The 2016 Toyota Tacoma steps up its act in all the ways that attracted current Tacoma owners to their trucks, but few that will pull in a new guard.
The Toyota Tacoma has some of the most rabid loyalists of all the mid-size trucks. They bought more than 180,000 copies last year, twice as many as its nearest competitor. And there’s such a strong following among older Tacomas that they maintain their resale value better than any other truck.
While we’re betting the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon and their soon-available turbodiesel engine will chip into those numbers a bit, Toyota’s response is solid—yet also solidly predictable, and a bit conservative when it comes down to it.
The 2016 Toyota Tacoma isn’t a clean-sheet redesign, but it delivers exactly what those dedicated enthusiasts want. The new Tacoma gets a new cabin structure, new powertrains, a tuned suspension, and an improved feature set—plus cabin improvements that make these trucks significantly quieter inside.
What Toyota hasn’t messed with is the Tacoma’s size and configuration; that’s all essentially the same as last year. While styling on the outside really hasn’t changed much in profile, the hoodline has been propped upward slightly, and the somewhat more assertive, hex-pattern grille looks essentially subbed in from the larger Tundra lineup. Toyota’s smoothed over the previous asymmetrical wheelwell lips but in back given it more of an industrial-chic look with some creasing and the Tacoma name stamped in. Inside, the cabin’s far more detail-oriented, and it has a more horizontal layout, with bezels and finishes that no longer look completely bargain-basement.
As before, the Tacoma comes in Short Bed and Long Bed versions (roughly 5 and 6 feet), with Double Cab and Access Cab styles. Double Cab models pack in a full-size back seat and space for up to five, while Access Cabs have small fold-out seats that are probably more useful as cargo space. The standard cab versions of the Tacoma aren’t coming back.
What has changed is what’s under the hood; and while the 3.5-liter direct-injection V-6 is smaller than last year’s 4.0-liter, it makes 278 horsepower (42 more versus the previous V-6) and 265 pound-feet of torque. That’s a very slight bump down in torque, but this new engine boasts noticeably better passing power and smoothness. With V-6 models you get to choose between a 6-speed manual and a new 6-speed automatic transmission. The automatic is probably our preference here, as its upshifts and downshifts are now nicely damped, with well-spaced gears and quick shifts.
There’s still a base 4-cylinder version of the Tacoma, with a 2.7-liter inline-4 making 159 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque, and paired to automatic or manual 5-speed transmissions. It’s likely that, as with the Tacoma’s predecessor, you should steer away from these models unless you aren’t hauling much of a load or wishing for high-speed passing power. There isn’t much of an incentive mileage-wise either, now that Toyota’s boosted V-6 numbers to as high as 19 mpg city, 24 highway.
Depending on the trim level and options, the 2016 Tacoma can tow up to 6,800 pounds or haul up to 1,620 pounds. That’s fully SAE rated according to the latest testing methodology, Toyota notes. That highest tow rating comes with a package that includes a heavy-duty oil and transmission cooler (with the automatic), a 130-amp alternator (manual models), and Trailer Sway Control.
Off-road potential, however, remains the main attraction for a huge subset of Tacoma buyers. And Toyota's laid out an impressive set of upgrades to the Tacoma's off-roading hardware. This time there’s a new Multi-Terrain Select system operates like similar systems from Ford and Land Rover—and the one in the 4Runner. With it, modes for driving conditions from mud to sand to slick rock alter the Tacoma's throttle and braking to aid in traction. The new Tacoma also adds an electronic limited-slip and locking rear differential, hill-start assist, and crawl control, which takes over the brakes and throttle from 1 to 5 mph in off-road driving, leaving the driver free to steer around obstacles. Combined with excellent sightlines and outward visibility, it’s a trooper off-road in a wide range of conditions.
This pandering to such a defined, dedicated crowd might help explain why not much attention has been paid to the actual cabin amenities. There are some key cabin-comfort items missing from these trucks. You won’t find ventilated seats here—or even power seats—and the driver’s seat doesn’t even adjust for height or tilt. And there’s not a whole lot of headroom with the available moonroof. But ride quality has indeed improved significantly, and this truck handles better than on the road than it has in past iterations.
Five trim levels make up the model line: basic SR, SR5, TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road, and Limited. Touching on the Tacoma's longstanding rep as the go-to truck for outdoor sports, the Tacoma comes standard with a GoPro mount at the rearview mirror. Other new features include an locking, damped tailgate; a four-panel folding tonneau cover; Qi wireless charging; leather; a moonroof; keyless ignition; and dual-zone automatic climate control. On the infotainment front, all models now get improved touchscreen audio, and most models are compatible with a new Scout smartphone-based navigation system.
The new Tacoma has been redeveloped mostly in Michigan, and U.S. Tacoma models will come both from Texas and Mexico.
Both 4- and 6-cylinder models manage respectable fuel economy figures for its class. Automatic, rear-drive, 4-cylinder models earn 19 mpg city, 23 highway, 21 combined; but 4x2 V-6 models beat that, at 19/24/21 mpg. Tacoma 4x4 4-cylinder models get 19/21/20 mpg with a manual gearbox or 19/22/21 with the automatic, while V-6 4x4 Tacomas earn 17/21/19 mpg with the manual or 18/23/21 in automatic form.