From the October 2004 issue of Car and Driver.
Toyota picked the soggy wilderness east of Anchorage, Alaska, for the summertime introduction of its redesigned Tacoma pickup. Bad move. We were so busy looking up at bald eagles, slushy glaciers, and misty waterfalls that we forgot to look sideways at the company’s new truck. Except for a few flattened mosquitoes, the notebook pages remained bare. So we asked to drive one back to Los Angeles. After 4000 miles, surely our hyperbole would be hemorrhaging, our gerunds budding, and our metaphors raining in sheets.
Toyota gave up a Double Cab 4×4 V-6 six-speed painted “Manischewitz red” and equipped with the Toyota Racing Development Off-Road package, plus a highway atlas of North America and Mexico. That was wise, since our trip planning amounted to watching a few episodes of Northern Exposure, a 1990s TV serial about kooky Alaskan villagers hiding from the hubbub of modern life.
On our drive we learned that Alaska is basically full of kooks hiding from the hubbub of modern life. We also learned that the new Tacoma is definitely a Toyota. In other words, it has keep-it-sane styling, adequate power, extreme refinement, and straightforward controls situated right where fingers are trained to find them. And it feels built to outlast all the ice in Glacier Bay, which could be at least four or five years.
As they say in Tuntutuliak, if the customers want seal meat, don’t bring back a walrus. The Tacoma serves up the winning Toyota recipe by the bucketful. Yet, the truck, which isn’t assembled in Tuntutuliak or even Tacoma but in Freemont, California, is thoroughly reborn. It’s longer, wider, roomier, smoother, and a whole bunch of other -ers, including heavier and pricier. Although prices were not announced before deadline, Tacoma stickers will assuredly climb a few percent across the extensive mix-‘n’-match catalog of cabs, pickup boxes, and powertrains when the truck arrives in dealerships this month.
HIGHS: It’s a Toyota, more generous back seat, a bigger V-6, interior trimmings fit for a car.
LOWS: Some powertrain noise, disappearing radio display.
There are three cabins: the two-door regular cab; the larger Access Cab with two rear-hinged half-doors; and the big billy-bob limo, the four-door Double Cab. The two pickup boxes, with their inner walls and floor now formed from nonrusting, nondenting sheet-molded composite plastic—no need for a bed liner—are 60.3 inches and 73.5 inches long. The former is available only on the Double Cab. Four tie-down cleats rated for 220 pounds each slide on rails, and D-rings bolted through the box will take 440 pounds each. Dealer add-ons include bicycle clips, cargo dividers, and a tailgate fence that extends the bed floor.
Payload capacities drop about 100 pounds, probably because the front-disc, rear-drum brakes already must cope with higher curb weights. But max towing capacity rises 1500 pounds to 6500 with a V-6 and the towing package.
Styling and development duties went to Hino, Toyota’s heavy-truck subsidiary in Japan, even though the Tacoma sells exclusively in North America. Hino won Toyota’s internal design competition by turning up the Tacoma’s testosterone with square shoulders, fender arches, and a Kenworth-compatible grille. The Tacoma pickup and the 4Runner sport-ute now share the frame of the mid-size Toyota Prado, a sort of low-carb Land Cruiser sold in overseas markets. A thick box-section front member, seven cross members, and a center section of reinforced steel C-channel contribute to increased frame stiffness (and weight, about 350 pounds across the line), Toyota says.
The result is a ride expunged of creaks and body shivers, even when clobbered by the mini-McKinley frost heaves between Fairbanks and Buckshot Betty’s diner in Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory. Generous sound insulation hushes the cabin against wind noise and pebble spray from the wheels. Except for some gearbox rattle in first (possibly a fault of our preproduction unit) and the thrum of the stocky V-6, it drives like a Camry with a lift kit.
Parents are picking up pickups nowadays, and Toyota followed the industry in parsing growth inches to the cabin rather than the cargo area. This Double Cab Tacoma is substantially larger than its predecessor, by 4.3 inches in width, 1.4 in height, and 5.2 in length. However, the five-foot box pictured here is shorter than its predecessor by 1.2 inches and narrower at the rim by about an inch. Front and rear seating room in the Double Cab increases. Accessed through large doors, the back seat feels comfier than in some compact sedans, an achievement in this class of cramped quarters (the new, larger Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon are exceptions). The Tacoma’s 23-degree rear-seatback rake will have you pawing for a TV remote.
Headrests pruned and bottom cushions tilted forward, the back bench splits 60/40 and folds into a flat cargo shelf. Cubbies behind and under the seats are perfect for storing Canadian-government-issue medicinal hashish as you zigzag across the Alaska/Canada border.
Wrapped in a dimpled skin of matte-finish molded plastic, the dash looks too fancy for four-wheelin’. Vogue flourishes include the ringed tubes housing the LED-illuminated gauges and a metalized plastic façade that makes the center console look like the love interest from I, Robot. It’s not boring, or even ugly, but it may seem dated when the industry finally tires of plastic painted like naked aluminum. Its real flaw: The radio’s LCD vanishes in a daytime sunshower, as does the digital temperature and compass display in the ceiling. More-vivid green-on-black displays would solve this. Meanwhile, the manually telescoping steering wheel (it tilts, too) is rare in this breed of vehicle.
With the new frame come some 4Runner baubles, including optional electronic stability control, panic brake assist, and hill-descent control. The latter tackles donkey trails by automatically tapping the brakes to restrain downward speeds to a crawl. If you opt out of stability control, a new power brake booster for base Tacomas has a mechanical panic assist. A valve reacts to fast brake-pedal stomps by increasing the vacuum assist. Equipped without stability, our Tacoma conducted four rapid stops from 70 mph in less than 190 feet, fleet performance for any pickup.
Mud monkeys will want the TRD Off-Road package, which includes an electronic locking rear differential, Bilstein monotube shocks, a thinner front anti-roll bar for greater suspension travel, 16-inch alloy wheels with blocky P265/70 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A tires, and sport seats. A TRD Off-Road sticker usually spells ruin for the ride, but Toyota went softer on the bushings and damper settings for 2005. The result is less belly jiggling on normal paved roads, of which there are few in Alaska.
There’s no sunroof available, and a 115-volt, 400-watt socket in the bed, part of the TRD pack, won’t make the amps for a Sawzall. But it will recharge an overworked video camera. Cruising up the Chilkoot Inlet to Skagway on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry M/V Matanuska, we considered the boat’s 88-vehicle parking deck for a few quarter-mile runs. The base Tacoma engine is a new 2.7-liter DOHC 16-valve inline four making 164 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque. The 245-hp, 4.0-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6 mated with the new quick-shifting six-speed manual, available only with the V-6 as an alternative to a five-speed automatic, yields rapid acceleration, even from a 4220-pound pickup.
Our Tacoma needed just 7.4 seconds to reach 60 mph and 16.1 seconds for an 87-mph quarter-mile. The C/D data banks are thin on comparative compact pickups, but we do know that’s fairly blazing. A GMC Canyon crew cab [C/D, June 2004] needed 8.9 seconds and 16.8 seconds at 83 mph, respectively. The last Tacoma we tested [C/D, August 1998], a PreRunner (hence, two-wheel drive) Xtracab with the old 190-horse, 3.4-liter V-6, would get lost in the dust. So would a supercharged Nissan Frontier.
We haven’t tested a new V-8 Dakota, but we don’t think even it will match the Tacoma’s pace or fuel economy. The Tacoma averaged 18 mpg over 3964 miles, much of it with the trans lazy-shifted from fourth to sixth, where the engine pulls an easy 2600 rpm at 75 mph. With one less cylinder, the GMC Canyon returned 14 mpg, albeit with a four-speed automatic and more city driving. There’s a reason the big rigs have dozens of gears, and laden with payload, the Tacoma’s extra ratios, both manual and automatic, will be celebrated.
THE VERDICT: Glaciers may come and go, but a Toyota remains a Toyota.
The Tacoma whizzed right by Tacoma, and Freemont, too. The only things worth seeing at this point in the trip were the new compact pickups coming this year from Nissan and Dodge. Perhaps they’ll get launched in Tuntutuliak.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io