The all-new 2016 Toyota Tacoma is well done with plenty of likable large and small changes designed to work more seamlessly together. Last time, we made note of what we didn't like, this time it's what we like. And don't forget Toyota has had about 10 years to plan this redesign, so there was bound to be plenty of good stuff inside this pickup truck to take on the new competitors in the midsize pickup segment. Toyota played it smart by waiting to see what GM would do with the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Here are some of the most interesting changes we found on the new Tacoma.
TRD Off Road's Four-Wheel-Drive Capability
It may seem like an obvious choice for Toyota to play to its historic off-road strengths, but we can tell you there was much internal debate about including the technologically advanced (and expensive) Crawl Control and Multi-Terrain System in a midsize pickup. After all, no one else offers such a sophisticated option. But we're glad Toyota did. It's about time all that hardware and crazy-good Land Cruiser and high-tech Lexus software started working its way down to the pickups.
New Grille and Tailgate Add Drama
To their credit, Toyota engineers are doing a much better job of focusing the right amount of attention and detail to the nose and tail of their pickups. We first saw results in the 2014 Tundra, and now we're seeing it here. The more familiar and updated shape of the grille, and the more muscular appearance of the hood and headlights give the Tacoma a vastly improved look. The tailgate damping and added standard features — camera, key lock, lip diffuser and stamped name — bring the back end into the modern era as well.
Stunning EPA MPG Numbers for V-6
The all-new V-6 engine and transmission is a bold move here, because the common sense (and less expensive) play would have been to include several minor improvements to the existing engine and six-speed. The smarter transmission seems to be doing the majority of the work here in attaining four-cylinder-like fuel-economy numbers (19/24/21 mpg city/highway/combined), providing much more flexibility, intelligence and control for the driver. When in Drive, it smooths out many of the throttle responses to save fuel. When in Sport mode, it knows you want to play, especially if you start tapping up and down to work the gears; throttle response is snappy.
We Love the Return of the Handbrake
And no, and it's not because it makes it much easier to pull off a decent power slide for the cameras. Having the handbrake next to the transmission selector on the center console gives the driver more control, and we're guessing there's a better chance that drivers will engage that handbrake when parking — something many do not in normal circumstances. This single change simplified the production process as the single right-hand brake location replaces the clumsy under-the-dash hand-pull on previous manual transmissions and the push-on/push-off foot-pedal brake on Tacomas with automatic transmission.
Better Trim Level Separation
By essentially keeping the 2015 trim levels and adding a more clearly defined set of price breaks based on features, Toyota has made it easier for buyers to see and find the truck they want. Breaking it down to five trim levels with engine, transmission, cab, bed length and 4×4 as the main distinguishers allows buyers to better measure what they want with what they can afford. As executives watch which packages sell fastest and strongest, you can bet they'll rework the mix and possibly add new variations. We'd love to see an Access Cab four-cylinder auto 4×4 with a 140-inch wheelbase and 8-foot bed.
Surprisingly Better Driving Dynamics
Although not given as much attention as it deserves, the Tacoma's ride and handling is vastly improved. While some may mistakenly think the much quieter interior is the reason the truck "drives" better (we heard that at least three times), the real heroes here are the chassis engineers who kept the spring and shock attachment points identical but improved the control and feel of the suspension in just about every conceivable driving situation. Almost every trim level, wheelbase and cab gets a unique spring and shock package to offer the most optimal drive qualities. This would have been an easy place to save money — especially with Toyota's decision to push the Tacoma's off-road credentials — but with targets like the GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado, Toyota did the right thing.