Expert Reviews

2023 Toyota Tacoma Manual Review and Video

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
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If we’re honest with each other – as I always aim to be, dear reader – there’s really no reason for this version of the Toyota Tacoma to even exist anymore.

For starters, it’s one of the oldest midsize models on the market (although in fairness, it’s really not that old, with the current generation now in its eighth year of production). It’s also a cab-and-a-half configuration, which isn’t exactly useful or especially popular these days. Making it even more niche is its six-speed manual transmission, which serves no practical purpose.

And yet in spite of those problems – plus a few others – this 2023 Toyota Tacoma just might be the coolest truck on the market.

Driving Feel: 7/10

Look, I’m no trendy tastemaker, so don’t expect any insights from me about what makes stuff objectively cool. But as far as I’m concerned, the manual transmission in this truck is about as cool as it gets – and it happens to be really good. Of course, Toyota is no stranger to outstanding six-speeds (GR Corolla, anyone?), but that does nothing to take away from this one in particular.

That’s mostly because, well, this is a truck. It’s not supposed to have a praise-worthy transmission, it’s just supposed to work. That makes the tactility and smoothness on display here all the more impressive, with a perfectly weighted clutch pedal and well-defined gates contributing to downright driving enjoyment.

The rest of the experience is about what’s to be expected from a truck with bones that date back nearly two decades. The body-on-frame construction means the Tacoma bucks forward and back on precast concrete highways – although it’s nowhere near as noticeable as it is in the Nissan Frontier that was redesigned just last year – while the steering is overboosted and offers next to no feel. This being a hydraulic system, it’s prone to a bit of bump steer across curb cuts and potholes, where the wheel tugs in one direction or the other, although it’s not bad enough to be described as unnerving.

Comfort: 6/10

This cab-and-a-half Tacoma comes equipped with the so-called TRD Off Road package that includes Bilstein-branded shocks at all four corners, and they do well to absorb most common bumps and imperfections encountered during daily driving. However, the heavy wheels and tires can pull awkwardly at the suspension over more severe bumps in the road, which isn’t exactly becoming of a smooth ride.

The cloth-covered driver’s seat isn’t especially supportive, leading to mid-back pain over the course of this week-long test – and that’s in spite of eight-way power adjustability with lumbar support. While it’s possible the leather upholstery found in other trims might help, this is one of the Tacoma’s biggest sore spots (pun intended). Otherwise, the three-stage heat works in a hurry, while the dual-zone automatic climate control doesn’t take long to warm (or cool) the cozy cabin.

Power: 8/10

The 3.5L V6 engine that powers the Tacoma is perfectly fine, with decent throttle response. No, it’s not going to lead this truck to any drag race wins, but that’s not what it ‘s for in the first place. There’s a progressive climb towards the peak 265 lb-ft of torque, which is reached at a reasonable 4,600 rpm. If there was a knock against the motor it would be the unrefined noises produced under even moderate load, although the roaring fan at start-up is a satisfying throwback.

Fuel Economy: 4/10

OK, there’s at least one other downside to this engine – especially when it’s paired with the manual transmission – and that’s its inefficiency. Officially, it’s good for 12.7 L/100 km combined, which is about the same as the only other midsize truck with a manual on the market, the Jeep Gladiator, but that isn’t much of a consolation prize. Even worse is the 13.9 L/100 km consumed under my watch across a total of a little more than 650 km, the majority of which was racked up on the highway during a mild wintertime test.

Practicality: 8/10

There might also be some questions around the usefulness of a truck like this one, although the potential buyer will know best whether or not it suits their needs. Someone like me, who doesn’t often drive with more than one other occupant, should find it sufficient; others will need to consider a crew cab model (or a larger truck altogether).

With the rear jump seats stowed, there’s enough room to stash tools or groceries in the cabin, while the door pockets and centre console offer plenty of space for small items. There’s also enough room inside for my 6-foot-3 frame to fit comfortably (aside from the back pain, of course), although the floor is higher than most midsize trucks.

Payload rings in at 571 kg (1,259 lb), with a good amount of space in the six-foot bed bolted to the back. Meanwhile, towing capacity comes in at 2,648 kg (6,500 lb), while ground clearance measures a minimum of 239 mm (9.4 in). It all adds up to a lifestyle vehicle that isn’t afraid to do a little work, too.

User-Friendliness: 8/10

The high cabin floor can be problematic for tall drivers in particular, combining with an adjustable steering column that doesn’t offer enough upward tilt to leave knees resting beside, rather than beneath, the wheel. Otherwise, it’s easy to get situated, with good views of the truck’s surroundings from the driver’s seat, and an outstandingly simple control layout.

Styling: 7/10

That simplicity also applies to the materials used inside, with none of it feeling especially impressive. Cheap plastics adorn the dash and door panels, while the fabric on the seats looks good but comes up short to the touch. Otherwise, the space is cleanly designed, and that’s about all there is to it.

The same goes for the exterior design, although there’s something of a timelessness to the Tacoma. It looks exactly how it should, with a rough and rugged stance and bulging fenders finished with durable wheel arch mouldings front and back. Add in the gaping maw up front, and there’s no mistaking this for anything but a Tacoma.

Features: 7/10

This truck’s feature count is reasonable for its place in the lineup, with heated front seats, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, built-in navigation, subscription-based satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections. The TRD Off Road kit brings those Bilstein shocks and all-terrain tires (temporarily replaced with winters on this tester), the latter of which are wrapped around right-sized 16-inch alloy wheels. There’s also four-wheel drive with high- and low-range gearing (although there’s no automatic setting), plus an electronic locking rear differential, fog lights, and heated door mirrors.

Safety: 7/10

Like everything else about this truck, the list of advanced safety items it comes with is affected by its age. Forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control are included, as are automatic high-beam headlights and a lane departure warning system. But that means no lane-keeping or blind-spot monitoring, although this being something of a rugged adventure rig means the absence of those expensive sensors and systems will be appreciated on the trail.

Value: 6/10

With an MSRP of $43,990 – plus a non-negotiable freight charge of $1,930 – this Tacoma is priced similarly to a cab-and-a-half Frontier, although that does little to lessen the blow, so maybe this will help: a crew cab version with the TRD Pro package and manual transmission is about $59,000 once that freight charge is included. And while it’s unquestionably cool in its own right, it’s also wholly unnecessary. Unless a trip to Moab, Utah, is in the offing, this truck serves up at least some of the same capabilities for a heck of a lot less money.

The Verdict

Fine, the Toyota Tacoma isn’t universally cool, but I still love it – and that’s in spite of the areas it comes up a little short. As this week-long test wore on, the driver’s seat stood out as a growing concern, which had me wondering how difficult and costly it would be to swap it out for something else.

That says a lot about the it factor this truck has, and it’s one that extends beyond the manual transmission that’s still offered – although that’s hard to ignore. So is how good it is for both veterans and novices alike. It’s enough to make some of the other issues easier to look past, like the cheap interior materials and maybe even the terrible inefficiency.

This isn’t a truck for just anyone, that much is true. But then a car like the Toyota GR86 isn’t going to be universally appreciated, either. Ultimately, this Tacoma is an enthusiast vehicle just like that little coupe, only it packs some practicality, too. And if that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.

Engine Displacement 3.5L
Engine Cylinders V6
Peak Horsepower 278 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque 265 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm
Fuel Economy 13.8 / 11.4 / 12.7 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 6'4’' / 1,872 mm bed
Model Tested 2023 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab 6M TRD Off Road
Base Price $43,990
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,930
Price as Tested $46,020
Optional Equipment