Putting the New 2016 Toyota Tacoma Through Its Paces
At 4-Wheel & Off-Road’s 4x4 of the Year test we test vehicles exactly as delivered. Exactly. So if a Ram 2500 shows up with 80 psi in the tires, it is going to be a long, bumpy ride off-road. Our test doesn’t take into account any potential modifications, from something as simple as tire pressure to as complex as axle swaps and long-travel suspension. This is a good thing for, say, the Range Rover Sport, which won the test in 2013. You aren’t going to find a lot of winch bumpers or half-doors for the Range Rover.
This year’s winner, though, the Toyota Tacoma, gets plenty of love from the aftermarket. In fact, we would put the Tacoma only behind the Jeep Wrangler in terms of aftermarket support. The approach taken by Jeep and Toyota could not be more different, though. Jeep embraces the aftermarket and even has its own line of suspension and drivetrain accessories through Mopar Performance. Blew up your 3.8L engine? How about a Hemi swap! Toyota, by contrast, does not seem as keen on letting customers modify their vehicles. “The engine is perfectly adequate,” they seem to be saying.
As good as the Tacoma is in stock form, we couldn’t help but wonder if it could be even better. Then ARB handed us the keys to its 2016 Tacoma, and you won’t believe what happened next (or maybe you will). We put over 1,000 miles on the truck and ran it through the snow, mud, and everything else we could find in a week of driving through Utah and Colorado. What we learned may not surprise you: Compromises have to be made in terms of economy and refinement in order to gain trail prowess.
ARB goes out of its way to minimize those compromises. Think of this truck like a TRD Pro Tacoma, but it costs less and you don’t have to wait until next year to get it. ARB’s Air Lockers can be turned off on the pavement to act just like an open differential but allowed us to get to destinations a stock truck could never dream of reaching. ARB’s new BP-51 shocks improved the ride in every type of terrain we encountered. It is really more like a TRD Pro on steroids. Our complaints did not center on the ARB products but rather on the Tacoma’s 3.5L V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. When pulling one long grade, the truck could not maintain speed at 3,500 rpm and had to downshift to 5,000 rpm. As you would expect, mileage out of an engine turning 5,000 rpm all day had a lot in common with a Justin Beiber concert (low teens).
Debates erupted over whether the issue was the lack of torque produced by the engine or the six-speed automatic’s constant hunting for the right gear. The more time we had to reflect on the Tacoma, though, the more we realized that it is not that out of character for Toyota. Build a truck that is strong as a tank with an engine that runs forever and makes enough power, but not so much that it breaks everything downstream. The 22R engine has a legendary reputation, but no one ever accused it of being a powerhouse either. If you have a new Tacoma, don’t be afraid to modify it. Just be ready to modify your expectations at the same time.
The seating position in most Toyota trucks and SUVs is low on the floor, and the new Tacoma is no exception. It got uncomfortable after a few hours of driving, but we found that moving the seat back and extending the telescoping steering wheel helped.
Dog will hunt! And so will the six-speed automatic transmission. Pulling an old trick out of our Toyota playbook, we used the ECT/PWR button to hold each gear longer. We are anxious to drive a Tacoma equipped with a manual transmission to see if it is any better.
ARB has already developed a Bull Bar for the new front end of the 2016 Tacoma. Toyota hasn’t made this easy on ARB, so it retains part of the factory bumper for a clean look. All while adding steel protection to the front of the truck, along with a place to mount a winch and auxiliary lights.
Snorkels are a popular accessory in Australia, where deep water crossings are common. They serve another purpose as well, though. The raised location of the intake results in cleaner air entering the engine when traveling on dusty roads.
ARB’s Tacoma is shod with 285/70R17 Cooper Discovery STT Pro tires wrapped around Raceline Avenger wheels. The tires never lost traction in the mud and snow that we encountered, but we found them to be somewhat loud on the freeway on the otherwise quiet Tacoma. We would prefer Cooper’s ST Maxx on a truck this refined.
Once in Colorado we made a stop at Rhino Rack, for installation of the company’s new Backbone rack for the Tacoma. We topped the rack with ARB’s Kakadu rooftop tent. Rhino Rack has a whole line of accessories, from load boxes to bike racks, that can be added above the bed of the Tacoma to keep the bed space useable.
Slee Off-Road is one of ARB’s biggest dealers in the United States specializing in Toyotas. The people there were anxious to check out ARB’s new Tacoma and all of ARB’s products for Tacomas. Slee recently purchased a 2016 Tacoma of its own, and we expect to see the company produce unique products for this platform soon.
After visiting friends in Denver it was time to head for the hills. We didn’t have to go too far into the Rocky Mountains before we found plenty of snow and mud. While the Tacoma worked well on the road, it was really in its element once we left the pavement.
One of ARB’s newest products is the BP-51 shock absorber. “BP” stands for “bypass,” and “51” refers to the shock piston diameter in millimeters. These shocks are full of high-end features, including internal bypass tubes for position-sensitive damping that allows a smooth ride over small bumps without concern about smashing into the bumpstops in rougher terrain. The remote reservoir provides an increase in fluid that allows the BP-51 to run cool even when used hard for a long time.
While most “adjustable” shocks only provide for compression adjustments, ARB’s BP-51s allow for external adjustment of both compression and rebound damping. Applications are currently limited to the Tacoma, JK Wrangler, and 200 Series Land Cruiser, but ARB tells us more options will be coming soon.
While the BP-51s are adjustable, they are not necessarily easy to adjust on the trail. We like to fine-tune shocks to our preferences, adjusting settings to account for the weight of items like winches and bumpers. If you plan to adjust the shocks each time you change terrain, bring a tarp to lie on and factor in some extra time at the trailhead.
Our route took us up into the aspens of the Rocky Mountains. It was here that the Cooper Discoverer STT Pro tires and ARB Air Lockers made the difference between progress and turning around. In tight trees, the ability to turn the selectable lockers on and off was critical to keeping us from sliding off into the trees.
Fortunately for us, the first thing ARB did was fit a set of its Air Lockers and 4.56 gears in the new Tacoma. This truck uses a traditional 8-inch rearend, while the TRD Off-Road and all manual transmission–equipped Tacomas have the new, larger, 8 3/4-inch rearend.
ARB’s Tacoma is an SR5 model that lacks the Hill Descent Control of the TRD Off-Road package. Given the wheelbase of the truck and the excellent brakes, we did not find this to be a limiting factor. The dimensions of the Tacoma are actually quite similar to the four-door Wrangler, and both are just about perfectly sized to explore most trails.
Having the ARB Kakadu tent mounted at waist level on the Rhino Rack Backbone made it very easy to deploy and set up. The mounting position when closed also meant that nothing was protruding above the roofline to get snagged on trees or flap in the wind. Rear visibility was compromised, but with the Tacoma’s backup camera it was a very small concession.
The Kakadu is a new rooftop tent from ARB that is similar to ARB’s Simpson III tent but with increased ventilation, and it is even easier to pitch. The Kakadu uses a thinner high-density foam mattress than the Simpson III, but we still found it to be more comfortable than any sleeping pad we have used on the ground. The thinner material allows the tent to be lighter and less expensive, but the biggest benefit we found was that the tent folds closed much easier than the Simpson III.