Toyota wanted to impress the media with the off-road abilities of the 2016 Tacoma pickup, so it built a mountainside test track just outside Snoqualmie.
Long the best-selling mid-size pickups and a favorite of people who spend a lot of time out doors. But a 2016 redesign — along with fresh competition — inspired Toyota to make real to the mostly citified press that its truck does things others can’t.
This year, Tacoma inherits off-road technologies currently used in other, more expensive rigs. Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control systems, available on unique off-road grades, use the power of onboard computers to expand the vehicle’s physical capabilities.
So, we spend the morning crawling over logs and boulders and plunging down, and back up, impossibly steep slopes. Buried to its wheel hubs in a sand pit, a Tacoma patiently dug its own way out, its ABS and traction control systems chattering madly.
Tacoma’s frame and body structure are made lighter and stronger by the increased use of high-strength steels. Ride quality improves, thanks to suspension tweaks that also improve off-road performance.
Ride and handling are Tacoma’s redesigned cabin is more elegantly finished, with better materials and soft-touch surfaces replacing hard plastics.
Metal-look trim surrounds a wide oblong panel housing the infotainment system’s color touchscreen. Climate controls line up logically below. Sound insulation measures include improved door and window sealing, an acoustic-glass windshield, sound-absorbing headliner and a floor silencer pad.
Tall drivers may find the seat cushions a bit too short to offer adequate thigh support. The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope.
Available niceties include Qi wireless charging, smart key with push-button start, leather-trimmed seats and dual-zone automatic climate control.
Outside, Tacoma inherits Toyota’s jaunty trapezoidal truck grill, and flanks it with optional LED running lamps and projector-beam headlights. The greenhouse is compressed — shorter windows, taller shoulders — for a more dynamic presence. Fender flares are more pronounced.
A damped tailgate is stamped with the Tacoma nameplate. An available locking-and-folding hard tonneau cover hides and secures gear and smooths wind flow to improve efficiency.
Toyota drops Regular Cab models this year, offering only Access Cab and four-door Crew Cab configurations. Each cab is available in 4x2 and 4x4 configurations and, with five grades, the Taco is available in 29 variants.
Every new Tacoma also gets a standard rearview camera. A GoPro camera mount is also standard this year, the better to record those death-defying hill climbs.
Last year’s 159-horsepower, 2.7-liter (180 lb.-ft. of torque at 4000 rpm) four-cylinder engine carries over and can be mated with a five-speed manual or new six-speed automatic.
The optional 3.5-liter V-6 employs some tech wizardry to make 278-hp, 42 more than last year’s up-level engine, and 265 lb.-ft. of torque. It can be mated to the new automatic, or to a six-speed stick.
Equipped with the V-6 Tow Package, the Taco can tow up to 6,800 lbs., an increase of 300 lbs.
The 2016 Tacoma arrives in dealerships this month. Serious off-roaders are welcome.
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2016 Toyota Tacoma
Price range: $25,000-40,000
- 4x2, automatic: 19 mpg combined/23 highway/21 city.
- 4x4, manual: 19/21/20
- 4x4 automatic: 19/22/20
- 4x2 automatic: 19/24/21
- 4x4 manual: 17/21/19
- 4x4 automatic: 18/23/20