Tacoma Washington- With U.S. auto sales on pace to top 17 million units this calendar year, a celebratory air abounds within the automotive industrial complex. Sales of larger vehicles, including pickup trucks with their heftier built-in profit margins and loyal customer base continue strong, appealing manufacturers offering such wares.
These good vibrations convinced Japan's largest automaker to stage a shindig in Tacoma Washington to showcase the next generation of, what else, their Tacoma mid-size pickup. The all-new 2016 effort reaches Chicagoland Toyota dealers September 10.
Think consistently popular pickup trucks, and most likely Ford's full-size F-150 remains front of mind. After all, it's been the top selling vehicle of any kind in the U.S. for more than thirty years.
However, in the scaled down mid-size segment, no truck reaches popularity levels generated by Tacoma. With 2014 U.S. sales of 155,041, Tacoma nearly doubled its nearest mid-sized competitor. Domestic and import rivals continue playing catchup.
Tacoma debuted in 1995 with a second-generation revamp in 2005. Tacoma's latest challenge for mid-size truck supremacy comes from a reintroduced duo from General Motors.
After a two-year market absence, GM rereleased Chevrolet's Colorado and GMC's Canyon in the 2015 model year. What better time for Toyota to counter punch by introducing a third-generation 2016 Tacoma to steal some thunder. Tacoma enjoys the segments highest resale value, so current Tacoma owners have extra incentive to move up to the greatest and latest effort.
This next, gen redo is the vehicle's first in a rather lengthy 10 years. Tacoma loyalists should feel right at home inside and out as changes remain evolutionary, not revolutionary.
Tacoma and the full-size Toyota Tundra pickup are both assembled in San Antonio Texas. Additional Tacoma units also roll off a Mexico production line. Bill Fay, Toyota Group Vice President and General Manager, estimates combined sales could peak at 275,000 units in the current calendar year with Tacoma sales easily out pacing its big brother. In the 2016 calendar year, 300,000 units remain attainable in Fay's optimistic view.
Trim levels include entry SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD off-road and top-shelf Limited, the sole trim with comfy leather-trimmed seats standard. Toyota expects about 40 percent of sales attributed to the TRD duo. Standard in all 2016 trims: a front window mount ready for GoPro brand cameras along with a 6.1-inch touch-sensitive in-dash multi-function screen with backup camera display.
As usual, a plethora of engines, bed lengths and cab-size combos are available to mix and match (29 in all). Two engines include a 2.7-liter (with 159 horsepower) four cylinder largely unchanged from generation two save for enhanced emission tweaks teaming with a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The pick-to-click, however, is the all-new 3.5-liter (278 horses) direct-injection V-6 working with smaller, more durable six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The new V-6 boasts 42 more horses than the retiring Gen Two V-6. Both engines suffice with regular, 87-octane gasoline in a generous 21-gallon tank.
This new V-6 actually bests four banger fuel economy in some head-to-head matchups. For example, a rear-wheel drive SR5 four cylinder with automatic transmission delivers 19 miles per gallon city and 23 mpg highway while the V-6 counterpart generates 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.
The four cylinder is available in SR and SR5 trims while the V-6 covers all trims sans SR5. All trims include the choice of access or double cabs save for the top-level Limited; a double cab exclusive. All come with the choice of rear wheel or four-wheel drive. Two cargo bed lengths are available (five foot and six foot) with the smaller access cab opting exclusively for the longer version.
Price points start as low as $23,300 for a rear-drive SR four cylinder access cab with five-speed manual all the way up to $37,820 for a 4 x 4 Limited V-6 double cab with automatic; all before options (including a moon roof) and $900 destination fees added.
Double cabs include seating for five and conventional swing-out doors. Access cabs seat two riders in a truncated back row. Access cab's dual cushions fold up against the back frame creating an inside cargo cave, but seats lack boldness and a cush-factor compared to double cab seats.
Cargo beds are seven percent deeper with a lockable tailgate. Dark, sheet molded composite adorns the inside bed absorbing punishment. A more generous use of high-strength steel through the frame and cabin add to structural upgrades.
A sliding rear glass window comes standard for quick bed access from the cab. As with most recently redesigned pickups of any size, tail gates feature an 'easy-down damper' when lowering, eliminating the unwanted 'thud' alternative. Toyota utilizes newer tech rotary dampers rather than struts. A front air scoop in TRD Sport models creates an aggressive presence, but it's largely just for show.
Ground clearance measures 9.4 inches. While all trim versions feature a trapezoidal front grille, each of the five get tweaked and decorated uniquely with Toyota's circular logo the one front-and-center consistent. New projector beam headlights flank all grills. Bold, flared wheel wells tend toward squared-off edges rather than round abouts. The side belt line running below side windows get raised 10 millimeters.
While the interior dashboard design remains consistent among the five trims, different materials and color combinations add variety. The workman-like simplistic yet informative instrument panel includes two large analog dials surrounding a 4.2-inch multi-function digital display window in all trims sans the entry SR. Eight air bags come standard including knee air bags benefitting driver and front passenger riders.
Toyota pairs front disc brakes with time-tested rear drum brakes. At times, two technologies work in tandem more effectively than one and in Tacoma's case this axiom holds true, especially when off-roading or spending off hours touring through loose gravel or sand.
A four-wheel-drive Tacoma TRD off road showboated its way out of a staged sand pit near Seattle to demonstrate crawl control effectiveness and braking pressure. Crawl control (with five speed settings from one to five miles per hour) and multi-terrain select (for regulating wheel-spin speed over rocks, mud or loose gravel) remains specific to the TRD-off road automatic transmission trim.
Four-wheel drive models include a dash-located electronically controlled transfer case dial to summon 4WD low. Toyota Racing Development models (TRD) come with electronically controlled locking rear differentials.
When traveling the open highway, drivers feel connected to the road through the thick, well-padded steering wheel, with no jarring feedback. Reduced noise, vibrations and harshness (NVH) is apparent in this latest Tacoma generation. During aggressive turns, little body sway is experienced keeping occupants planted in their respective seats. The color palate includes eight choices with three new for 2016: Quicksand, Inferno and Blazing Blue Pearl.
Engineers improved 'drag reduction,' by an impressive 12 percent through the use of revamped front air dam, under hood air flow detectors and side mirrors with aero fins; enhancing fuel economy. This compares favorably to an industry average between 3 and 4 percent during next-gen redesigns.
At a Glance
Starting Price: $23,300
Maximum Payload: 1,620 pounds
Maximum Towing Capacity: 6,800 pounds
V-6 Horsepower: 278
Powertrain warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
Assembly: San Antonio Texas