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Why a 2016 Tacoma Diesel makes more sense than a Tacoma Hybrid

Which future engine would make more sense in a small truck for the US market? A Toyota Tacoma Diesel would have decent torque. A Tacoma Hybrid would have tremendous fuel economy advantages. Is there a wrong answer?

In our recent story we applied our knowledge of the Toyota/Lexus family of drivetrains and speculated on what a Toyota Tacoma Hybrid might be like. Readers liked the idea of a 31 MPG Tacoma. However, many have pointed out to us since the story that a Tacoma diesel might make a lot more sense. Does it? Let’s compare the pluses and minuses of both.

Tacoma Diesel
A Toyota Tacoma diesel is difficult to imagine since Toyota has no diesel engines in the US right now. We could speculate on what a Toyota diesel from another market might do in the US, but as Mazda has recently proven, adapting a diesel from other markets does not yield the same results in our EPA testing. If our Toyota fans will allow it, we’d like to instead look to a proven leader in US diesel vehicles, the Volkswagen Passat for our diesel estimates.

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These estimates are already EPA certified, so we can start from a known point. The Passat has 170 horsepower, but its 1.8 liter, 4-cylinder turbo-diesel delivers good torque at 236 pound-feet. That is much more than the Tacoma Hybrid we imagine and that will be a big part of the advantage for the Tacoma Diesel when we get to that part of our discussion.

Tacoma Diesel Fuel Economy
The 2014 Passat Diesel earns a rating of 34 MPG combined. We are comparing automatics since there would never be a stick-shift hybrid Toyota. Let’s now adjust that as we did previously when we came up with our estimates for the Tacoma Hybrid. First, we need to adjust for weight. The Tacoma weighs roughly 3700 pounds and the Volkswagen Passat weighs 3400 pounds. That is roughly a 9% difference. We will be generous and only apply a 6% penalty to the fuel economy for this. That gives us about 32 MPG. Now, just as we did for the Hybrid in our other analysis, we are going to assess a 15% fuel economy reduction due to the Tacoma’s larger frontal area and overall poorer aerodynamics. That brings us to 27.2 MPG of diesel fuel. Finally, we are comparing 4WD vehicles, so we need to assess a penalty to the Tacoma Diesel for the efficiency losses. Let’s say just 3%. We hit the Tacoma Hybrid with a 10% penalty for 4WD, so we are really still leaning hard to help the diesel. Now we are at 26 MPG.

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Finally, we will cross check that logic with a real diesel truck. The 2014 Ram 1500 4WD. That vehicle has a fuel economy of 22 MPG. So our Tacoma, being smaller, and having a smaller diesel engine would be realistic. We think 26 MPG combined is a fair estimate.

Toyota Tacoma Hybrid Advantages
In our prior article we carefully broke down how a 4WD Tacoma Hybrid would be achieve 31 MPG combined. This would be using regular unleaded gasoline. Regular is priced now at about $3.75 in my area. That means that a Tacoma Hybrid would have a cost per mile of about 12 cents. This is exceptional, and there is no truck in the US market that can come close to this.

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Our above breakdown yielded 26 MPG for a Tacoma Diesel. That means the Tacoma Diesel would cost 19% more to fuel – if the fuel cost the same. It does not. Diesel costs much more than regular unleaded. At about $4.10 per gallon in my area a 26 MPG diesel vehicle costs 16 cents per mile to fuel. That is fully 25% more than our Tacoma Hybrid. In terms of ownership costs related to fuel the Tacoma Hybrid is the hands-down winner. If you are wondering why in general the US has not adopted more diesels, here is one example of why.

Tacoma Diesel Advantages
The Tacoma Diesel’s greater torque would be a huge advantage in drivability and in terms of usefulness in all things trucky. Towing would be more practical. Light plowing might even be possible. The Tacoma Diesel would be a better “work-truck.” However, is that enough? It still would be a light duty vehicle. 170 horsepower is low for a modern 3700 pound vehicle. Although it could manage more loads, it would not be faster than a Tacoma Hybrid on the road when not loaded, which is how most trucks are driven, most of the time.

Toyota Tacoma Diesel vs. Hybrid Durability, Reliability and Longevity
The Volkswagen thing was just to give us an idea of fuel economy. We are not suggesting Toyota use a VW engine. Assume it is a Toyota engine. We need also to assume this is not a work truck. As I said in my earlier story a stone mason is not buying this vehicle for his business, a homeowner is. That said, we have two points to make.

First, a diesel would be longer lasting. Diesels work for a long time if well maintained and well designed. Advantage- Tacoma Diesel. Second, we need to consider reliability. Toyota warrants its hybrid’s batteries for 100,000 miles and its hybrid cars have proven extremely reliable. In general, hybrids do not suffer a resale value penalty in the actual used car market according to NADA. We call this a tie.

And the Winner Is
The winner of this contest totally depends on your point of view. If you believe in diesels I cannot change your mind. If torque is your primary goal, a diesel cannot be beaten. On the other hand, if fuel economy matters, the Tacoma Hybrid soundly trounces the Tacoma Diesel. If the environment matters, and carbon produced per mile is of concern to you, the diesel would lose. Despite the diesel lobby’s marketing push, diesels generally are the dirtiest vehicles in terms of carbon in their size class after EVs, hybrids, and conventional gasoline engines in that order. Our opinion is Toyota should build both.

Related Stories:
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Why are there no diesel hybrid cars?
Toyota Tacoma's two-step plan to match Chevy's 2015 Colorado


Bob (not verified)    July 10, 2014 - 10:58AM

A diesel Tacoma would be great or just bring over the diesel Toyota HiLux that is available EVERYWHERE but the U.S.
People buy 4x4 trucks for torque and the diesel would deliver that.

Maybe the soccer mom's would buy the hybrid

orphancarguyPE (not verified)    July 10, 2014 - 10:59AM

Its not either/or. A Tacoma diesel-electric hybrid would be perfect and better than either a diesel OR a gasoline-electric hybrid. I drive a diesel VW and a Toyota Prius C, and while I like both, I wish they were both diesel-hybrids to have the best of each

John Goreham    July 14, 2014 - 10:48PM

In reply to by dave (not verified)

Check out the link in the "related stories" section at the bottom. Quick answer - the added cost of both a diesel and also a hybrid engine compared to a fuel efficient gasoline engine makes the car too expensive to sell in numbers large enough to justify the vehicle. There are one or two in Europe. None in the US. The price penalty for the diesel fuel also hurts as does the higher C02 per mile form diesel fuel. Now, a natural gas hybrid - that is well worth considering if we are thinking outside the box....

Peter Gold (not verified)    July 15, 2014 - 6:49PM

Once upon a time Mercedes Benz made a full size 4 door sedan passenger car with a diesel engine that produced an amazing 90 horse power. It actually did work and for years was used in taxi cabs. Too bad that in our big, fat, high performance world or fuel pigs this type of vehicle does not come back. Is it time for a diesel engine to get over 60 miles per gallon as those in Europe now do ? I think so. What do you think ? What is your opinion of bacon ?

John Goreham    July 16, 2014 - 7:20AM

In reply to by Peter Gold (not verified)

The European evaluation for fuel economy is not the same as the US, nor is the British definition of a gallon of liquid the same as the US. The vehicles for sale in Europe are excellent automobiles, but they do not achieve higher fuel economy than those for sale in the US market. Use VW as your example if you like. I am familiar with those Mercedes Benz cars of the past. Slow and dirty.

Boat builder (not verified)    August 15, 2014 - 7:13PM

In reply to by John Goreham

Comparing the old Mercedes diesels to any new diesel car is truly apples and oranges. I drive a 328d wagon and routinely get 48mpg highway at 70 mph. It is a smooth, quiet ride with very good power.
I plan on buying my daughter a new pickup for college graduation and it hopefully will be a Tacoma diesel. It Toyota doesn't provide this I will look at the Colorado.

Bill Miller (not verified)    July 16, 2014 - 10:51AM

Like one commentor already wrote, Why Not A Deisel Hybrid. The first Hybrid recorded was a deisel hybrid in 1900 I think. It was a Submarine.

Jmarkisz (not verified)    August 2, 2014 - 11:35AM

We currently own a vw diesel jetta wagon and love it! Outstanding mileage and low maintenance costs. Our next vehicle will be a small diesel pickup for our active lifestyle: cycling, skiing and weekend projects. I can't believe the truck makers sell such diesel pickups abroad but not in the states. For us, it"ll be a VW, Toyota or Nissan diesel pickup. game on let's see who comes to market first.

Peter Gold (not verified)    August 18, 2014 - 9:56PM

Yes, it is true diesel engines need to be made of steel, not aluminum. As you may know compression causes the fuel to burn and huge amounts of power and heat are produced that steel can control and not warp over time like that aluminum fry pan that no longer lays flat on your stove after being distorted by heat and by the way higher rpm diesel engines wear out faster than low rpm diesel engines that also obtain more mpg. than the higher rpm diesel engines. SO WHAT MAY YOU SAY. Simple, diesel engines have greater torque at lower rpm than gasoline engines at the same rpm and last on average five time longer than gasoline engines. THIS IS WHY ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OF ALL LONG HAUL FREIGHT FOR BOTH TRUCKS AND TRAINS USE DIESEL ENGINES.

John Goreham    August 19, 2014 - 9:25AM

In reply to by Peter Gold (not verified)

Hi Peter, not be argumentative (your points are all correct) but I think that engines blocks for diesels and some gasoline engines, even modern ones, are iron, not steel. They use cylinder liners in some cases. Iron is an excellent material and can be made in a huge variety of grades.
- - Your point is valid about the benefits of diesel, but a couple things to consider are that gasoline engines now easily outlive the rest of the vehicle in passenger cars (and light trucks). And that small turbocharged engines like the new one from Lexus/Toyota do in fact match the torque of diesels. For example the new Lexus engine in the NX has 258 lb-ft of torque from just 1,650 RPM. - - Here is a very good reason why I think that Toyota should offer a diesel Tacoma and Tundra - The buyers want it! If interested here is a link to the info on the new gas turbo from Lexus (Toyota is getting it too): Thank you for your comments.

Bob (not verified)    August 30, 2014 - 4:02PM

I LOVE my Toyota Vigo! Since 2003 I've lived in Thailand much of the year and in November 2004 bought the new 2005 Toyota Vigo 3.0 D4D 4 door (which is basically a Tacoma) with an insulated air conditioned Carryboy shell on it. It runs great and has plenty of power. Pretty much all pickups and many SUV's in Thailand are diesel and there are no large pickups there like Tundra or F-150 size. If you want a PU with a gas engine it will be a 'Special Order'. I have a fairly heavy foot yet got 28-30 mpg combined average when it was new and still get around 25. I have about 160,000 miles on it and take good care of it using synthetic oil and good quality diesel and still none of the black exhaust you typically see following diesel vehicles. Diesel is subsidized there (which is good :-) for me) since most pickups and trucks are used for work. They will load a PU until the front wheels barely touch the ground yet they seem to last forever. Probably 1/2 of their 'Long Haul' trucks use NG/LPG and it is cheap to convert a gas vehicle to LPG. There are NG/LPG fueling stations all over the place... what a concept. I have no idea why we aren't doing that here in the US. I'm bringing my wife and daughter here and we will soon be spending most of our time here in CA for about 5-7 years and will need to buy a vehicle which is how I found this website in doing my homework looking for a PU. I'm sad Toyota won't have a diesel PU until 2016 and I'm also sad to be selling my PU in Thailand since it has been so good to me yet I can't just let it sit most of the year. For those of you planning on getting a PU and can wait for 2016... it will be worth the wait.

tillamook tim (not verified)    November 10, 2014 - 6:17PM

In reply to by Bob (not verified)

Right on, In NZ nothing but Toyota diesel's and i love them and get around 30 mpg. Lots of grunt when packing a load. In 93 when in Guatemala I saw lots of Toyota P.U.'s with 4 doors, why i thought don't we have those in the U.S.A., I even spoke to Toyota dealers telling them a 4 dr. pick-up would sell great here. well what did it take before we finally got them.
And i say this now, if Toyota would start introducing diesel p.u.'s and cars here the would be a best seller.

Brian B (not verified)    September 10, 2014 - 2:35PM

"If torque is your primary goal, a diesel cannot be beaten."
^ Huh??? Realize that both gasoline engines and diesel engines must continue rotating to operate. Diesels do generally produce more torque at low RPM's compared to gasoline engines. Electric motors on the other hand can produce nearly all of there available torque off of 0 RPM...something the mighty diesel cannot do.

Bolt Stevens (not verified)    September 17, 2014 - 11:10AM

I think everyone is forgetting the market. When you account for the cost of Diesel, with additives in some places to remain compliant, the upfront cost and time value of money over the loan, a hybrid auto makes more sense for the Tacoma.


Broader market. Like all manufacturers, Toyota is not in business to fulfill dreams. They are in business to make money. For every Tacoma, or any pickup for that matter, that is "worked", I'll show you two that are washed weekly and are basically an car in disguise. Most never carry more than 100lbs of anything...ever.....there is simply a bigger demand for a Tacoma, at 31mpg hybrid auto, than there is for a 4 cylinder Diesel.

Is there a market? You bet. But, in the US, we don't typically drive on dirt main roads, do we? We zig and zag through traffic going to and from work with nothing in the beds of most pickups. Make a Tacoma getting anywhere near 30mpg and I'll show you people lined up at the door to buy one.

Toyota has THE best hybrid system, period. It's reliable, smooooooooth, and most of all, works. The truck can carry more than enough batteries (Finally, a payload...) to offset the weight....use the standard Tacoma engine or that 156 HP one (circa 2006???) with a Hybrid setup to keep production and manufacturing costs down and I'll show you one great hybrid PU that 3 out of 4 Tacoma buyers would drool over.

A fun truck, with GREAT mpg, that is reliable and most of all, desirable. Like all Toyotas. Make that, produce that, manufacturer that and I'll watch the ever piss poor American made compact trucks disappear in two years....sure, they will make hail mary rescue attempts and it will show in their typical goofy manufacturing and details....they are fine for larger trucks (Somewhat) but, for compacts? Please.....

Make a Toyota 6-7 speed automatic (not that dreadful CVT) Tacoma Hybrid and watch them fly off the price? Around 25K (Remember, they will be using components already tested and true...namely the 156-170 HP 4cylinder with their synergy drive...god knows, the truck can haul the batteries....modify the bed to put them just underneath the front for lower center of gravity)....

Make that and it's game over.

td0g (not verified)    October 1, 2014 - 8:05PM

A diesel Tacoma that gets 26MPG? Sounds great, should start at about $39,000 if not more. It'll be like the Limited package but tack on another 3 grand for the diesel. The Tacoma is already the most amount of money for the least amount of truck on the market, I don't think market research is going to conclude that this is a good idea.

Twisted1 (not verified)    October 12, 2014 - 11:13AM

I really like the idea of a 4 cylinder turbo diesel in a small truck. I have a tacoma and really like it. The problem with all Tacomas is lack of power. The diesel could be the ticket to actually using the truck to pull a trailer.

With that said, we have a problem with the price of diesel in the US. The fuel is cheaper to make but costs significantly more. Why? The only thing I've heard is that the refineries make less diesel so it costs more. I would hope this could change because the increased mpg's would really be nice.

Bruce (not verified)    November 29, 2014 - 5:17PM

Well, that's an interesting comparison but it left out an important consideration. What is a truck used for? Based on the hybrid info provided it would make a completely useless truck. The diesel even sounds marginally though for that matter. If you want top notch fuel economy don't get a truck. It's pretty simple. If you can survive with the poor performance of the hybrid you don't need one anyway.

Andy (not verified)    December 5, 2014 - 6:03AM

Probably the most prolific small pickup on the planet, the Toyota Hilux would look really sharp in my driveway. Diesel of course! Unfortunately as others have stated, we don't get that model in the U.S. Why?

Car Nut Seattle (not verified)    April 6, 2016 - 2:16AM

I'd like to see Toyota offer a turbo diesel for the USA market. Diesel may not be for everyone, but I would think that those who need a diesel would buy one, or even want a diesel would buy one.

R. Haskins (not verified)    September 26, 2016 - 12:08PM

Been waiting for 4 years for the 4 cyl turbo diesel hybrid pickup to hit the market. Question is...who is going to make it? Preferably it will be the 700 lb lighter F150. Needs to be a 4 cyl engine to keep the COST and weight in check. Four cyl diesels are MATURE AND RELIABLE technology, which are paramount to truck success. Hope it comes to pass before my 08 Tundra hits its 10 year target trade in date in 1.5 years down the road.

Car Nut Seattle (not verified)    September 26, 2016 - 2:52PM

In reply to by R. Haskins (not verified)

I agree. I'd like to see more small displacement (2.0-4.0 litre) diesel engines offered here in the USA. The only thing I don't like is that most of what's being offered here is produced in China or SE Asia, which in itself isn't a bad thing, if that's the market it's supposed to be offered to. But for North American car buyers, I'd like to see something made in either the USA or Canada. It may cost more to purchase, but quality control should be better.