with sports-car abilities have always intrigued me since I drove the Archer
Brothers’ Jeep Comanche at Willow Springs in the early ‘90s.
The truck was a top threat in the SCCA Racetruck Challenge road-racing
series that had started about three years earlier. “They handle
better than a Vette,” said Bobby Archer, holding the door open for
me as I squeezed into the OMP seat and adjusted my helmet. After a few
laps I couldn’t really disagree with the handling in the turns but
the wimpy 4-cylinder engine certainly would not have kept pace with the
Vette over the entire 2.5-mile course.
It was an
eye-opening introduction to the road-hugging potential of compact pickups
when fitted with proper equipment and racing tires. I later ran stock
and modified compact pickups in a few SCCA Pro Solo and Solo II events
on the West Coast as part of some other story projects. It was fun but
not exhilarating as the horsepower just wasn’t there except for
the GMC Syclone, which if not for the frustrating turbo lag coming out
of the turns and the gutless automatic transmission would have been a
real threat to a few popular sports cars of the day.
compact trucks had so much potential then that the S-10 might become as
popular as a Camaro for hot rodding. It was inexpensive, rugged and a
small-block V8 swap took so little effort. But fullsize trucks became
all the rage that decade and used S-10s are hauling lawn-care equipment
With those experiences
in mind, I eagerly took delivery of a 2005 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner for
a week’s test drive. Replacing the S-Runner model, the X-Runner
features a sport-tuned chassis, a spirited 4.0-liter V6 engine and a new
6-speed manual transmission. I briefly reviewed the X-Runner as part of
the Tacoma First Drive last year but only drove it on one outing in a
very restrictive setting. Now I’ve had the opportunity to drive
it on twisty canyon roads and open highways.
comes only in a 2-wheel-drive Access Cab configuration. Base MSRP is just
over $23,000 and there are only a handful of dealer-installed options.
Just three colors are offered: black, red and blue. Toyota says production
will be limited to 3500 units.
Toyota says it used
the Nissan 350Z as a benchmark for the X-Runner’s handling performance.
“I wanted it to out-perform not only all competitive sport trucks
but also many sports cars,” said Yuichiro Obu, chief engineer on
the Tacoma project at the vehicle’s introduction to the press last
year. “During extensive testing, the X-Runner’s road-holding
ability was measured in excess of 0.9g, which is better than the Z.”
I would never bet
against the Z in a road race, especially considering it weighs 400 pounds
less than the X-Runner and sports 55 more ponies under the hood. But the
X-Runner does handle exceptionally well. I found it to be very flat through
the canyon turns and reasonably responsive. Ride quality will be annoying
to those who don’t appreciate agile handling but few will argue
with the sports-car steering feel.