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.

The new Tacoma body styles are four inches wider, making for much-improved interior elbowroom. Wheelbases are longer as well, ranging from 109.4 inches for the regular cab (yes, Toyota will continue to offer a regular cab model, with only a single bed length), to 127.2 inches for the Access Cab and shortbed Double Cab models, to 140.6 inches for the newly crafted longbed Double Cab. That makes for three wheelbases, three cab configurations, and two bed lengths. Add to that the PreRunner models (4x4 stance with a 4x2 powertrain) in regular, Access, or Double Cab configurations, and it's clear that Toyota wants to offer its buyers a truck for every need. Interior trim is substantially upgraded. Access Cab models still have fold-down rear seats suitable for kids or desperate-to-ride adults, but the Double Cab has enough rear-seat room for just about anyone.

On the road, even the four-wheel-drive models ride far better than before. The V-6 is smooth and quiet and has a surprising amount of punch, with an appropriately wide powerband, regardless of transmission choice. Unfortunately, on our test drive, there were no four-cylinder models available for us to drive and after trying the six-speed transmission, we're hoping Toyota reconsiders its decision not to make it available with the four-cylinder.

Last (and maybe most important), Toyota is adding the performance-minded X-Runner to the Tacoma mix as a distinct model, looking much like it did when it made its debut as a concept at the Chicago auto show last February. It will have the V-6, six-speed manual, 18-inch wheels and Bridgestone Potenza RE050 radials, a lowered, stiffer suspension with Bilstein shocks, and lots of body cladding. The company says its performance benchmark was the Nissan 350Z (we're not making that up). We didn't get a chance to run test numbers on the X-Runner Access Cab, but we're confident it'll generate the claimed 0.9 g of grip on the skidpad. Oddly enough, it isn't that much fun to drive. The longish throw in the six-speed is fine for a regular truck, but feels out of place in something pushing for autocross performance. We liked the stiff, lowered suspension and exceptionally grippy tires, but the body cladding (assuming it doesn't get wiped out on the first curb you jump) is too flashy.

We'll have to rethink the X-Runner. As for the rest of the Tacoma lineup: Full speed ahead.

Eighth Generation Toyota Tacoma
General
Location of final assembly Fremont, California
Cab style Regular, Access, Double
Size class Midsize pickup
Drivetrain layout Front engine, RWD/4WD
Airbags Front (std), side-curtain (opt)
Powertrain
Base engineI-4, cast iron block, alum heads
Bore x stroke, in 3.74 x 3.74
Displacement, ci/L164.3/2.7
Compression ratio9.6:1
Valve gear DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Fuel induction SEFI
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 164 @ 5200
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 183 @ 3800
Opt engine V-6, alum block and heads
Bore x stroke, in3.70 x 3.74
Displacement, ci/L241.3/4.0
Compression ratio10.0:1
Valve gearDOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Fuel inductionSEFI
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm245 @ 5200
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm282 @ 3800
Transmission type RA60 6-speed manual (w/V-6)
1st 4.17:1
2nd 2.19:1
3rd 1.49:1
4th 1.19:1
5th 1.00:1
6th 0.85:1
Reverse 3.61:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1
Final-drive ratio 3.17:1
Transfer-case model VF2BM
Low-range ratio 2.57:1
Crawl ratio (1st x axle gears x low) 39.9:1
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
(4WD DOUBLE CAB SHORTBED)
Wheelbase, in 127.8
Length, in 208.1
Width, in 74.6
Height, in 70.1
Track, f/r, in 63.0/63.4
Headroom, f/r, in 40.1/38.5
Legroom, f/r, in 41.7/32.6
Shoulder room, f/r, in 57.7/59.3
Ground clearance, in 9.4
Approach/departure angle, deg 33/23
vBed size LxWxD, in 60.3x52.9x18.0
Curb weight, lb 4045
Max payload, lb 1685
Max towing capacity, lb 6500
GVWR, lb 5450
GCWR, lb 11,100
Fuel capacity, gal 21.0
Chassis
Suspension, f/r IFS, double A-arms, coil springs/ live axle, leaf springs (spring-over 4x4; spring-under 4x2)
Steering type Rack-and-pinion, power assist
Ratio 17.4
Turns, lock to lock 3.6
Turning circle, ft 40.6
Brakes, f/r 12.5-in vented disc/10.0-in drums; 4WABS
Wheels 16.0-in steel
Tires M&S-rated 245/75R16
Price
Price range $13,500-$27,000
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