One needn’t spend a week behind the wheel Toyota’S Tacoma to know it’s a different kind of pickup.
You even need to fire it up; the seating position alone tells the Tacoma story. One sits low to the floor in the Tacoma, legs stretched out to the pedals. More like a vintage sports car than a midsize truck.
The unusual ergonomics are a byproduct of the Tacoma’s soaring 9.4 inches of ground clearance. It’s a daily reminder that the Tacoma has never turned away from a long-time focus on off-roading.
If serious stump-jumping forces an unusual seating position, so be it.
Best-selling midsize pickup
Toyota says the Tacoma has led midsize truck sales in the U.S. for 12 years. Like most of its competitors, it’s available in a wide range of configurations.
There are two cab types (Access Cab/Double Cab), two bed lengths, two engine choices (159-horsepower inline four/278-hp V-6) and two transmissions (six-speed manual/six-speed automatic). Six trim levels range from the utilitarian SR ($25,550) to the TRD Pro ($45,365), Tacoma’s off-road kingpin.
The four is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission; six-cylinder models can be had with the automatic or with a six-speed manual gearbox.
All 4x4 Tacomas run a driver-selectable, part-time 4WD system with a two-speed transfer case that provides low-range gearing.
The off-road-specific trims — TRD Off-road ($35,680) and TRD Pro — are equipped with a mind-boggling array of technical wizardry that gives them mountain-goat-like climbing — and descending — abilities.
The TRD Pro gets an additional inch of ground clearance, beefier skid plates, unique off-road shocks and knobby all-terrain tires. New this year is an optional hood-mounted air-intake snorkel.
The TRDs are the iconic Tacos. Together, they account for 56 percent of Tacoma sales.
The base RS trim is fairly well equipped, with heated power-adjustable side mirrors, a sliding rear window with privacy glass, a composite bed tough enough that it doesn’t need a bedliner, a movable cleat tie-down system and a backup camera.
Spartan cabin tight on space
The standard touchscreen information system has user-friendly menus and large, easy-to-understand icons. Toyota’s Entune audio system gets the job done but lacks such modern functions as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
For 2019, every Tacoma adds two USB ports inside the center console, for a total of three.
The Tacoma’s cabin is cramped and offers few opportunities for casual storage. Hard plastics dominate the Spartan interior and power seats are not available, even on upper trims.
Toyota loads up Tacoma with safety and driver assist features. Standard features include dynamic cruise control, a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane departure alert with sway warning system and automatic high beams.
New SX trim package
New this year is an SX Package that adds black-keyed accents, including a black grille and black overfenders, mirror caps, door handles, headlamps and 16-inch black matte black alloy wheels.
One can order one’s Tacoma with leather upholstery, a moonroof, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control and a premium stereo — in fact, those features and more are available on upper trims and bundled together into the Limited ($38,535).
But no matter how much gild you apply to the lily, the seating position — and accompanying high step-in — testify to Tacoma’s off-road superiority.
There is a price to pay: With its off-road-tuned suspension, our 4x4 TRD Off-road tester shook and juddered on country back roads. With its tuned internal bypass shocks, the TRD Pro is even less forgiving.
Despite the unsettled quality of its ride, though, the Tacoma handles well. Body lean is well controlled and the steering is accurate, with smooth effort that builds progressively into a turn.
Purists cherish the four-cylinder engine for its legendary reliability, but most owners will find it underpowered. Likewise, while the stick may be a better choice than the slow-shifting automatic, the vast majority of Tacos will be sold with the slush box.
No matter the powertrain choice, the Tacoma is slow and thirsty. Consider these among the trade-offs owners accept in exchange for its extraordinary capabilities.
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2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-road 4x4 Double Cab
Vehicle base price: $25,550
Trim level base price: $36,465
As tested: $41,820 (includes handling and destination)
Options included dual-zone automatic climate control; heated leather seats; Premium JBL audio with integrated navigation and app suite; moonroof; tonneau cover; rear parking assist; blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
Tow rating: 5800/6400 pounds
EPA rating: 20 combined/18 city/22 highway
Regular gasoline specified