Toyota is the brand to beat in many automobile segments — reliable family sedans, fuel-sipping hybrids, luxury crossovers, etc. — but in no segment has Toyota ruled so supremely as compact pickups. Some seven million compact/mid-size Toyota trucks have been sold in the U.S. since 1964, and for the last two decades, all of them have been named Tacoma, or “Taco,” by its legions of enthusiasts.
In recent years, thanks in part to Toyota’s hegemony as well as the dwindling number of mini-truck competitors as the Big Three focused on full-sizers, the Tacoma has only galvanized its lead in the small truck arena. So why change anything?
Well, because no car or truck can remain fresh after more than a decade on the market, no matter what its competitive landscape looks like. And not insignificantly, the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon reappeared for 2015, looking and driving better than ever. Suddenly, with its cranky old engines and four- and five-speed transmissions, the Tacoma has become a dinosaur.
Fortunately, Toyota is just about ready with a replacement, due in showrooms by the end of 2015 as a 2016 model and which has just made its debut at the 2015 Detroit auto show. At first blush, it’s clear that Toyota’s designers took a cautious approach to the Tacoma’s styling, resulting in a truck that looks more like it was refreshed than completely redesigned. But alas, every body panel is new, all the way from the raised hood back to its locking, easy-close tailgate.
A bold, hexagonal grille sets the tone for the front end styling, its bevels and chamfers echoed in the bumper and headlamp innards, and higher trim models get LED daytime running lamps. A narrow, full-width air intake in the front bumper visually raises the grille whilst adding optical width, and a skid plate-like chin panel. Articulated fenders and wide-set tires give the Tacoma a strong, broad-shouldered stance, while the rear end brandishes new taillamps, an integrated spoiler, and embossed “TACOMA” lettering across the tailgate. All together, the Tacoma looks bolder but not meaner, masculine but not macho.
Customers will be able to have their 2016 Tacoma five ways: SR (think work truck), mid-grade SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-road, and Limited, the latter getting leather seating, JBL sound, and a host of other creature comforts. Other available amenities include wireless device charging, keyless engine starting, dual-zone climate control, a moonroof, and more. All Tacoma models will come with a Go-Pro mount near the rearview mirrors, for you adventure-seekers.
The TRD models will emphasize ruggedness, of course, though the TRD Off-Road model will get unique wheels, a different hood, and will be more capable off-road, thanks to a new Multi-Terrain Select system that tailors throttle and brake pressure to match the ground beneath. The new Taco also sports other nifty off-road technologies like hill start assist and a limited-slip and locking rear differential. A new crawl control system is basically and off-road cruise control that sets the speed between one and five miles per hour, thus allowing the driver to concentrate solely on steering, and with some manual transmission models, a clutch start cancel system that allows the truck to be started without depressing the clutch in the event that it stalls while perched precariously on a rock.
Powering the 2016 Tacoma will be a choice of a four- and six-cylinder engines. As with the current Tacoma, the base engine will be a 2.7-liter four-cylinder (which makes 159 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque in the current model), but the V-6 is a smaller, all-new 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle V-6 that replaces the current truck’s 236-hp 4.0-liter V-6. The new V-6’s claim to fame is the D4-S technology, which allows it to switch from port injection under low engine loads and direct injection systems at higher rpms. Output for either engine remains a secret for the time being, but we do know that the four-banger will still be offered with a choice of a five-speed manual transmission, while V-6 customers will now be able to shift themselves with a new six-speed manual gearbox, while a new six-speed automatic is optional on both.
Toyota was a little light on the details about the Tacoma’s dirty bits, but did say that high-strength steel was added to the Tacoma’s frame, with ultra-high strength steel used in the body shell. The suspension has been “fine-tuned” with an emphasis on a smoother ride, while simultaneously allowing more wheel articulation for added off-road capability. Toyota should provide more details on the 2016 Tacome in coming months, and we look forward to experiencing just how much better the new Taco gets when we get a chance to drive it closer to its launch. Perhaps it shall be known henceforth as “Taco Supreme.” (Our apologies.)