RUNNER UP: Toyota Tacoma Double Cab TRD
The Tacoma has also grown for '05. The new Double Cab is 5.2 inches longer, 2.6 inches taller and has a wheelbase 5.9 inches longer than the previous-generation Double Cab. While it's a larger package, Toyota claims that it's more maneuverable, more powerful and more fuel-efficient than the compact truck it replaces.
Some of the Tacoma's highlights include a rear suspension consisting of semi-elliptical multileaf springs, coil-sprung independent double wishbone IFS, 12.56-inch ventilated disc brakes, 10-inch rear drum brakes and a new 4.0L V-6 engine that's bolted to a 4.0L-specific all-new A750E five-speed automatic transmission. Further, an all-new VF2BM electronically controlled two-speed transfer case splits the power to the front and rear axles.
One of the new Tacoma's most significant exterior changes is found in the composite inner bed, which features a new sheet-molded compound deck and walls that are 10 percent lighter than steel, yet tougher and more durable.
The familiar TRD four-wheeling package is also available, and it features an electric locking rear differential, progressive-rate front springs, specially tuned Bilstein shock absorbers, a 28mm front antiroll bar and 265/70R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail tires on 16-inch alloy wheels.
Almost every tester rated the Tacoma's 4.0L V-6 engine as the best of the group. It seemed to be perfectly matched to the 4,100-pound truck. During sand testing, one of our most power-taxing tests, testers noted that the 245hp engine provided more than enough oomph to pull the truck through even the deepest sand. "Hands down, the sand champ," noted one tester. Further, during high-altitude testing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we never felt as though the truck's performance had diminished to unacceptable levels.
Out on the trail, the suspension was one of the most dialed-in of the group. On the one hand, it offered a great ride on rocky trails at speed. On the other hand, the handling never got mushy or bouncy, as one would expect from a smooth-riding truck. As one tester noted, "Toyota really did its homework on the TRD suspension."
Another thing we noticed was the phenomenal build quality of the Tacoma. Our test vehicle was a prototype, so build quality might not have been up to the level of a production vehicle, yet as we bounded up a rocky trail at speed, testers noted it was "solid," "rigid" and "well-built."
A few drivers complained that the driving position was too low. While this didn't cause visibility issues, some testers felt that the seat was too close to the floor for comfort. Overall, testers did like the new seats; especially the side bolsters, which helped hold the driver firmly during off-highway maneuvers.
What did hamper visibility was the protruding hood. It's long and tall and has a wide rise in the middle. While it looks cool from the outside, these factors combined to impair forward visibility.
For some reason the electronic transfer case would sometimes refuse to come out of 4-low. An infernal beep notified us of its stubbornness-we sure would like to see a four-wheel-drive lever option.
Other gripes: It takes travel on the throttle to make things happen; road vibrations are transferred through the steering wheel; and the headliner-mounted compass/temperature gauges were hard to read in the daylight.
The new Tacoma seems to have all of the ruggedness and the let's-get-to-it work ethic of the previous generation Tacoma. So it's a little bigger. Get over it. With more ponies under the hood, the cool, non-denting composite inner bed, larger interior and worth-every-penny TRD Off-Road package, the Tacoma is definitely a player. There's no doubt it will have no problem carrying on the venerable Tacoma tradition. Because of this, it's our runner-up.
"It has the fun factor of the previous-generation Tacoma, but in a larger package."
"Delight to drive off-highway."