Executive wheels: A peach of a pickup

The new Toyota Tacoma feels like an SUV, works like a truck

Back in my younger days, I fancied myself a truck man, as in pickup truck, and I actually had one for a time in my early 20s, a 1959 GMC. Today, I would most likely buy an SUV, because I like its truck aspects, but I also like to feel of it as a family car. Those old pickups weren’t for families – a single seat, a bench for three.

This new Toyota Tacoma is changing my mind. In pretty much all respects this pickup, with the double cab and four doors, feels just like a SUV – indeed many of Toyota’s SUVS – and yet there is that truck bed back there just in case you need to move a couch. The only difference between this vehicle and a nice mid-sized SUV is that, as a pickup with a double cab, it is a bit longer and you need to think about that when you round corners. Other than that, this could be just the right family vehicle for the guy who still might have some cowboy in him (or the gal with cowgirl aspirations). And the great thing is, if you do happen to be a cowboy or cowgirl – or you work in construction – the Tacoma is all rugged truck and worthy of a prime parking space on any construction site or ranch. 

Plus, the older pickups were noisy, bumpy and felt, well, like trucks. These new ones – and there are many nice trucks on the market – feel like SUVs. This Tacoma, in particular, is as quiet a vehicle I have ever driven, so the stereo sound system sounds great. And, it drives great – I could see myself taking a long road trip in marvelous comfort with this vehicle.

This is a mid-sized pickup, and the other one that is catching on with truck buyers right now is the Chevy Colorado; I’d like to drive that one before I made a decision. The bigger trucks – the F-150, the Ram 1500, the Chevy Silverado – I believe, are really too big for just driving as a regular vehicle with no work-related purpose. But this Tacoma, I think, could satisfy both the regular driving and commercial appeal.

They sent me the TRD Sport – TRD standing for Toyota Racing Development, which is an odd moniker for a pickup. There are actually two TRDs in the line, this Sport, which Toyota says is targeted more towards improved road handling, and the TRD Off-Road, which is, obviously, geared toward taking it off-road. I can see the off-road capability in this Sport: It is rugged, feels tough, and has the kind of ground clearance that would off-road nicely; the Off-Road model itself must be a wonder (it features a rear electronic locking differential).

But I’m not an off-roader, so I have to go with the things that appeal to me. I love all-wheel drive, and this Tacoma features the 4X4 system that allows it to run in two-wheel drive, and then in AWD high and low, depending on conditions. I think AWD is a great safety feature for street and highway driving, and the Colorado Department of Transportation apparently agrees in that this year they are aggressively policing the traction requirements for all vehicles up in the mountains during storms and AWD qualifies.

It handles well – very nimble really – and about the only downside is that even though it’s a mid-sized, it is still rather large and can be difficult to park. I suppose my favorite thing about the driving is the engine – a 3.5-liter V6 putting out some 278 hp which, frankly, felt like more. Coupled with a 6-speed automatic tranny, which is very smooth, this Tacoma had plenty of power for city driving, and highway cruising, even up in the mountains, was no problem; plenty of acceleration.

And the interior was very nice. Stiff cloth seats, an easy-to-use climate control with large knobs for adjusting just what you want (the heater was wonderful), and three easy to reach cup holders in the console. Also, the console had a nice large storage area. While I didn’t ride around in it in the back seat, my passengers reported that getting in and out was no problem, the leg room was way above average, and the three-seat bench was comfortable.

There is also the ubiquitous screen for handling all of the modern conveniences – the apps, the Bluetooth, sound system adjustments – but with a separate climate control, the screen is not really distracting. 

The bed on the truck was a smaller one, but adequate enough for moving the aforementioned couch, and here it was fully lined with tough plastic all around, even the top of the bed sides. It looked as though it could take plenty of abuse.

One of the coolest things was a built in smartphone charging station in the console – once you configure it, your phone will charge without plugging in, just by laying on the rubber mat, and it will charge while also being connected to the Bluetooth and in full operation mode for making hands-free calls or hooking up Pandora music or whatever. These modern conveniences are handy.

You can get a Tacoma with a smaller I-4 engine, with 159 hp, which starts around $23,300, but I would recommend this V6. This TRD Sport model has a base price of $33,730, which for what’s here and the Double Cab feature is a very competitive price (The Chevy Colorado, similarly equipped, is about the same price and features a 3.6-liter V6 with 305 hp). All they added here was a $650 Tow Package, which included the hitch, an engine oil cooler, a power steering cooler, a transmission cooler, a 130-amp alternator, 4 & 7 pin connector with converter, and trailer sway control. With dealer handling of $900, the bottom line was $35,280.

This is a very worthy pickup truck that will also do more than good work as a family car.

RATING: 4 WHEELS (OUT OF 4)

Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation