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New Car/Review

The Toyota PreRunner 4X2 V-6 Xtracab, a 4X2 that Can

by Larry Weitzman


This is my second time around with a Toyota Tacoma. But this time I wanted to test a two wheel drive with an automatic instead of a 4X4, 5 speed manual. My ride this week was a Tacoma PreRunner with TRD (Toyota Racing Development) equipment.

PreRunner gets it name from Ivan "Ironman" Stewart the legendary off road racer. Before every race, Ironman would pre-run the course at least once to learn every twist and turn. Stewart called it prerunning.

Designed to be a "tweener", the PreRunner is not a 4X4, but it is certainly more capable than the ordinary 4X2. How does Toyota do it?. First, the PreRunner is given the same high ground clearance and stance of the 4X4 with heavier duty off road suspension and gas filled shocks. Second, the PreRunner gets the 4X4's larger front disc/rear drum brakes with its bigger brake booster. Full ABS is also made an option.

Then they make available the more serious TRD suspension with its Bilstein gas shocks, progressive-rate front coil springs and rear leaf springs, larger front stabilizer bar, huge 31X10.5R15 Goodyears, great looking 15X7 alloy wheels, black fender flares and the most important locking rear differential.

PreRunners come with only two engine choices and one transmission, the four speed electronically controlled automatic. The base engine is a 2.7L DOHC, 16 valve, inline four that puts out 150 hp at 4,800 rpm and 177 lb ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. The engine in my test vehicle was the super smooth 3.4L DOHC, 24 valve, V-6. It manufacturers a strong 190 hp at 4,800 rpm and 220 lb ft of torque at 3,600 rpm.

Even though coupled to an automatic tranny, the Xtra Cab PreRunner gets down the road. Accelerating from 0-60 required only 8.9 seconds. Passing times were also quick, with 50-70 taking only 5.5 seconds and only 8.6 seconds of elapsed time in ascending a steep grade. In comparing these times to the TRD 4X4 I tested back in July 98, the automatic 4X2 is slightly slower by less than half a second in each category, even though the 4X4 with the five speed manual carries a weight penalty of 250 pounds. This is one terrific V-6.

The electronically controlled transmission performed as flawlessly as the wonderful 24 valve V-6. Shifts under normal driving were very smooth. Under harder driving shifts became crisper and quicker, never jerky. Down shifts were instantaneous.

The electronic control allows for two shift programs, one for aggressive driving and another for more normal. It is controlled by a small button on the floor mounted shifter.

Truckin' is supposed to be fun and in that respect the PreRunner will satisfy all but the individual who absolutely needs to have all four wheels driven. The PreRunner comes with the exact same ground clearance as the 4X4 at 11.0 inches and 12.4 inches with the TRD package or the 31X10.5 Goodyears. With clearance like that you can traverse some pretty rugged terrain or rocks. A sort of mini monster truck.

The robust front suspension is beefy independent double wishbone with coil springs and a large stabilizer bar. The rear set up is a live axle, progressive leaf springs and staggered gas filled shocks. Staggering the shocks helps prevent axle tramp.

Since 4X2's ride less firmly than four by fours, Ponderosa Road was actually tolerable. Bumps in the corners didn't upset the rear end near as much and the washboard surface was sufficiently subdued to leave my dental work intact. The highway ride was very smooth on asphalt and reasonably smooth on concrete. Expansion joint interference was minimal.

In the twisties of Green Valley and Bass Lake Road, the firmer TRD suspension kept the PreRunner in balance as I attacked corners confidently and easily. The handling is biased to more sporting than not. This is not a couch potato truck.

Power assisted rack and pinion steering is standard with the PreRunner. It required sufficient effort for sport truck road feel without overtaxing your biceps.

But this truck is about doing it in the dirt (not too rough) and that's where the locking rear axle comes into play. On gravel and dirt secondary roads it tracked true and straight never loosing its grip. When snow, ice or mud became a problem for traction, I had no fear of having to call AAA. Besides, my cell phone was out of range anyway. I simply pushed the locking button on the left side of the dash to electronically lock the rear axle (an annunciator light on the dash lets you know it's engaged) and the PreRunner just pulled itself right out of the muck. Pulling a boat (up to 5,000 pounds) up a slippery launch ramp would be a piece of cake.

The locking axle (when locked up) transfers power to each rear wheel equally. Normal differentials transfer power to the wheel with the least grip. With the locker, each wheel receives equal torque, and in most cases that is all that is necessary to get the vehicle moving. The owners manual warns the user that when using the locker, speed should not exceed 5 mph and should not be used during sharp turning as the differential is locked out which will not allow the rear wheels to turn at the "different(ial)" speeds required in a turn (the outer wheel will always turn faster because of the larger radius) which will cause among other things premature tire wear and scuffing.

On the inside, the TRD is all business, if not slightly dated. My test vehicle had the optional clothed faced bucket seats ($75) with center console box. They were not as comfortable as I would like. They were a little on the low side, not a problem in of itself, but the problem was compounded by a lack of support and a bench like quality. They certainly looked better than they sat. There is a Limited interior available on the 4X4 which will compete in comfort and style with the best trucks, but it is unavailable in this model.

The rear part of the Xtra Cab provides a shelf with two forward facing padded perches and backs. It is actually large enough for an adult and quite roomy for children. It has a unique flip up cupholder, but when in use the right rear seating area becomes hard to use.

The dash is straightforward, with a large tach and speedo left and right with flanking temp and fuel gauges. The center portion of the dash, which is integrated with the center console, contains the simple to use HVAC controls with large well identified rotary knobs. Below is the fine sounding stereo with cassette.

The center console has four cupholders surrounding the automatic transmission floor shifter. A nice size armrest/storage box finishes off the interior. There is a dash mounted switch with indicator light to turn off the passenger airbag.

Value is relative and the Toyota reputation of legendary quality needs to be considered when laying your money down. Toyota backs this reputation with a standard three year/36,000 mile comprehensive bumper to bumper warranty plus a five year/60,000 mile power train warranty.

This PreRunner had a list price of $18,538 plus $420 for destination. My test vehicle had only five options, cloth bucket seats over the standard bench ($75 and worth every penny), power windows and locks ($470 and almost a necessity), the TRD package of suspension upgrades and the important locking axle ($1590), carpeted floor mats ($69) and a nifty under the rail bedliner (a good value at $299). The total was $21,461, but Toyota offers an extra value package discount of $1,125 bring the sticker price down to a more reasonable $20,336.

There are three more options that are worth considering. ABS brakes at $590, the 6 disc CD changer for $575 and speed control listing for $250.

The base price on the 2.7L four cylinder PreRunner is $17,608, a $930 savings over the V-6. Although the 2.7L four is no slouch and registers high on the torque meter, the V-6 is such an absolute jewel of an engine, it would be hard not to pony up the extra cash.

Other Toyota trucks start at $12,698 to a maximum of about $28,000 for a fully loaded, Limited 4X4.

Thompson's Toyota on Main Street has a large selection of these great trucks for sampling and maybe a little "prerunning". This very capable unit will fool alot of mudders when you go where ordinary 4X2's fear to tread.


Test Truck                               $20,336
Price Range                              $12,698 to about $28,000

                                         2.7L,DOHC,16 valve inline 4 
                                         150 hp @ 4,800 rpm 177 lb-ft 
                                         of torque @ 4,000 rpm 3.4L,DOHC, 
                                         24 Valve V-6 190 hp @ 4,800 
                                         rpm 220 lb-ft of torque @ 3,600 rpm

front engine
all wheel drive


4 speed electronically
controlled automatic

Other models
5 speed manual standard,
4 speed automatic optional

Longitudinal front engine,
rear wheel drive, locking axle


Wheelbase                                  103.3 (std. cab0, 121.9. (Xtracab)
Length                                     183.8    202.3 
Width                                      66.5
Height (with TRD tires)                    68.7     68.
Ground Clearance                           12.0     12.4
Curb Weight                                3,035 (4 cyl)  3,280  (V-6)
Tow Capacity                               Up to 5,000 pounds
GVWR                                       5,104             5,104
Fuel Capacity                              18.0 gallons

0-60                                       8.9  seconds
50-70                                      5.5  seconds
50-70 up hill                              8.6  seconds
Top Speed                                  More than sufficient
Fuel Econ                                  EPA 19/23 city/highway,
                                           my estimate is 18-21 in El Dorado County and 23 plus on the highway at legal speeds