2019 Toyota Tacoma Quick Spin: Small, Subtle Improvements


We might all be excited for the arrival of the new and 2020 Jeep Gladiator next year, and the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon have proven to be seriously popular entries into the mid-size pickup truck class, but the undisputed sales king is still the Toyota Tacoma. The Tacoma gets a couple of refinements for 2019 along with a couple of new colors, and we got our first look at the truck at a tailgate party held by Toyota at the University of Michigan versus Penn State University football game a few weeks ago (Go Blue!).


On hand for the pre-game festivities was none other than Sheldon Brown, the chief vehicle engineer for the current-generation Tacoma and Tundra pickups, who walked us around the lovely Cavalry Blue TRD Sport double cab model parked in the tent on that blustery autumn Saturday morning.

Quieter, Smoother

The Tacoma is in the middle of its latest life cycle — the last big update it received came for — so the changes for the 2019 model are subtle, and mostly things you can't see, according to Brown. The most effort was devoted to a noise, vibration and harshness package aimed at improving the Tacoma's drivability and refinement. Better cabin isolation was the goal, and that was achieved through more insulation, thicker side glass and a revised rear suspension.

I recently had a chance to take the new 2019 Tacoma TRD Sport for a spin, racking up a few hundred miles in the latest version of the venerable crew cab. The TRD Sport isn't really an off-road model — it has 17-inch all-season truck tires instead of the more aggressive all-terrain tires seen on the , and it lacks the TRD Off-Road's Crawl Control and off-road suspension with Bilstein shocks. But that doesn't mean it's not a capable truck — its shift-on-the-fly part-time four-wheel-drive system is easy to operate but is meant for dirt or slippery conditions duty — you don't want to operate it on dry or merely wet pavement.

The changes made for 2019 really do create a more refined environment in the Tacoma; it's immediately noticeable that the truck is quieter in all conditions. On the highway, road noise is much more muted than before, and the engine note is sufficiently quiet as well, creating a more pleasant experience. Thicker side glass has also helped to cut wind noise at highway speeds.

Changes also have been made to the engine control mapping, according to Brown, tuning the 3.5-liter V-6 to make it more responsive. It's not the most powerful V-6 in the class, making 278 horsepower and 265 pounds-feet of torque. That's less than most competitor V-6 engines, and there's not any more power coming for 2019. But the power and torque that's available has been made more usable across a broader spectrum of the rpm range, creating a more responsive truck that drives better than it used to. The brakes seem to be stronger than I remember on previous Tacomas, and the overall driving experience is one of solid, refined stability and control.

Interior Shortcomings

Where the Tacoma continues to struggle is inside. The interior materials and build quality are still class-competitive, despite the preponderance of hard plastic. No other pickup in the class has an interior with any less hard plastic, so this apparently doesn't faze the Tacoma's legion of buyers. Where the Taco has an issue is with interior room, notably headroom. It's clearly the product of an earlier time, when small trucks actually were small, instead of the mid-size trucks we have today that are nearly as big as full-size trucks were a decade ago. Headroom in the Tacoma is compromised for anyone taller than 5 feet, 10 inches, as the seat just isn't low enough to allow taller drivers enough headroom with the moonroof present. Without the moonroof, it might not be an issue, but my head touched firmly against the headliner in models with the glass roof present. This isn't the case in any other mid-size truck, including the ancient Nissan Frontier.

Mid-size pickups don't come cheap. You can get a base model, extended-cab two-wheel-drive, four-cylinder Tacoma for around $25,000, but it's generally a fleet model that comes with few amenities. The sticker price on my mid-level TRD Sport 4×4 double cab came to a hefty $41,200 including destination, but it had a leather interior, moonroof and navigation. You can go a bit higher in the Tacoma if you want: If you specify the TRD Pro and load it up, you'll top $46,000.

We're eager to get the Tacoma out against the up-and-coming new players in the class to see how the sales champ stacks up. Check back here next week for our 2019 Ford Ranger-2019 Toyota Tacoma matchup. photos by Aaron Bragman

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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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