An honest truck with a manual transmission and 4WD

The Toyota Tacoma has been a mainstay in the compact and mid-size pickup segments for more than 30 years. Even before the Tacoma name, the Toyota pickup impressed hard-nosed Americans with innovation, durability, and performance. Those traits continue today with the third-generation truck. And like any proper truck should, Toyota offers the Tacoma with several cab, bed, trim, and drivetrain combinations. Generally speaking, there is a Tacoma for everybody.

If I were a single man who didn’t need room for car seats and kiddos, the Tacoma Access Cab would be a tempting acquisition. I’ve never really been a big fan of extended cab trucks, favoring the roomier crew cab (double cab in Toyota’s case) over the cramped quarters behind the front seats of an Access Cab. However, a week behind the wheel of a 2017 Tacoma Access Cab has changed my mind. There’s enough room for smaller people and plenty of room for groceries. Better still, the Tacoma’s six-speed manual transmission won my heart thanks to its more engaging driving experience over the automatic.

Continue reading for my full thoughts on the 2017 Toyota Tacoma.

Exterior

  • Access Cab has four doors & four seats
  • Optional Tonneau cover keeps cargo dry
  • Optional bed extended is extremely handy
  • Bed-mounted 110-volt power outlet
  • TRD Sport includes faux hood scoop
  • 17-inch alloy wheels
2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport - Driven Exterior
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The TRD Sport trim is basically a street-biased package opposite of the TRD Off-Road option

The third-generation Tacoma debuted for the 2016 model year and has remained unchanged. Nevertheless, its appearance is still fresh and remains the most athletic offering in the current mid-size truck lineup. That is thanks, in part, to the aggressive headlights, chrome grille, bulging fenders, and on the TRD Sport, its faux hood scoop.

The TRD Sport trim is basically a street-biased package opposite of the TRD Off-Road option. The two TRD trims cost the same money but offer different variations on the same theme. While the TRD Off-Road comes with underbody skid plates, all-terrain tires on 16-inch wheels, and a locking rear differential, the TRD Sport rolls on 17-inch wheels with all-season tires, lacks the off-road equipment, and adds the hood scoop and front air dam.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport - Driven Drivetrain
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My tester also has a few optional extras, including the $650 hard tonneau cover and $300 bed extender

My tester also has a few optional extras, including the $650 hard tonneau cover and $300 bed extender. Both proved extremely practical over the week of evaluation. The three-part, hard tonneau cover folds easily for hauling larger items and the bed extended also acts as a cargo divider when flipped into the bed.

I hauled an older, 70-inch projection-style TV in the bed and was able to remove both the tonneau cover and bed extender with ease. The tonneau cover simply requires one 12-mm bolt to be removed and the entire cover lifts off the truck. Built-in buckles and straps secure the three panels together to prevent it from unfolding during removal. The bed extender pulls out of its base when held at a roughly a 45-degree angle.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport - Driven Exterior
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The black vinyl graphic is supposed to emphasize the shape of the hood and scoop while adding some flair to the truck’s overall appearance

The Tacoma’s bed also has tons of tie-down options. The composite bed has D-rings bolted to the floor in all four corners and the slidable bed cleats allow for even more tie-down options. My truck also had the $120 rubber bed mat. This kept things from sliding around and proved especially handy with the TV.

The bed comes standard with a nifty 110-volt power plug for running household equipment, making the Tacoma really handy for tailgating. The bumper also includes the standard four- and seven-pin wiring connectors for trailer connections.

Another interesting – though less functional – option is the $129 hood graphic. The black vinyl graphic is supposed to emphasize the shape of the hood and scoop while adding some flair to the truck’s overall appearance. In practice, I’d have to agree with Toyota’s description; the graphic is kind of neat.

Interior

  • Bright Orange cabin accents
  • Cloth seats have orange contrast stitching
  • Foldable rear jump seats
  • Under-seat storage in back
  • Sliding rear window
  • Qi wireless phone charger
  • 7.0-inch Entune infotainment system
2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport - Driven Interior
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The interior's controls, driver information screen, and Entune system are all typical Toyota

The Tacoma’s interior, like the exterior, hasn’t changed since 2016, but it still looks fresh. Its controls, driver information screen, and Entune system are all typical Toyota, so there are no surprises for anyone familiar with any other Toyota product.

My tester’s black cloth cabin is accented by a fun, orange halo ring around the dashboard and orange contrast stitching in the seats. Even the TRD shift knob has the orange accent.

As for the size, the Access Cab has seating for two up front and two more (small) people in back. The jump seats work great for small kids over short distances or even adults when the situation calls for it, but if hauling more than two people is on the regular agenda, I’d definitely recommend the Double Cab.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport - Driven Interior
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Under the seats are small storage boxes, with the passenger side box housing the tire changing equipment.

When it comes to hauling stuff other than butts, the jump seats quickly fold against the back wall and the headrests fold down, opening up the back window. Under the seats are small storage boxes, with the passenger side box housing the tire changing equipment.

Back up front, the Tacoma’s dash boasts extremely intuitive controls with three knobs for the dual-zone temperature control and fan speed. Three-level seat heaters get hot enough to fry an egg and retain the last-used setting. Down low, buttons for the blind spot monitoring, parking sensor, and Qi wireless phone charger sit by a USB port and 12-volt power port. The 4WD system’s knob sits by the HVAC controls, within easy reach, too, though it’s possible someone could accidentally select 4WD high range when meaning to turn the driver’s side heat up. Owners shouldn’t have that problem after a couple days, though.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport - Driven Interior
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Entune might not be the latest or flashiest infotainment on the market, but it gets the job done

As mentioned, the Entune system is similar to any other Toyota product, though that’s not a bad thing. Entune might not be the latest or flashiest infotainment on the market, but it gets the job done. Knobs make volume and tuning control super easy, and touch-sensitive buttons along the sides of the screen make quick work of navigating between menus.

As for the gauges, the white-on-black font is easy to read and the digital speedometer available in the driver information screen makes it even easier. Steering wheel controls include the five-way button pad for the driver information screen, a button for voice commands, radio volume and tuning, and phone controls for a paired Bluetooth device.

Drivetrain

  • 3.5-liter V-6
  • 278 horsepower at 6,000 rpm
  • 265 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm.
  • Six-speed manual transmission
  • Part-time 4WD with electronic shifting
  • 17 mpg city / 21 mpg hwy / 18 mpg comb.
2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport - Driven Drivetrain
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The Tacoma comes standard with a 159-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder, but the vast majority come with the optional 3.5-liter V-6

The Tacoma comes standard with a 159-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder, but the vast majority come with the optional 3.5-liter V-6. In fact, all the trims above the base SR come with the V-6. The engine uses an innovated D-4S fuel system with both direct and port fuel injection. Toyota uses the old-school port injection to help keep intake valves free of carbon build-up, while the direct injection is used for most of the fuel delivery. Variable valve timing is also included in the mix, as is Toyota’s interesting Otto/Atkinson combustion cycle system.

Basically the engine uses the Atkinson combustion cycle when under light loads, allowing for less fuel usage. When more power is needed, the traditional Otto combustion cycle kicks in and generates the extra oomph. What’s the difference? Well, the two cycles use different timing with opening and closing the overhead valves. The Atkinson cycle delays the intake valve from closing until the piston is already making its upward travel during the compression stroke. This ensures that every drop of fuel is used to its fullest potential. During the Otto cycle, the intake valve is closed before the piston begins rising. While slightly less efficient, the Otto cycle makes more power. Combined with the variable valve timing and lift, the 3.5-liter V-6 can be both a fuel-sipper and power-maker.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport - Driven Drivetrain
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My TRD Sport is EPA-estimated to achieve 17 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, and 18 mpg combined

The result is 278 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 265 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm. And even despite its 4WD and manual transmission, my TRD Sport is EPA-estimated to achieve 17 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, and 18 mpg combined. Sure, those are fantastic numbers, but they would undoubtedly be lower without the advancements inside the engine.

Speaking of that manual transmission, this six-speed unit feels like a traditional truck transmission. Its throws are long and its gear engagement soft. A mildly weighted clutch makes for easy in-town driving without leg cramps and a predictable engagement point makes for less chance for stalls. And though I quickly got used to the long throws, I kept wishing for a short-throw shift kit early in my testing. It probably didn’t help the Tacoma’s case that I had just gotten out of a Honda Civic Type R. Still, the gearbox is perfectly suited for the Tacoma and it made driving that much more fun.

Driving Impressions

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport - Driven Interior
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The steering is tight when in a turn, but there is some on-center vagueness, though no more than what is unusually found in a pickup

Besides the extra fun had thanks to the six-speed manual transmission, the Tacoma is a hoot to drive. Especially when held in the mid-range, the V-6 offers plenty of punch and its optional TRD cat-back exhaust makes for a pleasing auditory experience. The steering is tight when in a turn, but there is some on-center vagueness, though no more than what is unusually found in a pickup. Throttle and braking inputs are commendable, with zero throttle tip-in or grabby initial bite with the brakes. Things just worked smoothly.

Body roll though a turn is certainly present, though I never had the gumption to push the Tacoma hard. Even without trying, the skinny Toyo tires start squealing long before the truck reaches its limits. That’s probably a safe thing. Brake dive is mostly managed, too.

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport - Driven Drivetrain
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Even without trying, the skinny Toyo tires start squealing long before the truck reaches its limits

The truck’s TRD Sport suspension includes MacPherson front struts and control arms up front with a solid axle held in place with leaf springs and shock absorbers out back.

The sprint to 60 mph takes roughly 7.5 seconds, which is perfectly average and fine for a mid-size pickup. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to haul anything with substantial weight or pull a trailer, so I can’t comment on those driving qualities. Still, Toyota says the Tacoma Access Cab V-6 will haul 1,275 pounds in the bed and tow 6,500 pounds with the optional Class-IV towing package.

Pricing

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport - Driven Exterior
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The Toyota Tacoma Starts at $25,200 for the base SR trim in 2018. According to Toyota’s build-and-price website, the 2018 version of my 2017 TRD Sport starts life at $31,895. Adding the optional 4WD moves the price to $33,810. Foregoing the optional six-speed automatic transmission saves $1,370. (Call that a win-win!) The hard tri-fold tonneau cover costs $650 and the Premium Package, which adds dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, and automatic headlights, costs $710. Interestingly, the Premium Package listed for $1,510 in 2017.

Other options on my truck include the $300 bed extender, the $395 paint protection film on the nose, the $120 bed mat, the $90 TRD engine air filter, the $129 hood graphics, the $799 TRD performance exhaust, the $208 carpet floor mats and door sill protector, and the $140 TRD shift knob.

Add in the $940 destination fee, and my Tacoma TRD Sport lists for $37,671.

The Competition

Chevrolet Colorado

2015 Chevrolet Colorado High Resolution Exterior
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The current Chevy Colorado and its corporate cousin, the GMC Canyon, have been around since the 2015 model year. Like the Tacoma, they are offered in an extended and crew cab format with short and long cargo beds. Likewise, they come with a base four-cylinder, though a V-6 is the bread-n-butter engine. GM one-ups Toyota with a four-cylinder turbodiesel, however. Inside, the Colorado’s cabin is roomy and comfortable, while boasting the optional and highly praised 8.0-inch MyLink infotainment system.

As mentioned, the four-cylinder comes standard and is available with a six-speed manual gearbox. The 3.6-liter V-6, however, is only available with the six-speed automatic. The V-6 makes 308 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. The other optional engine, the 2.8-liter Duramax four-cylinder turbodiesel, makes 181 horsepower and a very respectable 369 pound-feet of torque.

Pricing for the Colorado starts at $21,195 for the extended cab, long bed model with rear-wheel drive and the 2.5-liter four-cylinder. A comparable truck with the extended cab and Z71 Off-road package and powered by the V-6 starts at $34,595.

Read our full review on the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado

Nissan Frontier

2016 Nissan Frontier
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If age doesn’t matter to your truck purchase, the Nissan Frontier might work. It’s been around for nearly a decade, yet still offers some competitive features. Its interior is very dated compared to the Tacoma and Colorado, but it’s lower price makes up for the difference. And like the others, it comes standard in an extended cab form and a crew cab is optional.

Power comes from either the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder or the volume-leading 4.0-liter V-6, which makes 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is available, as is a five-speed automatic. Nissan offers several trim lines ranging from fleet spec to well-equipped off-roader.

Prices start at $18,990 and range to upward of $36,000 for the range-topping SL grade. An extended (or King Cab in Nissan speak) with the off-road ready PRO-4X package starts at $33,030.

Read our full review on the 2017 Nissan Frontier

Conclusion

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport - Driven Exterior
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The Toyota Tacoma, even with its smaller Access Cab, proved to be an excellent and fun daily driver thanks to its peppy V-6, six-speed manual transmission, 4WD, and TRD Sport suspension. The handy tonneau cover, bed extender, and cargo tie-down points were very useful during the week and are must-buy accessories in my book.

For those not wanting to hit the trail or tempt fate with getting stuck, the TRD Sport is a great street-biased alternative to the TRD Off-Road. While I’d be more included to get the TRD Off-Road, I know TRD Sport would handle 95 percent of the off-road I’d actually ever do. And the rest of the time, I wouldn’t suffer with loud tire growl and the extra weight I’d be lugging around with skid plates and rear differential locks. Still, it’s great to see Toyota offer both TRD packages at the same price. That allows customers to pick the truck that’s right for them without worrying about the price.

All told, it’s completely understandable why the Toyota Tacoma outsells the Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Nissan Frontier by a wide margin. Though the other trucks are highly competitive, the Tacoma just does so much really well. For that, it earns a gold star in my book.

  • Leave it
    • * Could be more fuel efficenct
    • * Cramped back seat for adults
    • * Options start to add up
What do you think?
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