Test Drive: 2016 Toyota Tacoma

1000 600 Zach Berning

MOTUS was recently invited to Seattle to be among the first group of journalists to get a walk-through and test drive of the all-new 2016 Toyota Tacoma. The Tacoma has been America’s best-selling mid-size pickup for ten years running. Let’s face it, people love their Tacomas. They are known as reliable, durable pickups that will do everything from haul lumber home from Home Depot to get you to the lake for a weekend retreat. According to the team at Toyota, the 2016 is the “best Tacoma ever” built. Now it’s time to find out why …

2016 Toyota Tacoma Chief Engineer Mike SweersWhile in Seattle, we spent a lot of time talking with Chief Engineer Mike Sweers. Sweers oversees both the Tacoma and Tundra product lines for Toyota. His passion for Toyota trucks is evident. While he can chat for hours about steel strength and angular geometry as it pertains to aerodynamics, he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get dirty. Sweers was a part of last year’s Baja 1000 team that piloted the Tundra to victory. He definitely “gets it” from an enthusiast’s perspective. He was adamant about incorporating end user’s wants and needs into the new Tacoma.

We asked him what makes the 2016 Tacoma better than previous iterations. His reply, “Marketing loves to talk about the glossy highlights, but some of the best things about the Tacoma the things you don’t see at first glance.” Sweers is referring to improvements made to the Tacoma’s frame, cab, aerodynamics, as well as the new powertrain. For 2016, Tacoma added high strength steel to the frame and ultra-high strength steel to the cabin and door structures. This gave the Tacoma increased strength and rigidity without adding extra mass or weight. The cab also saw additions of: A-pillar and dash inner silencers, absorptive headlining, and acoustic glass windshields across all trim levels. With the Chevy Colorado stepping up its game, Toyota wanted to make sure they took the Tacoma to the next level when it came to safety and comfort.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD SportImproving the overall aerodynamics was also very important to Sweers. Rather than simply dropping in a more efficient and capable motor, he wanted to improve overall exterior design. The goal was to maximize fuel economy and wind efficiency, yet maintain that off-road prowess the Tacoma is known for. The new model spent over 100 hours in wind tunnel testing. This was done to identify drag points and test subtle changes that would improve overall air flow. The result was a drag reduction of 23 lbs. Think of that as the equivalent of removing a sprint training parachute from the truck while it’s in motion. The front air dam was modified to deflect air flow under, and around, the truck more efficiently while maintaining a class-leading 29° approach angle. The front bumper was styled to maintain a smoother profile while the grille was created for enhanced cooling and aerodynamic performance.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD SportI know many were quick to complain about the Tacoma’s new front end. Yes, it’s a bit much at first glance. I poured over images prior to the Seattle trip and while I wasn’t sold on it, I wanted to reserve judgment until I saw it in person. Is it bold and a little in your face? You bet, but so was the new Tundra grille when they launched it. I didn’t care for that one either, but over time it has grown on me. The Tacoma has had the same effect. By the end of the first day of our trip, I could have cared less about the front end. I was simply having too much fun behind the wheel. When it comes to creating aftermarket options for the 2016 like front bumpers, don’t worry. Companies will find a way – they always do! I was at Toyota HQ for the SEMA “test and tune” day for the 2016 Tacoma. More than one company was there taking measurements and 3D scanning the truck so they could already get to work.

Powertrain
The 2016 Tacoma will be available in two engines: a 2.7-liter four-cylinder and the all-new 3.5-liter V6. The 2.7-liter DOHC four-cylinder features VVT-i and produces 159 horsepower and 180 lb.-ft. of torque. It gets an estimated 19 mpg city and 23 mpg highway in the 4×2 automatic, with a slight drop to 21 mpg highway in the 4×4 manual. 4×4 automatic versions with the four-cylinder can expect 19 mpg city and 22 mpg on the highway.

2016 Toyota Tacoma SR5The all-new V6 is where Toyota is really expecting to shine in this segment. The 3.5-liter Atkinson cycle V6 features VVT-iW (Variable Valve Timing with Intelligent Wider Intake) and Toyota’s D-4S technology. With both direct and port fuel injection, the V6 generates a healthy 278 horsepower (42 HP increase over the previous V6) and 265 ft.-lb. of torque. The 4×2 automatic can expect 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. The 4×4 manual comes in at 17 mpg city and 21 mpg highway while the 4×4 automatic does a little better at 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. In the  2016, both engines can be paired with a new six-speed automatic. If a manual transmission is more your speed, you can opt for a five-speed manual in the four-cylinder or an all-new six-speed in the V6. When equipped with the V6 Tow Package, the new Tacoma can tow up to 6,800 lbs., which is a 300 lb. increase over last year’s V6 model.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-RoadDuring our test drive weekend, we spent a lot of time behind the wheel of various 4×4 trim levels with the all-new V6 and six-speed automatic. Initial impressions were that motor was peppy, responsive, and paired nicely with the six-speed automatic. Compared to the 2015 V6 model, I hardly noticed a difference when it came to general around town and city driving. However, it was the highway and back roads where the new motor and transmission really shined.

When merging with traffic on highway on-ramps or changing lanes at higher speeds, the Tacoma always felt confident. The increased horsepower was noticeable and you were left feeling that there was plenty more power on tap. When you punch it, the giggle factor is definitely present and back roads are a blast. On the way to the off-road park, there were a few long stretches of dirt and gravel roads. The Tacoma seemed right at home zipping down the straights leaving a trail of dust and debris in the rear-view. The Tacoma always felt like it had more horsepower and torque to serve up at a moment’s notice regardless of what you threw at it. I could easily imagine myself tossing my camping gear in the back, loading up the cooler with some ice, and heading out for parts unknown.

One thing in particular I noticed is that Tacoma seemed to sip fuel. After a 20 to 30 minute highway drive to the off-road park, a full morning of testing the truck on obstacles and blasting down some back roads, and another 30 to 40 minute highway drive to our final rendezvous spot, the fuel gauge had barely moved off of full. While I don’t have any “real world’ mpg data to share, my takeaway is that future owners can be confident that the new 3.5-liter V6 is a great choice for this size truck for a balance of performance and efficiency.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport

Off-Road Performance
For 2016, all 4×4 models of the Tacoma are equipped with 4WDemand part-time 4WD with an electronically controlled transfer case and Automatic Limited Slip Differential (Auto LSD). TRD Sport will come with sport tuned shocks while TRD Off-Road models take it up a notch with off-road tuned Bilstein shocks and an electronically controlled locking rear differential. Manual transmission equipped TRD Off-Road models will have Toyota’s Active Traction Control (A-TRAC) system and Clutch Start Cancel.

Over the weekend I drove the Limited, TRD Sport, and TRD Off-Road. There was a noticeable difference in ride quality between the Limited and TRD Off-Road when it came to on road feel and comfort, but off pavement the TRD Off-Road felt smooth and dialed in. That being said, the Limited performed nicely in the dirt and during some of the obstacles at the park. The question is what do you plan on doing more of – on road or off-road?

2016 Toyota Tacoma Crawl ControlThe real gem though on the 2016 Tacoma is Crawl Control. For those of you that aren’t already familiar with it, Crawl Control allows the driver to select a speed (1 to 5 mph) while the system takes over acceleration and braking so the driver can concentrate solely on steering. The truck controls engine and brake torque at each individual wheel to get maximum grip and vehicle control. To say the system is impressive would be a gross understatement.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road Crawl ControlHowever, before I go any farther, I think a key point needs to be made. Crawl Control wasn’t created to turn mall crawlers into Rubicon crushers or weekend wheelers into Baja 1000 champions. It’s technology that has been created to aid drivers in technical sections or to help them get out of a precarious situation. Toyota will tell you that there is no substitute for proper driver training and education. When I posted some teaser images of the Tacoma to Instagram, there were a lot of comments like, “My Jeep already does that.” or “That’s what low gear is for. You only need that if you can’t wheel.” Awesome. First, we’re not comparing apples to apples and second, this isn’t called Macho Mode. Crawl Control’s intent is to get you and your family home safely. Use it, but don’t abuse it. That being said, let’s get back to it …

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road Wicked HillA big component of our test drive weekend centered around the off-road course that Toyota had assembled at a former coal mine. Obstacles like “Wicked Hill”, “Double Drop” and “The Devil’s Boneyard” were created to give drivers a true sense of what the Tacoma can do. And capable it is! “Wicked Hill” was a narrow ledge that quickly dropped off into a silty, sandy dirt trail at a pretty steep angle. Traditional driving would have had us slipping and sliding down the hill until we hit bottom as we negotiated between brake and gas, more than likely locking up the wheels on the way down and getting a little sideways with some over correction of the wheel. With Crawl Control engaged, you simply steer and let the Tacoma do the work. I will admit that I joked on more than one occasion with my fellow journalists and instructors that it was “let Jesus take the wheel” once you let Crawl Control take over. The truck gingerly descended the slippery slope and made short work of “Wicked Hill.”

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road Double DropThe second obstacle of the day was “Double Drop.” While “The Devil’s Boneyard” was impressive as we navigated a sloped rock garden of various sized boulders, “Double Drop” was the ultimate test for me. The idea of the obstacle was to climb up, and then down, a two tiered section of very steep terrain. The obstacle was so steep, that once the vehicle was crawling up it, you couldn’t see the route anymore or the ground in front of you, only the tips of the flags that denoted the left and right side of the obstacle. I have never climbed up anything like it before and there is no way I would have attempted this in my own 4×4. I would have thought it was impossible. The way down was equally as nerve-racking. As you went down the hill, all you could see was straight down. You lost all sense of horizon and you really had to put a lot of faith in the Tacoma to get you through the obstacle unscathed. The downhill angle was so intense, that I rode in the back seat on a second pass and was able to see the team on the ground down below by looking straight out the sunroof!

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road sandOne final note on the Crawl Control. It works in both forward AND reverse! The best demonstration of this is when Toyota purposely buried a Tacoma up to the axles in soft sand. Alternating between 2WD and 4WD, they dug the truck in deep until all it was doing was spitting sand. With 4WD and Crawl Control engaged, the Tacoma went to work slowly backing itself out of the sand. While I can’t fully explain the science and engineering behind what Crawl Control does, the laymen’s version is that it would spin the wheels ever so slightly, alternating between those with traction and those without, to build up small amounts of sand for improved traction until it had enough to extract itself from the obstacle. You would have to see it to believe it! Overall, it was an exciting morning of obstacles and the perfect way to really test out what the Tacoma could do off the beaten path.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD SportTrim Levels and Colors
Now that we’ve taken a look at some of the exterior design, powertrain, and off-road ability, let’s take a closer look at the trim and color option for the new Tacoma. For the 2016 Tacoma we will see five different trim level offered: SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, and Limited. The SR is the entry-level Tacoma available in 4×2 or 4×4, Access Cab or Double Cab, and your choice engine and transmission. The SR5, a staple of the Toyota lineup, adds slightly more standard options than the SR, but will not be available with a manual. The TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road are only available in the V6 with your choice of manual or automatic. The Limited, which is only available in Double Cab version with a 5′ short bed, has no manual transmission option.

For 2016, buyers will have their choice of three new exterior colors: Quicksand, Inferno, and Blazing Blue Pearl. Returning from the previous model year are: Super White, Silver Metallic, Magnetic Gray Metallic, Black, and Barcelona Red. All three of the new colors look great on this truck, but I’ll admit that I’m kind of partial to Quicksand. While I like the pop of Inferno and richness of the new Blazing Blue Pearl, Quicksand resonates with me and conjures up images of a classic FJ40 exploring old forest roads or deserted ghost towns.

2016 Toyota Tacoma LimitedInside the SR model you’ll find fabric trimmed seats in Cement Gray. Cement Gray continues in the SR5, but optional Black with Caramel or Red colored seat stitching and accents are available. TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road models are unique upholstered with embossed fabric in Graphite and Black with Orange colored seat stitching and accented instrument panel. The Limited kicks it up a notch with a Hickory leather-trimmed interior (shown above). I drove the Limited for most of the weekend and I can tell you that the 4-way adjustable seats with lumbar support are quite comfortable!

Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport InteriorInterior
The interior of the 2016 Tacoma gets a makeover as well. New instrumentation and meter design pairs analog with a digital speedometer, tach, coolant and fuel gauges. The SR features a 2.2 inch LCD display with odometer and trip meters while the SR5 and above bumps up to a  4.2 inch color Multi-Information Display (MID) with outside temperature, odometer, tripmeters, and average fuel economy. The Tacoma also gets a segment-first push button start/smart key system standard on TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, and Limited models. Gadget and gear nuts like myself were stoked to see Qi-compatible wireless smart phone and mobile device charging as well as an integrated GoPro mount that’s standard on all grades. A rear tailgate camera is standard on all grades of Tacoma and Rear Parking Assist Sonar is available on SR5 and above. Other notable interior features include available dual climate control, HomeLink 5, and power tilt/slide moonroof on all double cabs.

2016 Toyota Tacoma EntuneToyota has gone all out when it comes to their Entune Audio system. Standard on all grades, Entune is a fully integrated multimedia audio system that brings together apps, real-time data (weather, traffic, and fuel prices), and Siri Eyes Free. Siri Eyes Free allows customers with compatible iPhones to access Apple’s Siri voice recognition system via the Tacoma’s steering wheel controls and in-vehicle microphone. I got a chance to play around with the Entune system and I was impressed with how user intuitive it was. Unlike other systems that require reading a 100 page manual to adjust navigation volume or to sync your phone via Bluetooth, Entune was easy to navigate and user-friendly. Entune has four different grade levels from the basic standard system found on SR models to the Premium JBL Audio found on the Limited. One of the thing I liked most is that Toyota did a fantastic job of balancing the analog and digital experience when it comes to Entune. For heavy tech users like myself, I enjoy the sleek layout and touchscreen interface. However, growing up prior to the tech revolution, I still enjoy the analog controls of adjusting radio volume and settings. I think Entune is probably the best of both worlds.

2016 Toyota Tacoma SR5 cityPricing
Okay, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Let’s talk pricing. MSRP on the 2016 Tacoma 4×2 will range from $23,300 for the SR Access Cab in four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic to $34,745 for the Double Cab Limited 4×4. The 2016 Tacoma is pretty much in line with the 2016 Chevy Colorado ($20,995 to $35,858 estimated) when you compare them head to head. The wildcard will be pricing on the Colorado turbo-diesel, but then the question shifts are you just buying it because it’s the only diesel option in this segment and you’re hot for diesel or is it a better truck. Overall, I find the Tacoma to be value priced when it comes to what you get in the truck. Between the off-road capability, new powertrain, and the traditional reliability and resale associated with Tacoma, it seems right on the money. 

Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road wicked hillOverall Impression
I have to say, overall I’m impressed with the new 2016 Tacoma. From the exterior to the interior, it’s quite evident that the Toyota design and engineering teams put a lot of thought into this truck before bringing it to market. It comes across as a “total package” and seems to have addressed any shortcoming from previous generations. From the increased aerodynamics and class leading approach angles to the all-new powerful and efficient V6 under the hood, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value packed truck than the Tacoma. Is it going to convert a diehard Ram, Chevy or Ford owner to make the switch? Probably not, but if you’re a previous or current Toyota owner looking to upgrade, it’s going to make it a heck of a lot easier to head to down to the dealership. Sweers and his team are right – this is the best Tacoma ever!

AUTHOR

Zach Berning

Zach is our Digital Editor for MOTUS. He's also a foodie, off-road and backcountry adventure travel lover, and has coffee running through his veins. Read more …

All stories by: Zach Berning

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