Bigger is not always better when it comes to trucks.
We tend to be impressed by the big ones, but there are smaller trucks that are often the better choice in certain circumstances.
The Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road is proof that sometimes taking a step down in size it the way to go when you’re shopping for a truck.
Let’s be clear. If you’re planning on hauling a huge trailer full of equipment, or you’re expecting large payloads, then a full-size truck is the way to go.
But that’s not what everyone wants or needs. Sometimes you want the benefits of having a truck while still having a vehicle that doesn’t feel like a barge when it comes time to wedge it into a parking space.
The Toyota Tacoma comes in a variety of flavors, and the TRD Off Road is made for those who plan to have some fun on the weekends. You can choose a long or short bed, double cab or access cab, and two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive versions, although why you’d want a two-wheel drive truck for off-roading is a mystery.
We drove the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4×4 with a double cab and a short bed. It includes 16-inch alloy wheels, off-road tuned suspension and Bilstein shocks, hill start assist, skid plates, and a locking rear differential. The feature that makes it a standout is something called crawl control.
Crawl control works by controlling the brakes and gas so you can focus on steering during challenging off-road conditions. The system uses a variety of sensors to determine what’s happening with each wheel and then adjusts accordingly to slowly edge the truck out of everything from snow to deep sand.
The Tacoma is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 with 278 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque. It’s not fast, but it is competent. Merging into high-speed traffic is not a problem with a smooth 6-speed automatic transmission doing a great job.
It can manage a payload of up to 1,175 pounds and has a tow rating of 6,400 pounds. There are trucks that tow more, but they also cost more. If you don’t need all that extra towing and cargo capacity, why would you want to pay for it?
Driving the Tacoma is like, well, driving a truck. You will not forget this because it’s still large and somewhat bouncy even though it’s not the biggest truck you can buy. It is, however, much smoother and more manageable than many larger trucks including its big brother, the Tundra.
There is also a major difference between how this handles on a paved road versus how it handles on dirt. It’s made for dirt and those big tires aren’t well-suited to the highway. If this is where you spend most of your time, you may feel some disappointed.
It’s a small trade-off if you are buying the Tacoma for its off-road chops. Let it go on dirt or rocks and it is perfectly at home. You’ll forgive its on-road performance after you’ve had a weekend to go play.
Styling on the Toyota Tacoma is bold and aggressive. There’s no finesse here, which works. Knobs are big enough to grab with gloves, there are plenty of cup holders, and storage compartments are large enough to hold all your stuff.
It’s a good-looking interior with fabric-trimmed seats that are 4-way adjustable up front and include lumbar support for the driver. They’re comfortable and wide making it easy to slide in and out, something that matters more for those who are short and have to take that big step up to get inside the Tacoma. Rear seats are less comfortable and not suited to long drives.
There are touches of leather, also standard, which you’ll find on the tilt/telescopic steering wheel and shift lever. There is cruise control and air conditioning with dual-zone automatic climate control as part of a package. Let’s talk packages for a second because there were several on our test Tacoma and they added a chunk to the price.
The Premium and Technology Package ($2,330) adds that dual-zone climate control along with heated front seats, rear parking sonar, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, automatic headlamps, and a moonroof. The V6 Tow Package adds another $650 making it easy to see the price creep up without even trying.
The infotainment options are as diverse as the trim options. Lower trims get a more modest system, while the TRD Off-Road has Entune Premium Audio with navigation and app suite. This is pretty much an everything-you’d-want situation, with a seven-inch high-definitiion touchscreen, AM/FM/CD, USB port, Bluetooth hands-free, Siri Eyes Free, HD Radio, and SiriusXM. There is only one upgraded system above this one, and it adds a JBL audio system.
It’s intuitive and easy to use with a responsive touchscreen along with knobs to control volume and tuning. The screen is within easy reach of both the driver and passenger, and it produces excellent sound quality, even without the JBL upgrade. Pairing it with your devices is a quick process, and there’s even a Qi-compatible charging pad in the center console.
The Toyota Tacoma is not the biggest, most powerful truck you can buy, but if it’s off-road capability you’re after, then the Tacoma hits the bullseye. There are other trucks that are as capable, but they’re monsters like the Ford Raptor and come with equally monstrous price tags.
If you want the versatility of a smaller truck. off-road prowess, and an affordable price, then the 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road should be at the top of your list.
2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road
Base price: $33,730
Destination charge: $900
Price as tested: $37,610
- Off-road capability
- Manageable size
- Range of trims
- On-road handling
- Pricey options packages
- Stiff rear seats