Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Double Cab V6 TRD Sport

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

In Greater Sudbury, the launch of the latest new pickup is a joyous and celebrated occasion. In your writer’s locale, disposable income is spent less on hot cars, and more on cottages, boats, hunting and fishing gear, power toys, and the pickup trucks that support all of the above.

Updates, changes and enhancements abound throughout this virtually all-new model.

As such, when the latest-generation F-150, Canyon, Sierra or Ram comes home with your writer for a week-long test, it draws curious crowds, smiles, pointed fingers, and questions from passersby, on a similar level to a hundred-thousand dollar sports car. Some crowds go all abuzz with excitement about the latest Kardashian yoga-pants tweet, or the introduction of the newest Royal offspring. Instead, in Sudbury, the guys and gals get excited about the latest trucks.

This time around? The new Tacoma. Updates, changes and enhancements abound throughout this virtually all-new model, helping to reinforce the top-dog position it’s held in the Canadian mid-size truck segment for years.

Despite the updates, it’s still instantly and unmistakably a Tacoma from a mere glance or a quick drive, which makes it a natural upgrade for existing customers looking to get into the latest.

The look is still distinct: slim, lithe, and muscular as pickups go, but with more accenting, sculpting, a deeper hood scoop and surrounding bulges, and more character built into the fascias with redesigned lamps and grilles. The prominent TACOMA stamping on the tailgate, and taller box-sides, further freshen the look to one that’s improved and more striking, but still immediately Tacoma. Said tailgate opens gently and closes easily thanks to an assist spring, reducing the risk to the cranium of nearby children or short folk.

Numerous upgrades are on offer beneath Tacoma’s new skin, starting with the new frame structure upon which it’s built. Similar in shape and dimension to the outgoing frame, the latest Tacoma skeletals include reinforcements, bracing, and the use of high-tensile steel towards added strength and rigidity. Mass optimization and safety benefit, though the stiffer frame also gives engineers a better basis from which to fine-tune suspension characteristics against targeted comfort levels. In this case, more wheel travel was enabled alongside a quieter and more comfortable ride.

High-tensile steel is now utilized in Tacoma’s body as well, adding stiffness, and safety. More importantly, it reduces body deflection on rough surfaces, which moves air through the cabin, which creates noise.

Feature: Return of the Small Truck

So, from the driver’s seat, the added stiffness and recalibrated suspension means that shoppers coming out of a few-year-old Tacoma can expect notably lower noise levels at speed, less road and suspension noise on rough surfaces, and a reduction in the rigid jiggle-jounce ride when driving the Tacoma on uneven surfaces. It still feels like a tough, durable and solid pickup, though even with the beefy shocks fitted as part of the tester’s TRD Sport package, body motions are kept better in check, and softened around the edges. Overall comfort and noise, even on rough surfaces, are notably improved, here. 

Another under-the-skin upgrade is Tacoma’s new top-level engine. Out-gunning the proven 4.0L V6 is a new 3.5L unit, running the high-efficiency Atkinson cycle and both direct and port fuel injection for a big power boost to 268 horses, or some 32 better than the former, bigger engine. Torque output remains the same.

The new V6 (which can be paired with a six-speed manual!) is smoother and more eager to pull at all revs, makes you wonder if it’s running at idle, works in near silence unless opened up, and pulls with impressive gusto when called upon. Where the old 4.0L got a little asthmatic and started reaching for its puffer beyond about 4,000 revs, the new unit pulls eagerly and pleasantly, right to redline, when called upon for passing or merging.

The comparable GM Canyon and Colorado offer V6 power, too: though the Tacoma’s mill is quieter when worked moderately, and seems more responsive at lower revs, despite offering a few dozen less horsepower than the comparable GM’s. Better tuning of the exhaust system is apparent on the Toyota, which sounds more pleasing and refined.

Tacoma’s new engine promises to use less fuel than the outgoing unit, too, though consumption figures failed to impress on my watch. The very low-mileage tester hadn’t completed break-in, which would have seen my test average of 16 L/100 km decrease. With engine break-in complete, shoppers can expect better mileage, more power, more responsiveness, and significantly improved refinement from the new powertrain.

Another break-in related note regarding the suspension: before the new bushings set in, be prepared for plenty of squeaky-mattress sound effects. These were plentiful, though they diminished considerably after a few days with the tester and should disappear after a week or two.

Likely, it’s Tacoma’s new interior that will most powerfully blow the socks off of new and loyal shoppers alike. The old-school interfaces, boring shapes and dated controls have all been yanked. The dashboard is no longer all beige and grey and drab and sad looking. Now, there’s a prominent high-tech and premium visual theme, presented with plenty of glossy accents, digital readouts, a full-colour display screen in the new instrument cluster, and the use of contrasting colours, textures and materials throughout the cockpit, for a sense of complexity.

Three-dimensional and rich with layers of overlapping, floating and intersecting panels, Tacoma’s new cabin also features a central touchscreen that’s glossy, high in resolution, vivid in graphical output, and highly responsive to the touch. It’s accessed easily thanks to a flush-mount design with lack of a surround bezel, and the interface accepts the same pinch, slide, swipe and expand gestures as your Smartphone.

A few handy and delightful features are scattered throughout. The tester got a wireless recharging bin, allowing drivers to juice their compatible Smartphone by simply placing it inside, no plugging-in required. A novelty, yes, but a delightful touch all the same.

All Tacoma models get a standard mount for the popular GoPro action camera, too. Again—a novelty which could be fitted to any vehicle for about 9 dollars, though perhaps, realizing that many Tacoma shoppers own a GoPro, this exists as another charming touch. It’s all about making a positive first impression on a test drive, after all, and sometimes, even the littlest features do big things to pull it off.

A few other notes: Tacoma’s lighting system has improved, with the halogen lights, and especially high-beams, proving above-average in beam saturation and reach, compared to the last-generation machine’s simply average lighting performance.

Steering is beautifully isolated, and even the roughest road your writer could find, driven at a good clip, failed to coax any pull, argument or tugging from the wheel, which stayed straight and steady all the while. Translation? Driving on even worst-case-scenario roads or trails won’t require any fighting with the steering wheel.

Complaints are typical Tacoma gripes, mostly. Though the driving position has been improved, drivers still sit low in the tall cabin, legs stretched out in front, rather than hanging off of the seat, though somewhat less than in previous models. In your writer’s ideal driving position, it was thigh versus steering-wheel underside every time I hopped on board. Finally, without its sportier ‘ECT POWER’ mode engaged, the Tacoma’s automatic transmission avoids gearing down and can feel sluggish, presumably to save fuel.

My little brother, a loyal owner of two former Tacomas, and presently, a 4-Runner and RAV4, summed up the new truck nicely after we went for a drive.

“It’s like they fixed the complaints I had about my old trucks: the way you sit inside is better, the ugly dashboard is gone, the short box sides aren’t as short, and the old engine was tough, but sort of gutless, and this new one is miles better. This is the perfect Tacoma”.

Little brother and his familiars, as well as new mid-sized pickup shoppers, shouldn’t be disappointed on a test drive.

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

Chevrolet Colorado
GMC Canyon
Honda Ridgeline
Nissan Frontier

Model Tested 2016 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Double Cab V6 TRD Sport with TRD Upgrade Package
Base Price $37,995
A/C Tax
Destination Fee $1,730
Price as Tested $39,825
Optional Equipment