Review and Photos by Howard J Elmer
For 2009, the Toyota Tacoma is offering a newly reconfigured model that is playing on its “small but tough” attitude. This Tacoma is by definition a mid-size pickup, despite growing its silhouette in 2005, and now that the market has changed (in a case of “timing is everything”) the Tacoma may well be poised for a sales increase.
A strong indicator of the small truck comeback is the debut of the Mahindra (Indian-built) compact truck in America this coming fall. Another is the powertrain Toyota is featuring in this 4x4 Tacoma Access Cab. The 2.7L four-cylinder engine coupled to a five-speed standard transmission nicely straddles the line between power and cost of operation. And, with last year’s gas price scare, that need is still lingering in the minds of many truck buyers. With an average fuel consumption of 10.5L/100km, this midsize holds down operating costs while still carrying up to four people and towing up to 3,500 lb. It also has a very usable six-foot cargo bed which, with the tailgate down, is ample for ATVs, snowmobiles and/or building materials, and for towing RVs. And with the models currently offered by many RV manufacturers, there is plenty to choose from in the under-3,500 lb. class. But the Tacoma is not limited by chassis size – instead, if you bump up to the available V6 engine, towing ability increases to 6,500 lb.
For 2009 this is a new combination - the Tacoma 4x4 Access Cab - and it is the tester I drove for a week. Toyota’s Access Cab is the middle cabin choice and an apt name. It promises access to space – not space itself. With four doors that open clamshell style and almost flat-floor rear seating, it has easy folding seats that move for cargo storage or alternatively offer space for two passengers ... though children, the dog or your mother-in-law, are about the only occupants that will be comfortable back there.
The Tacoma debuted as a 1995 model, but it wasn’t till the second generation of the Tacoma in 2005 when the truck got big – almost as big as the first-gen Tundra – and considering the growth of every domestic truck, this was indeed the trend to follow at the time. But today, even with full-size pickup sales recovering somewhat, the Tacoma’s size and frugal use of fuel are once again in vogue.
The trade-off is an engine that makes just 159 hp and 180 pound-feet of torque, making this Tacoma slow by today’s over-powered standards – but making up for that is the five-speed standard which allows greater control of what power is available, with one more gear than the optional four-speed automatic. With the 4WD option in this truck, that low first gear also (along with the two-speed transfer case) made for better off-road control. Toyota’s 4WD system is a straightforward electronically-activated differenal lock. A dash-mounted rotary dial activates the transfer case from Hi to Lo range and 2WD to 4WD. This setup is found in many of Toyota’s models all over the world – frankly in places where the word “road” is more of a suggestion than a reality. It works, and works well.
Also new this year are comfort and safety features in all models of the Tacoma, such as front seat-mounted side airbags, roll-sensing side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, VSC (Vehicle Stability Control), A-TRAC (Active Traction Control on 4x4’s), combination LED tail lamps and an upgraded audio system that now has MP3MA capability, auxiliary jacks and is satellite radio ready.
Meanwhile, suspension on the truck remains straight old-school: double wishbone coil-sprung front suspension and leaf spring rears on a solid axle. Bilstein shocks all around absorb some of the bumps. Still, with rack-and-pinion steering, control of the truck is precise and the rugged ride smooths out nicely when the bed is loaded.
Tacoma has been wearing the same interior for a number of years now; good thing it wears well. The dashboard and centre stack setup is, above all, easy to access and simple to operate with large controls. The centre storage bin offers a well-placed arm rest as does the recessed door. Gray is still the Tacoma’s favourite colour (but not mine) but at least it’s broken up with a two-tone effect. Cloth seats are warm and long wearing. Throughout the cab, smart and plentiful storage spots abound. A suggestion for the next generational upgrade is more/better sound insulation. It’s not loud inside, but it’s not quiet either.
An add-on trim option (that was on my tester) which should prove popular is the SR5 Power Package which, for $2,020, adds aluminum alloy wheels and locks, driver’s seat lumbar support, fold-down front passenger seat, power windows and locks, a sliding rear window, privacy glass, cruise control, keyless entry, power remote mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, metallic dash accents, chrome rear bumper and grille, colour-matched front bumper, and colour-keyed fender flares.
This package adds just enough comfort and character to the Tacoma to let any buyer feel they haven’t compromised too much in the interest of economy.
Type of vehicle: - 4WD mid-size four-door pickup truck
Engine: -2.7L four-cylinder
Net power: - 159 hp @ 5,200 rpm and 180 lb-ft of torque @ 3,800 rpm
Transmission: - Five-speed manual
Brakes: - Power-assisted front discs and rear drums with ABS
Tires: -P245/75R16 all-season radial
Price: -base/as tested: $ 25,025 / $ 27,045
Freight and Delivery: -$1,440
Transport Canada fuel economy (L/100 km): - 12.0 city, 9.1 hwy