The Toyota Tacoma is arguably the most popular mid-size pickup truck in North America. It outsells the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, & Ford Ranger by a pretty sizable margin. But why is that?
Engine – Well, it’s not because of power. Under the hood is a 3.5L naturally aspirated V6 engine that produces 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque (207 kW & 359 Nm). The Chevy/GMC twins have more powerful V6 engines as well as a diesel engine available. The V6 in this Tacoma has enough gusto but you get the feeling that it doesn’t really want to rev. It’s perfectly happy to stay below 2,000 rpms. You can make it a bit more responsive if you push a little button with the letters “ECT PWR” written on it. Essentially, it’s a Sport mode or tow/haul mode button that improves throttle response and keeps the transmission in a lower gear to keep the engine’s rpms higher.
As for fuel economy, it’s not the best but it’s not that bad either. With the 4×4 powertrain and the automatic transmission, the 2021 Toyota Tacoma is rated for 13.0 L/100km (18.1 MPG) in a city and 10.5 L/100km (22.4 MPG) on a highway. During my time with the truck, I averaged around 12.5 L/100km (18.8 MPG), however, I noticed that on longer trips that involved mostly highway driving, I was averaging closer to 10 L/100km (23.5 MPG).
Transmission – The Toyota Tacoma is one of the last pickup trucks to still be offered with a manual transmission. But most Tacomas sold will have a 6-speed automatic transmission. Under normal driving conditions, the transmission is slow to change gears and, at times, feels like it’s hunting for the correct gear. It also keeps the engine’s rpms as low as possible. So low that you could almost say that the engine is idling when cruising on a highway.
But the transmission can be a bit more responsive if you push that “ECT PWR” button and put the shifter to S. It’s a bit quicker to change gears and more responsive to your inputs but it’s still not the fastest shifting automatic out there and it’ll make the engine use a bit more fuel.
Braking – The 2021 Tacoma has disc brakes with 4-piston fixed calipers on the front axle but drum brakes on the rear axle. It has enough braking force to stop the 2 tonne truck but the brake pedal has a lot of travel. It takes a bit to get used to it. The 2021 Toyota Tacoma is equipped with forward collision alert & automatic emergency braking as standard as part of the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 package.
Handling – Trucks are not meant for canyon carving or track days. They haul or carry the stuff you need for those types of activities. As such, the Tacoma isn’t very enjoyable to drive on winding roads. The steering is light and effortless. The suspension, unladen, allows for quite a bit of roll around corners and pitch under braking.
Capability & Towing – In this Nightshade Limited trim of the Tacoma has a payload rating of 1,095 lbs and a tow rating of 6,400 lbs. Max ratings are 1,285 lbs & 6,500 lbs respectively in other cab configurations. Compared to the GMC Canyon & Ford Ranger, the payload & tow ratings are less but not too far off.
The Tacoma’s bed has LED lighting that is very bright at night. The tailgate is damped but getting into the bed is very difficult. There are no bumper steps like on the Canyon nor a deployable step. The double cab configuration is available with a 5-foot or 6-foot bed.
Ride Comfort – For the most part, the 2021 Toyota Tacoma is a comfortable daily use pickup truck. The suspension absorbs most bumps with ease but over certain roads, it can feel overly bouncy. On highways, the Tacoma makes for a great long haul vehicle.
Interior Space – Despite its exterior size, the Tacoma is small on the inside. It is a bit of a step to get inside the cabin if you’re a shorter individual. Once inside, the front seat has 10 power adjustments (finally) including height for shorter people. But for tall adults like myself at 6’4”, the high floor means that the seat can not go down as low as I want it to. There is just enough roof for my head but a bit more would have been nice. Legroom is also Ok but more would have been nice. My biggest gripe with the driver’s seating position is the steering wheel. It does have tilt & telescopic adjustments but it’s not enough. My thigh is touching the bottom of the steering wheel.
The back seats are tighter still for adults. Space for your legs is nearly non-existent. Headroom is Ok but, again, more would have been nice. There is a bit of storage underneath the rear seats for small items such as a compact jack.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – For the most part, the truck is quiet around a bustling city. At slower speeds, it’s the engine tone that is most noticeable but not intrusive. On highways, the engine noise is drowned out by the noise of the tires with a hint of noise from the wind. But again, it’s not too intrusive.
I did notice the odd squeak here and there from one or two trim pieces over rougher roads but for the most part, the interior feels solid and well put together.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – The 2021 Toyota Tacoma starts at $38,350 CAD ($26,400 USD) which is quite a bit higher than the starting price of the GMC Canyon & Ford Ranger. But it does come equipped with a few necessities such as a 7” touchscreen with Apple CarPlay & Android Auto integration, heated seats, an automatic locking rear differential, and Toyota’s suite of advanced safety & driver aids which include auto high beams, forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.
This particular demo vehicle is the new Nightshade trim that adds a lot of black accents to the top spec Limited trim. It starts at $52,490 CAD ($43,080 USD). Some of the features in this Tacoma include leather upholstery, heated front seats, wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, surround view cameras (but they are of very low quality), sunroof, navigation (with dated graphics), push button start, parking sensors, and automatic climate control.
Interior Design – The interior of the 2021 Tacoma isn’t particularly interesting to look at. In fact, it feels like it hasn’t changed since 2005. But it is very functional and super easy to use all of the controls. There are physical buttons or knobs for every function and all of them are well labeled.
Exterior Design – The 2021 Toyota Tacoma is a bit of a head turner with its striking grille and unique LED daytime running lights. By the way, the front turn signals have a cool animation effect when they’re in operation. The rear taillights are halogen but they do the job well enough. The Nightshade package adds unique dark coloured wheels, black exhaust tip, black mirror caps, black door handles, and black badging. It is also available in a few different colours, not just black.
Warranty – The 2021 Toyota Tacoma is covered by a 3 year / 60,000 km basic warranty and a 5 year / 100,000 powertrain warranty. For more information on Canadian warranty, click here. For information on USA warranty, click here. (Scroll to bottom of page)
So why is the Toyota Tacoma so popular? I’ve been struggling with that question. It’s not the most powerful mid-size pickup truck. It’s not the most capable. It’s not the most spacious. But it’s not far off from the competitors. Where it does shine is with its resale value; Tacomas hold their value very well. It’s not too bad on fuel on long highway trips. However, it’s strongest attribute is its reliability. It’s a Toyota at the end of the day. Maybe that’s why it has a bit of a cult following like how Tesla has. At the end of the day though, the Toyota Tacoma is the dependable pickup truck that will always get the job done.
Thank you to Toyota Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Toyota.ca