2016 Toyota Tacoma: A Transatlantic Perspective
by Alistair Weaver, European Correspondent on August 31, 2016
For most Europeans, the idea of travelling over a thousand miles in ten days in a pickup truck would sound like a punishment. Put simply, we just don't get why anyone would want to chug around in a utilitarian tool with leaf springs and an open bed. American culture might have convinced us to spend five dollars on frothy coffee (thanks Starbucks), but we don't do truckin'.
Maybe that's why the Edmunds editors threw me the keys to the 2016 Toyota Tacoma for a sojourn from L.A. to San Francisco and back, via Yosemite National Park. I've been Edmunds' European Correspondent for more than a decade and it was time for a fresh injection of Americana, with a Japanese twist.
In Europe, the idea of the Tacoma as a "midsize" truck would be laughable. To my unaccustomed eyes, it's big and undeniably butch. The exterior's so aggressive that it looks like it's got something to prove. I'd expected more of the same inside, but all you get is a symphony of grey and styling so bland it could have been plucked from a Toyota sedan. It's as if the interior and exterior designers never met.
I was also warned that the driving position is a bit of challenge. To be honest, I don't mind the straight-leg posture, but it's frustrating that the steering wheel barely adjusts for reach. I ended up compromising my seating position just so I could reach the wheel properly. If you're tall like me, you'll also find the seat lacks under-thigh support. It's not what you'd call uncomfortable, but after a long day in the saddle, these details matter.
My trip took me the scenic route up the Pacific Coast Highway, through Malibu, Santa Barbara and Carmel, then on to San Fran. I'd be lying if I said there weren't times when I longed for Edmunds' long-term Miata, but being in a truck did at least alleviate the frustration of following tourists driving convertible Mustangs at 20 mph.
If you're smooth with the controls, you can hustle the Tacoma at a surprising pace. The steering's far more carlike than I expected and the ride quality's also surprisingly good. The engine's a mixed bag, though. Although the output feels sensibly judged for this size of truck, it needs to be worked hard to deliver its best, and it sounds asthmatic. You also need to keep prodding the ECT button to whip the gearbox (another tip greatly received from the Edmunds' editors). I missed the deep bass rumble and joie de vivre of a Detroit V8 — for me, this V6 just seems less American.
Notwithstanding my initial impressions of its size, the Tacoma feels sensible in the city, even on the inevitable Bullitt tour of San Francisco. You're never forced to make compromises for its bulk on the road, yet there's still enough room for four inside.
From San Fran it was on to Yosemite, which in August felt like nature's version of Disney World. It does kill the moment of serenity when you're surrounded by thousands of garishly clad tourists all trying to photograph a peculiarly shaped hill.
To escape the masses, the Tacoma and I ventured off-road. Edmunds' version has all the toys and it felt remarkably adept on the dusty trails that characterise this part of the world. To be honest, the fear of trail rash (scratching the paintwork) was greater than the risk of getting stuck. It just feels impervious.
There is so much to like about the way the Tacoma drives, which makes you wonder why they forgot to finish the brakes. My Edmunds colleagues have already lamented their clumsiness and suffice it to say, I agree. It's a genuine challenge to modulate their performance in such a way that you can stop smoothly. This is a workaday truck that requires the delicacy of touch of a ballerina. Surely Toyota can sort it better.
It's a shame, because in so many other ways I fell for the Tacoma. I still think the aggressive looks are a bit silly and I still don't get why an exposed load bay is an appropriate repository for one's luggage, but as a tool for my trip, it was just about ideal. I'm not about to rush out and buy a pickup in London — where would I park? — but here in California, I can at least fathom the appeal.
Now, may I borrow a Raptor please?
Alistair Weaver, European Correspondent