Rugged Tacoma returns with new design, new power

Barry Spyker
Tribune News Service
The 2016 Toyota Tacoma has a new 3.5-liter V-6, and a more refined and quieter cabin.

The midsize truck segment has been kicking up some serious gravel the past couple of years, so it's no surprise the class-leading Toyota Tacoma has revved its engine to keep stride.

After General Motors caused some excitement by reintroducing the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, Toyota, being careful to not ruin an already-strong formula, stepped up and revised its Tacoma.

Those loyal to the truck, its rugged looks, off-road performance and terrific resale value won't be disappointed with the latest offering, which impressively does what Tacomas have long done best.

You can't blame Toyota for not wanting to mess with success but you certainly can give it props for bestowing the Tacoma a new, stronger V-6 engine, better overall build quality, and a more refined, quieter cabin. Also, a GoPro camera mount now comes standard on all Tacomas, making it easy to capture off-road outings.

The new 3.5-liter engine, based on a smooth-running unit found in numerous Toyota vehicles, is matted to a new six-speed automatic transmission. A six-speed manual transmission with a special feature that allows in-gear startup — helpful in preventing rollback on hills — is available on all-wheel-drive models.

The 2016 Toyota Tacoma has a new 3.5-liter V-6, and a more refined and quieter cabin.

The new engine replaces the last-generation 4-liter and is good for 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. It has ample pep, with 42 more horses than its predecessor, but is slightly slower in reaching 60 mph. Properly equipped with the $650 tow package, it can pull up to 6,800 pounds.

On the lower trims, the SR and SR5, a smaller 2.7-liter engine carries over from last year. On all trims, only an extended cab and a smaller "access" cab are available.

Those heading off-road will appreciate that all Tacomas now boast a raised suspension and 9.4 inches of ground clearance, a feature once reserved solely for 4x4s. For those who really love to kick up mud, the TRD Off Road trim, with its skid plates and 32-degree approach angle, is no doubt the way to go.

All Tacomas also now feature Toyota's Crawl Control system, which offers better grip and improved control of braking and power during low-speed (under 5 mph) off-road maneuvers. A knob lets drivers pick between terrain settings for rock, loose rock, dirt, mud and sand.

More of a street guy? The new TRD Sport trim offers stiffer Bilstein shocks, limited-slip rear differential and a sporty-but-fake hood scoop.

On-road comfort is improved with a smoother ride and more compliant behavior. Enhanced insulation makes the cabin quieter, too, although off-road tires on 18-inch wheels will exaggerate road noise. Despite the stiffer off-road suspension, Tacoma tackles the road bumps well enough.

Steering is crisp and responsive and weighted just right. Braking is sensitive but not annoyingly so. Oddly, Tacoma still has drum brakes in the rear (apparently better for riding the rocks), but it does offer an antilock braking system with brake assist.

The 2016 Toyota Tacoma has a new 3.5-liter V-6, and a more refined and quieter cabin.

The interior received a much-needed modernization, although a few things were ignored. There's still no way to program seat settings (OK if you're not sharing your truck), and there's no smart cruise control.

Toyota's Entune system uses a 6.2-inch or 7-inch touchscreen that pales, graphically, compared to some systems. It is, however, responsive and easy enough to learn. The system also features an expansive app suite that includes Bing, Pandora and Facebook Places, to name a few.

Front seats are comfortable but, perhaps since headroom is tight, do not offer height adjustment. Another peculiarity is the telescoping feature of the steering wheel — it comes out about an inch, and that may not be enough for taller folks with the seat pushed back. Bottom line: This is a cabin you need to test drive for personal fit.

Backseat room is plentiful in the crew cab version, but just enough for kids in the access cab.

There are two cargo beds available with the double cab, a 5-foot short bed and a 6-foot long bed; the access cab truck comes only with the long bed. A plastic bed liner is standard, as are eight tie-down cleats.

Tacoma comes in five trim levels, topping out with the 4x4 Limited. While none are laden with advanced safety features, rear back-up camera and blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert are available.

There is more pep and ride comfort in the midsize truck marketplace. But if you want a truck that looks rugged and is in fact rugged, and has had an incomparable resale reputation, the Tacoma is hard to beat.

The 2016 Toyota Tacoma has a new 3.5-liter V-6, and a more refined and quieter cabin.

2016 Toyota Tacoma

Price as tested (Limited 4x4 double cab): $40,020

Powertrains: New 3.5-liter, 278-horsepower V-6 engine with 8-speed automatic; 2.7-liter 4-cylinder on base truck.

Fuel economy: EPA-estimated 20 mpg combined (18 city, 23 highway).