In these trying times of scandals, political tensions, and my sports teams not doing much, it’s hard to keep the faith. But there’s one place that’s earned your trust for decades, and continues to do so. The Toyota Tacoma – an honest truck.
Tough yet Approachable
Along with the Toyota 4Runner, The Tacoma is an old friend. It’s been with us since 1995, and that’s building on a heritage of incredibly durable Toyota pickups that started here in the U.S. in 1969. And here in California, where the weather is kind, you still see plenty of 70’s and 80’s trucks making their way in the greater world. Not restored garage queens – just regular hardworking machines that seem intent on running forever. And if you find a used one for sale, even with a couple hundred thousand miles, well, they really hold their value.
So, when Toyota redesigned the Tacoma, now in its 3rd generation, they wanted to stay true to the core, while still giving buyers an updated look. This is an American truck, designed in Newport Beach, Ca and Ann Arbor, Mi. It’s got that same Toyota truck stance, kind of slabby and tough, but with an athletic vibe. Up front, there’s a massive hexagonal “cheese grater” grille, flanked by projector-beam headlights with cool LED daytime running lights.
The side profile has a tall stance, with overfenders that remind us of Toyota’s desert race trucks. Limited models like our tester feature color-keyed bumpers and overfenders, along with chrome accented door handles to give a luxury look.
The Limited is offered exclusively in Double Cab body style featuring four full-size doors, and a 5-foot bed. Rolling on handsome, model-specific 18-inch alloy wheels, and wearing sparkling Barcelona Red Metallic paint, our tester was a nice blend of upscale and sporty.
Our resident off-road enthusiast tells us that the light-brown Quicksand color is a big hit with the hardcore 4×4 crowds. So, buy appropriately.
Like most trucks, the Tacoma is available in a variety of configurations. If you’re looking for an Access Cab, or Double cab with a longer 6-foot bed, they’re offered on other trims. In fact, with 32 models and 4×2 and 4×4 configurations, you’re sure to find a Tacoma that meets your needs.
If you’re expecting a bare-bones, utilitarian cabin, you’ll be disappointed. The rest of us will be quite happy, though. Like the exterior, inside is pure truck, with square-off lines, nicely-sized knobs that work with gloves on, and plastics that look able to stand up to decades of abuse.
Gauges are large and clear, with a cool, slightly fat font on the gauges (yeah, we notice these things). There’s a 4.2-inch driver’s display in-between, that pulls up all sorts of pertinent info, a handsome-looking 7-inch hi-res touchscreen with navigation, connected to a premium JBL Audio system with 6 speakers and a subwoofer.
You also get Toyota’s Entune App Suite, Bluetooth, Siri – just about everything you’d expect, except no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Toyota is slowly getting with the program on these, but it hasn’t made it to the Tacoma yet.
Outside of that, it’s a nice place to spend time as well, with a fat, leather-wrapped wheel, the Limited’s cushy leather seats, wireless charging, dual-zone a/c, pushbutton ignition, and power moonroof. The front seats are comfy, and very supportive – but surprisingly, only manually adjustable. Hmmm. We’d expect power seats on the most luxurious Tacoma.
Being a double cab, there’s room for adults in back. Being part of the compact/mid-size truck segment, the legroom is tight. On the bright side, the seatbacks were super supportive, and even featured adjustable headrests. Volvo-like comfort! Under the 60/40 split rear seat is some nice hidden storage, and the rear seats flip down for good storage.
The truck bed is handy, too. There’s a power-sliding rear window that gives access, and helps when carrying extra-long items. The dampened tailgate opens smooth and quietly, and a high-quality bedliner plus wall-mounted power outlet make Tacoma useful for work and play.
Strong and Confident
The drive is pure pickup, in the best sense of the word. Fire up the 3.5-liter V6, and you get a nice rumble from the exhaust. Power is good, with 278 hp and 265 lb.-ft. of torque. With a 6-speed automatic and four-wheel-drive, this is a heavy vehicle, but keep the transmission in Sport mode and it powers along aggressively. We averaged around 18 mpg in mixed driving. Reasonable. Truck buyers like to tow, and with a max capacity of 6,500 lbs. (6,800 lbs. for 4×2 models) you’ve got plenty of bring it.
Along with power, this is a reassuring vehicle to drive. The steering has considerable heft, the ride is firm, maybe a little bumpy, what you’d expect from a true body on frame construction, but comfortable nonetheless. It’s also very quiet – Toyota put a lot of effort in noise suppression, with enhanced door seals, a multi-layer acoustic windshield, sound-absorbing headliner and floor silencer pad.
We didn’t get a chance to go off-road, but previous experience leads us to believe mountain-goat like capabilities. While any Tacoma is going to be strong wherever pavement is at a minimum, the serious off-roader may want to pony up for the TRD Pro model. At $42,810 it’s the most expensive Tacoma, but it is stuffed with high-end quality off-road gear.
For those of us living more on-road, the Tacoma impresses with safety tech you’d expect on modern passenger cars, including standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, standard lane-departure warning – even standard adaptive cruise control. Good stuff.
How much for all this good stuff?
It’s a big lineup, with lots of choices, including manual or automatic, 4-cylinder or 6-cylinder, 2WD or 4WD. Your most basic Tacoma SR starts at $25,700. With standard Toyota Safety Sense, an integrated back up camera, Entune Audio, 4-cylinder with 6-speed automatic, this is a bargain. Buy this baby and it will probably be around to hand down to your grandchildren. If you can bear to part with it.
Our Tacoma Limited 4×4 V6 Double Cab tester is the second most expensive model behind the TRD Pro, coming in at $40,715. Add in $1,095 for destination, and we rang the bell at $42,365. A nice touch, you also get no-cost maintenance for two years with the complimentary ToyotaCare program.
The competition varies from the very car-like Honda Ridgeline ($42,965 comparably equipped) to the all-new Ford Ranger ($42,960 – you think it’s a competitive segment?)
Our choice? We’d opt for the Toyota Tacoma. Proven. Trusted. Real Truck. Honest and capable.
The 2019 Toyota Tacoma. Keeping the faith for all of us.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.