Off-road performance has always been a key factor in the Tacoma’s appeal. It’s always been a favorite in the desert and works quite well on mountain trails. All of the improvements to the new model work exceptionally well together. We took a TRD-equipped Access Cab up a ski hill and through a manufactured obstacle course with no problem. We preferred the 6-speed so didn’t get to try out the trick dynamic chassis systems available with the automatic, but Toyota’s expertise in off-road setup is quite apparent with any excursion off pavement.
Toyota didn’t forget the owner who needs a work truck. The Tacoma is the first small truck with a composite inner bed that includes integrated storage compartments. This liner is dent resistant and 10 percent lighter than a steel bed. The cargo box also includes protective rail caps, 2-tier loading, removable tailgate, four adjustable tie-downs and two rear mounted tie-downs. Optional is a 115-volt, 400-watt grounded outlet for power tools. Numerous accessories such as dividers, storage boxes, bike racks and cargo cross bars are available at the dealer. Payload ratings range from 1405 pounds on 2WD regular cab to 1615 pounds on a Pre-Runner Access Cab.
To distinguish the new Tacoma, Toyota designers reinforced the traditional truck grille with rigid bars and developed a 1-piece plastic bumper. The sides received stronger character lines and the rear got a curved tailgate and more integration of the bumper/combination taillamp. PreRunner and 4x4 models have bold overfenders.
The extra interior room is enhanced with a new 3-ring instrument cluster that features all-LED illumination and a new tilt/telescope steering wheel. The seats are larger and come with more comfort features. There are four seating choices but our favorite, as usual, is the Sport with its extra support for off-roading and spirited driving. Toyota also offers plenty of rear under-seat storage in the Access Cab and Double Cab models.
Standard audio equipment includes a CD player, 160-watt amp and six speakers (four in the regular cab). Optional in the Double Cab is a JBL 6-CD changer, 270-watt amp and 8-inch subwoofer with its own 65-watt amp.
Overall first impressions are quite positive with the new Tacoma. I drove five different models on short trips during the press introduction. Toyota’s attention to detail on fit and finish is impeccable. Noise levels were reduced and conversations were much easier to conduct, even with rear-seat passengers. While the X-Runner showed off some ground-hugging potential, I’m still impressed with the off-road prowess of the Tacoma. Expect more coverage of all the different models, especially the Double Cab, as test vehicles become available for full road evaluations.