Pickups are more popular than ever, especially with the new players in the midsize segment. However, one of the mainstays only seems to be getting better with age — The Toyota Tacoma. With an updated exterior and enough technology to keep new buyers happy, it’s the reason so many are playing catch up.
Toyota’s Tacoma has been the best-selling midsize truck for nearly two consecutive decades — 16 years. Now for some of that time, the competition was pretty sparse, but nowadays, it’s a tough gig to remain at the top of the mountain.
The latest version of the pickup is really all things to all people. Available in 33 different configurations, it’s unlikely you’ll find a customer whose needs it won’t fit. Not only is it rough and tumble, as we saw in our week with the TRD Off-Road model but it’s loaded with all of the latest safety technology and some concierge features that truck buyers now demand.
It’s a renaissance truck in a time where these vehicles do the daily commute, trek to soccer tournaments, make sure the yard looks great and is ready to head off scale big rocks and rutted roads. That’s a tall order.
Few pickups wear the phrase “It’s a truck. Whaddya want?” better than the 2021 Tacoma. It looks the part because it plays the part. The wide, blacked out grille with the name “TOYOTA” emblazed square in the middle and the squinty-eyed headlights on either side are complemented by the black plastic chin on the front fascia that makes it look like you could punch it in the mouth and it’d look at you and say, “That’s it?”
It’s a truck.
The crease in the doors about a third of the way up from the frame lend some visual interest, taking you down the side of the cab to the flared wheel wells and the simple, understated liftgate with TACOMA seemingly carved into it
It’s a truck Whaddya want? That’s a good thing, by the way.
If the Tacoma has a weak spot, it might be the interior. It’s straightforward. It’s not covered in chrome accents or exotic woods, this is a simple, almost throwback-style cabin. There are knobs, buttons and switches. Some would say it’s a throwback, but there are still a few examples of this kind of interior design on U.S. roads today.
The gauges are clear and easily read. If you want to engage the four-wheel drive, you turn the knob. If you want to open the rear window, reach over and press the button. Again. Simple. Easy. Common sense. I feel like a character from a commercial about something traditional just writing this. I liked it. Get off my lawn! Others who want some more … pizzazz may not like it as much as I did.
Ok. Back to more good stuff. The Tacoma TRD Off-Road is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 putting out 278 horsepower and 285 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that gets the job done. Its responsive and feels powerful and makes a good noise for a midsize truck, which isn’t always the case in pickups.
The transmission is solid and smooth. I didn’t have the opportunity to tow anything or go off-road, but it did take a lengthy trip in it and it performed very well. It’s predictable and strong, which is what you want in a pickup.