Ever the sales leader in the midsize segment, the Tacoma trades heavily on Toyota's well-deserved reputation for building small trucks with superior off-highway capability and rugged dependability. Able to do much more than haul building materials from the home improvement store (which it does quite well), the Tacoma gives off an off-road lifestyle vibe that it can back up with actual performance.
You can see it in the truck's stance, its ground clearance and the cut of its front bumper. And frankly you'll also notice it when you hoist yourself up into the cab, which is handsome and functional enough but has an odd driving position born of the need for maximum underbody clearance. The story is the same whether you buy a 4x2 or a 4x4 because in 2016 all two-wheel-drive Tacomas adopted the jacked-up stance of their four-wheel-drive brethren.
We're not bowled over by the lack of response and sometimes awkward drivability of its V6 engine, but the real culprit is likely a shift program for the six-speed automatic that's designed to extract maximum fuel mileage. Still, it gets the job done, and when the road turns to dirt, the suspension, tires and traction management systems take over the lead role.
Two of the available six models are bristling with off-road gear that further extends their appeal and capability. The TRD Off-Road has knobby tires, special shocks and traction aids such as a locking rear differential, crawl control and an advanced multimode off-road traction control system. The reintroduced-for-2017 TRD Pro has all of that plus extra suspension travel, a taller and wider stance, and trick big-bore Fox internal bypass shocks, all of which allow it to soak up even more high-speed punishment while still delivering a smooth ride on the pavement.
- Rugged off-pavement capability is not limited to the specialty models
- Attractive interior is fitted with easily understood controls
- Composite truck bed has movable tie-down cleats and power outlet
- Top-level V6 can be paired with a six-speed manual transmission
- Economy-oriented shift programming makes it feel sluggish
- Driving position not ideally suited for taller drivers
- Brakes can feel grabby and make it hard to slow smoothly
- Off-road emphasis produces tall step-up height