The average life of a Four Wheeler test vehicle can be a Hobbesian existence-nasty, brutish, and short. Hundred-mile stop-and-go freeway commutes are a daily fact of life, and on weekends our testers are subjected to further abuse over desert dry washes, rocky trails, and any other kinds of off-pavement mischief we can make on our days off. This, for us, is fun, but our test vehicles don't always agree with our preferred entertainment (and we have the repair bills to prove it!). Not so, however, with our long-term Toyota Tacoma TRD. During our most recent 5,000-mile test period, the Taco has performed yeoman's duty on- and off-pavement without protest, our only parts expense being a $67.44 oil filter replacement. As with other 4x4s in the Toyota stable, the Tacoma has a solid rep for durability, and our tester has proven no exception.
Under the hood, the Toyota's GR-FE 4.0L V-6 continues to impress us with its freeway-friendly passing power, though we're still divided over the RA61 six-speed manual trans. One faction amongst the staff enjoys the stick's greater gearing options, improved crawl ratio, and better mileage, while another faction gripes about too-narrow shift gates, excessive cog-grinding, and inexplicable engine surges between upshifts. Given a chance to do it again, we'd probably opt for the five-speed automatic, though for the most part we have learned to live with the manual's idiosyncrasies. One thing we do agree on-unanimously-is the wisdom of ordering the TRD Off Road package, which gets you a rear locking diff, full skidplating, tow hooks, premium Bilstein shocks, and BFG Rugged Trail T/A tires.
Either way, the Toyota has remained in high demand as a daily driver, parts hauler, and occasional tow rig. We've also 'wheeled it hard and often, most recently during our 2006 Four Wheeler of the Year test (Feb. '06), where it was recruited for the week as a chase vehicle/support mule. As such, it had to go everywhere the more powerful V-8 SUVs did, and it did so without struggling to keep up, even at 10,000-foot altitudes and stuffed with hundreds of pounds of gear. The Tacoma's coilover front/four-link rear suspension-while somewhat wallowy on pavement-is forgiving and flexy on the trail, and the Bilstein shocks help the suspension maximize its full cycling potential. We found the locker a handy component, too-particularly in the truck-swallowing Sand Mountain dunes, where traction was fleeting and we were getting multiple SUVs stuck at once. Unperturbed by our marginal sand-driving skills, the Tacoma spent the day yanking out much heavier vehicles-repeatedly and effortlessly.
Report: 2 of 4
Previous reports: Nov. '05
Base price: $23,870
Price as tested: $29,450
Four-wheel-drive system: VF2A electronic part-time two-speed transfer case
Miles to date: 12,763
Miles since last report: 5,012
Average mpg (this report): 14.62
Test Best tank (mpg): 18.2
Test Worst tank (mpg): 12.4 (towing)
10,000-mile service: Lube, oil change
Problem areas: None
What's Hot, What's Not:
Hot: Freeway-friendly acceleration, trailable suspension, rear locker, great tires and shocks.
Not: Recalcitrant tranny shifter, heavy steering feel, low ride height, lackluster mileage.
* "Very well sealed! No matter how many cows are around, the air inside is always fresh."
* "Nice torque curve-plenty at low revs."
* "Best suspension big-hit compliance I've felt recently."
* "Six gears = too many for a truck."
* "What's with the Pontiac dashboard?"