By Derek Price
Until last year, mid-size trucks were the red-headed stepchildren of the automotive world. Most of them were completely neglected, going without major updates for a decade or more as their big, pricey, full-size siblings got all the attention.
That changed with the introduction of the Chevy Colorado a year ago. Along with its twin from GMC, the Canyon, it was such a leap above the competition that Motor Trend named it “Truck of the Year,” snubbing the groundbreaking Ford F-150 that normally would have been a shoo-in for the prize.
Now Toyota has gone and made that “Truck of the Year” Colorado look like ancient history.
The Toyota Tacoma pickup gets a long overdue update for 2016 that allows it to leapfrog the lauded twins from General Motors. After driving a 2016 Tacoma and Colorado back-to-back, both on road and off, the redesigned Tacoma stood out as being significantly quieter and slightly better built than the Chevy. Its cabin feels solid and refined, and I didn’t notice a single squeak or rattle even when bouncing over rocky inclines.
In fact, it’s not just quiet by truck standards. It’s quieter than some passenger cars I’ve driven lately.
Given the attention to detail that Toyota’s engineers poured into this truck, the lack of wind and road noise should be no surprise. Small vortex generators sculpted into critical points on the body help to route the wind flow, while sound insulation and acoustic glass keep all but the loudest highway noises out of the cabin.
This truck’s weak point is its base engine, a carryover 2.7-liter four-cylinder that makes just 159 horsepower while earning a highway rating of 23 mpg. I’m a bit perplexed at why Toyota is even offering this engine.
The infinitely better choice is an all-new 3.5-liter V6 that makes tons more power — 278 horses — while also getting better fuel economy. It’s rated for 19 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway, making it the obvious choice for both fuel misers and power freaks.
Toyota took a kitchen-sink approach to designing the new V6 engine, throwing every fresh technology at the project to make it as fuel-efficient as possible. It uses an Atkinson combustion cycle, advanced versions of variable valve timing and intake, along with both direct and port fuel injection.
While the quiet ride is perfect on the pavement, the new Tacoma is beefed up for off-road driving, too. It had no trouble crossing creeks, climbing muddy embankments and crawling up steep, rocky paths during my test in a TRD Off Road model.
The class-exclusive Crawl Control feature is especially nice for letting electronics do the difficult work of descending, climbing and driving across iffy surfaces like sand, rocks and gravel. You simply engage the 4×4 low range, then press a button and turn a knob to set your speed anywhere from 1-5 mph. The brakes and accelerator are controlled automatically, freeing the driver to merely turn the steering wheel when crawling over difficult terrain. It couldn’t be simpler.
Styling is a nice, wonderfully aggressive upgrade over the outgoing Tacoma, both inside and out. I especially like the new body painted in stare-at-me orange or a militaristic tan color that Toyota calls “quicksand.”
Pricing starts at $23,300 for the two-wheel-drive base SR grade and tops out at $37,820 for the 4×4 Limited with leather trim and luxury content.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2016 Tacoma 4×4 TRD Off Road Double Cab V6 6AT ($33,730). Options: None. Price as tested (including $900 destination charge): $34,630
Wheelbase: 127.4 in.
Length: 212.3 in.
Width: 75.2 in.
Height: 70.6 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (278 hp, 265 lb.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 19 city, 24 highway
2016 Toyota Tacoma
Why buy it?
It’s a major improvement over the outgoing, long-in-the-tooth Tacoma. Refinement and strength are both upped in the new design, and it can be outfitted as an impressive off-road machine with Crawl Control and go-anywhere 4×4 capability.