The Toyota Tacoma is a dominant force in this segment. No matter what the competition throws at it, the Taco comes out on top. This is not to say that Toyota’s compact pickup has it easy! When Ford first hinted at the return of the Ranger, many thought that the Tacoma’s days as top-dog were numbered, but not even close. Sure, 2019 was the Ranger’s first full year on the market but it barely managed to get half of the Tacoma’s sale numbers.
If any new pickup could have done without an introduction, it was the Ranger. It was one of Ford’s best-sellers and the pre-owned market remains very strong for the Ford. And Ford tried as hard as it could but did little to no harm to the Toyota. The same applies to Chevrolet and its compact Colorado. So what gives? Why is the Toyota Tacoma so highly admired and desirable?
The Tacoma is part of a long line of legendary Toyota trucks that have proven their mettle time and time again over many decades. The Land Cruiser and 4Runner are some of the most revered SUVs in the world for their capabilities and durability. Their reputation is forged in truck lore and is what boosts their appeal, and extremely strong resale values.
The Toyota Tacoma is a spin-off, if you will, of all of this. The current 3rd generation Taco, introduced in 2016, rides on the same frame as the 2nd gen truck however it’s been reinforced to be better. The body is lighter, the design is more macho and now, for 2020, the Tacoma’s been facelifted and filled with extra technologies.
Its standard 3.5-litre V6, which delivers 278-horsepower and 265 lb.-ft. of torque, is an ideal tool for al trucking needs. It may not be the smoothest or the most fuel-efficient (if by about 1L/100km on paper) but odds are it’ll not leave you stranded. There are two transmissions available, one being a 6-speed automatic, which is down a few gears compared to the competition. In 2020, the Tacoma is the only remaining pickup still offered with a manual transmission, and it’s a blessing.
It’s a blessing because a Tacoma with three pedals and a long-throw shifter makes the driver feel like they’re driving a truck. My tester, a 4×4 double-cab manual short box with TRD Sport Premium retailed for $44,750. Draped in Voodoo, it was just about perfect. I say this as the $7,400 TRD Pro package would have made it perfect, not to mention that it would have been painted Army Green. But quite honestly, with the exception of the Fox shocks, the basic TRD Premium kit delivers on every point.
A true truck
Unlike the others, even the most basic 4×4 Access Cab, at $37,450, is still a believable, confidence-inspiring truck. This is a matter of personal opinion, clearly, but the basic Canyon or Frontier look stunted compared to the “cheap” Tacoma.
Perhaps this is simply related to the truck’s aforementioned lineage or legendary capabilities. Out of the box, it can tow between 6,400 and 6,500lbs, comes with massive ground clearance and off-road capable approach and departure angles. And then, there are the TRD trucks which further elevate the possibilities and the truck’s standing.
But this is a true truck, as I’ve said. It lacks refinement, sound-deadening materials, and doesn’t take too kindly to poorly paved roads. I wouldn’t say it’s the ideal family compact truck, especially with my unit’s “sport-tuned” dampers, as the ride can quickly become jarring, preventing the kids from peacefully completing their naps… Interestingly enough, the Fox shocks are better adapted to keeping comfort levels in check so here’s another reason to go for TRD Pro.
Right along with the 6-speed manual gearbox are steering and brakes which also require a hands-on approach. Brake pedal and steering response are from another time, especially when compared to the Ranger. The latter’s steering is electric and the brakes are 4-wheel discs. The Tacoma still runs with proven hydraulic steering and front disc, rear drum brakes. This only really noticeable when stepping into the Taco from a more modern vehicle.
21st Century cabin
Or nearly. Size-wise, none of these compact pickup trucks can handle family life with children under the age of 6 or 7. So long as they are in baby seats and not strictly boosters, there’s very little left for the front passengers.
Seating is comfortable enough for five non-children-like passengers in the double-cab and there’s a decent amount of storage. The big news is that the 2020 Toyota Tacoma finally gets Connected Services by Toyota Audio, with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility accessible through an 8-inch touchscreen (from the SR5 up.) And depending on trim, you can also get wireless charging! But even if you pay over $50,000 for the luxurious Limited, forget about a heated steering wheel…
It’s still the safest bet
Even though much of the Tacoma’s rivals, including the Nissan Frontier, and it’s new engine/transmission combo, are generally more generous and modern with their features and mechanical bits, the Toyota Tacoma still has them beat.
The Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon duo is the runner-up. Unless spec-ing the GMs to their top trims, they do not have the same clout or appeal as even the most stripped-out Tacoma. And I don’t see this changing until 2024 when we are to expect the next-generation Toyota Tacoma.