The resounding thud emanating from the pickup bed as we exited a sweeping lefthander got our attention: A 100-pound toolbox riding in the bed had come loose. To our amazement, the sides of the sheet-molded compound cargo box took the shunts from the toolbox with zero damage. It was a pleasant surprise, one of many we experienced in the new Tacoma, Motor Trend's Truck of the Year for 2005.
Like you, we appreciate a truck that can take abuse. All too often in the past, that meant some industrial-grade machine with not much more than a whiff of creature comforts and sophistication, but we're betting you don't want to be stuck driving something that dishes out its own abuse. And that may just be the essence of what Toyota has achieved with the new-from-the-ground-up Tacoma.
It's tough in all the places you want a truck to be tough; there's a choice of two torque-rich engines, a stiff frame, and stout underpinnings. Yet it's a far sight less hard-edged in the cabin where you spend most of your time. All carmakers use hard plastic in the interiors of their small trucks, but Toyota has found a way to make the patterns, colors, and surface textures on the dash, console, and door panels look engaging, something you might see in a considerably more expensive near-luxury sedan. Fiddle around with the controls, and you won't feel penalized for not spending more money on a full-size truck. Switchgear has the touch of durable goods. Seats and steering wheels don't shout "lowest-cost supplier." One editor commented, "For its price class, the Tacoma has the best materials, fit, and finish." Another editor added, "The interior is sweet with good ergonomics, and the seats could be right out of a German sport sedan."
As Toyota puts it, "The Tacoma has moved beyond compact dimensions." It no longer looks like a small truck, thanks to a wider stance, large fender bulges surrounding upsized wheels and tires, sweeping headlamps, and a larger windshield. In terms of dimensions, the new Tacoma is in the hunt with other midsizers, such as the Dodge Dakota, Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins, and the Nissan Frontier, while wider, heavier, and more substantial than the compact Ford Ranger and Mazda B Series. Compared with last year's Tacoma, the new truck is four to six inches wider, has a taller cabin, and is roughly 5.5 inches longer.
To cope with the 400 or so pounds of added weight the larger size brings, engines got upsized, too. New is the base 2.7-liter VVT-i four-cylinder with 164 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque, up 15 percent from last year's 2.4-liter base engine with 142 horses and 160 pound-feet of torque. This is an engine totally revamped from last year's 150-horse, 177-pound-foot, 2.7-liter four on PreRunner and 4x4 models. The optional 245-horse, 4.0-liter VVT-i V-6 comes courtesy of the 4Runner and pumps 29 percent more power than the previous 190-horse, 3.4-liter six-banger. It makes nearly as much normally aspirated power as the TRD-supercharged version of last year's 3.4-liter V-6. Variable intake-valve timing sweetens the tractability of both of the Tacoma's engines, the only downside being that the new V-6 requires pricier premium fuel.