Walks the Walk: 2020 Toyota Tacoma Limited

Walks the Walk: 2020 Toyota Tacoma Limited

Story and photos by Dan Heyman

I‘m honestly a little scared as I sit down to write this review, just as I was a little scared as I took the seat of the 2020 Toyota Tacoma Limited and proceeded to shoot a video review.

Not because the truck is a deathtrap but because, like so many pickup owners and drivers, Tacoma people really do love their truck and heaven forbid I should get something wrong. I could be run right out of the world of car journalism!

The thing of it is, though, the Tacoma people I know are a little different than the F-150, Silverado or Ram people I know. And it’s saying something that I know more people that own Tacomas than any of those other trucks. More than that own Honda Civics, Mazda CX-5s and Toyota Camrys as well, come to think of it.

My Taco friends are not labourers, they’re not construction workers and they don’t haul RVs. They are bankers, stock brokers and doctors but they are all quintessential outdoor folks who love their mountain biking, their camping and their hiking. They do require some off-road prowess, though, as it’s often required for them to get where they’re going. Backcountry campsites tend to only be accessed by less-than-ideal forest service roads, you know? Not exactly the kind of terrain you want to tackle in a CUV or sedan.

In short: they all maintain active lifestyles and the Tacoma is a lifestylist’s truck, make no bones about it. Indeed, many owners I know either switched from a CUV to one of these, or went this way instead of opting for a CUV or SUV.

While the Tacoma is technically available with two bed lengths and two cab styles, the top-spec Limited variant seen here comes one way and one way only, and that’s with a four-door Double Cab and five-foot bed. Other trims get the smaller Access Cab with a six-foot bed. All Tacomas sold, meanwhile, get 4×4 and a single engine choice: the 278-hp 3.5L V6 that also makes 265 lb-ft of torque.

That’s actually down a half-litre in engine size from what the previous-generation (pre-2016 model year) Tacoma had, but since the new engine gets the Atkinson Cycle mild-hybrid treatment, it actually makes more horsepower than previous and roughly equal amounts of torque, and uses less fuel even though it revs higher. It does, however, bring up the rear when it comes to its horsepower count against the likes of the Ford Ranger, the Jeep Gladiator and the Chevrolet/GMC Colorado/Canyon twins. The torque figures are roughly on-par, though, unless you’re talking the diesel GMs, but that’s a whole other ball game.

Another big add when the Tacoma switched generations was that of a six-speed automatic transmission, a marked improvement over the previous-gen’s five-speed auto to be sure.

In the old truck, the transmission and engine were never really in sync when under duress, forcing lots of shifting and hunting for ratios. It was loud, and it was a killer on fuel.

That is no longer the case, as the new auto makes for much better shifting and smoother, more efficient progress. Gears are held on to when you expect them to be, and dropped when you want them to be and if you want more control, there’s a manual mode as well. Or, go all-out and opt for a six-speed manual, though you’ll have to forgo the Limited trim as it’s not available with a stick shift.

The Limited does, however, include pretty much every creature comfort you can get for the Tacoma: in addition to the new headlights and grille all Tacomas get for 2020, the Limited gets new 18-in. wheels, leather seating, JBL audio, wireless charging, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and multi-view parking camera. Which, with the press of a button, can be activated while off-roading to get a better sense of what’s going on beneath your wheels. There’s not a heated steering wheel, though, which is disappointing especially at this level, considering MSRP for the Limited hovers around the $50,000 mark. I mean, come on – there are base model sedans these days that get a heated steering wheel as standard. Not having one in a truck meant for the outdoor adventurer – whose adventures will likely occur in colder climes – is a surprising oversight.

You have to think, though, that good as it is to have, all that kit does eat into the capabilities of the vehicle. As does the larger cab and shorter box. It tows in and around 6,300 lbs. and hauls just under 1,000 lbs. in Limited spec, while the competition listed earlier is all up around the 7,000 lbs. mark in terms of towing. Then again, when all you’re towing with your Tacoma is a tent trailer, maybe some mountain bikes or loading some camping gear – as so many Tacoma owners do – those figures will do just fine.

Inside, the high floor means great ground clearance but it will also cause the long-legged among us – a camp yours truly considers himself a part of – to suffer a little as it does force one’s knees up, even more so in the back seat. The tilt/telescoping wheel helps, but there isn’t a huge range of movement here and my hands kept getting sandwiched between my leg and the wheel. That’s really only bothersome when you have your hand at the six o’clock position while backing up with a trailer, but it did cause me some consternation while performing some more everyday manoeuvres as well.

Smaller drivers should have less of a problem, of course, and they’d likely love the commanding view out over that big, blocky hood that the seating position provides, while all drivers will like the view out back and over their shoulders as well.

Speaking of outdoor adventuring, the Limited does come with the same electronic limited-slip differential all Tacomas do, but you cannot spec the TRD Pro package required to get a locking rear diff. That means you also don’t get the Bilstein offroad-spec dampers, either. If you want four doors and the TRD Pro package, you’ll need to select the Double Cab SB package.

That’s not to say, of course, that the Limited can’t be used for off-roading, of course. I did scramble up a few forestry roads during my time with the truck and it was capable of tackling pretty much everything I threw at it. Of course, we’re not talking bouldering here, but at its core, the Tacoma’s half-boxed chassis is the same as it is everywhere else in the line-up and this truck is perfectly capable in the hands of less-seasoned off-roaders — like backcountry campers.

Thing is, though, even they seem to have a bit of soreness towards the Limited because it is clearly the most ‘round town version of the Tacoma, what with its standard chassis but fully-upgraded interior. It’s kind of in a weird spot; the bed features lights, rails, tie-downs, a power outlet and a small supplementary storage bin on one of its walls, but is all that stuff really going to be used all that much here? You kind of get the feeling that most Tacoma Limiteds are going to get fitted with canopies and their owners are never going to look back.

Which is OK, I guess, because it works fine as a more everyday vehicle with wheels and tires that ride quieter than the TRD trucks, a great JBL audio system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility (both are new to the Tacoma for 2020) and all those niceties mentioned earlier.

The real question, I guess, is whether or not this is what someone who spends 50 grand on a Tacoma is going to want; there are other great vehicles out there that command that kind of money that are way better suited as daily drivers.

Indeed, dropping a TRD Pro package on the trim that sits one below the Limited will run you about the same amount of cash, but will also leave you with a truck much better in-keeping with the Tacoma’s ethos.

The Limited? Oh, it can walk the walk, all right, but its ability to talk the talk, I guess, is where it kind of loses the plot. It’s a fantastic vehicle, make no bones about it – just one with a bit of a confused identity.