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A 31 MPG 2016 Toyota Tacoma Hybrid 4WD pickup is possible

Until Lexus launched its new NX 300h AWD hybrid crossover thoughts of a Toyota Tacoma Hybrid pickup were unrealistic. Now that Toyota family AWD hybrids the same weight as the Tacoma have arrived, the fantasy is becoming more fun to consider.

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Have you ever wished you could have a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck for light duty, but not have to pay a penalty at the pump? Your days if waiting could be over if Toyota decides to move its proven drivetrain from an upcoming model to the popular Tacoma.

Lexus is about to introduce a new hybrid crossover to the US market called the NX 300h. This new crossover will become the US market’s fuel economy champion for crossovers upon arrival and it is unclear if any real rivals will come along for quite a while. Even the much larger Tesla Model X is a year away. So for now the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX 450h will remain on top. However, these vehicles are larger and heavier than a Tacoma and are using 6 cylinder hybrids. Imagine how much of a fuel miser the Tacoma would be if it adopted the 4-cylinder hybrid drivetrain of the “300h” Lexus vehicles.

Engine Specifications for Toyota Tacoma Hybrid
Before you turn away figuring that such a drivetrain would be vastly underpowered for a compact pickup realize that the “300h” drivetrain already packs more power than the base Tundra does. The approximately 200 horsepower is accompanied by 156 lb-ft of torque. That is a problem. With trucks torque matters more and having less of it will make a hybrid Tacoma a truck for light duty only. Towing would be limited to small trailers only, with limited cargo. Still, there are people for whom that would be enough.

We’ve driven the Lexus ES 300h. This is a large car that weighs about 3700 pounds. The weight penalty is only about 100 pounds due to the battery packs. The Tacoma is very close to this weight, almost identical in 4x4 configurations. From this we can say that driving the Tacoma would be fine. The ES 300h does not feel underpowered around town and in normal driving the power is adequate. Those looking for a truck with the emphasis on fuel economy would not complain.

Fuel Economy of Toyota Tacoma Hybrid
In the ES 300h the hybrid drivetrain can deliver an impressive 40 MPG combined. Let’s break that down considering the reductions that would come from the Tacoma’s truck style configuration. The Tacoma is taller and less aerodynamic for many reasons. We will deduct fully 15% for this. That puts us in the ballpark of about 34 MPG combined. We would imagine the Tacoma as a front wheel drive truck. The “300h” drivetrain is already configured that way in the ES, but in the NX 300h it will also be able to send power to the rear. In 4WD configuration we expect that the Tacoma would lose an additional 10% of its fuel economy. That means about 31 MPG combined. The current Tacoma with the base 4-cylinder engine and 4WD gets 19 MPG combined. Thus, the hybrid we are discussing would have fully 55% better fuel economy. The coming Lexus NX 300h AWD is expected to return about 32 MPG combined, so this breakdown feels about right.

Trade-offs of a Toyota Tacoma Pickup
Before we finish we have to emphasize that the 300h hybrid powertrain and the body-on frame Tacoma would not simply “bolt-up.” Marrying the two would be a challenge. We think the world’s largest and wealthiest automaker could find a way though. Could it do it cost effectively? Not profitably. However, automakers these days make a lot of vehicles for a lot of reasons that don’t bring in the Benjamins. In the Lexus line up about $3,000 is the usual mark-up for a hybrid version of a vehicle.

Reliability is also a concern. Frankly, people that drive hybrids drive them quite differently than pickup owners drive pickups – even when they are in fact the same person. Would a hybrid pickup last? The jury is out.

Conclusion – Would a hybrid Tacoma Make Any Sense
Keeping in mind that there are clubs dedicated to hybrids and EVs that are completely nuts about cars that barely sell, Toyota could make some waves with the Tacoma Hybrid and satisfy some customers. The BMW i3 sold about 350 units in each of its first two months of production. Ford has plug-in and electric cars that sell in numbers so small nobody even includes them in the discussion of green cars. And Ford is quite proud of its achievements. Yes, a Tacoma 4WD compact truck getting 31 MPG might make sense from the perspective of a green car buyer that likes to garden, camp, fish, and haul his or her own building materials home from the ‘Depot. From the perspective of a Ford F-150 owner who uses the vehicle in his masonry business every day, no, a hybrid small truck is not really a consideration.

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Liam (not verified)    July 8, 2014 - 12:36AM


Great idea and the marketing dept for Toyota should read this article and then read it again.

As a current Tacoma owner, and one who adores the truck, this would be a game changer. Sign me up for a new one!

JOe (not verified)    February 7, 2015 - 10:29PM

In reply to by Liam (not verified)

Yes Yes Yes
Some of us want a 4wd truck for height, occasional forays into the snow, and hauling around light weight cargo. Give me an upscale 4wd tacoma with leather interior. I am in. Why hasn't this been done yet? I know many non-trade professionals who would love something like this.

Woggledog (not verified)    July 8, 2014 - 2:45PM

Simplistically put, petrol engines do NOT belong on pickups. Diesel engines do. Anything that needs torque, such as, say, vehicles designed to carry loads, needs to have a diesel. My bottom of the range 320d pumps out 300lbs/ft of torque.

Now, if Toyota managed a diesel hybrid, it would leave the competition in a heartbeat.

Jeff (not verified)    July 8, 2014 - 3:34PM

Hybrid's are dumb on a pickup. Slap in a diesel, you'll get loads more torque, unneeded weight and complexity and the same or better gas mileage. They offer these options in literally the rest of the entire world, why can't the US have small diesel pickups?

Auto Motive (not verified)    July 9, 2014 - 1:50PM

The Dodge 1500 Ram Diesel is outselling every diesel in the market. For a mere $2800 over the base v8 Dodge has ordered double from last year. Dealers can't seem to get enough in stock.

Brian (not verified)    July 12, 2014 - 3:32PM

I bought compact pickups for my primary vehicle 6 consecutive times before switching to Japanese sedans for mileage reasons. I have really wanted to go back to a truck for years but refuse to do so due to the pitiful mileage. If Toyota were to offer a hybrid Tacoma, or preferably the smaller Hilux, I would be the first in line to buy one.

Chris (not verified)    October 26, 2014 - 2:00PM

Two years ago this week, when gas prices hit $4 per gallon, I drove my 2010 2WD Tacoma (24 MPG) into my Toyota dealer and said, "Driving 35,000 miles a year is killing me. Whattaya got that's a respectable vehicle?"

Dealer: "Prius!"

Me: "Yeah, right. My kids would laugh me out of the house."

Two hours later I drove away in a new PLUG-IN Prius. The combination of big rebate, 0% financing, $2500 off, and the federal tax credit made it a no-brainer. I now save enough on gas to rent a pickup truck once a year when I need to buy a load of manure. And my kids always ask to use my Prius because they hate buying gas more than I do.

The last thing I said to my dealer was, "Why in hell haven't they made a Plug-in -- or at least a hybrid -- Tacoma??? It would sell gangbusters. He didn't have an answer. Your article helps explain why, but my friend has owned a Highlander hybrid for three years. Get on it, Toyota!

amcken3 (not verified)    November 29, 2014 - 2:59AM

Its about time! Toyota needs to make a RAV4 HYBRID (that gets 40 + mpg) not all of us have charging stations!!!!...not just the EV too!!!! Come on Toyota!!!!

Rusty Brand (not verified)    December 31, 2014 - 10:01PM

I am that guy who wants a hybrid 4wd Tacoma to go fishing. On my third Tacoma now -- sure hope the next one's a hybrid.

rusty truck (not verified)    February 8, 2015 - 11:22PM

Love my rusty framed Tacoma which will have to go to the graveyard soon, even tho it still runs great. Would love to see a hybrid 4WD Tacoma. Need 4WD living in country in winter.... would love it to be hybrid to get decent mileage. I believe there are ALOT of people that would love a little lightweight hybrid truck with 4WD. Cannot justify buying another regular truck with pitiful gas mileage. Even Prius C with AWD would be great!

Elmore Frank B… (not verified)    March 3, 2015 - 10:44AM

It would be nice if the Tacoma have a hybrid to save on gas with the same price?

Sue Wielesek (not verified)    March 15, 2015 - 1:07AM

Why can't I find another 1994 4WD king cab Nissan in a 2015 Hybrid version? My sweetie pie and I have rental property, six kids and eight grandkids between us, and a small farm. A hybrid Toyota would be great.
I'm sorry Detroit gave up the idea of the Urban Pickup in favor of toy haulers. Worker Guys in Oregon keep patching up their old Toyotas, Nissans, Mazdas, etc because they're cheap and reliable.

Arkansas man (not verified)    May 8, 2015 - 5:22PM

Toyota trucks made their name and reputation as long-lasting with the small, short wheelbase trucks. Each year the Tacoma's and Tundra's get bigger and bigger. I own a real Toyota truck (1986 4WD short wheel base) and a 2004 4WD Tacoma. Beginning in 2005 they became too big. When will Toyota learn that real 4 wheel drive folks want a smaller truck?

Don Thomason (not verified)    May 27, 2015 - 10:11PM

Me: 2014 Toyota Tacoma 4-banger 5-speed at 34 mpg MT, 27 mpg pulling 16 ft travel trailer is mine. Hybrid Tacoma with my driving should be about 50 mpg MT, or 42 mpg with trailer. Slow down folks, 60 mph on Cruise Control will get you there nearly as fast! And I seem to have plenty of power on the hills.

John Banister (not verified)    June 27, 2015 - 5:21AM

For me a traditional Toyota style hybrid synergy drive wouldn't work. What I think would work is a setup on a 4WD pickup where an electric motor off the transfer case can power the front wheels when the truck engine is in rear wheel drive mode. The motor wouldn't have to move an unloaded truck faster than 25-35 mph and anticipated use would be when stuck in traffic, maneuvering into a parking spot, pulling out of the garage, that sort of thing. When the truck is towing or in 4WD mode, the motor could stay out of the way. Another nice thing about having hybrid batteries in a pickup truck, would be all the uses for the big battery powering an inverter (big enough to run a circular saw at a temporary job site, or keep the home furnace running during a power outage) while the truck is parked.

Make the engine that BMW N57S inline 6 diesel and the transmission the Tremec TR-9007 DCT and it could be a nice truck.

David Keeling (not verified)    August 7, 2015 - 7:06PM

My wife doesn't believe a hybrid Tacoma 4X4 with some luxury interior features would be reasonably priced.

yiovani luque (not verified)    March 30, 2016 - 11:01PM

My 08 taco gives me 20mpg combined, not bad at all
But wish toyt can make a hybrid taco gas or diesel i dont really care. Having at least 20 more mpg would definetly make the difference in both, my wallet and the environment.
I believe toyt can make taco that you can set it up for gas or diesel mode when playing in sand dunes or when real power is needed. And also it would be nice to set it up on green mode for the daily basis use home to work or city use
Hope toyota really listen to us, taco drivers

Austin Vialoux (not verified)    April 20, 2016 - 11:59PM

I happen to own both the NX300h and a 2010 V6 Tacoma. The AWD system in the NX is awesome better than the Tacoma. Never slips on ice. No drive shaft or rear diff no belts and the ECVT system is a much better design than a typical CVT. I still think the hybrid Tacoma would need a lithium ion batteries and a bigger more HP electric motor in the front and back which would cost Toyota a bit but sell like crazy. Crawling on rocks in EV mode would be a blast.

Austin Vialoux (not verified)    April 21, 2016 - 1:09PM

In reply to by Elmore Brown J… (not verified)

The NX300h is AWD the rear axle has just an electric motor which both charges the battery during breaking and drives the wheels. Below 3c the rear axle is always working up to 7kph eliminating any slip on ice.

John Goreham    April 21, 2016 - 4:26PM

In reply to by Austin Vialoux (not verified)

Hey Austin, thanks for writing in. I just tested the RAV4 Hybrid which shares the AWD system of the NX 300h AWD. I loved it and wrote this story about its performance: Sorry you have to cut and past or check out the story on out Toyota tab on the front page. Cheers,