The verdict: Class-leading sales continue to cover up its flaws, but how much longer can Toyota go without modernizing the Tacoma?
Against the competition: It’s hard to think of a single thing the Tacoma does better than its competition… except sell.
I officially declare that I still find old school – or even downright old – vehicles fun to drive even if the competition is modernizing; Driving a 1997 Toyota 4Runner for over a decade will do that to one person. But even I struggled to find anything pleasant driving the Toyota Tacoma, a 2021 pickup that really shouldn’t look like a vehicle over 20 years its senior.
The Tacoma isn’t that bad, but using one as a daily driver made me wonder how long Toyota can keep getting away with giving the Tacoma special editions and new paint colors, but no bets. at significant level. The automaker just gave the full-size Tundra pickup a complete overhaul, and the Tacoma has to be next on the list.
Related: 2022 Toyota Tundra review: better where it counts
Power from the Tacoma I drove came from a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 that developed 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. A smaller 2.7-liter four-cylinder is also available. Our test vehicle had a six-speed automatic transmission, but a six-speed manual is also available.
The V-6 is loud and sounds tense under heavy acceleration. The power is available for assists and mergers, but it doesn’t come easily. The Tacoma can run out of steam when driving at high speeds once the revs stabilize, and the transmission will not always willingly stop to restart.
Interestingly (and frustratingly) the automatic transmission displayed aggravating behavior when using the Tacoma’s adaptive cruise control. In situations where it was necessary to accelerate to maintain the desired speed, the transmission would downshift from 6th to 4th, reach the set speed, and then maintain 4th gear. The lower gear and corresponding higher rpm were loud and annoying. Sometimes the Tacoma would shift up to a higher gear on its own, and sometimes I had to use a quick touch of the throttle to remind the transmission that a higher gear would be better. Manual shift mode could Solve this problem quite easily by letting you switch back, but it’s only available when you’re driving in Sport mode, which limits the drivetrain to four speeds, leaving you once again stuck in 4th on the highway.
Driving and handling are not much better. We’ve always said the Tacoma is the happiest off-road, and like most other trucks, that hasn’t changed. Empty and on the pavement, the ride is stiff and bouncy, although having a little weight in the bed helps a bit. The TRD Off-Road features off-road-friendly suspension, which in other trucks often means a smoother – if wobbly – ride. Here, it’s just rigid. Steering is vague and uncommunicative, and the amount of steering play is shocking, even in the corners. At least it’ll keep you from overcorrecting as you crawl through rock.
The Tacoma’s brakes also leave a lot to be desired. There is a substantial amount of initial bite – so much so I felt like I narrowly avoided getting caught in the backside a few times – but after that a significant amount of pedal travel is required to apply additional braking power. I can see how useful that initial bite would be in low-speed off-road situations, when it could bring the Tacoma to a halt quickly before disaster struck, but on paved roads it mostly annoyed me. One good thing Toyota does, however, isn’t put insanely gnarly off-road tires on off-road-oriented trucks, as if the automaker knows most of the truck’s miles will be driven on the pavement. . The gain is less noise and an improved road feel, but true off-roaders will likely opt for aftermarket tires.
With four-wheel drive, 3.5-liter V6 and a six-speed automatic, the Tacoma has gas mileage of 18/22/20 mpg city / highway / combined. The same powertrain with rear-wheel drive is slightly more efficient, at 19/24/21 mpg. The four-cylinder Tacoma is hardly more efficient.
However, while the Tacoma is far from efficient, it is no less efficient than its similarly equipped competitors. To get more efficiency from a pickup, buyers will need to consider different types of powertrains, such as diesels (available in the Chevrolet Colorado, the GMC Canyon, and the Jeep Gladiator, as well as all full pickups. size except the Tundra) or hybrids (available but not yet rated by the EPA in the Tundra, as well as Ford’s F-150 and Maverick). I was frustrated with the lack of range available to me on a full tank in the Tacoma, but that’s not an outlier in this department.
When properly equipped, the 2021 Tacoma’s towing capacity reaches a maximum of 6800 pounds (in an Extended Cab RWD model with a Tow Prep Package). The Crew Cab Off-Road TRD we tested couldn’t pull more than 6,400 pounds. Payload capacities vary by equipment: our test vehicle could support up to 1,155 pounds, but other models go up to 1,685 pounds.