My '99 Tacoma has a birthday looming on the horizon -- 60,000 miles; "Just getting broken in," the service manager says -- and so I though I'd blow an entire Saturday sitting at the dealer since he's (Artie, for Red T
ruck) still under the warranty. That meant I had a couple-three hours to kill... What to do, what to do? I wondered, sitting there amid all those shiny brand new vehicles. I gazed longingly at a Camry Solara convertible, deposited an unseemly amount of drool next to an MR2 Spyder, and then finally coerced a salesman into letting me take a new Tacoma out for a test drive. As they say around these parts, "You oughta dance with the one who brung ya," and I'm intimately familiar with previous incarnations of the Tacoma. And so, I was off.
Soloman (ask for him the next time you're at San Marcos Toyota, and tell him I sent you) set me up in a fully loaded Double Cab with both the TRD Offroad and Limited packages (this baby prices out at a gnat's whisker under $30,000). As Tacomas go, the sleek black beauty (black sand pearl finish with oak interior) had everything. That includes all the usual power goodies -- locks, mirrors, windows -- tilt and cruise, AM/FM/Cassette/CD, air, and keyless remote.
The Tacoma comes in three different body styles - regular, extended, and double cabs - and either two- or four-wheel drive. Three engines are available (2.4L and 2.7L four-cylinders and a 3.4L V6). Special packages include the S-Runner, a 4X2 Xtracab model with dashing, sporty lines; and the PreRunner, a 4x2 with the clearance and suspension of a 4x4. The PreRunner is available in Regular, Xtracab, and Double Cab bodies.
The current platform dates from a design update with the 2001 model year; it's shared with 4Runners of the same vintage. Differences from the 1995-2000 Tacoma body are mainly in the addition of larger fender flares and reshaping the grille (not
an improvement, in my book) and hoodline. Both front and rear light housings were also modified slightly, but the overall look of the truck has changed little. The truck size and capacity have remained the same as well, excepting the Double Cab (introduced last year). The interior remains unchanged as well; it also is little different from the 1995-2000 models except for some refinement in the dashboard and a bit of cosmetic updating to the instrument panel and controls. Though both body and interior are unchanged from last year's model, Toyota has "upped the ante" with a few more standard features; most notably the inclusion of standard antilock braking (ABS).
My ride was equipped with the largest engine available in a Tacoma, a 3.4L DOHC electronically fuel-injected V6 with an output of 190 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. This six is standard in the 4x4 version of the Double Cab, a 2.7L four that produces 150 hp is standard in the 2WD version. All Double Cabs are shipped with four-speed automatic overdrive automatic transmissions. Manual transmissions are increasingly rare in the Tacoma line, continuing a trend Toyota (and other manufacturers) have followed for years. The two-range on-demand four-wheel drive is shift-on-the-fly, a convenient improvement over the locking front hubs found on my '88 and '99 pickups.
The Tacoma line has a well-deserved reputation for tough, sure-footed performance off-road. To this I can attest, having forded a few streams and challenged more than a few mountain passes in my older models. The Tacoma, though, is generally less well-regarded for its highway performance. Earlier models suffer especially from a jittery ride and variable-assist power steering that feels more like attempted luxury than a tough performer. The 2001 update resulted in reduced harshness of the ride, but the Tacoma still "rides like a truck." Such a stiff ride is, though, to be expected from its ladder frame and rear leaf suspension.
Handling is secure but very slightly vague, and tends to take more getting used to than many vehicles. My vehicle was equipped with a suspension tuned for off-roading (part of the TRD Offroad package), which may have contributed slightly to its vagueness at highway speeds. Still, the suspension soaked up large bumps quite well and handled choppy roads with aplomb. It's on the "smooth" highways that the Tacoma's ride is least satisfying.
Cornering is predictable and smooth, without significant body lean; the Double Cab's 37-foot turning circle (40-foot in a 2WD model) is a little larger than I expected for a "compact" pickup (that's 202 inches long). Braking is also highly competent, without significant front-end dip.
The V6 and automatic transmission combo proved a bit less aggressive than I might have liked, especially from a standing stop. Acceleration is better slightly higher in the torque band than at the bottom. A short stretch of freeway driving demonstrated good reserve power for those short Texas on-ramps, and also for a burst of power at cruising speed. My preference is for a manual transmission in either case, but Toyota apparently thinks it knows best. According to the EPA by the way, the V6 yields 17MPG city and 19MPG highway; the 2WD model with a four gets 19 and 22, respectively.
In addition to power everything (which requires purchase of the Convenience, SR-5, or Limited trim package) the Limited has a few extra bells and whistles. An AM/FM/Cassette/CD player is standard for the Limited (no CD changer is available in any Tacoma truck at present), plus fancied-up sunvisors with mirrors and a slide-out extension. The driver's seat gets a powered lumbar support (with a switch that's darned hard to reach) in addition to the manual seat adjustments. Cruise control and power windows/doors/mirrors are standard in my part of the world because they're always bundled with factory-installed AC. In addition to a cigarette lighter, Tacoma provides two additional 12-Volt power ports. A pair of cupholders are molded into the console for the front seat; a second pair slides out of the seat base for rear seat passengers.
The Limited and SR-5 packages come with black-on-white gauges, others have white lettering on a black background. All vehicles have orange illumination of the instrument panel. Standard instrumentation is a speedometer, digital odometer, and coolant temperature and fuel gauges; the SR-5 and Limited packages add tachometer and dual tripmeters. Cruise controls are on a stalk that turns with the steering wheel, light switches and dimmer are on the turn-signal stalk and wiper controls are on the right-hand side.
Storage and Cargo:
There's a two-level storage capability in the console (except, of course, for bench and split seats). All four doors have molded plastic pockets, though the pockets in the rear are almost laughably small. A few small compartments are located in the dash plus a medium-sized locking glove compartment. Both front seats sport seat-back pockets.
The rear bench seat is split 60:40, and both sides fold flat to expose a hard plastic tray on the back for carrying cargo inside the cab without endangering rear seat upholstery. The bed itself is slightly less than five feet long and just over four feet wide; the space between the wheel wells is only 40 inches. To compensate for the short bed, there's a captive anodized aluminum "bed extender" that flips over to rest on the lowered tailgate.
Cargo capacity of the 4WD Double Cab is 1395 pounds (1625 for the 2WD model). All Tacomas are rated for 3500 pounds towing capacity, and V6 models can tow 5000 pounds with an optional towing package and Class III hitch.
Driving Position and Comfort:
The seat position in a Tacoma is low to the floor, much like a smallish car whose floorboards are abnormally high off the ground. Driver and passengers alike have a wide, mostly uninterrupted field of view. Front bucket seats are flat without much lateral support, and somewhat narrow. Manual adjustments can be made to the seat height and seat-back angle. The rear seats are similarly flat but lack the ability to incline, leaving them in a stiff, upright position. Rear legroom is about equivalent to a compact car (e.g.
, Honda Civic), and is not suitable for adults for long periods (unless perhaps they're double-jointed).
Dashboard controls are easily accessible from the driver's seat, though the automatic transmission shifter is a bit of a stretch when in park. The placement of the front seat cupholders is convenient even for tall containers, and the console opens easily.
Engine noise and road noise levels within the cabin are improved over previous versions of the Tacoma, and the wind noise level continues to be excellent. The truck I drove had only one manufacturing defect (a missing rubber grommet in the bed) and the hood might have been a silly millimeter out of alignment. Otherwise, the truck was in perfect condition.
All Tacomas are equipped with an antilock braking system (ABS), dual front airbags (passenger-side cutoff switches are not provided for the Double Cab); and front seatbelts with pretensioners, force-limit system, and adjustable shoulder anchors. Rear seats in the Double Cab have two adjustable headrests and two three-point harnesses, but the center position has only a lap belt. The rear seats are equipped with Child Restraint System tethers and child-protection locks. Side airbags are not available on the Tacoma line for 2003.
The Tacoma line continues to be a leader in its class when one considers durability, reliability, and off-road performance. It's been my experience that the four-wheel drive versions are also sure-footed and dependable when driving in mud and snow. Likewise, it's been my experience that the Tacoma is an excellent vehicle for commuting and as a work truck. On long trips, the seat and driving positions can be tiring, though less so if one isn't used to a cushier ride. Strong points are quality of construction and fuel economy (compared to class); weak points are a jittery ride and average seat comfort. This is a well-made truck that should serve its owners for many miles and many years.
Amount Paid (US$):
2002Model and Options:
Double Cab Limited TRD Offroad