Torque News has done the most in-depth series of reviews of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma in the motor press. We have twice tested the Tacoma off road. Once at a Land-Rover course where the Tacoma tackled the big-boy trails off limits to lesser vehicles, and separately at a Toyota-hosted event. At the first event, we tipped the Tacoma on is side as far as it can go without turning turtle (among other things). At the second event we maxed out the approach and departure angles, used the crawl control extensively, and we watched a pro driver un-stuck the Tacoma from a sand pit that seemed inescapable. We also tested the Tacoma TRD Off-Road in a snowstorm. Next, our editor and senior writer, Patrick Rall took a Tacoma TRD Off-Road to his horse farm for a week where he beat the snot out of it. He towed with it at its max rating without load-leveling, and it did great. He loaded a half-ton of feed into the back of it, and it performed flawlessly. He even did brake testing with his trailer hooked up (no horses) and verified the drum brakes get a thumbs up. His final judgment was that the Tacoma TRD Off-Road matches the capabilities of full-size half-ton trucks for farm work. Now the final test. How well can the TRD Off-Road perform the other 99% of the time its owners use it?
Most Tacoma owners drive their truck as their daily driver. Commuting. Dropping kids off at practice. Date nights. Running errands around town. Those miles add up. So now that we have verified the Tacoma TRD Off-Road is the best truck on the market for rock-hopping, mud-whomping, hill-climbing, snow days, horse-towing, and feed-hauling, let’s be real and see how it does as an everyday driver. Our tester for this segment was a 2016 TRD Off-Road V6, 4X4, Automatic Double Cab with the Premium and Technology Packages. Throughout this part of our testing, we will compare the Tacoma to crossovers roughly its size inside since we have already done the truck-related testing. Our Tacoma’s MSRP was a very reasonable $37,610. Here’s what we found.
2016 Toyota TRD Off-Road 4X4 Double Cab Automatic: Power and Handling
The new V6 in the Tacoma is beefy. Coupled to the six-speed automatic transmission (See Patrick Rall’s testing for the manual) it does not feel like the 3.5-liter drivetrain in the current Highlander or any Lexus product. The gearing is clearly set up for pulling. The engine is also much louder, but not in a low-rent way. It sounds like power, and I assume most truck owners would want that, rather than have it hidden. Off the line, the truck is quick in 2WD, and there is power to spare for normal driving. One never feels as if the truck is working hard. Contrast that with other alternatives like a RAV4, which always seem to be a bit underpowered. Merging onto the highway or when passing on the highway, the Tacoma has more than enough power and speed.
Handling is one area that the Tacoma is not at all similar to crossovers its size. The TRD Off-Road trim has a lot more suspension travel and significantly softer springs than anything a crossover or car owner would expect in a daily driver. Just moving the Tacoma around in a driveway one can feel and see the brake dive and suspension squat the truck has. Around town, it is one of the best handling trucks I have driven, but it is sloppy compared to a RAV4 or Highlander. The truck is also harder to precisely place in a lane in high-speed highway traffic. It is never a problem, but jumping into the Tacoma and then into my ’07 Highlander made the Tacoma feel huge and a bit wild. Rather than a demerit, I again assume truck owners will say “Well duh, it’s a truck!” If there was any surprise, it was how well the Tacoma did in these categories.
Ride Comfort, Ergonomics, And Usability
One might assume with the huge 70-series sidewalls of the Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure with Kevlar tires and its long-travel suspension that the Tacoma would offer a supple ride over bad pavement. Nope. It jiggles your face. The whole truck sort of shudders as you blast over pavement that would bend the rim of a RAV4 Limited and make the sidewall of its tire look like a crime scene. The truck also sort of rocks and rolls as it handles frost-heaved winter asphalt. However, anyone who is behind the wheel of this truck will drive it differently than a more delicate crossover or car. So, it is hard to say how it might compare to a sedan or compact SUV. The truck is not soft. That’s good, right?
Inside, the ergonomics of the Tacoma are excellent and match any modern crossover for usability and ease of use. The Tacoma has one perfectly placed cupholder in front of the center console armrest and behind the gear selector. Immediately ahead of that is a square space that is clearly a phone cradle. Then the shifter, and then two deep and well-supported cupholders. Then there is the cell phone pad with its Qi (pronounced “chee”) cordless charger. Above that are the HVAC controls which are thick wheels one can easily turn with gloves. Above those is the large infotainment screen. The screen has a volume and tuner knob (yeah!), and its touch screen and station presets work perfectly.
The seats of my TRD Off-Road with Premium Package were soft cloth with heat hot enough to make you turn it down – exactly how I like it. Also, there is a separate button that controls the heat. It is not part of the infotainment menus. If you put the heated seats on they stay on until you shut them off –the way all heated seats should be. Normally I tear into automakers that sell vehicles above $25K without power seat adjustment, but I have to admit that the manual seats in the Tacoma were comfortable for me. Overall the Tacoma cabin is ideal regarding usability.
The back seats were smaller than a RAV4, and by a pretty noticeable amount. My two 6-foot tall boys were cramped in back, and I had to pull the seat forward to let them sit more comfortably. The cargo bed of my truck went unused this week, but in recent large vehicle tests, I have moved a condo’s work of laminate flooring and a two-story downspout. Both would have fit in my tester, and the sliding rear window would have been perfect to put the downspout into. On the other hand, unlike a crossover, one cannot leave a load of groceries in the back during rain or snow. One Tacoma World Facebook Club member posted recently about his Tacoma with a bed cover, “Damn topper ruined it. Should have just gotten an SUV.”
Fuel Economy and Safety
The Tacoma V6 in 2WD delivered about 20 MPG in mixed suburban and highway driving on regular fuel. Since it is carrying around a truck-bed, this is to be expected. Still, the Tacoma is not an efficient commuter vehicle for its size. A current generation Highlander with its V6 and AWD we tested returned 24 MPG. With gas almost free these days does that matter to many buyers? Not likely.
The 2016 Toyota Tacoma has most of the safety features one expects in a truck plus a backup camera, rear parking sonar, and rear cross traffic alert. The information display in the gauge area also displays the individual tire pressure. We like this a whole lot more than an idiot light saying “check tire pressure.” However, the new benchmark in safety, particularly in family vehicles, is forward collision prevention with automatic emergency braking. That important system was not part of this truck’s safety suite.
Bearing in mind the amazing capabilities that the 2016 Toyota Tacoma has when towing, hauling, or when off-road, the everyday usefulness of the truck is impressive. Is it as comfortable as a Highlander or RAV4? It is not, but most off-road truck owners don’t expect or want to be coddled. Toyota makes more comfortable Tacomas like the Limited, but if you really want the TRD Off-Road, get it. Toyota has done all that can be done to make this special trim easy to live with.
Images by author except orange Tacoma with flag which is courtesy of Toyota.