2018 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 4×4 Access Cab: A trip back in time.
Price: $38,031 as tested (the trim level starts at $32,390). Options included $1,610 for Premium and Technology Package, heating the seats, adding more climate-control touches, and rear-parking sonar and cross-traffic alert; $650 for Towing Package; more options discussed throughout.
Marketer’s pitch: “Built for the endless weekend.”
Conventional wisdom: Consumer Reports liked the “high resale value, excellent off-roader, lots of standard safety features” but not that it was “outdated — feels like a 10-year-old design” — and had a “sit-on-the-floor driving position, clumsy handling, even for a truck, and stiff ride and noisy cabin.”
Reality: But I have a job? And a side hustle?
What’s new: The Tacoma goes into the model year mainly unchanged, although it adds standard Toyota Safety Sense, with pedestrian detection pre-collision system, lane departure, automatic high beams, and dynamic cruise control.
Smaller hauler: Midsize trucks, after a few years of being tossed to the clearance rack, are suddenly de rigueur again. Chevrolet brought back the Colorado a few seasons ago, and now the Ford Ranger is coming back online for 2019.
Through it all, Toyota has remained faithful to its Tacoma, never wavering from the smaller truck segment.
Smaller but bigger: But there’s a feeling of compromise to these. There’s never quite enough space, and the fuel economy rarely makes up the difference.
Meanwhile, full-size trucks have gotten much easier to live with. Ram and Ford offer giant machines that in many versions handle like sedans.
Even these smaller trucks aren’t all that small. Case in point: the Tacoma.
On the road: It’s worth starting here. Regular followers of my columns know that I put Toyota’s trucks and minivans in the hard-to-handle category. As a Sienna owner, I know unwieldy machines, and the full-size Tundra pickup follows this path to driver fatigue.
The Toyota Tacoma, though, is so much easier to live with; it handles well for its size.
Shifty: Toyota also sent me the one item I’ve longed for from trucks for a long time — a stick shift.
The six-speed manual in the test model shifted crisply, and the clutch was about the easiest I’ve ever had. I’m usually good for a couple of stalls with each shift, but the Tacoma and I worked together well. The TRD shift knob ($140) also added a touch of, well, touch.
You can’t get this option in any full-size half-ton pickups in the United States today, but it is available on the midsize Colorado and Nissan Frontier.
Up to speed: The 278-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 motivates that little truck. Plenty of oomph comes in second and third gears, and lazy passing in sixth was not impossible. (A 159-horsepower 2.7-liter four is standard.) Car and Driver says 60 mph should come in 7.7 seconds.
Friends and stuff: The rear jump seats are cruel and unusual.
Front seats were cloth, but they came with heating. Though they were comfortable, they sit a little low for a truck — low to the floor, that is, while still perched high upon Mount Tacoma.
Play some tunes: Dials controlled the volume and tuning, with a nice ebony plate adding a touch of class to the truck world.
The bare-bones radio functioned fairly easily and provided adequate sound.
Forget the tunes: Spring for the TRD Performance Exhaust ($799). The Tacoma provided a loud but enjoyable sound when the throttle was open, and then sounded like a 1960s Chevrolet pickup at normal speeds.
Keeping warm or cool: Simple controls feature three dials — two for temperature and one for fan, plus buttons in the middle to control from whence the air flows.
The heater vents are the circles that I love.
Fill it up: We took some yard debris to the compost place one Saturday morning and didn’t feel as if the bed was a big compromise. At just over 6 feet, it’s far smaller than an 8-foot full-size bed. (A smaller 5-foot bed is standard on the more passenger-friendly Double Cab model.) The bed step ($300) made this work much easier.
Fuel economy: I averaged 19 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver’s Seat round of highway and suburban roads.
Where it’s built: San Antonio, Texas, baby.
How it’s built: Are you sitting down? Consumer Reports predicts the Tacoma’s reliability to be a 2 out of 5. It got a 3 in 2017 and a 1 in 2016, after 5s the two prior years.
In the end: There remain a lot of reasons not to buy a midsize truck — compromises on space, no real improvement in fuel economy. But I’m a gearhead, so I’m completely sold on the six-speed manual transmission, something that’s becoming harder and harder to find in the U.S. But that reliability rating? Maybe it’s better to shop around.