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’05 Toyota mid-size pickup bigger,
stronger, more refined

By Bruce W. Smith - Editorial Services, LLC- Special to GCN

Toyota has followed the cue of Dodge and GM in up-sizing their small pickup. The 2005 model of Toyota’s popular Tacoma is a significant step forward in ride, handling, safety and power. Points brought to light during a special driving opportunity south of Anchorage, Alaska, where we had a chance to put it through the paces—on and off-road.

Within minutes of leaving the lodge where Toyota had automotive journalists from around the world staying, we were directed to a short off-road course to show the new 4x4 Tacoma’s prowess. The trail was a combination of slick, half-buried logs laid out like cordwood and the steep angle of the grade that forced me to back down the trail for another try at making it to the good road.

Even with the best four-wheel-drive system there are certain conditions where traction gives way to wheelspin and “Plan B” goes into effect.

“Plan B,” in the case of the TRD-packaged 2005 Toyota Tacoma Xtra Cab 4x4 I was inching along in over the Alaskan terrain, meant nothing more involved than switching on the electric-locking rear differential using the selector on the newly designed dash. A second later traction greatly improved.

Easing off the clutch allowed Toyotas all-new design, with its four-inch-wider track and more refined suspension, to display a level of off-road ability unseen in previous Tacomas. The logs and loose soil that stopped the 4x4 in its tracks the first time were not a challenge on the second go; a little light throttle let it ease to the top and on to the main road with nary a spin of the tires.

Such off-road aptitude is a testament to the improvements Toyota engineers have done in the full-on redesign of their ever-popular pickup.

But the  “Next Generation” Tacoma’s prowess doesn’t stop at the pavement. That’s just the beginning.

The ’05 Tacoma, which is available in four body styles and numerous two- and four-wheel-drive configurations, reflects a much more Americanized pickup. So much so that it would be better described as a mid-size entry instead of a compact. Not only is it four-inches wider than the previous model, the cab is several inches taller and the overall length some 5-1/2 inches longer.

This makes the redesigned interior a much more comfortable fit for those of larger stature; no more elbows rubbing holes in the door panels or bumps on the head ducking inside.

There’s a now a tilt/telescoping steering wheel that allows off-road adventures of all sizes to get comfortable, and the seats have grown up as well. Then there’s the new gauge cluster with LED illumination for easier reading after dark, and a new center stack that makes it a lot easier for the driver to adjust the A/C and switch tunes.

We found little changes we liked, too. Map pockets in the front and rear doors ((Double Cab and Access Cab modes) are larger than previous models, as is the storage in the new center console. The glove box latch is now offset towards the driver, and overhead, a nice console system (TRD Off-Road package) to keep small items and sunglasses.

Getting in and out of all the Tacoma models is much easier than previous years. In fact, the door opening on the four-door Access Cab is several inches wider than the opening on Toyota’s Tundra and  GM full-size pickups.

When it comes to utility, the new Tacoma shines bright. The bed is made from fiber-reinforced composite with four integrated storage compartments between the bed and the fenders. One of the options is a 115-volt, 400-watt AC outlet at the rear of the bed to power light duty power tools and lights.

Adding to that, all the new Tacomas come standard with a bed-rail tie-down system—a first for this class of pickup—similar to the system made popular with the Nissan Titan.  Each adjustable tie-down in the rails can hold 220 pounds, while the two cleats at the rear of the bed on the floor can anchor 440. All more than enough to keep ATVs and motorcycles secured while bouncing over rough roads.

Speaking of bouncing, that has been calmed down considerably in the standard 4x4 and 4x4 TRD Off-Road models with the refinements made to the suspension and chassis.

The chassis on all models is longer, wider and stiffer, which results in a much quieter and controllable on- and off-road ride. The turning diameter is shorter and the brakes bigger. The suspension travel has also increased, while the staggered rear shocks have been moved outboard of the rear leaf springs and frame rails.

The result is a nicely balanced and refined ride. It gets even better in the 4x4s with the TRD upgrade.

TRD Off-Road packaged Tacomas get a smaller front anti-roll bar for better off-pavement articulation and Bilstein high-pressure gas shocks for maximum suspension control. The TRD versions also benefit from the 265/70R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/As on 16x7-inch alloys. (Standard 4x4s come equipped with steel wheels and a size smaller Dunlops.)

Our short drive time in and around Girdwood, Alaska, showed the entire setup of the four-wheel-drive TRD Off-Road Tacomas feels very well tuned for hearty backroads exploration.

Adding to our enthusiasm for the new pickups is the drivetrain. More power and smoother, more efficient transmissions always bring a smile to the lips of off-road adventurers. We were smiling a lot.

Under the new bodywork resides one of two engines: an all-new 164hp 2.7-liter inline-four Toyota designates as the 2TR-FE (Regular and Access Cab models,) or the 245hp 4.0-liter 1GR-FE V6 in the 4x4, PreRunner (2wd) and X-Runner (2wd) models.

Even though the four is a peppy little thing with electronic throttle control and better fuel economy (22/28 vs 18/22 mpg), it’s the V6 brought over from the 2005 Tundra and 2004 4Runner that will be the engine of choice for the off-road masses. This DOHC, 24-valve V6 has more ponies than the Dodge Dakota 4.7L V8 and shows that muscle anytime you lay into the throttle. It’s a strong runner.

Couple that engine with either the all-new six-speed manual or option for the equally new five-speed automatic that is exclusive for the V6, and you have a wonderful combination for city, highway, or off-pavement driving.

The six-speed manual shifts smoothly and provides excellent low gear for slow, steady crawling. And, it’s at rue six-speed with the top gear being overdrive.

The new five-speed automatic is our favorite, though. Low-speed control and engine braking are really well done—almost to the point of being better than a manual. At the same time the variable toque control allows excellent performance be it rock crawling or interstate cruising.

Tacomas with the automatic can also be equipped with very sophisticated traction control (TRAC), as well as Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC). When all of those options are put to use, vehicle control in just about every imaginable situation becomes easily.

Between the 4x4 transmission and rear axle is an all-new transfer case with electric motors doing the mode selector duties. It’s quiet and seamless in operation. Our only nit was it requires coming to a full and complete stop—with foot on the brake—to get into or out of low-range, and then it takes its sweet time to do so.

At the axles is an automatic disconnecting open-differential up front and the choice of three rear differentials: standard open; conventional clutch-type limited-slip; or our favorite, the electrically actuated locker. Get the factory locker; ands-down it’s the best option your money can buy in a 4x4.

As for towing, all the new Tacomas can pull 3,500 pounds on the bumper ball. The V6 models can tote 5,000-pound trailer off the receiver hitch, and an additional 1,500 pounds if they are equipped with the Towing Package that includes the transmission cooler.

Pricing for a nicely equipped Toyota Tacoma Double Cab Shortbed 4x4 TRD model, with the cloth interior, V6 and 5spd automatic, is about $28,500. – Bruce W. Smith 

Basic Specifications

Model: 2005 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4x4

Engine: 4.0-liter DOHC EFI V6, 24-valve aluminum block

                        245 hp @ 5,200 rpm ; 282 lb-ft @ 3,800 rpm

Transmission:    6-speed manual overdrive; 5-speed automatic overdrive (opt)

Drivetrain:         Part-time four-wheel drive

Suspension:      Front: Coil spring independent double wishbone with gas-filled shock absorbers (4x2 – low mount; 4x4 – high mount); Rear:  Leaf spring rigid suspension

Brakes: Disc (front), drum (rear)

Steering:           rack-and-pinion power steering

Fuel tank:         21 gals.

EPA city/hwy:   17/21 mpg

Trailer tow rating:          6,500 lbs. (w/ optional towing package) 

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