Nobody buys a Toyota Tacoma to haul a horse trailer. If you’re looking for that, there are better, much more expensive options in the full-size market.
But a lot of Americans buy trucks to haul dirt bikes, snowmobiles and watercraft, and it’s hard to find a truck that handles them than the Tacoma.
Couple that with the 2016 Tacoma TRD Off Road’s unique off-trail ability, and you’ve got a truck that’s hard to beat for all your weekend activities.
Prices and Trims
The most complicated decision you’ll make with the Tacoma is determining the trim level that best suits your needs.
There are 30 — THIRTY — different line items on Toyota’s price list for the Tacoma, encompassing everything from driveline (2WD or 4WD), cab configuration, trim packages, bed length and engine size.
If you’ve decided you want the Tacoma TRD Off Road, then that winnows the list down a bit, but you still have five trucks to choose from, including a 2WD variant, which seems ridiculous to carry the “Off Road” banner on its flanks.
Our test truck comes from line item 7544, the 2016 Tacoma 4×4 TRD Off Road Double Cab V6 with the six-speed automatic transmission. Its base price is $33,730. You’ve still got about four grand to go if you want to reach the top of the Tacoma price list, occupied by the $37,820 Tacoma 4×4 Limited Double Cab V6.
Toyota’s not done yet with the trims, either. There’s a TRD Pro coming for the 2017 model year.
TRD Sport vs. TRD Off Road
Right now, though, the big question for every Tacoma prospect is, “What’s the difference between the TRD Sport and the TRD Off Road?”
Taken together, the two trucks represent about 40 percent of the entire Tacoma market. So what separates the two trucks? It’s not the price. The Sport and the Off Road cost exactly the same, from the top of the price list to the bottom.
There are aesthetic differences between them: The Sport has a prominent hood scoop and an air dam under the front bumper, along with body color fender flares. The Off Road has no scoop, no air dam and black fender flares.
Wheels and tires are different, too. Look for 16-inch wheels with P265/70R16 Goodyear All-Terrain Adventure tires and fat, Kevlar-reinforced sidewalls on the Off Road. The TRD Sport gets 17-inch rollers with P265/65R17 Toyo Open Country tires, with a much less aggressive tread pattern.
Twin-tube shocks damp on-road irregularities well in the TRD Sport, but the TRD Off Road features Bilstein monotube shocks to withstand the rigors of off-pavement adventures.
Everything else that comes with the TRD Off Road is equipment you’d want if you’re going deep into back country. There’s an extra skid plate, a locking rear differential, and a recalibrated traction control system that’s designed to work more effectively on the trail.
The true key to the Off Road trim, though, is CRAWL Control. It makes the Tacoma TRD Off Road the single best off-highway midsize pickup truck built, full stop.
CRAWL Control offers individual wheel power and braking that simply isn’t possible, no matter how skilled an off-road driver you think you are. It’s also incredibly effective at getting you out of deep sand and snow, automatically. The best way to understand its merits is to see it in action:
Safety Feature Availability
Like all manufacturers, Toyota is focused on making its cars and trucks as safe as possible, and it provides a range of advanced safety technology in the Tacoma through the Technology Package.
Along with items like dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, LED daytime running lights and a power sunroof, the Technology Package includes some advanced safety technology: Blind Spot Monitor — which replaces the chrome rear bumper with a color-keyed bumper on the Off Road trim — and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.
This isn’t active cruise control or automatic braking, but both features attempt to alleviate the effects of living with a high-riding pickup truck in traffic.
Trim and Options
The biggest bump in price on our tested Tacoma TRD Off Road was the paint color. It cost an additional $2,980. You’d better LOVE orange.
That requires some explanation: In order to get that wild orange paint — officially known as Inferno, a new color for 2016 — you’re required to select the Premium and Technology Package AND the V6 Tow Package, which add up to almost three grand. Pick a less expressive hue and you can avoid the extra tariff.
All of the V-6-powered Tacomas feature the same 3.5-liter V-6, a solid, tried-and-true engine that offers 278hp and 265 lb.-ft. of torque.
The numbers sound good, but it’s not a neck-snapper, as it is pushing a nearly 4,500-pound truck with a 3.909 rear axle ratio. This works well enough for delivering decent mileage, but softens the initial acceleration.
Tacomas with a V-6 and a manual transmission get a shorter 4.3 axle ratio, but then you lose the abilities offered by CRAWL Control.
Every V-6-powered Tacoma comes with a six-speed transmission, in your choice of manual or automatic. Our tester came with a six-speed automatic, and it’s a superb transmission, though we would’ve liked that more gutsy rear axle ratio.
The Tacoma is one of the very few vehicles that offers a manual transmission in a broad range of trim configurations. The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon offer one, but it’s only on the bottom of the barrel 2WD, four-cylinder trim.
How’s the handling? We’ll answer that with another question: Do you mean on-road or off-road? On-road, the tires squirm a bit thanks to the tall sidewall and aggressive tread blocks. A pickup with an open bed isn’t going to handle like a sports car in the best of circumstances, but even in TRD Off Road guise, the truck cruises pleasantly enough. In late New England winter and early spring, potholes open up on the edges of the road and the tires do yeoman work soaking them up.
On dirt roads and worse is where the Tacoma TRD Off Road shines. Whatever disadvantages the tall, chunky tires have on the highway become major advantages when the road turns to a double track through the woods. The truck will eat anything you can throw at it.
The lack of an air dam up front provides a 32-degree approach angle, something the early versions of the off-road oriented Colorado and Canyon trims couldn’t come close to without removing 19 bolts that hold the air dam in place.
One of the biggest criticisms among Keyboard Commandos is the Tacoma’s lack of disc brakes in the rear. The Tacoma features drum brakes, which look like a disadvantage on a specification table. But this isn’t a track-day sports car. It’s a pickup truck meant for banging around the back roads. Stopping distance is on par with every other truck in the segment. If you’re determined to have rotors in the rear, then buy another truck, but you won’t have the Tacoma TRD Off Road’s abilities off the highway. We’d vote for those major advantages over the marginal benefit of disc brakes all day long.
You will take a fuel economy hit with a truck like this.
The V-6-powered, four-wheel drive trims offer pretty dismal fuel economy estimates of 19 city/22 highway/20 combined. We hovered right around 18 in a mix of driving, but we did experience an evening and a morning with fresh snow on the road, so we’ll chalk the poor economy up to that.
Chevrolet claims better fuel economy with the Colorado, but it’s doing so with a diesel engine, and it’s only delivering a 3 MPG improvement on the combined figure.
The biggest improvement for the 2016 model year was the Tacoma’s seating. The last generation pickup’s seats were — in no uncertain terms — horrible. The bucket seats in the front of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma are a major step forward with good bolstering and something approaching comfort.
On the other hand, the Tacoma’s gigantic console — so trendy these days — takes up valuable space in the narrow Tacoma’s front passenger compartment. A split bench with a fold-down armrest might not be as cool as a console-mounted floor shift, but it offers a lot more space in the cabin if you need it.
The rear seats in the Tacoma Double Cab are decent, but unless you’re the age when you still need to be accompanied by a parent to see The Hunger Games, you won’t want to spend a lot of time back there. Headroom is tight and you’re sitting in a bolt upright position that gets tiring after a bit. During the Tacoma preview, I spent 90 minutes in the back seat and wouldn’t want to stay there much longer.
Cargo, Payload and Towing
The inner bed — it’s not a “bedliner,” it’s the actual bed — is “fiber reinforced, sheet-molded composite,” which takes a hellacious beating. In the longbed version, you’ll have 73.7 inches (6.14 feet). In the shortbed, that drops to 60.5 inches (just over five feet).
All Tacomas come with a standard deck rail system, with four adjustable tie-down cleats and four fixed D-Ring tie down points. Like the rest of the trucks in this class, you can’t fit a 4×8 sheet of plywood between the wheel wells, but with a few 2x6s cut to length and stuck in the pockets in the inner bed, you can fit a four-foot sheet of plywood over the wheel wells, as long as you don’t mind it hanging out of the open tailgate.
TRD Sport, TRD Off Road and Limited trims also come with a standard power outlet in the bed. The tailgate is lockable, and damps itself so it doesn’t slam down if you open it with your hands full of two bags of Redimix.
The Colorado and Canyon offer advantages over the Tacoma in work duty. Payload is 1,175 pounds in the Tacoma we drove, which is about 400 pounds short of the Chevy/GMC twins. Maximum towing is 6,400 pounds in our Tacoma’s cab configuration, outgunned by the Colorado by 600 pounds. The question to ask yourself, though, is how much are you towing? A good-sized boat and trailer clocks in at about 5,000 pounds. More than that and you’d want to step up to a bigger, more capable truck with a V-8.
Even in base SR trim, the Tacoma offers a whole lot of standard audio gear, but selecting the TRD Off Road trim gets you to the top of the heap. The leather-wrapped wheel has standard audio and Bluetooth hands-free telephone controls. There’s a Qi-compatable wireless smartphone charger in the console that charges mobile devices via resonant inductive coupling (our Get Smart-era shoe phone still required an outlet and a cable). On the inside of the windshield, Toyota’s proud of a standard GoPro camera mount, which we skipped in favor of suction cup mounts that offer greater vantage points.
The Entune Premium Audio system features a 7-inch high-resolution split screen display that’s easy to navigate and includes the display for the standard backup camera. The tested Tacoma easily paired with mobile devices. Audio equipment includes an AM/FM radio with XM and HD radio, six speakers, an aux-in jack, a USB port. Apple’s Siri integrates with Eyes Free technology.
If you’re in the market for this truck, then you’ve probably known exactly what to expect out of a Tacoma for the last decade. The 2016 edition is a step forward for two reasons – better comfort up front, and the truck’s off-road ability.
Front seat comfort is a push with the Colorado/Canyon twins, but both of them may be outclassed by an upcoming competitor. If the outgoing Honda Ridgeline is any indication, the passenger cabin on the new Ridgeline will probably be light years better.
The off-road ability, though, is where the Tacoma shines. There simply isn’t another midsize pickup truck with this much usable off road prowess, and you need to get into something like the upcoming Ford Raptor or the $51,000 Ram Power Wagon to come anywhere close.
2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road
Base MSRP: $32,100
Price as Tested: $37,610
Premium and Technology Package (with V6 Tow Package) $2,980
Outstanding off-road ability
Better comfort in the front seats
Lower payload and towing capacity than competitive trucks
Rear seat comfort
The $3,000 jump in price for orange paint