated into the head and they’ve included a self-cleaning system for the injectors. The EPA estimates we’ll get around 20 mpg on the highway and 17 in the city. We managed 18.5 mpg with an evenly mixed driving environment this week. Of course, we were not hauling a load.

Tacoma’s chassis gets more high-strength steel, retuned spring rates and other dynamics but is otherwise unchanged. The skid plates referenced above come standard on the whole line of Tacomas 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.


Tacoma comes in five trim levels, the base SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off Road and Limited. Each trim level gets its own grille design and its own wheels. The TRD Sport and TRD Off Road are priced the same but come with different standard equipment. Two bed lengths and two cab sizes are offered throughout the range. A single cab is no longer offered. Like many other Toyota products Tacoma is entirely designed, tested and manufactured in the U.S.

Our Tacoma TRD Off-Road 4X4 Double Cab shows a starting price of $32,100 and includes content described above plus 5-foot bed with rails, lockable tailgate, keyless entry, fabric seats with lumbar supports for the fronts and other expected content. On this one we also have the Premium and Technology Package, a heavy and fairly awkward but sturdy tri-fold tonneau cover and the V-6 Tow Package. Bottom line on our sticker shows $36,630.

Toyota’s warranty covers the whole truck for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

The TRD required a substantial climb into the cabin. It could use a running board. The door opening is not as tall as I expected, as I had to duck and slide in to the seat. They’ve not made the transition to push-button ignition yet so the key went into the ignition in the old-fashioned way, the manual shifter easily found its way into the palm of my hand also in the old-fashioned way, and off we went jouncing stiffly down our country roads just as we would expect in a competent pickup truck.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Out onto the highway we experienced what is not old-fashioned, and that is a pickup with a cabin as quiet as most sedans. They’ve done a marvelous job of insulating the driver and passengers from the road. And, as an extension of modernism, the gauges, controls and trim have a distinctly upscale look and feel for a truck. Seats are comfortable and the fabric covering appears to be both sturdy and reasonably attractive.

As with any six-speed manual transmission in a pickup, and there are few left if this is not the only one, the shifter offers a relatively long throw with a lot of flex. We can feel the engine torque through the shifter as it squirms with engine revs. First gear is a bit low for typical off-the-line power - a bit low for normal diving. By the end of our week I found it much smoother to roll through a stop using second gear. This V-6 Tacoma has plenty of power and decent acceleration but towing at capacity might not be its forte.

We did not get the opportunity for any serious off-roading this week but the off-road experiences at the launch event in Tacoma, WA solidified our admiration for the Tacoma. Toyota engineers created steep ascent and descent trails and rock crawling opportunities out there in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. And, the access roads to the off-road site offered bumps, dust and protruding rocks. Using the “crawl-control” on the TRD Off Road models we were unstoppable, up, down and over the rocks and even in a sand pit. The high/low range transfer case operated easily. The Toyota folks claimed that the TRD Off Road pickup is as competent as anything but the Jeep Wrangler, and we find no reason to doubt.

Really, my only complaint with the Tacoma was managing the optional tri-fold tonneau cover. Because it is so heavy I struggled to fold it back. Then realizing what I needed to haul was not going to fit unless I took it all the way off, and my pretty wife and I were not strong enough to do that, I went to return it back into its closed position. It somehow got squeehawed and would not seat, until I had struggled even more to straighten it. Now, let me offer the disclaimer that I’ve had no experience whatsoever with other hard tonneaus so cannot say if this one is worse. And, I suppose its weight indicates durability. But, it was sure hard to manage.

With all around good looks, mechanical prowess and Toyota’s expected quality it would be hard to go wrong with this Tacoma TRD.

©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

More Independent Toyota Buyer's Research Data Than Anywhere Else On The Web