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Published: 04/24/2001 - by Miles Cook, Contributor
Another all-in-one, four-door compact pickup has muscled up alongside the Chevy S-10 Crew Cab, Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Dodge Dakota Quad Cab and Nissan Frontier Crew Cab.
Toyota's Tacoma Double Cab is the latest pickup/SUV crossover vehicle to be offered to the American public. Toyota says the Double Cab "...delivers the cargo-hauling capability of a pickup truck, the passenger roominess and comfort of an SUV and the rugged styling that makes a strong 'active lifestyle' statement." Wanting to know how well the Double Cab lives up to these claims and how it compares to the other crew cab compact trucks we've examined, we put one through its paces.
Our Radiant Red test vehicle was packed with all sorts of stuff, which turned its formal name -- Tacoma Double Cab SR-5 PreRunner V6 4x2 -- into a real mouthful. Even if you can't remember that, Toyota's truck has much to recommend it, including the largest Japanese automaker's sterling reputation for making some of the most reliable cars and trucks on the road.
Making pickups for the U.S. market since 1964 (remember the Stout, anyone?) Toyota introduced its sixth generation truck and the Tacoma nameplate in 1995. Designed and built in the states, the Tacoma line has been well received and we like it more than the Nissan Frontier. A few cosmetic changes were done to the Tacoma in 1997 and an Xtracab PreRunner version was brought to market in mid 1998. For 1999, the PreRunner was made available in a Regular Cab model.
The Tacoma PreRunner package was developed in conjunction with Toyota Motorsports' successful desert racing-truck program. Much of Toyota Racing Development's (TRD) suspension tuning and developmental work was done with the assistance of factory hotshoe Ivan "Ironman" Stewart who has won numerous off-road championship titles behind the wheel of a Toyota race truck. Pre-runner is a term that refers to a class of vehicle used to "pre-run" an off-road racecourse in order to save the race vehicle for race day. Often, these pre-runner vehicles are heavily modified two-wheel-drive pickup trucks.
With the Tacoma PreRunner on the market for the past three years, Toyota saw fit to expand its line of compact pickups even further by offering it in Double Cab form. Joining the mind-numbing array of various Tacoma configurations, the Double Cab is unique to the U.S. market. Toyotaspeak for four traditional doors, the Double Cab is offered in standard SR5 and Limited trim levels. Furthermore, the truck's 61.5-inch cargo bed is longer than those of the Nissan Frontier (56.3 inches), Chevy S-10 Crew Cab (55.2 inches) or Ford Explorer Sport Trac (50 inches). Only the Dodge Dakota Quad Cab's bed is slightly longer at 63.1 inches. Though you can't get a bed extender (or cargo cage), such as what's available on the Sport Trac and Frontier, the Tacoma's four large conventional doors do open to full rear seating and a 60/40-split fold-down rear bench, with three-point outboard seatbelts.
Dimensionally, the Tacoma Double Cab and Explorer Sport Trac are comparable in many ways, even though the Ford (which is based on an SUV, not a pickup) has the shortest bed in the class. The main difference is that the Tacoma's longer bed eats into rear-seat legroom. Beginning with overall length, the Toyota and Ford are close at 202.3 and 205.9 inches, respectively. Wheelbases are 121.9 inches for the Toyota -- the same as the Tacoma Xtracab -- and 125.9 inches for the Sport Trac. Front-seat occupants get nearly equal room in both trucks, with the Ford having 42.4 inches of legroom and the Toyota 42.8.
Again, the Toyota's longer bed costs you a little bit with the tighter rear-seat area compared to the Sport Trac. The Tacoma has 33.7 inches of rear-seat legroom compared to the Ford's 37.8 inches. With these numbers in mind, you have to decide which is more important -- rear-seat room or cargo-bed capacity. Obviously, for passengers, the Explorer is a better way to go. Need to carry more stuff and don't want to drive around with the tailgate down as you would have to with the Ford's cargo cage? Then opt for the Toyota. But don't assume the Tacoma's rear seat is a penalty box; two full-sized adults fit just fine. Plus the Toyota's shorter overall length means it's more maneuverable in close quarters.
The Tacoma is available with a number of different option packages. Our truck was equipped with the SR5 chrome package, which includes chrome-plated front and rear bumpers and front grille surround, tilt wheel, intermittent wipers, extensions for the sun visors, white-faced gauges, an AM/FM/cassette/CD player and SR5 badging. Also available is an SR5 color-keyed package, which subs the chrome bumpers and grille surround for color-keyed versions. Finally, there's a Limited Package that adds chrome door handles and chrome power outside mirrors, a front personal lamp in the sun visor, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, sport seats with driver's power lumbar and color-keyed overfenders.
In addition to the four doors, all 4x2 Double Cabs are PreRunners. Ostensibly, a PreRunner provides the rugged look of a 4x4 with the affordability of a two-wheel-drive truck. The PreRunner also shares identical exterior styling with all Tacoma models including a new-for-2001 front fascia with a raised hood and vertical grille, new multi-reflector headlamps and jeweled taillights. While sure, the PreRunner looks like a cool 4x4, it simply doesn't have the capability of a 4x4 truck. We found out the hard way, by getting this machine thoroughly stuck in the sand at an off-highway vehicle area located on California's Pismo Beach. Along with three other jacked-up two-wheel-drive trucks -- a Nissan Frontier Desert Runner, a Ford Ranger Edge and a Mazda B-4000 Dual Sport -- the Toyota had to be pulled out of the sand by a 15-year-old beater Mitsubishi 4x4 pickup during a photo shoot.
All the PreRunner shares with the 4x4 is ride height and minimum ground clearance. Its basic suspension underpinnings are the same as a two-wheel-drive Tacoma, using front independent double-wishbone control arms with coil springs, an antiroll bar and gas shocks. In back, the live axle, leaf springs and staggered shocks are also the same.
However, PreRunners do get the 4x4's larger brakes. Standard 4x2 Tacomas get 9.9-inch front disc brakes and 10-inch drums. PreRunners and 4x4s are equipped with 11.6-inch front discs and 11.6-inch drums -- nearly a 25 percent difference in terms of rotor swept area. Our truck was also equipped with optional ABS.
Although getting stuck in the sand was frustrating, on the highway and at the track, the Double Cab comported itself well. While not whisper-quiet on the road, the truck provides a decent enough ride to live with on a daily basis, despite the relatively firm suspension tuning of the TRD off-road package, which adds Tokico gas shocks (Bilsteins are used on non-Double Cab, TRD-package-equipped PreRunner models) a locking rear differential, progressive-rate springs, a modified rear leaf-spring setup, a larger front antisway bar, BFGoodrich tires mounted on 16-inch alloy wheels, black overfenders and TRD graphics. The Tacoma Double Cab provided a confident feel on the road and handled better than the taller 4x4 ride height might lead you to believe. While we don't recommend tossing it into a corner as one would with a sport sedan or two-seater, its pleasant overall manner is impressive for a pickup.
The on-demand full-locking rear diff is available only on V6-equipped trucks. It aids the driver in low-speed, off-highway maneuvering and can be locked by pressing a switch on the dash. When engaged, it evenly splits torque between both rear wheels, forcing them to turn in unison for better traction. The axle's final-drive ratio is 3.90:1, unless the truck is equipped as ours was with the taller BFGoodrich tires. The optional tires are compensated for by a shorter (numerically larger) 4.10:1 ratio.
Across the Tacoma line, there are three engines. A pair of inline fours with 2.4 and 2.7 liters of displacement make 142 and 150 horsepower, respectively. The 2.7-liter engine is standard in the PreRunner. Our truck was equipped with the top-line 3.4-liter DOHC V6 that produces 190 horsepower at 4,800 rpm and 220 foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 rpm. For better reliability and reduced maintenance, the V6 has Toyota's direct ignition system, which replaces the distributor with a crank-trigger sensor and uses individual coils for better spark control. Toyota says more accurate ignition timing and better misfire detection are further results of this sophisticated system. This engine, though notably smaller than the largest-in-class 4.3-liter V6 in the S-10 Crew Cab, compares well to the output of the Chevy, making the same horsepower. It's down 30 ft-lbs of torque, though. But the Toyota is considerably lighter at 3,475 pounds compared to the S-10's 4,039-pound curb weight.
Backed up with a four-speed automatic (a V6/manual transmission combination is available only on the sporty Tacoma S-Runner), our truck accelerated to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds -- beating the four-wheel-drive Sport Trac's acceleration time by a full second. The quarter-mile was completed in 16.7 seconds at 82.1 mph. In addition to moving the truck around with notable alacrity, the powertrain is rated to tow 5,000 pounds -- an impressive figure for the relatively small 3.4-liter engine. Larger-engined vehicles such as the Explorer Sport Trac can tow a little bit more, but not much. A two-wheel-drive Sport Trac can haul 5,300 pounds -- comparable to the PreRunner two-wheel-drive Tacoma. Adding four-wheel-drive to the Sport Trac reduces towing capacity to 5,080 pounds. A 4x4 Tacoma Double Cab is rated to haul the same as a PreRunner at 5,000 pounds.
While we didn't expect the PreRunner to handle like a sports car, the Tacoma proved more adept at negotiating our slalom than we expected as it ran through at 58.9 mph. Finally, braking was also quite decent as the truck halted from 60 mph in just 121 feet.
Inside, the Double Cab won't ever be confused with more expensive and plush Toyotas like a Land Cruiser or a Tundra. While there's plenty of standard bits with the SR5 chrome package like a tilt wheel, intermittent wipers, front map lights, a rear console box and rear heater ducts, the cabin is rather spartan in form and execution. The feel of the various switches and knobs still imparts the sense of quality for which Toyota is famous and although the cabin is a bit more basic than we expected, the rest of the package makes up for it in other areas such as the DOHC engine, the rugged 4x4 exterior look and overall impressive performance of the truck during objective testing.
In the end, the bare-bones interior isn't a problem, since this vehicle isn't a luxury car but a pickup truck. While our optioned-out PreRunner truck was less than 25 grand, a true 4x4 might be more important to you. If so, a four-wheel-drive version of this truck could be purchased for about the same amount of money by skipping such pricey options as the TRD off-road package, the SR5 chrome package, ABS, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Either way, you wouldn't be going wrong.
System Score: 5.5
Components. This system begins with a nicely appointed Toyota head unit. Most Toyota vehicles have gone to a standardized radio beginning with the 2001 model year, and this pickup follows suit. It's a nice radio, with widely spaced buttons, a cassette and single CD player, and separate knobs for volume and radio tuning. Very ergonomic and user-friendly. The radio position is just a little low, meaning the operator will have to take her eyes off the road from time to time when adjusting settings, but this is not a major concern.
Speakerwise, the system boasts 5-by-7 full-range drivers in the rear doors. These are complemented by a second set of 5-by-7s in the front doors, which in turn are aided and abetted by a pair of 1-inch tweeters in the upper doors. There is no subwoofer in this system.
Performance. Considering the size and shape of the speakers, it doesn't sound too bad. There's a problem in the middle bass range, with a roll-off in bass response in that area, but this is pretty common in systems with this kind of speaker setup. In spite of that, the system offers acceptable bass response, just slightly thin. This is further remedied by an ample power amplifier that gives the system a little kick. Unfortunately, with the poor speakers, the listener is unable to appreciate the amp fully. Still, a number of instruments, such as sax, horns, strings and percussion don't sound half bad.
Best Feature: Generous power amplification.
Worst Feature: Lack of a CD changer.
Conclusion. This is not a bad little system for an inexpensive pickup truck. Scott Memmer
Editor-in-Chief Christian Wardlaw says:
This is an honest truck. I like that about simple trucks like this. It's not trying to be anything but a utilitarian pickup that can carry four people in reasonable comfort over a wide variety of roads. It rides roughly, it steers slowly, and it has only the barest of necessities for a soft-palmed desk driver like me.
Furthermore, if history is a lesson, this is a dependable truck, able to cover hundreds of thousands of miles while causing minimum fuss and hassle when cared for properly. It possesses rugged good looks, too, with easy-care flat red paint, tough plastic overfenders, knobby white-letter tires and attractive alloy wheels. Only the obnoxious TRD Off Road sticker ruins the Tacoma's outward appearance.
What else is not to like? The driver seat is mounted too close to the floor, and it doesn't offer a height adjuster. The rear seat offers occupants no cupholders. Our tester also didn't have a rear window defroster. The six-speaker stereo sounded like a two-speaker affair. Some controls are placed in strange locations. There was no bed extender on our test vehicle.
But these are minor gripes about a damn good truck. I didn't miss leather upholstery, a sunroof or a CD changer, all of which were included on a recent Nissan Frontier Crew Cab we drove. All I missed during a trek across the muddy mountains north of Los Angeles was a four-wheel-drive system, which would have bumped the price a whopping $3,150.
Our Toyota proved to be a far superior truck to the supercharged Nissan in terms of cabin comfort and powertrain pleasure, and it's on par with the Dodge Dakota Quad Cab and Ford Explorer Sport Trac, which are on my list of favorite crew cab compacts.
Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig says:
Leave it to Toyota to take someone else's idea and make it better. The Tacoma Double Cab sure wasn't the first compact crew cab on the market, but after a short stint behind the wheel, there's no doubt that it's the best. The 190-horsepower V6 is lively and powerful, although it made a little more racket than I expected. The pistol grip shifter is also a little bit of a throwback, but it controls one of the best-shifting four-speed automatics in a compact truck. The interior lacks the upscale look typical of Toyotas, but then again, this is a truck, so I can forgive its less than opulent interior.
Around town, the Tacoma's taut suspension delivers a surprisingly agile ride, with decent steering feedback and little of the skittishness typical of empty pickup trucks. It's certainly not going to win any stoplight shootouts, but the V6 has plenty of gusto to get the four-door moving along with little hesitation. There's ample ground clearance for light off-road duty, and the handy differential lock switch on the dash is great for getting out of a rough spot, especially considering the two-legged powertrain.
Last, but not least, the Tacoma's rear seats are suitable for real-sized adults. With a noticeable rake to the seatbacks, the Double Cab's rear quarters actually feel like they could be comfortable for short trips. Legroom isn't exactly overflowing, but compared to some of the other compact crew cabs on the market, the Double Cab provides the most usable rear seat this side of a Dakota Quad Cab.
"I just traded in a 10 month old Dodge Dakota Quad Cab to get the Tacoma DoubleCab. Just look at the NHTSA pages to see why: Dakota -- three recalls and 13 pages of TSBs; Tacoma -- two TSBs for paint chips and mud flaps. My Dakota had the recalls for trans filler hose fires and front wheels getting loose. Also four trips to service for a wheel grind noise TSB which was older than the build date of the truck and they still couldn't fix it. It also depreciated 20 percent in 10 months, and at 12K miles, that 'new' 4.7-liter engine still wasn't broken in!! I got the Prerunner V6 and am getting 19 mpg (just over 1,100 miles so far) instead of 11 in the Dodge.... The interior room is very similar, just a little narrower in the Tacoma. I have two small kids and their two child seats fit just as well in the backseat of the Tacoma as they did in the Dakota, but now, there isn't really room for an adult between them, except for a very short trip. I really like this truck. At 5 feet in length, the bed is even comparable. I'm 6' 2" and fit inside just fine. I'll never buy another Dodge." -- bsparx, "Toyota Tacoma Double Cab," #3 of 205, Dec. 11, 2000
"Took delivery of my Tacoma Double Cab V6 day before Thanksgiving. Been loving it ever since. First tank of gas got me 19 mpg, but it has been hanging around 16 mpg ever since. People are surprised how much room is available in the back seat and the comfort of those seats. More legroom and comfort than a Chevy Silverado extended cab with swing out doors, that's for sure. Enough room for large adults, and small kids have room to squirm, too! Didn't come with keyless remote and will cost about $500 to purchase and install at the dealership. Purchased rubber floor mats from dealer for just over $100 front and rear. Kind of concerned about the long-term [durability] of the black fender flares, etc. Nothing but great remarks from friends, family and strangers about the new design." -- cajunfan, "Toyota Tacoma Double Cab," #34 of 205, Dec. 28, 2000
"I traded in my '98 Dodge Ram 1500 5.9-liter quad cab behemoth for a Toyota Tacoma DoubleCab, and making the transition from big and heavy to small and light was a welcome adjustment. I purchased my vehicle at Magic Toyota in Edmonds, Washington. I dealt with Jim Adams and he was great; no games, honest, friendly, and gave me a fair deal. Overall, my experience with that dealer was excellent.
Good stuff: The Tacoma is so light and responsive and very nimble. It was like removing a ton of bricks off my shoulders, and it didn't heave and sway like my old truck. The first trip to the gas station was great too. I used to get 12 mpg on my Dodge in the city; I filled up my Tacoma and was delighted to see that it costs half of what it took to fill my Dodge and the best part was I got 18.8 mpg on my first tank (granted that 3/4 of that was highway). I also love how navigating the parking lots and parallel parking is less of a pain in the ass. The truck is narrow enough not to take the entire stall, and hence, I don't have to worry as much about door dings. Not so good stuff: The seats in the Double-Cab could be better. I don't care for the type of fabric; it has a nap on it, similar to velvet and I feel that another type of fabric would be more comfortable (Not a big deal). After a long two-hour drive into the mountains, my lower back started to hurt, and that has something to do the seat. I have had back problems in the past, so this may only be an issue for me (I am 6' 1"). I could also do without the orange gauge back lighting too, but I'm getting used to it. All in all, I love my new DoubleCab and know that I made a good decision -- it's fun to drive, responsive, gets good mileage, seats 5 people, and looks great!" -- klew, "Toyota Tacoma Double Cab," #176 of 205, Feb. 10, 2001
"Bought one about two months ago. 190-horsepower V6, automatic transmission, four real doors. Locker rear. Dealer negotiated to two percent over invoice for truck plus options, or about $100 over Edmunds TMV. I drove all the rest, really thought I wanted a Silverado Extended Cab, until I drove the Toyota. I am 6 feet tall and have no problems fitting four adults in this truck. No one is squished, as adults are in the rear seat of the [full-size] extended cab pickups. Once you get into the [full-size] crew cab price range, you have far surpassed what one of the Nissans, Dakotas or Toyotas will cost. I use my truck 80 percent of the time as a car, so it made good sense for me to buy the smaller crew cab.... The Tacoma fits in my garage." -- toyrota, "CREW CAB 4DR TRUCKS WHICH ONE IS THE BEST OVERALL?," #48 of 57, March 13, 2001
Versus the Nissan Frontier Crew Cab
"I decided on the Tacoma DoubleCab. A friend has the Nissan Frontier Crew Cab, and after riding in it, I knew I wanted the Toyota. I believe they are both good trucks, will both last a long time and will both have a good resale value. Cons for the Nissan: The V6 engine was underpowered, and the back seat wasn't comfortable for adults. The Toyota's V6 feels more powerful, and the backseat seems to have a couple extra inches of leg room. I also prefer the rounder styling of the Toyota compared to the boxy style of the Nissan.... The Nissan does seem to be a better value because Toyota dealers, in general, suck. They want sticker, which is a crock. They gouge you for extras that most dealers seem to do anyway.... If you like both, I think it really comes down to what kind of deal you can get and the way you are treated by your dealer." -- briancorr, "Toyota Tacoma DoubleCab -vs- Nissan Frontier Crew Cab," #4 of 7, Feb. 26, 2001
"I purchased my Toyota Tacoma DoubleCab in northern California the first week they were available, and I love it. It is far roomier than the Nissan Frontier and to me seems like the better purchase. I was lucky enough to get it close to invoice with the options I wanted and color. 1 week later I went back to the dealership to have a bedliner installed, and a few salesman wanted to buy it back for $1000 more than I paid for it. If you can't afford the Tacoma, I would actually go with the Dodge Dakota Quad Cab. It seems to have a larger bed and rear seat than the Frontier." -- kevguy, "Toyota Tacoma DoubleCab -vs- Nissan Frontier Crew Cab," #7 of 7, March 14, 2001
Edited by Erin Riches
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