Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

Great Scott! Is it 2015 already? Well, let's take a quick look-see at how accurate Back to the Future II was.

• Still need roads.

When Marty McFly successfully navigated the trials and tribulations of time travel, his reward wasn't a stainless-steel super(ish) car, it was a truck.

• Nikes don't tie themselves.
• Hoverboard not available commercially.
• Still awaiting 12 separate Jaws sequels.

And as for the Toyota pickup truck, hoo-boy, is that ever a prediction gone wrong. It doesn't fly, it doesn't run on garbage, there's no Mr. Fusion in the bed – all things considered, this is a pretty ordinary rig.

The reason I bring up BTTF2 in relation to the Tacoma is pretty simple: the original film is best known for its DeLorean hero car, but when Marty McFly successfully navigated the trials and tribulations of time travel, his reward wasn't a stainless-steel super(ish) car, it was a truck. Specifically, he got the girl, and he got a shiny new 1985 model year black Toyota pickup complete with a lift kit, big tires, and offroad lighting.

Those were salad days for the sport truck indeed, when a compact little rig was your ticket to sun, fun, and driving your best girl up to the lake. Thanks for waxing her up, Biff. Er, the truck, I'm talking about the truck!

Come 2015 and the compact truck market has shrunk even as trucks have grown larger. The plucky little Ranger and Mazda B-series are toast, and full-size pickups have improved in both fuel economy and overall affordability. What's more, Toyota's pickup offering now also has to contend with two new machines from General Motors: the Canyon and Colorado twins. That's not to mention Nissan's Frontier, a near-constant rival. [Don’t forget about the awkward and expensive Ridgeline! –Ed.]

This one's the TRD Sport version of Toyota's Double-cab Tacoma, and to draft in another '80s movie reference, it's as venerable as Mr. Miyagi. This generation of truck first debuted in 2004 as a 2005 model, and if we hopped in our DeLorean for a decade's jump, we'd find almost the exact same truck sitting in showrooms with Hoobastank playing over the PA.

Still, the Tacoma's minor 2009 facelift still looks good in 2015, if not particularly fresh. The 2016 version will be updated, so watch for that.

In my neighbourhood of North Vancouver, the Tacoma is something of a ubiquity. You see them everywhere you go, from shopping mall to the peak of Mount Seymour. Heck, my neighbour even bought one. He had mentioned considering buying an old Land Rover Discovery, and after I stopped screaming, I suggested checking out some other options.

It's a popular choice, a Camry-with-a-tailgate, but the Tacoma's appeal is not immediately apparent when you first jump in the cabin. Sure, trucks are meant to get dirty, and the Tacoma's rough-and-tumble cabin looks like it'd bear up under heavy use, but this is very much a time warp compared to almost any modern car short of a Mitsubishi Mirage.

The seats are flattish and lack adjustability. The rear cab space isn't huge, although it's workable if you're briefly ferrying a load of mountain bikers up the hill. There's no rear defroster (the mirrors don't defrost either), and no automatic headlights. 

However, what you do get does work well. There's a back-up camera as part of the TRD package (extremely useful in a longish vehicle such as this one), you've got heated seats up front, plenty of power jacks, and the touchscreen infotainment system is pretty easy to use. It's got twin knobs for volume and tuning as well, so pretty much anything in the cabin is easy to operate with gloves on. The standard six-speaker stereo is fine, for a truck.

Not that you couldn't use a Tacoma as a work truck, but most of these machines I see on the road have a Dakine pad on the tailgate, or a rack set up for kayaks. They're sport-trucks: stuff that the outdoorsy residents of the West Coast like to use to get out of town. Therefore, let's slot the five-speed automatic transmission in Drive and get out of town. (Enthusiasts please note, the Tacoma is one of the last few trucks where you can get a proper manual transmission and four-wheel drive, although you're confined to the slightly shorter bed if that's your choice.)

Get the Tacoma out on the road and the stiffer TRD suspension bounces around a bit, and is a little rough over speed bumps. Overall though, it's more comfortable than the seats might initially suggest. I'm 5'11”, and not cramped, and I have seen taller folks manage to fold themselves in; however, it's not a huge cabin. The rear fits child seats just fine, which is handy if you've picked the Double Cab because you've got family in tow.

The Taco rides, drives, and shifts like a truck, and while this is not a particularly refined way to go about things, it's actually quite likable. The more I saw other Tacoma owners going about their errands, the more I understood their choice. Approximately 10 percent of them were being used to either tow or carry something that required a truck, but there is something appealing about the way the Tacoma jounces through a parking lot and revs up through the range. It's not modern-feeling, but that's not as much of a drawback in this sort of vehicle: it's not a crossover.

Having said that, the 4.0L V6 is a little on the elderly side. It makes 236 hp at 5,600 rpm and torque of 260 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm. The automatic requires a firm prod on the gas pedal to wake up and shift, and the engine needs stoking up into the higher end of the rev ranges to really get the Tacoma moving. Tow ratings are set at 2,903 kg for the automatic and 2,948 kg for the manual, with a bed payload of 475 kg for the Double Cab. Loads of gravel or bark mulch, small trailers with a fishing skiff, a load of extremely expensive downhill mountain bikes – all this stuff is easy-peasy for the Tacoma, and the relatively low bed-sides shouldn't be underestimated when making comparisons to full-size trucks.

Hauling up to the top of Seymour was a nice enough drive, and a little illicit gravel work showed off the Tacoma's perfectly competent off-road behaviour. Certainly second and third owners can be really hard on these trucks, but most bear up under the strain, and if you're serious about backcountry stuff, the aftermarket is simply enormous. Just like the Jeep Wrangler, the Tacoma is well supported by a host of third-party manufacturers that'll happily turn your family-hauler into something that looks intended to run narcotics across the line from Mexico.

However, as is, it's got the chops to work for light duty fishing/hunting/hiking/camping expeditions. Get it into town, however, and that added length becomes something of a hindrance. If your spouse isn't a confident driver, he or she will hate borrowing the truck to do a grocery run, particularly in underground parking. As soon as you spend a few days behind the wheel, however, the dimensions of the Tacoma become fixed in your mind and it becomes almost a point of pride to be able to squeeze it out of an urban parking lot without holding up traffic. The narrowness of the Tacoma in comparison to full-sized machines is also a boon for regular parking lots.

Fuel economy is acceptable, but not great. Average for the week was around 13.5 L/100 km or so, with official ratings of 14.8 L/100 km city and 11.6 L/100 km on the highway. I'd say that's right on the nose.

In summation, the Tacoma is a fine truck, outclassed by the emerging GM mid-sized trucks in many ways (and just wait 'til that Duramax diesel hits the market – hoo boy), and due for a refresh. In and of itself, there is nothing that really stands out in terms of innovation or forward-thinking design. Except for one thing.

Let's hop in our DeLorean one more time, but set the clock forward this go-around. Say, seven years or so. Where's this 2015 Tacoma now? Is it for sale? They want how much for it?

And here's the Tacoma's primary ace: its ridiculously strong resale value, based on a reputation for reliability. That reputation was earned by previous-generation trucks (those with the 22RE four-banger are about as durable as a stone axe), and we all remember the unkillable Hilux featured on Top Gear. Not to mention the Chad-Libya Toyota war of the 1980s, in which a bunch of lightly armed guerrillas in pickups kicked the absolute bejesus out of Ghaddafi's well-armed professional soldiers.

I'm not sure that same level of donkey-like steadfastness can be promised for this more complex modern machine, but the Tacoma does consistently rate above average for reliability. If even a sport truck like this is a tool, it's a useful one.

If you plan on buying one and keeping it until those self-lacing shoes do finally show up, know that it'll likely have been a good investment, or at the very least, not a costly experiment. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a hoverboard to steal.

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Chevrolet Colorado
GMC Canyon
Honda Ridgeline
Nissan Frontier

Model Tested 2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD Double Cab
Base Price $30,120
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,690
Price as Tested $38,350
Optional Equipment
$6,440 (Automatic Transmission – $1,550; TRD Sport Package [Bilstein shocks, 17-inch alloys, sport seats, backup camera, hood scoop, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, etc.] – $4,890)