By Derek Price
When you’ve got a brand-new truck to show off, there’s no better way to get attention than by painting it bright orange.
I just finished a week-long test of the freshly redesigned Toyota Tacoma pickup, and at times I had trouble seeing past its pumpkin-colored body. Toyota calls the hue “Inferno,” and it does a great job shouting to the world that this truck is new, different and just a little bit wild.
Even in more muted colors — my personal favorite being Quicksand, a light tan that makes it look like a war machine from Desert Storm — the Tacoma has a swagger about it that’s refreshing to see after going far too long without a major design update.
Well, that drought is over. The all-new Tacoma is flooded with updates for 2016.
A tougher-looking body is an important part of that, giving it a more chiseled, muscular style that a modern truck needs to stand out. Big, strong wheel flares with giant gaps above the tires make it look ready for off-road adventures, with plenty of space for the wheel to travel over rocks and dirt.
And the Tacoma backs it up with great off-pavement performance, particularly in the TRD Off-Road model I tested. It not only has the hardware to do the job, with Bilstein shocks that are turned for the trails, but also some off-road brains built in.
My test truck came with electronics that reminded me of some hyper-expensive Range Rovers I’ve driven: Multi-Terrain Select that adjusts wheel spin for loose rock, mud or sand, along with Crawl Control to help you navigate extreme inclines safely. When you activate crawl mode, you just set the speed and let the truck do the braking and acceleration for you, so all the driver has to worry about is steering.
All those fancy features pushed my test truck’s price up over $37,000, but if you don’t need the off-road goodies you can get a basic SR-trim model for $23,660.
And if you need extreme capability to go places that would break other trucks, there’s good news. Toyota has announced a TRD Pro model coming next year that looks like a beast, with Kevlar-reinforced tires, aluminum skid plates and a crazy-cool suspension that combines a one-inch lift, Fox Internal Bypass shocks and a special leaf-spring in back, all tuned by TRD.
In my head, the TRD Pro sounds like a smaller Ford Raptor — a truck that’s off-the-charts cool. I’ll look forward to driving it when it hits the market later this year to know for sure.
For now, the everyday Tacoma has plenty of coolness to go around, including a new engine that’s bringing a level of engineering the truck world has never seen before now.
The 3.5-liter V6 is packed with all the tricks that make today’s newest engine designs so powerful and efficient, including both direct and port fuel injection and VVT-iW (Variable Valve Timing with Intelligent Wider Intake). It even uses the Atkinson cycle, just like the Toyota Prius, to increase efficiency.
The result is an engine that makes 278 horsepower — that’s 42 more than last year — and 265 pound-feet of torque, all while earning good marks for fuel economy. The EPA rates it at 19 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway with two-wheel drive.
Toyota still offers an older four-cylinder engine that makes considerably less power and, weirdly, gets worse gas mileage than the V6 (the EPA rates it at just 23 mpg highway with two-wheel drive, according to FuelEconomy.gov).
Translation: If you’re buying this truck, skip the four-banger. You want the V6.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2016 Tacoma 4×4 TRD Off Road Double Cab ($33,730). Options: Premium and technology package ($2,330), V6 tow package ($650). Price as tested (including $900 destination charge): $37,610
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?
A truck that’s legendary for dependability and resale value gets a thorough makeover this year. It looks and drives noticeably better, both on and off-road.