Test : 2005 Toyota Tacoma
The Toyota Tacoma will overtake the Ford Ranger as the Number One selling compact pickup in the United States in 2005. It just missed beating the perennial segment leader by fewer than 4000 units in the final 2004 tally. In 2003 the difference was 55,000 units. Toyota didn’t really narrow the gap on its own. The Ranger simply imploded as Ford spent more time, money and marketing efforts on the new F-150. But Toyota is doing everything right with its downsized pickups, and it’s unlikely any competitive compact or midsize pickup will catch up with it soon.
Toyota offers a full line—18 different configuration and trim level combinations—of the Tacoma, which was completely redesigned for 2005 (see more in the PUTC First Look). Following the current industry trend of larger, more powerful pickups, the 2005 Double Cab and new X-Runner are getting most of the ink as the press reviews the 8th generation Tacoma. But the heart of its lineup has to be the 4-wheel-drive Access Cab. Toyota officials are quick to praise the Tacoma for drawing large numbers of young buyers to the marque, mostly because the truck has a tough, rugged and youthful image. The 4x4 Access Cab is arguably the backbone of that persona.
I certainly have a soft spot in my heart for this model. While driving a Speedway Blue Access Cab 4x4 to Las Vegas, memories of my early tests in Toyota pickups came to mind as I passed some favorite off-road areas. In fact, I was testing Toyota 4x4 pickups in the dirt when they still had solid front axles and 22R 4-cylinder engines. The big changes came in the late ‘80s when Toyota (it wasn’t called Tacoma until 1995) went to a torsion-bar independent front suspension, V6 engine and shift-on-fly transfer case. You must remember, these were huge improvements for compact trucks in those days. Straight axles and manual-locking front hubs were the norm. On more than one occasion I found myself stuck in the middle of a water crossing, crawling out of the cab and over the hood so I could engage the hubs without getting my new Reeboks wet.
On another memorable trip through the water, I got an ’89 Toyota stuck while crawling over pillow-sized boulders in a rocky river bed that was swollen with winter rains. But I couldn’t back up because three of the splash guards were trapped between the tires and the boulders, killing any hope of traction. I gave the throttle a couple sharp jabs and finally got on top of the rocks. But then the chiding started from my companions when we spotted two mud flaps floating down the stream. I had ripped them right off the fenders with a mighty tug from the 3.0-liter, 150-horsepower 3VZ-E engine.
Now the Tacoma has a 4.0-liter V6 engine rated at 245 horsepower. The 5-speed manual transmission morphed into a 6-speed. The shift-on-the-fly transfer case is controlled with a rotary switch on the dash instead of a floor-mounted shifter. Coil springs have replaced the torsion bars. For 4x4 fans, Toyota Racing Development (TRD) in now in charge of the dedicated off-road package for the Tacoma. Besides beefing up the suspension with different springs and Bilstein shock absorbers, the Tacoma receives a locking rear differential, skid plates, tow hook, alloy wheels, BFG tires, supplemental oil coolers and tow hitch in addition to a few convenience and appearance upgrades.