Images by the Expedition Portal Team
Test Team: Joe Bacal and Scott Brady
It is difficult to describe how -57 degrees feels, the extreme cold of the arctic winter damaging my lungs with each successive breath. Our team had made camp at the Arctic Circle after successfully reaching the frozen Arctic Ocean via hundreds of miles of ice road. There was no power available so the truck sat through the night without an engine heater, its battery and oil slowly forming a solid mass. Quite literally, our lives depended on the vehicle we were driving – that vehicle was a Toyota Tacoma.
The Toyota Tacoma is the North American version of the famed Hilux, which has served farmer, family and fighters around the world for nearly four decades. The Tacoma is designed for the US consumer and built within our borders. This US model brings some welcome refinements but keeps the diesel motors and metric ton units outside of our grasp. The Tacoma is a serious truck designed to offer class-leading reliability and in the TRD/TX Pro variant, class-leading 4wd performance.
Given that I had driven Tacomas and Hiluxes on five continents, I was particularly interested in the evolution of the generation two Tacoma and how Toyota had addressed the deficiencies of the 1996-2004 units while hopefully improving road performance and driver comfort. With this being the first review in the new Expedition Portal comprehensive testing lineup, it seemed appropriate that the Tacoma would be the opening act.
The arrival of the 2011 Tacoma 4wd TX Pro marks the pinnacle of evolution for the generation two Tacoma. No doubt the 2014 Tacoma will be an all-new unit, so further refinement or enhancement of the Gen2 is unlikely. This makes the TX Pro notable and caught the attention of our test team. Toyota essentially took the TRD Tacoma and added a few performance enhancements and a few purely cosmetic changes. Being most interested in the performance improvements, we found that the TX Pro package provides little 4wd advantage over the TRD, but does include a stainless steel exhaust, fake bead locks and a few stickers – more on that later. However, the bones of this truck are the ‘real deal’ and include a rear, driver-selectable locking differential and driver-selectable traction control (A-TRAC). This is also our first time testing the Access Cab configuration with a six-foot bed.
1. Legendary Toyota reliability and durability
2. Driver-selectable rear locking differential and A-TRAC
3. 1,200lb Payload
4. TX Pro Package which includes cast wheels and stainless steel performance exhaust
The Toyota Tacoma TX Pro compares with the Nissan Frontier NISMO (also available as a rebadged Suzuki) and little else. In recent years the Nissan has become a legitimate competitor with the Tacoma, offering nearly 30 more HP and rear disc brakes.
Chevrolet also carries a mid-sized truck, the Colorado, which over the past 12 months has been upgraded with new hardware – primary of which is the 5.3L V8 engine and available Z71 package. With the death of HUMMER, GM seems to be paying attention to the 4wd performance of their trucks again, which makes this a somewhat unproven, but interesting option to consider. Offerings from both Ford and Dodge are legacy products in their last year of production, and have seen little refinement or innovation in the last decade.
This review is technical to a fault and intended for consumers that desire maximum detail and critical evaluation. All pros and cons are laid to bare, with nothing spared the pen. This review also favors performance over cup holders, so it will serve the enthusiast better than the commuter. Additional information about the reviewers, criteria and results is located in the evaluator’s notes on the conclusion page of this document.
1,112 miles over 42 days with the Access Cab. 640 miles over 33 days with the Double Cab. 880 miles over 64 days with a 2005 Double Cab (modified by ARB).
2010 Toyota Tacoma Double-Cab Test Vehicle
2005 Tacoma: ARB test vehicle with Old Man Emu suspension, bull bar and Demello rock sliders
The 2011 Tacoma has few enhancements from the 2010 model, but most notable is the inclusion of driver-selectable A-TRAC, a system borrowed from the funky, yet capable FJ Cruiser. This allows the driver to activate a more effective mode of traction control and also combine it with the rear locking differential, providing the best traction solution combination Toyota brings to North America. Other changes for 2011 include minor grill updates and the availability of the TX Pro package, which we test here.
The TX Pro package is available as an option beyond the TRD and includes an appearance kit (i.e. stickers), forged wheels, and a stainless steel TRD exhaust. Fortunately, below the exhaust rumble (which nets 5hp), fake bead locks and ‘unique’ stickers there is a real TRD Tacoma with a 236hp V6, 5-speed automatic transmission, two-speed transfer case, locking differential and a body on frame construction.
- Engine Size – 4.0L
- Engine HP – 236hp @ 5200rpm
- Fuel Type – Standard Unleaded Gas
- Fuel System – Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI)
- Cooling System – 10.1 L
- Alternator – 130 amps
- Fuel Capacity – 21 Gallons
- Transmission Type – Automatic . Speeds – 5
First Gear – 3.52
Second Gear – 2.04
Third Gear – 1.40
Fourth Gear – 1:1
Fifth Gear – 0.72
Reverse Gear – 3.22
- Transfer Case Type – Part-time with low range . Reduction – Planetary and chain
High-Range Ratio – 1:1
Low-Range Ratio – 2:57
- Final Drive (Axle) Ratio – 4.10:1
- Crawl Ratio – 37.09:1 (Rating –Average)
- Front – Double wishbone independent, strut and coil Rear – Solid axle, leaf-sprung
- Brake Type:
Front – Disc 12.5”, ABS Rear – Drum 10”, ABS
- Traction System: Rear driver-selectable electronic locking differential (4wd low range only)
- Driver-selectable A-TRAC traction control – 4-wheel
TRD 16×7.5” Cast Aluminum
BFGoodrich LT265/70 R16 Rugged Trail All-Terrain
- Testing Loop – 16.6 MPG (101 miles)
- Total Test – 17.1 MPG (1,112 miles)
- Best Tank – 20.7 MPG (highway)
- EPA Estimate: 16/20
- Overall Length – 208.5”
- Overall Width (mirrors folded) – 68.6”
- Overall Height – 71.5”
- Wheelbase – 127.4”
- Bed Length (Interior) – 73.5”
- Bed Height (Interior) – 18”
- Bed Width (Interior) – 56.6”
- Turning Circle – 40.7 ft.
- Minimum Ground Clearance – 9.5” (actual)
- Approach/Departure Angles – 34 degrees / 26 degrees (actual)
Break Over Angle – 24 degrees (actual)
- Curb Weight – 4,070 lbs.
- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) – 5,350 lbs.
- Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating (GCWR) – 11,100
- Payload – 1,280 lbs.
- Max Trailer Load – 6,500 lbs.
- Seating Capacity – 4 (rear seats are for short-duration travel only)
The Tacoma is a simple, yet handsome truck with a traditional bumper line and wide fenders. Even in its sixth year the design is still athletic and purposeful, but is starting to become too familiar. The headlight assemblies dominate the focal point of the design with large, clear lenses and multi-reflector elements. These headlamps flow into the pronounced grill and raised hood line, giving the truck a traditional pickup appearance with a slightly aggressive edge. Overall, the styling is pleasing with nothing too risky.
The fender flares are tall and dominate the side profile. I do like the profile and coverage of the flares but find the notch on the trailing end to be distracting to the belt line. Monstrous mud flaps connect at the base of the flares and do a good job of keeping mud off the paint, at least for the few hours while they are still attached. Within a few days of testing two of the flaps were torn off, fortunately doing no damage to the attachment points. The flaps are simply too long and any backing maneuver on the trail can result in their exodus. We also encountered the odd body integrity issue of the fuel door opening on corrugations, gapping slightly. Other than my complaints above, the only issue we encountered was the position of the rear trailer wiring harness. On a simple trail it broke and spent the next month zip-tied to the receiver tube.
The front bumper provides a good approach angle and is no longer than necessary, keeping the profile only a few inches further forward than the grill. There are no complex or clearance-robbing air dams jutting downward, the real estate below the bumper only being occupied by a large and robust recovery point and the front skid plate.
Overall, I like the appearance of the standard Tacoma, finding it simple, useful and comfortable, just like a truck should look. I think the Tacoma looks balanced overall and fortunately lacks any glaring oddities (think Ridgeline).
Exterior Conclusion: The Tacoma is one of our favorite truck styles, but the simple and athletic lines are now disturbed by an odd sticker package and cheap (looking) taillights.
Suicide doors allow cavernous entrance, but limited body stiffness makes opening and closing doors a challenge on cross-axle terrain
A note about style:
My complaints on the exterior appearance concentrate at the rear of the vehicle, starting with (seriously) ridiculous TX Pro stickers. They look like the factory installed them wrong and attempted to peel them back off again, only leaving part of the sticker behind. It is an attempt to be trendy, but looks completely out of place on a simple and useful truck. It also creates a branding confusion to the casual observer. What exactly does TX mean? ‘Truck Xtremo’, ‘Tactical Xtreme’, ‘ Tacoma 10’, who knows? This miss continues rearward with taillights that look cheap and completely out of place. We also feel the chrome rear bumper is out of place and dated – just color match it or make it black or dark grey. The TRD wheels look nice and add some visual interest to the bottom third of the profile. The wheels also add some mass and masculinity to the mostly street biased all-terrains wrapped around them. While the wheels are strong, I take exception to the fake bead lock as it seems out of character for Toyota to do something faux (remember what happened to Hummer).
What exactly does TX mean?
The 2005 Tacoma marked a significant improvement over the first generation truck, refining the quality and finish of the materials and most importantly improving the comfort of the seats. I like the interior of the 2011 truck and find the switchgear to fall easily to hand, and to be placed in logical positions near the driver. Toyota now understands the importance of material quality at the driver touch points and has wrapped the steering wheel and shifter in leather. The wheel also includes controls for the stereo and cruise control.
The instrument cluster is easy to see and read from the driver’s seat, the speedometer gauge sitting in a ringed bezel. The large numbers and excellent glare protection make speed easy to assess in a moment. Flanking the speedometer on the left is the tachometer, and to the right are the engine temperature and fuel level gauges. All other indicators are idiot lights, which seem acceptable given Toyota’s reputation for not breaking down. I would like to see a driver selectable gauge, which would read from the OBDII data. The Jeep Grand Cherokee has this and it has proven to be valuable, allowing the driver to monitor transmission or engine oil temperatures in sand or while towing, etc.
Complaints regarding the interior are minimal, though I would like to see an improvement in material selection and texture. The center stack looks overly stylized and the clock appears to be borrowed from a 1984 Celica. The rear locking differential switch is on the left of the steering wheel, along with the downhill assist (DAC) and side-curtain airbag disconnect, however the A-TRAC switch is hidden behind the shifter. Put the A-TRAC, Locker and DAC together. I am also not a fan of gated shifters, which proves to be unnecessarily clunky and complex. One other concern is the integrity of the xtra-cab doors. Even a minor flex in the frame causes the doors to shut poorly, and on flat ground the system clangs shut with a light-duty feel.
Shifting into reverse was a pleasant surprise with the inclusion of a back-up camera in the rear view mirror – a useful tool on such a long vehicle. The seats are significantly more comfortable than the previous generation and the materials are improved. All switches are large enough to operate with gloved hands. Nothing feels cheap and despite some hard use, the interiors wear well too.
The back-up camera is a nice addition and quite useful on the trail as well.
Interior Conclusion: The interior is simple and made from better quality materials than the previous generation, but lacks refinement and could benefit from improved textures and attention to switchgear layout.
The subwoofer is heavy on plastic and has a blue, glowing ball and huge plastic X
Maybe they were inspired by. . .?
The reason why many consumers consider and buy the Tacoma is because of the legendary 4wd performance. Without question, the Tacoma has been class leading and to the benefit of us all has inspired other manufactures to improve the trail performance of their offerings. Not only is the Tacoma highly effective in the dirt, it does so with simplicity at the core. No fancy air suspension and limited reliance on electronics, performance is achieved with good ground clearance, a driver-selectable locking differential, 31 inch diameter all-terrain tires and a long-travel rear suspension.
The business end of the Tacoma, including a long-travel leaf-sprung suspension, solid axle and driver-selectable locking differential
The TRD and TX Pro are delivered with 265/70 R16 (31”) BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/As. While the tire is an adequate diameter, it is unfortunately a compromise application and missed opportunity on the Tacoma’s trail performance package. The tire has three significant issues with regard to 4wd traction: 1. The rubber durometer is too hard, which reduces adhesion and micro deformation effectiveness. The benefit of the hard rubber is a long tread life. 2. The carcass construction favors a rounded tread to sidewall transition, which greatly reduces lateral grip and high-speed control. The sidewall is fragile and punctures easily. 3. The lack of tread separation results in poor wet condition traction, especially in mud. The tread design is intended to produce a low rolling resistance and a quiet ride. A test FJCruiser with the same tires was stuck in 3” of surface mud in previous testing. The tires are simply not up to the performance of the rest of the vehicle.
With the TX Pro, tractive performance (split coefficient) is improved with both a driver-selectable rear locking differential and electronic brake force distribution (A-TRAC). These systems can be used separately, combined or completely disabled. The most important system is the selectable locking differential, which can be engaged once the truck is in 4wd low-range. Pushing the dash switch signals the 4wd computer to initiate a drive actuator on the differential third-member, which pushes a fork towards the ring gear, engaging a lock mechanism. Once locked, both rear tires will turn at the same speed even if one is completely in the air. This has significant advantage in technical terrain, especially on the rear axle. However, there are negative handling effects that occur when the differential is locked, including understeer (pushing) and tire scrubbing, but these issues are minimal at the speeds where the locker is appropriate.
As a new feature A-TRAC can also be selected and used with or without the locking differential. Traction control has several advantages, principally when under/oversteer is not desirable or the vehicle is at the limits of lateral grip. Having tested multiple traction control systems, we have rated the Tacoma A-TRAC as highly effective with limited tire rotation before the system engages. The system is also quite fluid with minimal wind-up or chatter, and no perceptible engine throttle valve reduction. Another notable feature is ‘full-off’ (disable) capability of the vehicle stability control – thank you very much for that Mr. Toyoda.
Overall ride quality, handling and damping has always been an issue with the Tacoma model, and that continues with the current iteration. One of my few serious complaints with the platform, the front to rear suspension mismatch is pronounced, as is the lack of frequency tuning and effective damping. The front suspension is a control arm independent with strut arrangement. With the limited compression travel available, the front spring rate and compression damping are far too soft for all but smooth highway travel. The front anti-sway bar is also too stiff, resulting in aggressive understeer. The bar also greatly reduces articulation, putting the compliance load on the rear axle. While it is clear the spring rates were chosen for the initial test-drive and road biased passenger comfort, it is not properly matched to the vehicle application. Even the most benign bump, ditch or low spot in the trail results in rapid compression and resulting rebound, also not sufficiently dampened. This results in excessive pitch, sway and wallow on even mild terrain. While the shocks appear to be an upgrade, their fluid volume is simply too small to allow proper valving. As a result, the suspension engineers have biased damping to a gross under-damped condition to limit heat/fade.
Limited articulation but nearly every traction tool in the book
The rear suspension is also inappropriate to the vehicle, with too light a spring rate for even an unloaded condition. The addition of half payload results in excessive sag and lack of control. This is exaggerated by the too soft valving of the shocks. While the long rear leaf springs do yield impressive articulation, they permit excessive axle wrap and braking induced pinion dive (with subsequent heavy clunk). Combined with the too-stiff front anti-sway bar, compliance is mismatched and forces the rear suspension to do 80% of the articulation work. With a lightly loaded rear end the rear suspension cannot compress sufficiently, lifting a tire and creating instability. I know the Tacoma can be set-up properly in stock form, as I have tested the IFS HiLux – it is nearly perfect.
Robust for an IFS front end, but the struts are not up to the task. Note small diameter of the shock body and powder coated finish. Both lead to quick fade.
Modulation and Control:
Brake modulation is good and throttle modulation is average, with the drive-by-wire exhibiting minimal delay and none of the digital feedback many systems reflect. The return spring is sufficiently strong to help reduce pedal bounce, improving controllability. However, the overall pedal stroke is too short and the throttle response is biased towards responsiveness as opposed to control. I understand the value in a responsiveness bias (as it gives the impression of power to the test driver), but it makes fine throttle application difficult, resulting in loss of traction, increased head toss and greater fatigue. This can easily be remedied with a longer pedal travel or remapped throttle valve in low range.
Overall vehicle controllability is average, which is a result of good overall braking modulation and effectiveness, combined with average throttle controllability. What ultimately determined the average rating was the tightly coupled front suspension that puts excessive burden on the rear for articulation duties. This puts the entire system under tension resulting in the rear tires lifting quickly and uncontrollably (i.e. popping) in technical terrain, especially on descent.
Ground Clearance and protection:
The Tacoma has excellent overall ground clearance given the competition, but has given up much to the previous generation. The undercarriage is no longer tidy and tucked like on the first generation where the frame rail and a small section of transfer case skid plate were the lowest visible component at the belly. The Generation Two Tacoma is nowhere near as tidy and tucked, with transfer case, fuel tank and various other hard and soft parts hanging down below the frame.
Skid plates and protection are present, but only adequate for dirt scrapes. Rock contact will quickly deform and crush the front suspension and sump protection. To Toyota’s defense, few manufactures fit appropriate skid plates to 4wds. On the TX Pro, I would prefer to see factory available sill/rocker panel protection as opposed to fake beadlocks and a plastic subwoofer.
There are two notable concerns with the trail performance of the Tacoma, the first being a very un-Toyota-like pop from the bed mounts. Almost any articulation resulted in pops and creaks from the composite bed mounting hardware. This is an unacceptable result from a brand new vehicle and I am surprised to see it from Toyota. Further inspection shows that the bed and frame flex at a significantly different rate and the body mounts seem too soft to control the movement. This likely results in a lower NVH on the road, but gives the impression of a lower quality construction or fragile bed on the trail. The second complaint is quite minor, but worth noting. The mud flaps are too long, too close to the tire and too rigid for practical use in the dirt. We lost two within a matter of days. To a perspective owner: just remove them, or the trail will.
The seven-pin plug is high-quality but vulnerable. Even a moderate departure obstacle will result in a quick removal.
Another mud flap removed by a 6″ diameter rock
On-road rating of the Tacoma is above average, with sufficient refinement and performance to satisfy the driver. Nothing is notable or exceptional, but universally adequate and satisfactory. Acceleration controllability on the pavement is linear and smooth with the pedal position comfortable on long trips. The steering feel is heavy but appropriate to the platform, although feedback is too artificial. Limit handling is secure and predictable thanks to the heavy front anti swaybar, but delay is excessive and needs to be more direct to inspire ultimate driver confidence. The ride can be quite busy on rough road surfaces and expansion joints, the under-damped shock tuning causing axle hop and wrap. Straight line stability (SLS) is vague on center, but the truck does track straight. Overall, the ride is smooth for a pickup, but too much of the feedback is lost and what remains seems artificial. It will be easy to do a long trip in this vehicle, but any attempt at fun in the twisties will be pretty bland.
The second-generation Tacoma drivetrain is a significant improvement over the first-generation 3.4L V6 and transmission offerings. The 2011 model is equipped with a 4.0 liter DOHC V6 producing 236 hp and 266 ft. lbs. of torque. This power is achieved in part because of the variable valve timing that maximizes power output at higher revolutions yet also adapts to cruising speeds and RPMs to produce respectable fuel economy numbers. On several longer trips we were able to achieve 21-22mpg highway. Our team found the truck enjoyable to drive and the TRD exhaust rewarded the senses with a rapturous note. Some might consider it too loud, but it is appropriate to the vehicle.
We have tested both the six speed manual and five speed automatic variants, and although I personally enjoy rowing my own gears, there is little fault in the factory auto. With five speeds, the automatic keeps the engine revving and it shifts quickly. Even 10 years ago, a manual would provide better fuel economy numbers, but we noted no difference between the two in MPG. On the trail, the automatic is simply superior, providing the driver with left foot braking and better control than with the manual. The 6-speed manual is too high geared and the motor too low on torque off idle to provide a better result. Personally, I enjoyed the manual more (and applaud Toyota for offering it), but the vehicle is just better matched to the automatic.
The one significant complaint with the powertrain is the transfer case engagement. While we see the industry trend towards solenoid operated everything, a truck like the Tacoma should have a manual transfer case lever. Shifting into 4wd low was more of a suggestion than an action. Stopping the vehicle, shifting into neutral and then turning the plastic knob results in all manner of beeping, flashing and grinding, but the unit rarely achieves a successful engagement on the first attempt. While most will dismiss the concern (it eventually does engage), my criticism comes from practical experience, like if the vehicle cannot be rocked, moved or repositioned when attempting to engage low range. This can be when the vehicle is bogged in the mud, a road has given way or the vehicle is in a tight rock obstacle. This issue reflects negatively and somewhat surprising against an otherwise excellent platform.
4wd levers have given way to plastic switches and solenoids.
Fatigue and Ergonomics:
Driver fatigue is an important factor in vehicle design and is equally relevant to a sedan as it is to a 4wd. Fatigue compounds throughout the driving session and is a factor of ergonomics, seat comfort and support, readability of gauges, position of the gas and brake pedal, steering effort and traceability, head toss, vibration, noise, etc. While some will argue that a truck does not need to address these elements, we would argue that it must address some. For example, there are certain attributes of a truck that should feel like a truck, steering effort and feel being one of them. However, driver/passenger comfort on a long trip is not only an element of good design, but a consideration to safety.
The Tacoma, despite its 4wd prowess is a very car-like machine, reflecting Toyota’s obsession with low NVH and material fitment. The Tacoma rides smooth and little road noise makes it to the occupant. Head toss is controlled and overall the seats are comfortable and supportive. The switchgear has a positive feel, and are for the most part in a logical location and easy to see and read. The rack and pinion steering is properly weighted and does not require the constant micro-adjustment to main shaft angle that a solid axle vehicle might.
The driver position is comfortable, but not commanding. I prefer a higher seating position and a better view of the road (think Land Rover), where the Tacoma is more reclined and sedan-like. The seats are a significant improvement over the previous generation in both comfort and material quality, with large side bolsters and adequate pad thickness. My only complaint is the too-short length of the seat base and subsequent loss of thigh support.
Overall, noise/vibration/harshness (NVH) is class-leading with excellent road noise attenuation and a clean, rounded impact feedback. There were no rattles or squeaks from the dash. The material qualities at point of touch could be improved, principally at elbow contact with the center console. The plastic is too hard and too low. Materials at the steering wheel and shifter are adequate.
Ergonomics with the Tacoma is a mixed bag with a nice steering wheel and shifter that falls to hand easily. Most switchgear is logically placed and easy to actuate. However, there are a few oddities, like the location of the A-TRAC button, which is hidden behind the transmission shifter and nowhere near the rear locker button and other 4wd systems. The shifter is a vague gaited pattern that left us feeling awkward and slow in selecting the correct gear throughout the test. Any maneuver requiring the driver to quickly rock the vehicle fore/aft out of a rut or mud hole would likely end up comical.
The area of emphasis for expeditionportal.com is adventure travel by vehicle, so our evaluation reflects that bias. It is our expectation that a 4wd with low range perform as the consumer imagines, the vehicle providing access to adventure, that remote hiking trail or to a favorite fly fishing stream. The ability to drive a snow-covered road or cross a swollen stream, the capacity to drive onto the beach in Baja or traverse a muddy bog in Alaska.
The 2011 Tacoma is a legitimate and competent 4wd, one of the best ever imported to North America, and for overland travel it has the capacity (load), capability (4wd performance) and durability (legendary Toyota quality) to serve the driver on weekend adventures or a trip around the world. When we evaluate a vehicle’s suitability for overland travel, six categories are measured.
- Capability: Rating = 4 (1-5, 5 being best)
Class-leading 4wd performance supported primarily by the driver-selectable rear locking differential and A-TRAC
- Durability= 4
Robust frame construction and Toyota’s legacy of system-based design and mechanical reserve.
- Capacity= 3.5
Half-ton payload with braking performance and axle strength to support continuous duty.
- Reliability= 4
Toyota’s reputation of reliability and the Tacoma in particular earns this vehicle near top honors. The only limitations are the nagging bed integrity issues.
- Payload Efficiency= 3.5
A ratio of payload capacity and fuel economy which is an indicator of potential range.
Calculation: 1000 mile range at measured MPG on the test loop. Total weight in fuel to complete 1000 miles. Payload remainder expressed as a percentage, then divided by two for result. Tacoma requires 375 pounds of fuel to complete 1000 mile range. Available Payload= 1,280 pounds. 1,280-375= Fuel as a percentage of payload= 29.3%. Remainder= 70.7/2
Overland Rating: 70%*
Note: This includes the above categories and 15 additional overland-centric measurements.
Multiple tie-downs anchor the corners of the composite bed.
400 Watt Inverter and storage in the bed.
Tie-down rail supports moderate loads with infinite flexibility.
“Its performance on the dirt is almost unmatched in the class and when combined with the reasonable sticker price, resale value and world-class reliability, it makes the Tacoma the leader in compact pickups.”
1. Driver-selectable locking differential and A-TRAC
2. Strong, efficient engine
3. 6-Speed manual is still available
4. VSC can be disabled completely
5. Strong aftermarket support
6. Class-leading reliability
1. Suspension tuning mismatch front to rear
2. Shock damping ineffective
3. Bed mount pop and bed integrity
4. Mud flap length, stiffness and vulnerability
5. Light construction of xtra cab doors
6. Controls lack precision and appropriate feedback
|Total Possible||Points Awarded||Percentage|
|Ergonomics / Fatigue||75||44||58.7%|
*Note: Please read evaluator notes for scoring and percentage protocol. For a quick reference point on the scale, 50% is average and 75% would be exceptional. There are simply very few perfect attributes of any vehicle. This is not a comparison against peer vehicles or the average of vehicle performance, but a comparison against perfection.
Despite some of my criticisms, the TX Pro Tacoma is nearly without peer in the 4wd compact truck segment. The combination of locking rear differential and selectable A-TRAC results in all four tires turning in all but the most extreme conditions. This capability allows the truck to clear obstacles that would stop most others. Good engine torque and appropriate gearing provides adequate low speed control and when combined with the traction devices, minimize wheel spin, hop and abuse. On technical climbs the Tacoma is a top performer with the long wheelbase and flexible rear suspension keeping the tires in contact with the terrain. Overall ground clearance is good, but gives up advantage when compared to the previous generation.
With the Tacoma, the whole is a better indicator than the parts. The truck did not score a 4.5 or 5.0 rating in any measurement and only a few 4.0s, but as a complete vehicle, it is a best of breed. The truck is handsome (just remove the TX Pro stickers), competent and does exactly what a compact truck should do – work hard. The owner can commute to work with 20+ mpg efficiency and relative comfort, load up the bed with plywood on Saturday and then drive a technical trail or transport the dirt bikes on Sunday. The engine is strong yet efficient and the 4wd traction systems are truly effective. Interior materials and ergonomics are much improved over the previous generation but are showing their age with the 2012 models approaching. My serious complaints are few but stinging. The suspension on this truck is set-up incorrectly for every conceivable scenario we encountered. The bed integrity and mounting is a failure and completely inconsistent with the remainder of the truck. At Expedition Portal, we are long-time fans of this vehicle and would not hesitate recommending it for the contractor and global explorer alike. It does nearly everything well and several things very well. Its performance on the dirt is almost unmatched in its class, and when combined with the reasonable sticker price, resale value and world-class reliability, it makes the Tacoma the leader in compact pickups.
Expedition Portal offers one of the most comprehensive 4wd vehicle testing reviews on the web or in print. We understand that a 4wd is not an appliance and the reason for buying a 4wd is because of a specific performance requirement, not because it resembles or reflects the attributes of a sedan.
This review is intended to be comprehensive to a fault, providing the reader with detailed evaluation of all systems and performance attributes. The evaluation is conducted by professional test drivers over a period of months (not days) and in an exhaustive range of terrains and conditions. If you are new to comprehensive vehicle testing, some acronyms or descriptions may require additional research and definition. Each comprehensive review is conducted by two Chief Evaluators.
Understanding the scoring: Why is the % so low?
Typical vehicle reviews are purely editorial and by their nature cannot be comprehensive. The testing method we developed mirrors those from several original equipment manufactures (OEMs) and comprises 81 separate evaluation points over five categories. Proper evaluation allows for failure and perfection, either of which few vehicles will achieve. For example, consider the overall comfort rating of a typical car seat compared to what makes a perfect seat. There are likely two or three vehicles in the world that have near perfect seats. We take perfection quite literally, which means without flaw; there is nothing that should be added and nothing that should be removed, nothing is out of place. With two evaluators, it is a rarity for a vehicle to even approach perfection, especially when manufacturing and cost requirements make it so difficult for an OEM to achieve it. Given these constraints, a vehicle that receives a rating of four out of five for a seat would be considered exceptional. So a vehicle that reaches even 65-70% on a total score should be considered notable. The scores are also weighted heavily towards 4wd performance and cost is not factored.
Test Team’s Experience with the Toyota Tacoma:
Joe Bacal served as the Toyota Master development driver for 4wd vehicles in North America. Scott Brady has driven Toyota trucks on six continents including a solo-vehicle expedition to the Arctic Ocean in a 2004 Tacoma. Scott has tested three separate Toyota Tacomas (2005-Current) over a period of six months.
The Test Team:
Joe Bacal: Chief Evaluator
Joe’s career spans 20 years of professional test driving and vehicle development, including his roll as a master test driver for Toyota Corporation. Additional testing and development clients include Nissan, Lexus, General Motors and others. Joe is also a successful off-road racer with wins in the Baja 1000, SCORE overall class wins, BITD class wins and numerous other top finishes. Joe is considered by many to be the top 4wd vehicle test pilot in North America. Joe left employment with Toyota in 2008 and now owns and operates JTGrey Racing and works exclusively with expeditionportal.com in this type of testing.
Scott Brady: Chief Evaluator and Editor
Scott’s experience as a driver spans six continents and tens of thousands of miles of 4wd and motorcycle travel. He has piloted unique vehicles ranging from the first production electric DS motorcycle to a $750,000 Unicat expedition Unimog and working as a professional test pilot for several OEMs. Scott’s racing experience includes Baja SCORE and being the only American driver to win the rugged Outback Challenge (with navigator Nathan Hindman). Scott is the Publisher/Chairman of Overland Journal, is the founder of expeditionportal.com and is often credited with popularizing overland travel in North America.
Additional Images –