We're gonna go out on a limb and say that Toyota has owned the off-road mini-truck market for years. We know other OEMs have offered great little trucks, but from our time on the trails, no other truck in that class is out wheeling on the trails like Toys.
Well, 2005 is a new year, but from what we saw on a recent preview trip to Alaska, the new Tacoma is going to be hard to beat, and just may renew Toyota's belt in the featherweight 4x4 pickup class. With more power, tight fit and finish, wicked cool styling, a new six-speed manual transmission, and the off-road capability we crave, we're already harassing the 'Yota guys for a long-term test vehicle.
We do have a few questions as to the big changes made by Toyota (and by big, we mean literally bigger than the old Taco), and where they might be headed, but our initial impression of this truck is a thumbs up. The truck starts with a 4-inch-wider semiboxed chassis design for increased stability, and then adds a taller and nearly 4-inch-wider cab for more interior space. If you like the small cockpit of the older Tacoma, this may be an issue, but don't worry; it's still a mini-truck, just a little bigger in every way.
In addition to the cabin, the wheelbase also grows about 5 to 6 inches for every model, the Standard cab is now 110 inches, and the Access (extended) cab and Double cab (with 5-foot bed) both ride on 127.8 inches. Plus the new Double cab longbed (6-foot) version rides on a fullsize-fighting 140.6-inch wheelbase. Along with that slightly larger size come two bigger powerplants with a 164-horse 2.7L I-4 and the DOHC 4.0L V-6 producing 245 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque. Both are great engines, but being crazies we'd still like a V-8 in the Taco, thank you very much.
The reasoning behind all these boosts in size is a direct result of where the next-generation fullsize Tundra is headed. Based on our badgering of Toyota engineers, marketing folks, and people in the know, we have absolutely no hard facts to tell you about this upcoming Tundra, but we are willing to bet it will finally be a fullsize contender, possibly with a big-block and/or diesel powerplant. Of course, they may try to sneak in with just a small-block la the Nissan Titan, but let's hope they "leap frog the competition with a generation-and-a-half of evolution and refinement" and go straight to the big guns as they have done with the new Tacoma. (That last quote is straight from Don Esmond, the senior vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division, so let's hope he keeps on track with his fullsize).
So there you have it. The Taco is bigger, with more power, but still carries all the great stuff Toyotas have always had. We hope the longevity of the early Toyota pickups (which commonly run to 200,000-plus miles) was also designed in, and if that long-term tester shows up we just may get a chance to prove it. Please?!