For years, nothing. Then, suddenly, the compact pickup-truck market is awash in new products: the 2004 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon and, for 2005, a new Dodge Dakota, Nissan Frontier, and--for the first time in 10 years--an all-new Toyota Tacoma.

As it did originally, the Tacoma shares a platform and an engine with the Toyota 4Runner, in this case the gutsy all-aluminum 4.0-liter, 245-horsepower (282 pound-feet of torque at 3800 rpm), 24-valve V-6. Standard is an all-new cast-iron block/aluminum head 2.7-liter, 164-horsepower (183 pound-feet of torque at 3800 rpm) four-cylinder, which replaces the current 2.4- and 2.7-liter four-bangers. There will be four transmission choices: a four-speed automatic and a five-speed manual for the four-cylinder engine and a new five-speed automatic and six-speed manual for the V-6. The automatics and manual transmissions are designed to save weight and smoothly manage the extra power from the stronger engines. Preliminary EPA estimates for the four-cylinder engine are 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Numbers for the bigger V-6 are 18 mpg city, 22 mpg highway.

The chassis is substantially more rigid than before, with seven crossmembers and a fully boxed frame up front and significantly stiffened C-channels in the rear. This makes for solid towing credentials: All models can haul 3500 pounds, while the V-6 can tow 5000 with a receiver hitch or up to 6500 with the towing package. The tow package includes a Class-III receiver hitch, seven-pin connector, transmission cooler, an extra engine oil cooler, bigger battery, and a higher-output alternator--all totaling somewhere in the neighborhood of $400.

Regarding stopping power, front brakes are discs; rear brakes are, interestingly, 10-inch drums. Toyota claims the rear drums offer the best performance in wet conditions and maximum holding force when parked. Toyota also admits that drum brakes are still considerably less expensive than discs. Anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution are standard on all models, with stability- and traction-control options (VSC and TRAC) available on selected models. In addition, Downhill Assist Control (DAC) and Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) are options that will aid 4x4 drivers in descending steep and bumpy slopes and will provide more security when stopped on steeper slopes. Availability of this software will depend on how you option your truck.