The third-generation ‘16 Toyota Tacoma is here! We recently had the opportunity to talk with some of the engineers responsible for the all-new Tacoma and get seat time in the truck both on- and off-road. What we learned was fascinating.
The midsize pickup truck segment is hotter than the Arizona desert in August, so this is a great time for Toyota to trot out the new Tacoma. The segment is a hotbed, due in part to the arrival of the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon pickup trucks. For the new Tacoma (designed and engineered in Michigan, tested and tuned in Arizona, and assembled in Texas or Baja, Mexico), the Toyota team made it structurally stiffer, more aerodynamic, more efficient, and more tech savvy than the 11-year-old truck it replaces. But here’s the thing: the company stayed focused on the off-road capabilities of the truck- after all, 45 percent of Tacoma buyers report traveling off-road. The company says that based in part on initial orders, it appears that 50 percent of new Tacoma’s sold will be equipped with a TRD package and 20 percent of that number will be the TRD Off-Road package, which includes an electric rear locker.
Some of What’s New
The new Tacoma will be available in 29 configurations in two cab types, the standard Access Cab and the four-door Double Cab. Access Cab trucks will have a 73.7-inch-long bed (127.8-inch wheelbase), while the Double Cab will be available with either a 73.7-inch (141-inch wheelbase) or 60.5-inch-long bed (127.4-inch wheelbase). The sheetmetal you’re looking at is all-new and Toyota says it was inspired by desert racing trucks. This new design helps the Tacoma achieve an aerodynamic drag reduction of 12 percent, which Toyota says is the largest in its truck history. The hood has been raised 30mm (due to mandated pedestrian protection); the beam of the wide-angle fog lights has been increased to 135 degrees from 110 degrees; there’s new projection headlamps that offer a wider and longer beam; the tailgate is stronger, lockable, fitted with a rotary damper, and has a standard rear-facing camera; the inner cargo bed continues to be fiber-reinforced sheet-molded composite and has four cargo tie-downs and a standard adjustable cleat system; and the truck has a 10mm increased beltline. Underneath, the chassis and underpinnings are similar to the previous Tacoma, but high strength steel has been added to the frame to increase strength and rigidity. The rear suspension retains the leaf-spring setup, but a four-leaf spring pack is used on each side as opposed to the three-leaf setup on the previous-gen truck. Up front, the coil-spring IFS is basically carryover, but the lower control arms are now made from high-strength steel. The monotube shocks under the Tacoma now feature an internal damping spring and each grade of Tacoma receives its own suspension tuning. Tacoma trucks will be fitted with one of two rear drum-braked axles depending on configuration. The BD20 axle has an 8-inch ring gear and we’re told this axle is basically carryover from the previous truck, but it does have some changes including a new gearset. There’s also a brand-new rear axle with 8.75-inch ring gear and high-strength axletubes. The BD22A is the “normal” 8.75-inch axle and the BD22AN 8.75-inch axle is fitted with an electric rear locker. The BD22AN will be included in TRD Off-Road package-equipped trucks. These new 8.75-inch axles contribute to a gross axle weight rating improvement of 24 percent. It’s also worth noting that the electronic rear diff locker now has an internally-mounted drive motor as opposed to the external motor found on the previous Tacoma. Up front, the centersection and axleshafts are carryover from the previous-gen truck. All of the hubs are stronger and of a new design due to new wheel slippage sensors.
Two engines are available. There’s an all-new Atkinson-cycle 3.5L V-6 that has D4S injection (direct and port injection), VVT-iW wider intake, and VVT-I exhaust. This engine generates 278 hp at 6,000 rpm and 265 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm. There’s also a 16-valve 2.7L DOHC I-4 that has a cast-iron block, aluminum head, and VVT-i. The 2.7L is basically carryover, but has some integrated low friction technology to increase efficiency. It makes 159 hp at 5,200 rpm and 180 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm. Both engines get larger radiators and they share an all-new six-speed automatic transmission that is physically smaller than the five-speed it replaces. When it comes to manual transmissions, the I-4 engine can be mated to a five speed unit (carryover from the previous truck) while the V-6 can be mated to an all-new six-speed box. Power is then routed to an all-new, part-time, two-speed transfer case (2.57:1 low range ratio) that Toyota says is the fastest-shifting, lightest, and most efficient in the midsize truck segment. Interestingly, the T-case is shared with the Toyota Hilux (which is also all-new for ’16). The only difference, we’re told, is that the Hilux T-case gets a manual shift system, while the Tacoma gets an electronic shift system. Sprouting from the T-case are a pair of new-design driveshafts.
Finally, the interior has been completely overhauled and features more quality materials and features such as pushbutton start (auto trans only), available front dual-zone climate control, four available audio systems (one system even lets you link your phone GPS to the unit), moonroof, 4.2-inch multi-function display (SR5-grade and up), standard windshield GoPro mount, and much more. The cabin structure is all-new and features high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel that required a new hot-stamping process. Toyota says the ultra-high-strength steel is three times stronger than the steel used in previous Tacoma cabin. In order to increase cabin quietness, the truck has enhanced door seals, a multi-layer acoustic windshield, sound-absorbing headliner, and floor silencer pad, among many other things. The basic cabin dimensions remain the same, but changes to the interior door trim resulted in 93mm more hip room and 45mm more shoulder room compared to the previous-gen truck.
Driving The Tacoma
First the bad news: there were no four-cylinder or manual transmission-equipped trucks at our disposal. However, we did get to spend time with a few Tacomas powered by the all-new V-6 engine mated to the all-new six-speed automatic transmission. The first thing we noticed is how much roomier the interior of the truck feels (and is) and we welcomed the new switchgear (among other things, the previous gen had some smallish knobs we didn’t like). We also liked the improved materials, which combined with the incredibly improved NVH, made the interior of the truck somewhere we wanted to be.
On-road, the Tacoma’s new V-6 pulled strong when needed as we wound our way along the twisty roads outside of Tacoma, Washington. At idle, the engine is quiet and refined, but it exuded a healthy roar under load. Pull was strong, too. We had no complaints about the new six-speed automatic transmission and it did its job seamlessly and without stumbling. On the previously mentioned twisty roads, handling was very good and the ride was OK. The TRD Off-Road-equipped trucks we spent most of our time in were firm, but not stiff, in regards to ride quality.
Off-road, the Tacoma was in its element. Really. The suspension soaked up our “spirited” driving on rough dirt roads, the T-case engaged and disengaged quickly, the rear diff locker was reliable and easy to use, and we welcomed the TRD Off-Road’s 32-degree approach angle (non-TRD Off-Road trucks have a 29-degree approach angle, which is still pretty good by today’s factory-truck standards). It’s important to note that the TRD Off-Road trucks are equipped with Bilstein shocks and P265/70R16 Goodyear Wrangler All-Terrain Adventure with Kevlar tires. The shocks helped control the suspension off-road at speed and the Goodyears were a decent compromise between on- and off-road performance. We also like the 16-inch wheel diameter of the TRD Off-Road truck, which among other things will offer a larger footprint when aired down compared to a larger diameter wheel. The new five-speed Crawl Control (which uses throttle control and brake pressure to keep the vehicle moving up and down obstacles at the speed selected) continues to amaze. No, you don’t have to use it, but it’s available if you just want to steer. With the addition of two more speeds (the previous-gen Crawl Control offered three speeds) the system offers even more adjustability. Toyota says the new Crawl Control is quieter than the previous gen, but in our opinion it’s still noisy as it does its thing. One thing we didn’t like was that non-TRD Off-Road Tacomas are reliant on electronic traction control in lieu of a mechanical locker or a limited-slip differential. While the system does work well, we’ll always choose mechanical over electronic. And speaking of electronic stuff, the Tacoma still has all the annoying Toyota nannies that beep and chime. If we had a wish list for the TRD Off-Road, we’d ask for a completely defeatable traction control system and a manual transfer case lever.
Our initial reaction is that Toyota nailed it with the new Tacoma. From a visual standpoint, we dig the stance and appearance. Overall, the truck is improved, but not radically different and that’s a good thing in our book because historically the Tacoma has walked the fine line between work, commuter, and off-road-ready. It seems that Toyota is continuing that smart, yet challenging philosophy with the new truck. Naturally, we’re looking forward to more time with the Tacoma, including our upcoming 2016 Pickup Truck of the Year competition. We’ll pass along more of what we learn, be it pro or con.
We’re told that Tacoma pricing ranges from a base price of $23,300 to $37,820. The TRD Off-Road Double Cab 4x4 with V-6 engine and automatic transmission has a base price of $33,730. All prices do not include tax, title, license, or destination charge.