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By BOB GRITZINGER | Contributing Editor
To demonstrate one of the new features on the totally redesigned 2016 Toyota Tacoma midsize pickup, a test driver deliberately buried a truck up to its axles in sand. A few minutes later, the truck freed itself—all without the driver doing anything more than pushing an overhead button marked “CRAWL.”
Impressive, yes, but unless you plan on doing a lot of off-road driving you may never need the kind of capability CRAWL control provides buyers who choose the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) grade Tacoma. It will, however, work equally well when you’re digging out of deep snow in your driveway, or mud on the way to your cabin.
Unseen, but probably more important to everyday drivers, are two technically advanced features incorporated into the new 3.5-liter V6 engine in the Tacoma: A dual-cycle engine function, and self-cleaning fuel injectors. If it all sounds a little obtuse, just know that operating the engine in both regular and Atkinson cycles improves fuel efficiency without diminishing performance, and self-cleaning fuel injectors last longer, saving on repair costs down the road.
The 2016 Tacoma On-Road
We spent half a day driving the winding byways around the Seattle-Tacoma area in a top-trim Limited D-Cab (double cab, four-door) 4×4 model. All test vehicles were equipped with 3.5-liter, 278-hp, 265-lb-ft V6s and six-speed automatic transmissions (a six-speed manual is available). Also offered is a 2.7-liter, 159-hp, 180-lb-ft I4 on lower trim models.
Doors closed with a solid “thunk” as we settled into the supportive driver’s seat and easily adjusted the manual levers and tilt/telescoping steering column to set up a commanding driving position.
Toyota didn’t make the truck any longer or wider, but they did increase interior space, which is noticeable and accented by what is now a Toyota trademark wide center stack, center console and expansive dashboard layout. We quickly connected our phone via Bluetooth, made note of the Qi wireless charging pad for those with phones so equipped, and spotted the standard GoPro mount on the windshield for those inclined to video their adventures.
The cabin seems exceptionally quiet up front, but we heard significant road and tire roar from the rear of the cab. Sweers said his team was working on ways to quiet the new noise, which became evident after engineers added sound-deadening insulation and improved door seals up front and an acoustic, sound-insulating windshield.
“As we make vehicles quieter and quieter, it becomes more of an issue because you hear things you never heard before,” Sweers said.
One of those noises, which we noted each time we were idling at a stop after the engine had warmed up, was the distinct valvetrain-like ping of the fuel-injector cleaners doing their job. That’s one you’ll just have to get used to.
Otherwise, the Tacoma’s ride is smooth and handling is steady—both surprising attributes for a body-on-frame pickup. We noted little head toss or otherwise uncomfortable jostling driving on normal roads.
Leaving the Streets of TacomaThen there’s the off-roading, where we spent the second half of our day driving trails and two-tracks, lumbering over rocks, climbing and descending rollercoaster- steep grades, and generally pushing the limit of the truck’s capability. With the aforementioned Crawl control and Multi-Terrain Select control in play in our TRD 4×4 tester, the Tacoma (and driver) were unruffled by any of the rugged work.
Toyota’s US leaders are happy to report that, thanks to General Motors rejoining the segment with the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon in the past year, midsize pickup sales have skyrocketed. The segment is up by 50 percent, boosting sales of the last-gen 2015 Tacoma by 20 percent in the process. On the horizon are new entries such as the Nissan Frontier, Honda Ridgeline and Hyundai Santa Cruz. But due in part to its consistency in the marketplace, Tacoma still owns the segment and it expects its share to grow when buyers come looking for a new small(er) pickup.
Tacoma is on sale in September, priced from $24,200 for a base SR Access Cab 4×2 to $38,720 for a Limited Double Cab 4×4. A TRD Double Cab 4×4 drops in at about $33,000 (prices include a $900 destination and handling charge).
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