Road Test: 2016 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Sport

On-road and off, Toyota's newest generation Tacoma brings more power and capability to the mid-size pickup segment; new V-6 is 40hp and 2mpg better than previous models

By:  Bruce W. Smith

Toyota has always taken their time when it comes to making generational changes to their pickups, and when those changes come the new models are a significant step above the old model.

 

The 2016 Tacoma is no exception.Sliding behind the wheel of a nicely-optioned 2016 Tacoma TRD Sport 4x4 Double Cab quickly brings that all into perspective. The newest mid-level Toyota pickup’s build quality, handing, ride, power, fuel economy, and off-pavement prowess is definitely a step above the previous generation.

 It’s an ideal pickup for the outdoorsman or adventuresome wanting a mid-size pickup that fits in the typical two-car garage.

I spent a week driving the new TRD Sport ($37,640) hundreds of miles along the Oregon Coast, over the Coast Range and Cascade Mountains, and the countryside in between. It towed ATVs to the dunes and a boat to the lake.

What I quickly learned about the Toyota’s third-generation mid-size pickup is the new model steers quicker and brakes stronger than the Tacoma of old, and combined with the sport-tuned suspension in the TRD 4x4 Sport, makes it a lot of fun to drive on twisting roads or towing one’s favorite toys.

Combined with all the mechanical improvements, the 2016 Tacoma’s have a definite handling edge over their GM Colorado/Canyon competitors on-road and off-pavement.

MORE FUEL EFFICIENT

Toyota has done a commendable job in refining the Tacoma, including raising the V6 fuel fuel economy by 2mpg while adding 42hp with a new 3.5L direct-injection "Atkinson Cycle" V-6 that replaces the old 236hp 4.0 V-6.

 

The 278hp 3.5L is a big step up in performance for the Tacoma. But you have to roll deep into the throttle to bring those ponies to life, which is a little annoying when towing or climbing mountain grades.

The Atkinson Cycle allows the new V-6 to switch between port- and direct-fuel-injection (DFI) to maximize fuel economy while keeping injectors and valves clean. That shows up at the pump because the TRD Sport’s with the equally new six-speed automatic, gets 18 city/20 combined/23 highway EPA fuel-economy rating.  

TOUGH LOOK, REFINED RIDE

The 2016 Tacoma TRD Sport is no slouch on looks, either. Its prominent wheel flares and raised beltline with slightly narrower windows than the old model give the truck the appearance of being lifted. In reality, the new Tacoma is within an inch of the Colorado/Canyon in nearly every dimension.

The new truck also looks more aggressive thanks to a bold upper grille and a taller, more muscular hood. The TRD Sport models have a faux hood scoop that really adds to the tough truck look.

 

The interior of the TRD Sport is just as nice. The model I drove featured soft-wrapped leather trim and metallic accents, giving a nice richness to the surroundings. High-quality cloth seats, full power options, and Toyota’s “Premium Technology Package,” a $2,360 option, provided all the comfort, navigation and connectivity features most owners would ever need.

Another pleasant surprise: The 2016 Tacomas are noticeably quieter than the previous models. Toyota engineers used a multi-layer acoustic windshield and sound-absorbing headliner along with a floor silencer pad to help reduce road noise.

The TRD Sport model’s ride is firmer than the stock base models, but pleasant on-road, on backcountry gravel roads and off-road trails. It’s also quite stable when towing ATV or boat trailers.

OPTIONS ABOUND

True to Toyota Tacomas of yesteryear, there's no shortage of 2016 models from which to choose. The new Tacoma will be available in 29 configurations in two cab types, the extended Access Cab and four-door Double Cab. Each is available in either 2WD or 4x4 configurations.

Tacoma has five trim levels, each with its own personality and unique look:

  • SR (base/work model)

  • SR5 (the iconic model)

  • TRD Sport (has hood w/scoop)

  • TRD Off-Road (has locking rear diff)

  • Limited (leather interior


For those who plan on towing a trailer with their new Tacomas, the towing package is a must-have option. It equips V6 models with a Class IV towing receiver hitch, transmission oil cooler with water and air cooler, 130-amp alternator (manual transmission only), 4- and 7-pin connector, and Trailer-Sway Control.

Toyota has always been a leader on the safety front. Standard on all Toyota models is the Star Safety System, which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), and Smart Stopbrake override technology (SST)

Pricing ranges from $23,30 for the basic 2WD SR Access Cab with a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine to $37,820 for the Double Cab Limited 4x4 3.5-liter V6 model. The TRD Sport I tested was $33,730 sans options.

 The 2016 Toyota Tacomas command a slightly higher price than the competitors. But along with that higher price comes a higher level of craftsmanship, looks ,and overall off-pavement performance the other mid-size pickups don’t currently offer.