Pros: Rugged, dependible, stylish, ground clearance
Cons: Low Torque motor, low towing capacity.
I bought a 2003 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4x4 because I wanted more seating capacity than my old S-10 two seater had. I also needed a truck bed for hauling items that are too big and, more often, too messy to put inside a SUV, so a crew cab pickup was the logical choice. I struggled regarding whether to buy a full size truck or get another compact truck, but in the end, the ease of driving and fuel economy swayed me towards a compact model.
So, why did I go with a Tacoma? The number one reason is reliability. I bought a Toyota because of the bullet proof reputation of the motor, transmission, and suspension. My previous vehicle (1995 Chevy S-10) had numerous problems with the suspension and motor components (water pump, oil cooler lines, alternator, etc.). Anyhow, I wanted to get a truck that would in all likelihood be trouble free for the foreseeable future.
I also wanted a truck that had a lot of ground clearance. During the summer months, I often drive on jeep trails when I am heading to my favorite camping and mountain biking spots. I often bottomed out my old S-10, which sat on LT235 75 R15 tires. The Tacoma with the off road package sits on LT265 70 R16 tires and has 12 inches of ground clearance to the "pumpkin" and has almost 18 inches of ground clearance to the frame. Pretty darn good for stock. This does make entry and exit of the vehicle a step, but its a truck. It's supposed to be high off the ground! I found that all the other manufacturers build their trucks much closer to the ground. If you go to the dealerships, take a look under the truck, and you will immediately see what I am talking about. The Chevy S-10 crew cab and Nissan Frontier crew cab don't even compare when it comes to ground clearance.
Yet another reason I chose the Tacoma was the dual child seat anchors in the rear seat. This allows a child seat to be securely attached to the frame of the seat rather than just a seatbelt. I thought this was a good selling point for a family with a small child.
The front seats are comfortable, but they lack a lumbar adjustment, which would have been nice. The seats are also a little under padded, so on a long trip, they may start to get uncomfortable.
The controls are well laid out, and they are extremely easy to read. I got the white faced gauges because of the SR5 package. At night, this gives the dash a really cool orange glow affect. During the day, something about the white gauges makes the truck feel more sporty. The clock is in a dumb location, but its no big deal. I think that is why I wear a watch on my wrist. The power features (mirrors, windows, door locks) all work wonderfully. The interior is quiet and is free from rattles, squeaks, and horrible shakes. I also like the keyless entry. My wife doesn't care for the loud beep that happens when you use the keyless entry to lock or unlock the vehicle, but I like it because you know for sure you hit the button. The keyless entry has a LONG range. I used mine from almost 100 yards away. I think that is pretty darn good!
The rear seat has plenty of leg and head room. I am 6'01", and I could sit in the back of the Tacoma Double Cab for several hours if necessary. My only complaint is that it is a little difficult to get into the rear seat because the rear doors are pretty narrow and it is a pretty good step to get into the truck. But, like I said it is a truck, so it should be a big step to get into it.
The ride is firm, but not too bouncy. The off road package is great. It smoothes out all but the roughest roads, and the on road handling is not too stiff, but it definitely rides like a truck. Once again, it is a truck, so I expect and like it to ride like a truck. If I wanted a car, I would have bought one. The turning radius is very tight for a truck. I can throw a U-turn in just about any intersection. The view from the drivers seat is great. You can see almost right in front of the front bumper, so you know what you are about to run over. The side windows are large, and you can easily see cars and objects in the blind spots. I added a convex mirror to the drivers side for extra visibility.
As for power, the 6 cylinder is the only way to go. In fact, with the double cab, it is your only choice, so enjoy it. The 6 cylinder is only 3.4 liters but it manages to make 190 HP by virtue of its dual over head cams. It does, however, have less torque than American made compact trucks. You can feel the lack of torque in the low RPM, but once you get the RPM up above 2,500, it has plenty of power and acceleration. This lack of torque does make the truck less than ideal for pulling a trailer or hauling heavy loads. For every day driving, driving in the mountains with out a heavy load, or driving in 4x4 mode, the power from this engine will be more than adequate. In fact, the Tacoma accelerates pretty darn quick for a truck. I often find myself pulling away from other cars and trucks with no trouble at all. Once you get in the higher ranges of the RPM, you can really feel the motor come into its own element.
For off road capability, this truck lives up to the Toyota reputation for great off road vehicles. With the TRD package, you get loads of ground clearance, and a firm ride as mentioned before. In addition, you get a locking rear differential which locks the rear wheels so they have to turn at the same time. For example, if one wheel is off the ground, you will not slip because the other rear wheel will turn at the same rate as the wheel that is in the air. Pretty slick, but its too bad you have to engage it with a button. The 4x4 is shift on the fly. Mine has a lever, but a push button is available with the Limited package. To go into 4x4 high, pull the lever (or push the button) while you are driving and the truck immediately engages the front drive wheels. If you need to go into 4x4 low, you have to stop and put the truck in neutral first, then shift into 4x4 low. This gives you great low end power for climbing all but the steepest of hills.
The exterior has great fit and finish. The paint and trim look great. I really like the wheel flairs that come with the off road package. On other trucks, you have to add wheel flairs as after market accessories, and they usually cost in the neighborhood of $400 for a set. So, its really nice to have them included.
The bed is only 5 feet long, so if you haul lumber, sheet rock, or any other large items, go with a full size truck. For an every day Joe like me, the bed should be sufficient for almost everything I need to haul.
So, in summary, you should buy the Tacoma Double Cab 4x4 SR5 w/ TRD off road if:
1. You want a reliable truck that will be able to go 100,000 miles plus with no trouble at all.
2. You want the capability to haul loads that are too large or messy for the interior of a SUV
3. You want a vehicle that is very capable off road and has a lot of ground clearance.
4. You want a vehicle that has a real back seat and can comfortably seat 4 to 5 adults.
5. You want a well built vehicle with excellent fit and finish.
Do not buy the Tacoma Double Cab 4x4 SR5 w/ TRD off road if:
1. You need to haul large or very heavy loads like lumber.
2. You need to pull a trailer which weighs more than 5,000 lbs.
3. You need more room than a compact truck can provide.
4. You want a vehicle that rides like a car.