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First Drive: 2016 Toyota Tacoma

Stronger, Faster, Bolder

Aug 21, 2015
Photographers: Jason Gonderman, Courtesy of Toyota
Toyota began selling pickups in the United States in 1964 when the Stout was first brought over from Japan. Next followed the Hilux in 1969, which then received the name Pickup in 1976. The Pickup soldiered on through four more generations until it was replaced midway through 1995 by the Tacoma. Ten years passed, and in 2005, Toyota introduced us to a larger all-new Tacoma, the company's eighth-generation compact truck (second generation Tacoma), effectively creating the mid-size category. Fast-forward another decade to 2015 and we arrive at the all-new, third generation 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
Photo 2/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited Driver Side Profile
We'll spare you the tired taco stand puns and skip right to it, despite what your eyes might think at first glance, the 2016 Tacoma is all-new from the ground up. Despite being the sales leader in the segment for over a decade, the Tacoma redesign comes not a moment too soon. At 11 years old, the second-generation Tacoma was getting a bit long in tooth and competition in the midsize class has heated up since GM reintroduced the Colorado and Canyon in the 2015 model year.
Beneath The Skin
Starting with the frame, Toyota engineers added high-strength steel to help improve rigidity and overall stiffness. Gone are the days of different chassis for four-wheel and two-wheel-drive trucks. All models are now unified on the same four-wheel-drive-based frame. Ultra-high-strength steel was integrated into the body shell using a new hot-stamping process, which increased strength and helped reduce weight. Noise reduction was also a top priority on the new model. Through the use of an acoustic glass windshield, continuous door seals, a cab-to-bed seal, triple-sealed window glass, a noise absorbing headliner, sound-deadening material on the floor pan and rear wall, a quieter muffler, and many other measures, the Tacoma now ranks right up with the quietest of pickups.
Photo 6/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport Front Fascia
The suspension design is carryover from the previous generation; however, improvements have been made to almost every component. In front is a coil-sprung double-wishbone, and in the rear are leaf springs with outboard-mounted shocks. For 2016, the front suspension receives new coil spring rates, strengthened wheel hubs, retuned shocks with internal rebound springs, and strengthened stabilizer bar mounts and lower control arms. In the rear, new leaf springs and shock tuning provide a more controlled and comfortable ride.
A pair of new rear axles handles the duty of transferring power to the wheels. The 8-inch differential was redesigned to allow the use of different gear sets, while an all-new 8.75-inch unit boosts the truck's gross axle weight rating (GAWR) by 24 percent. This new axle also allows the actuator for the optional electronic locking differential to be moved inside the case, further protecting it from potential harm on the trail.
Photo 10/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport Front Grille
Under The Hood
Propelling the all-new Tacoma is your choice of either a 2.7L inline-four-cylinder or 3.5L V-6 engine. The four-banger is carry over from the previous model and churns out a respectable, albeit unimpressive, 159 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. The real news is the all-new 3.5L V-6. This new engine features a whole host of acronyms, including Toyota's D-4S fuel injection system, which runs primarily on direct injection but also utilizes port injection. Six cylinder-mounted self-cleaning direct fuel injectors handle primary fueling, while a single injector in the intake manifold is responsible for port injection duties when called upon. Both the engine's intake and exhaust valves are variable. The intake side features a new technology called Variable Valve Timing Wider Intake (VVT-iW) and the exhaust Variable Valve Timing Intelligent Exhaust (VVI-i). These systems allow the engine to switch seamlessly between the Otto and Atkinson combustion cycle based on engine load and demand by holding the intake valve open longer. When looking at the engine you'll notice that gone are the traditional exhaust manifolds. Instead, spent exhaust gasses exit the heads directly into the exhaust pipes. All of this combines for a peppy 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of twist, which is up 42 hp from the previous generation's 4.0L V-6.
Photo 11/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road V6 Engine
A trio of transmissions are available to back the engines, with two of them being do-it-yourself models. For those in the five percent, opting for the I-4 will net you a carryover five-speed manual. If the V-6 is selected, you'll get an all-new manually shifted six-speed unit. This transmission features an improved geartrain for greater fuel efficiency and power delivery, more robust carbon synchronizers, substantial bearing reinforcement, and an improved driver feel. The other 95 percent of trucks will receive an all-new six-speed automatic. This new slushbox uses fewer components and lower-friction materials and bearings to shed weight while also improving durability. It's also markedly more efficient than previous transmissions. Four-wheel-drive models also receive an all-new transfer case, which is lighter, smaller, and quicker shifting than the outgoing model.
Photo 12/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma SR5
Interior and Exterior
Depending on which angle you're viewing the 2016 Tacoma from, it can appear either strikingly different or eerily similar to the outgoing model. From the side the new truck can easily be mistaken for the old model. However, all of the exterior sheet metal is new and dimensions have been massaged, adding a few millimeters here and taking a few away there. Viewing the truck from the front or rear reveals a bold new design. A trapezoidal front grille, aggressive hood lines, projector beam headlights with LED running lights, new fog lights (wide angle on TRD models), and a bumper cover that meets future pedestrian crash safety standards all combine to give the truck a youthful and sporty vibe. Out back, the Tacoma receives a new tailgate with stamped lettering, an integrated spoiler, rotary damper for easy lowering, and a standard lock. The rear bumper is now three interlocking pieces and built from composites in an effort to save weight and repair cost. Exterior work wasn't only focused on looks but also reducing aerodynamic drag. Through extensive wind tunnel testing the engineering team was able to remove an astonishing 23 pounds of drag, or the equivalent of a sprinter's training parachute from the truck.
Photo 13/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited Hickory Leather Interior Folddown Rear Seat
Moving inside, the interior has been completely refreshed for 2016. The Tacoma's familiar seating position still remains, but the seats have been updated and carry a sporty design from SR up to TRD. The new Limited model now features heated Hickory leather. The color schemes are modern and not overly complex, unlike some competitors. The dash is all new and still lacks the soft-touch materials we've become accustomed to. Neoprene accents on the dash face and door panels add a hint of contrast and help tie everything together.
All models receive a new instrument panel, with SR-5 and above getting a 4.2-inch color Multi-Information Display (MID). TRD and Limited models get a segment-first push button ignition and smart key. Also available are HomeLink 5, dual-zone climate control, and a power moonroof (also segment-firsts). The audio system has been completely revamped as well, with a 6.1-inch Entune color touchscreen available on all grades. Bumping up to the premium packages nets a 7-inch screen with navigation, Entune App Suite, and both HD and SiriusXM radio. Siri Eyes Free comes standard, as does a tailgate-mounted backup camera.
Photo 17/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited Hickory Leather Interior Front Seat
Off-Road Prowess
With its rugged looks inspired by the race trucks of Baja, it should come as no surprise that the Tacoma is marketed towards a demographic that enjoys an active outdoor lifestyle. In fact, almost half of all Tacomas sold are TRD models. For 2016, Toyota has introduced two new TRD models: TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road. Both TRD models are V-6 only and can be had in either two- or four-wheel drive, with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Opting for the TRD Sport gets a unique hood with integrated scoop (sorry, it's not functional) and a stiffer sport-tuned suspension.
Photo 18/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport
The TRD Off-Road model is where the real fun happens. Ticking the boxes for four-wheel drive and an automatic transmission opens up an entirely new set of options for 2016. Carrying over from the previous generation is a selectable, electronically locking rear differential. However, new for Tacoma are Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control. Originating on Land Cruiser and available on 4Runner, drivers can now fine-tune the truck's traction control system for the type of terrain they are driving on. Options include mud, sand, loose rock, mogul, and rock. In addition, when activated, Crawl Control allows the vehicle to control both the brake and throttle while maintaining a constant slow speed (there are five selections to choose from) and preventing wheel slip, allowing the driver to focus on steering. At first the system is quite alarming, but as trust grows, you find that the system is actually incredibly capable, more so than most drivers. Crawl Control, Multi-Terrain Select, and the rear locking differential can all be selected on the fly when in four-wheel drive.
Behind The Wheel
While our time driving the 2016 Tacoma was brief, it was enough to give us a taste of the hard work that went into designing this new pickup. We had the chance to drive all grades and cab configurations except for the base SR. All of the trucks were equipped with the new V-6 and automatic transmission, so we'll have to wait to get our hands on a four-cylinder manual. The new 3.5L V-6 engine left nothing to be desired. It provided plenty of torque to get the heavy truck moving off the line and felt great when passing at higher speeds and rpms. The six-speed automatic transmission made gearshifts seamless and had no issues dropping a gear or three when the right foot demanded it.
Photo 22/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma SR5
The noise reduction work put in by Toyota's engineers is apparent. Compared to the previous generation, it's night and day. While not quite Lexus quiet (it is still a pickup after all), the new Tacoma is right on par with the competition. Ride quality on- and off-road has been improved as well, with a noticeable difference between grades. We would even call it sporty on the highway, as the TRD Sport model handled twisty mountain roads with relative ease.
Inside, the rear seat of the Access Cab is still useless for anyone over about 4 feet tall. However, the Double Cab fit our nearly 6-foot frame decent enough. The instrument panel is bright and easy to read, and we'd even call the new Multi-Information Display excellent. Knobs and buttons are where you'd expect them and all easy to use. The new Entune stereo is wonderful (especially with the high-end JBL hardware), and the navigation system is quick and intuitive.
Photo 26/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited Passnger Side Profile
Overall, we feel that the new 2016 Toyota Tacoma will be a quiet, comfortable, and capable daily driver, weekend warrior, and road trip machine. Being the segment leader, Toyota entered this redesign with everything to lose, and thankfully it appears that they've done all that was needed to keep Tacoma at the front of its class.
Photo 27/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road Driver Side Front View
Specifications
2016 Toyota Tacoma
TYPE: Midsize pickup
BASE PRICE:
$23,330 (SR, Access Cab, 4x2, I-4)
$37,820 (Limited, Double Cab, 4x4, V-6)
Photo 28/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road Driver Side Front View
ENGINE: 2.7L I-4
HORSEPOWER: 159 @ 5,200 rpm
TORQUE: 180 lb-ft @ 3,200 rpm
TRANSMISSIONS: Six-speed automatic, five-speed manual
ENGINE: 3.5L V-6
HORSEPOWER: 278 @ 6,000 rpm
TORQUE: 265 @ 4,600 rpm
TRANSMISSIONS: Six-speed automatic, six-speed manual
Photo 32/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma SR5
EPA FUEL ECON (City/Hwy/Comb):
19/21/20 (4-cyl., MT)
19/23/21 (4-cyl., 2WD A/T)
19/22/21 (4-cyl., 4WD A/T)
17/21/19 (V6, M/T)
19/24/21 (V6, 2WD A/T)
18/23/20 (V6, 4WD A/T)
Photo 33/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road Passenger Side View
CURB WEIGHT: 4,480 pounds (Double Cab, 4x4, V-6)
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING: 5,600 pounds
TOW CAPACITY: 6,800 pounds (Access cab, 2x4, V-6)
FUEL CAPACITY: 21.1 gallons
Photo 37/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport Driver Side Front View
Photo 41/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited Driver Side Front View
Photo 48/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited Hickory Leather Interior Center Console
Photo 55/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road Tailgate
Photo 59/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma SR5 Interior
Photo 66/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Interior
Photo 73/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma SR5 Interior
Photo 77/80   |   2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road Passenger Side Front View

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