2016 Tacoma | Toyota’s all-new midsize truck ready for battle

2016 Tacoma | Toyota’s all-new midsize truck ready for battle

The rough-and-ready 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road edition can tackle that tough trails.

The rough-and-ready 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road edition can tackle that tough trails.

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.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

Those are just a few of the advancements built into the new Tacoma, which we recently had a chance to test drive on- and off-road in—where else?—the greater Tacoma, Wash., area. The 2016 pickup’s first total makeover in a decade includes a more chiseled exterior appearance that draws its inspiration from Toyota’s desert racing trucks; vastly upgraded interior materials and features; a significant increase in use of high-strength and ultra-strength steel to triple the truck’s rigidity; and a potpourri of cool features such as storage bins under the rear seats, an optional locking hard tonneau cover and a 120-volt power outlet handily mounted in the composite truck bed.

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.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited


2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

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 interior of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited is luxurious and functional.

The interior of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited is luxurious and functional.

Make no mistake—this is a truck, and from the first turn of the firmly weighted steering wheel you’ll know it. There’s no light-weighting here for parking lot maneuvers, but the steering heft does ease up a bit at speed. Chief engineer Mike Sweers said Toyota stayed with hydraulic power steering because it provides a better feel for where the tires are on the road—and more importantly, where they are when you’re off-road.

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 Tacoma

Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road model is capable of tackling nearly any terrain.

Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road model is capable of tackling nearly any terrain.

Then 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).

Bold styling leads the way in the 2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

Bold styling leads the way in the 2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

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This article was written by

Bob Gritzinger got his first taste of grease and oil as a kid tearing down small engines and repairing go-karts, mini-bikes, motorcycles and cars in the backyard. That eventually led to his first real job as an auto mechanic while still in high school, but Bob’s career took a sharp turn into journalism when he joined the high school newspaper staff. Read more about Bob here.