For hauling ATVs, the midsize pickup is an ideal choice. Today's midsize trucks bear only a passing resemblance to the anemic compact trucks of yesteryear. In fact, some of the current offerings outperform their bigger brethren of old while still maintaining something resembling decent gas mileage-an important trait to possess today. One such enlarged and beefed-up model is the Toyota Tacoma. With grand reviews and Motor Trend's Truck of the Year award, we figured this enticing model was too good to ignore. After the usual phone and e-mail tag game, we were off to Toyota to take custody of the silver gem for some ATVR quality time. The Tacoma's most common setup is a 4.0L V6 engine mated to a five-speed ECT-i automatic transmission, which is how our Double Cab PreRunner Longbed tester came equipped.
It didn't take us long to understand why the big T can barely keep these things in stock-compared with its rivals, the Toyota is refined. The cushy interior is almost too nice to sit on after a hot and sweaty day of riding. That's almost! In fact, the smooth ride and all the amenities are almost as much fun as time on the trail, and we even enjoyed ourselves in the infamous L.A. traffic. As our model sported a long bed and 2WD, it could haul 1450 pounds of cargo in the bed and had a max towing capacity of 6500 pounds. The numbers vary as the drive systems and bed sizes change. Our model managed to cart a quad on the bed plus three adults and their gear-all while pulling our flatbed trailer holding two more ATVs. Throughout a multitude of trips, the AC kept us chilled without a whimper. The Tacoma's silky delivery doesn't offer the hit of, say, the torquey Nissan Frontier, but as any seasoned ATV pilot knows, smooth power usually translates into easy low-speed control and less work when negotiating obstacles like the thick pavement snarl that commuters encounter daily. Besides its ride, we were pleasantly surprised with the Tacoma's agility-cranking out U-turns repetitively on the four-lane Pacific Coast Highway during a photo shoot really highlighted this positive trait.
Evidently, this is something that Toyota was hammered for in past reviews. Whatever the motivation, the long chassis (thanks to the crew cab and long bed) handled turns nearly as deftly as a sports car. Usually, quick handling and stability are not in the same sentence when describing a truck, but in the Tacoma's case, the Toyota engineers achieved that delicate balance. Don't write off this midsize as an urban warrior, though. Once we figured out how to work the adjustable tiedown eyelets (it was probably explained in simple illustrated language in the owner's manual had we bothered to dig out and read it), we were in business and looking for things to strap down in the bed. The electrical outlet and storage bins-perfect for tiedowns-impressed us as well. It was like the design team actually thought about people using the truck in the field. No need for an AC/DC converter, just plug and work.
The unique plastic bed isn't much different from a standard bedliner in overall appearance or feel, but it doesn't suffer the movement hang-ups of a drop-in liner nor the potential for dents of a spray-in liner. The jury might still be out on this feature, but the staff never had any issues with it during our brief affair. Some purists can't get over the lack of steel under their cargo, but it held our ATVs, gear bags and typical riding detritus without any problems, so we're sold.
Have we mentioned how fun it was driving this truck? Sure, the Toyota lacks the Nissan's muscular approach and raw power, but overall, its performance isn't harmed. In fact, we had to take turns trying it out as a daily commuter during our brief test period. It was unanimous among the group-we were bummed to hand it back to Toyota so soon. As I mentioned earlier, the finish is top-notch. This is one area where the auto powerhouse has truly excelled and a reason its vehicles hold their resale value so long. The model we tested, a 4x2 Double Cab PreRunner V6 Long Bed with the TRD Sport Package, had a sticker price of $27,078. The $3345 TRD Sport package #2 included Bilstein shocks and 17-inch alloy wheels mated to P265/65R17 tires, a limited-slip differential, remote keyless entry and all sorts of trim and niceties inside and out. Even more important for our uses, the truck had the "factory" $440 tow hitch installed. Our main snivel was the segregated speedometer/tachometer instrument cluster. The busy display made digital readouts hard to decipher during the daytime. The long shade hoods-for lack of a better name-didn't help as much as I expected in making the dash easier to interpret, either. In fact, they inhibited a quick scan of the instruments, at least for me. The other gripe was the lack of a locking gas cap, and some of the staff complained that the truck didn't come with a locking tailgate. For $27K, we felt it should have been included-it's a must in the sticky-fingered world we live in.
Minor grumbles aside, a midsize truck like this Tacoma is a worthy investment. The bottom line is this truck deserves serious attention from anyone shopping for a new means of hauling ATVs that needs to double as an enjoyable daily commuter-probably why we see so many on the SoCal roads.
You can find out more options and price details even build your own Tacoma at www.toyota.com. Next, we'll try out one of the bigger trucks on the market to find out where and when bigger is better.
We're not going to bore you with all the technical details on the 17 models of Tacoma, but here's the nitty gritty of the truck:
4.0L DOHC V6 with variable valve timing236 hp at 5200 rpm and 266 ft-lb of torque at 4000 rpm0-60 mph in 8.8 sec6500-lb max towing capacitySeats five21-gal. fuel tankEstimated fuel economy of 18 mpg city/22 highway; actual (fully loaded, mixedhighway/city): 1273.5-in. bed length41.5-in. bed width between the wheel wells/56.7 in. total18-in. bed height9.5-in. ground clearance