Since its introduction more than two decades ago, the Toyota Tacoma has been a mainstay of the compact and midsize pickup segments. Typical advantages to a new or used Tacoma include a variety of body styles, strong off-road abilities, solid build quality and a better-than-average reputation for reliability and durability.
Downsides are few. Even when modestly appointed, Toyota's compact pickup usually costs more than competing trucks from domestic manufacturers, and taller drivers might find the cabin of the first- and second-generation Tacomas to be somewhat uncomfortable. But overall, the Toyota Tacoma is a very capable pickup and is recommended for nearly all truck shoppers.
Current Toyota Tacoma
The Toyota Tacoma is a midsize pickup truck available in extended-cab (Toyota calls it an Access Cab) and crew-cab (Double Cab) body styles with either short or long cargo beds.
The Tacoma can be had in six trim levels: SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, Limited, and TRD Pro. The SR model is far from the stripped-down work truck you might expect. It comes with power windows and locks, a sliding rear window, a composite bed (which eliminates the need for a liner) with movable tie-down cleats, a rearview camera and Bluetooth-compatible stereo. The backseat can be deleted for true work-truck applications. The SR5 adds nicer trim, cruise control, remote keyless entry, satellite radio and foglights. The Tacoma Limited features a leather-trimmed interior, automatic climate control, a sunroof, heated seats, navigation, and push-button ignition and entry.
The three TRD models start with the TRD Sport, which comes with the SR5's equipment and adds alloy wheels, a hood scoop, an upgraded stereo system with navigation, and — for automatic-transmission-equipped trucks — keyless push-button entry and ignition. The TRD Off-Road lives up to its name with all-terrain tires, skid plates, a lockable rear differential, Bilstein shocks, an off-road traction control system with driver-selectable terrain settings and Toyota's Crawl Control system. The TRD Pro — technically the top-of-the-line Tacoma, as it costs more than the Limited — adds unique interior and exterior trim, Fox internal-bypass shocks, and a taller and wider stance, plus all of the creature comforts from the Limited trim.
Engine choices include a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque and a 3.5-liter V6 that puts out 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. The 4x4 models are available with a manual transmission (five speeds for the four-cylinder engine, six with the V6), and a six-speed automatic is standard on 4x2 models and optional on other trims. Owners planning on frequent hauling or towing will certainly want to choose the V6; don't forget the V6 towing package (standard on TRD Pro, optional on other trims) which increases trailer capacity to between 6,400 and 6,800 pounds depending on how the truck is configured.
Our reviews have found the latest iteration of the Tacoma to be a smoother-riding truck than its predecessor, though acceleration is just average. Size and utility are beyond reproach, and we especially like the cargo management features found in the bed. The cab is reasonably roomy provided you aren't too tall, but it's a high step up into the cab and the driving position takes some getting used to. Off-road, the Tacoma really excels; all 4x4 models are very capable, but the TRD Off-Road takes advantage of Toyota's latest electronic wizardry, making it exceptionally talented.
Used Toyota Tacoma Models
Toyota introduced the third-generation Tacoma for the 2016 model year. Though the styling changed somewhat — for the better, we think — the size stayed almost exactly the same, and in profile it can be difficult to tell the second- and third-generation Tacomas apart.
Big changes included the swapping of the old 4.0-liter V6 for a new 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle engine. Acceleration gains were modest, but the new engine delivered better fuel economy. The third-generation truck is offered only in extended- and crew-cab styles; the regular cab, which was eliminated in the last year of the second-generation truck, never returned. For 2017, Toyota introduced (or perhaps we should say reintroduced) the top-of-the-line TRD Pro model.
The second-generation Tacoma made its debut in 2005, and changed little over the next decade. It's important to note that in this first year, the Tacoma featured higher output numbers from its engine — however, this was due to a change in testing procedure, not actual horsepower. Among notable changes, stability/traction control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags were optional prior to 2009, at which point they became standard. Tacomas from 2012 and up are also the most up to date in terms of in-car electronics, though Toyota never offered a leather interior on this generation of the truck. Various on- and off-road packages, such as the sporty X-Runner for the former and the rugged T/X Baja and TRD Pro for the latter, were offered throughout the years. In 2015, Toyota eliminated the regular-cab option, leaving only extended- and crew-cab models.
The Tacoma made its debut in 1995 as a replacement for Toyota's long-running, and more simply named, "Pickup." This first-generation Tacoma is smaller than later models but is still very capable and a fine choice for a used truck.
All first-generation Toyota Tacoma trucks came with one of two available four-cylinder engines or a 190-hp V6. Buyers could choose two- or four-wheel drive, along with either a five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic transmission. Tacomas from the 1990s came in either regular-cab or extended-cab (Xtracab) body styles. Unlike some competing trucks of this period, Tacoma Xtracabs lacked a third door to aid in rear-seat access.
This issue was solved for the 2001 model year when Toyota came out with the crew-cab (Double Cab) body style for the Tacoma. The Double Cab had the most interior room in the Tacoma range and four standard-opening doors. In order to keep overall length reasonable for on- and off-road maneuverability, however, Toyota reduced the Double Cab's bed length. This setup proved problematic for certain Tacoma buyers, which is why Toyota added a long-bed option for the second-generation Double Cab.
The Toyota Tacoma's reputation for better-than-average reliability is certainly a big bonus in the used compact truck segment. From a buying perspective, no one year of the first-generation Tacoma stands out. Continual improvements were made throughout its run but none of them were drastic enough to limit the appeal of earlier years. From a safety standpoint, trucks built after 1997 would be preferable, as these will have a passenger-side airbag. In the first-generation truck's last model year, 2004, stability control became available as an option.