Test Drive: 2016 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Double Cab TRD Sport

The truck you see before you – a 2016 Toyota Tacoma – is only a few months old, and it’s already a legend in its own time.

If you need a vehicle that you can depend on running, regardless of how badly you mistreat it for decades to come, it’s likely you need a Toyota truck.

Toyota’s reputation for building long-lasting and nearly indestructible midsize (and formerly, compact) trucks is well publicized internationally. In fact, it was an old Hi-Lux cousin of the Tacoma that the hosts of BBC’s Top Gear television series tried, in vain, to kill. After setting it ablaze, attempting to drown it in the Atlantic, and blowing it up in the demolition of an apartment tower, they still couldn’t stop the Toyota’s (diesel) heart from beating.

If you need a vehicle that you can depend on running, regardless of how badly you mistreat it for decades to come, it’s likely you need a Toyota truck.

While it’s still far too soon to tell if this 2016 Tacoma will live up to its ancestors’ past successes, the odds are pretty good if the initial impressions are anything to go by. Our particular truck had just spent the week previous to its time with Autos.ca being subjected to repetitive and rigorous testing at the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada Canadian Car of the Year Awards testing. There it was repeatedly flogged by several dozen automotive journalists who zipped up and down highways and secondary roads, then subjected the Taco to an off-road course that looked more like a swamp by the end of the rainy week. Despite that, this truck looked – and drove – as if it had just rolled out of the factory.

So, naturally we had to get it dirty again, but more on that in a minute.

This all-new Tacoma is now powered by a 3.5L Atkinson cycle V6 that’s a half-litre short on displacement versus last year’s Taco engine. Despite that, the new power plant provides 42 more horsepower (278 now), but a single foot-pound less torque at 265. A four cylinder is still offered in the Tacoma, as is a manual transmission, but our tester has the new six-speed automatic.

The automatic is well matched to the engine and shifts smoothly and consistently, while also helping to improve fuel efficiency which now rates at 13.1 L/100 km city, 10.5 highway and 11.9 combined. We saw an average of 13.3 L/100 km that included a mix of on-road and off-road conditions.

Although the V6 is sufficient to motivate the Tacoma, it never feels overly eager, or dare we say “fun” the way the 3.6 V6 in GM’s mid-size pick-ups does. Plus it makes us wonder how anemic the four-banger must be giving up nearly 120 hp and 85 lb-ft of torque. Those accustomed to grunty, low-revving truck engines of days-gone-by may be left wanting with either engine.

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Still, it’s a smooth and fairly quiet engine (though when it is revved, and heard, it sounds pretty agricultural). And it’s got enough oomph to earn our Double Cab TRD Sport 4x4 a 2,900 kg towing capacity and 430 kg payload. If that latter figure doesn’t impress, don’t worry, with only a five-foot box on this model (the TRD Sport is the only one to get the short box – every other new Tacoma gets a six-footer), there’s not much space to burden the truck anyway.

 

Despite its size, Toyota has still outfitted the Tacoma’s box to be as utilitarian as possible with a durable bed liner, a slick tie-down rail system and a helpful household power outlet right near the tailgate. The tailgate features a back-up camera in the handle hardware and a slow-drop to dampen the fall when opening it up in a hurry.

While trying to use the box for actually hauling stuff showed us just how small it is. On the up side, the more compact dimensions aid the TRD Sport in its on road behavior. The steering – old-school hydraulic kind – is quite communicative, and although the steering rack is not sports car quick, it is nevertheless precise enough to make the Tacoma one of the best handling trucks in recent memory. The brakes, too, give surprisingly good feel and shed speed smoothly and effectively, despite rear drum brakes, chosen specifically for superiority in off-road conditions.

Which brings us to the off-road part of our test. Senior Editor, Jonathan Yarkony is insistent on reviewers putting press trucks to the test, and if we’re not going to make them work hard (which we did), then we’d darn well better get ‘em dirty off road. Unfortunately, a Double Cab TRD Sport is not the trim of Tacoma you want for this mission with its specially tuned “sport” suspension and emphasis on colour-keying the door handles and hood scoop. The biggest downside to taking our truck into the mud was its woefully inadequate tires. The tread pattern on the Taco’s Firestones looked better suited for Camry duty.

The Tacoma’s beautifully applied Barcelona Red Metallic paint has impressive depth and lack of orange peel. This made it even more painful to see the claw marks the brush and trees had left down the passenger side of the truck during our little off-road sojourn that cost your humble writer a few extra hours and lunch money for the week to have it repaired before returning the truck to Toyota.

Although the TRD Sport’s ground clearance is pretty decent, buyers looking to really test the Taco’s capabilities would be better to order up an Access Cab V6 with the TRD Off-Road package that includes a raft of skid plates, rear differential lock and Toyota’s four-wheel crawl control – all unavailable on our road-oriented ride.

In typical Toyota fashion, the Tacoma’s interior is a prime example of function superseding form. What it lacks in style, the Tacoma’s dashboard makes up in easy-to-use controls, with large, simple knobs for all key operations. The navigation system fitted featured bright and contemporary-style 3-D graphics and a logical operating process that should keep even the biggest neophyte from stressing out.

Modern pick-up trucks generally impress with their clever use of space throughout the cabin, offering up cavernous centre console bins and door pockets for busy tradespeople to turn their trucks into highly effective mobile offices. The Tacoma’s cubbies are unremarkable in capacity and number. That said, under the rear seats that flip and fold to create a large parcel shelf, there are two more lidded cubbies.

As a family machine, the Tacoma is a better utility vehicle than, say a Highlander, but that also means it tends to compromise the comfort of back seat passengers as well. Accoutrements for the youngsters include a pair of cup holders molded into the back of the front centre console and that’s about it. No rear USB, in fact, the only USB port is in the lower dashboard leaving cables and peripherals exposed to prying eyes. The rear seat offers decent legroom and headroom, but the seatback is quite vertical and would surely prove tiring on a long haul. Top-tether anchor points are available for forward-facing child seats.

Those familiar with past Tacomas will know that the most common complaint about their interior is the strange seating position for front seat occupants, and unfortunately that complaint can still be leveled against the 2016 truck. With a very high floor, low seats and a moderate amount of headroom, the Tacoma’s feet-out-front driving position puts considerable pressure on the lower back over time.

Although the 2016 Tacoma is an all-new truck, it’s far from a revolution. For past fans of the Taco, the new one is sure to please with its solid build and presumably legendary longevity. And being able to choose a Tacoma that best suits a buyer’s needs, either on-road or off, it’s sure to remain a sales success for the foreseeable future.

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km roadside assistance

Competitors:
Chevrolet Colorado
GMC Canyon
Honda Ridgeline
Nissan Frontier

2016 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Double Cab V6
2016 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Double Cab V6
Base Price $36,670
Optional Equipment TRD Sport Upgrade Pkg (P265/65R17 all-season tires, Blind Spot Monitoring system, Heated Front Seats, Push Button Start, Smart Key System, Wireless Charging, Garage Door Opener, Power Moonroof, Colour-Keyed Bumpers, Colour Keyed Mirrors, Hood Scoop, Fender Flares, TRD Decals), $3,915
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,730
Price as Tested $42,415
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.3
7 Exterior Styling
6 Comfort
6 Performance
6 Fuel Economy