Is this the world’s toughest pickup?

Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge sewed up the full-size pickup truck market long, long ago, and the American manufacturers’ expertise in that arena has never been disputed. When it comes to smaller trucks, however, that’s Toyota’s market, and it has been ever since the first indestructible Hilux was bolted together in 1964. Like the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado, Toyota’s Tacoma carries on a long and proud tradition of reliable, hard-working pickup trucks. While there’s been some argument as to if Toyota’s full-size Tundra is a success or not, the Tacoma has remained a perennial best-seller.

For 2016, the Tacoma gets a through update, with new styling and a new V6 engine. With new mid-size pickups from Chevrolet/GMC and Ford talking seriously about bringing the Ranger back, the reskin couldn’t be better-timed. The updated Tacoma hasn’t lost its edge or its muscle, and adventure is encouraged—to the point that Toyota installs a standard GoPro mounting point on the windshield near the rearview mirror.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2016 Toyota Tacoma.

Exterior

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All of the hallmarks of a modern truck-with-a-capital-T are in place on the new Tacoma: oversized hexagonal grille shaped to help frame a familiar corporate face, massive fender flares and power-domed hood, and an aerodynamic but bulky front bumper. It’s no surprise that it was inspired by desert-racing trucks. The mirrors are large enough for towing, and the door handles are chunky and easy to open even while wearing work gloves. At the rear, the "Tacoma"-stamped tailgate is lockable and has shocks for easy raising and lowering.

Strength and efficiency are enhanced by the bed, which has lightweight outer panels and a dent-resistant SMC composite inner.

Body styles include the extended Access Cab and four-door Double Cab. Between the two cab sizes, two bed lengths and two- and four-wheel drive models, there are a total of 29 different configurations available. A high-riding stance on 4x4 models is a Tacoma signature. Strength and efficiency are enhanced by the bed, which has lightweight outer panels and a dent-resistant SMC composite inner. Cool new colors include “Inferno” orange and a surprisingly handsome beige called “Quicksand.” Though billed as a mid-size truck, the Tacoma’s exterior dimensions are close to full-size.

Accessories make the truck, so the Tacoma has quite a few of them available. Toyota offers a three-piece lockable tonneau cover for the first time, as well as an accessory bike rack, cargo divider, a 120V power point and mini-tie-down cleats.

Interior

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It’s on the inside that the Tacoma’s “mid-size” pickup nature is more obvious. Again in keeping with the model’s history, the cabin is cozy, with a high floor and a low roof resulting in a legs-out driving position, especially for taller drivers. Visibility is good. The TRD packages are dressed up with an orange-accented black interior. A cool Qi wireless charging pad lives in the center console.

Toyota redesigned the Tacoma’s dash using some of the better aspects of the larger Tundra’s interior layout, including a bold center stack housing a decent-sized dash touchscreen to control the Entune audio system and other functions. Ancillary knobs are arranged in a horizontal rank below it; it’s a very businesslike layout. The rear seats are more complicated to fold than the single-lever action of other trucks, but provide reasonable interior height once out of the way.

Dual-zone climate control, heated seats and a premium JBL audio system are available.

Drivetrain

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V8 power is about the only significant thing the Tacoma gives up to full-size pickups, and the new 3.5 liter V6 ensures that it’s not a tremendous sacrifice. This operates on the more efficient Atkinson cycle, which is usually found in the gasoline component of hybrids, and produces 278 horsepower. It’s a high-tech engine, utilizing a combination of port and direct fuel injection, as well as variable valve timing. It’s a good match to this truck, which isn’t particularly small, and the Tacoma moves out nicely. Fully loaded in a crew cab 4x4, the V6 can be a little fuelish, topping out at 21 mpg.

It's a high-tech engine, utilizing a combination of port and direct fuel injection, as well as variable valve timing.

Toyota’s faithful 2.7 liter four-cylinder is also available. It produces 159 horsepower and features fuel-saving variable valve timing. The Tacoma’s still a truck, though, and even the four-cylinder’s fuel economy is less than respectable at 19/23. A five-speed manual is available with the four-cylinder, and a six-speed with the V6. Both engines can be had with a six-speed automatic as well. Properly equipped, the Tacoma will tow up to 6,800 pounds.

The available four-wheel drive system is part-time, with an electronic transfer case and standard limited-slip rear end.

The Tacoma’s suspension is properly truckish and confident. Toyota’s done a good job of distilling the Tacoma’s toughness and reliability into the road feel, and this truck doesn’t ride like a car. That’s not what truck buyers are looking for, after all. A responsive double wishbone suspension is used up front, with a live axle located by coil springs at the rear. The TRD Off-Road package adds a more aggressive stance and Bilstein shocks. On pavement, the Tacoma bobs and ducks more than a car or crossover, which is to be expected. The steering is communicative but it’s easy to forget how large this truck is, until the time comes to squeeze it into a parking spot.

The Tacoma has inherited a number of off-roading aids from the 4Runner SUV, including a hill-start assist, multi-terrain stability control, and a crawl-control system that uses the throttle and brake to keep the Tacoma moving through rough terrain at 1-5 mph, allowing the driver to focus solely on steering.

Safety

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IIHS hasn’t tested the 2016 Tacoma yet, but the 2015 model rates “good” in all categories except roof strength, which is rated as “marginal.” Interestingly, NHTSA rates the 2016 Tacoma four stars for rollover protection. Standard safety equipment includes front and side airbags, a front-to-rear head curtain airbag and seat-mounted torso airbags for front passengers. Stability control, anti-lock brakes and daytime running lights are also standard. A blind spot monitor with a rear cross-traffic alert is available. A trailer-sway control is also available.

Pricing

The Tacoma is available in five trim levels. The entry-level SR is pitched as a work truck; step up to the SR5 and things begin to look more like a personal pickup truck should. The TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road are, as their names suggest, road and off-road versions of the Tacoma, and the top of the line Limited includes all of the luxury options. Pricing starts at $23,300 for a four-cylinder Access Cab with two-wheel drive, and ranges up to $37,820 for the range-topping Limited Double Cab 4x4 with an automatic transmission.

Competition

Chevrolet Colorado

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The Colorado and its virtual twin, the GMC Canyon, underwent a ground-up redesign in 2015, emerging larger, more powerful and with a stronger visual link to their full-size counterparts. The Colorado goes diesel for 2016, with a 2.8 liter diesel engine that will tow up to 7700 pounds.

Read our full review on the Chevrolet Colorado here.

Nissan Frontier

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The versatile Frontier lineup carries Nissan’s tough-truck torch. Four- and six-cylinder models are available, and the Bilstein shock-equipped Frontier Desert Runner is a high-stepping off-roader just like the classic Datsun pickups of the 1980s. The Frontier was one of the first compact pickups to offer a crew cab and a full-size bed.

Read our full review on the Nissan Frontier here.

Conclusion

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It seemed like the Tacoma was beginning to soften in recent years, a trend that worried fans of the venerable nameplate. The new Tacoma, however, pulls no punches in this return to its hard-bitten roots. It’s more capable, with sensible technology and the interior and exterior have been upgraded to reflect this fact. With the new Chevrolet Colorado on the scene and Ford’s Ranger rumored to be making a comeback, the Tacoma’s going to have to be ready.

  • Leave it
    • Five-foot bed is too short for most truck-like tasks
    • Legs-out driving position
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