There's something about a pickup truck that appeals to a sense of adventure and hard work. The 2011 Toyota Tacoma made every trip to the grocery store and school pickup lane an adventure.
Handily equipped with two rear seats and rear-hinged doors, my test truck, the Tacoma Access Cab 4x4 with a V-6 engine, fit two kids, but there were some complaints from the backseat as our test drive wore on.
My test truck had the TRD Off-Road Package that has an off-road-tuned suspension, locking differentials, towing equipment, a skid plate and more. Pair this with the T|X Pro Package and you can take your pro-graphics-laden 16-inch alloy wheels anywhere you please.
The 2011 Tacoma Access Cab I tested started at $25,045, but add the TRD Off-Road Package, a T|X Pro Package and a few other features and my test truck rang up at a pretty $33,168.
With the TRD and T|X Pro packages, the Tacoma looked beefy and capable. This pickup could easily handle a trip over the river and a journey through the woods.
The kids, ages 6 and 8, loved the truck, and I loved them in it for the first few days of our weeklong test drive. However, they really struggled with the rear-opening cab doors that couldn't be opened unless the front door was opened first. To open, a hefty squeeze of the handle inside the rear door was required. I had to help them a lot. It wasn't a big deal, but they didn't enjoy not being able to do it themselves.
Of course, the kids didn't really understand why they couldn't ride in the truck's bed. They didn't care that it was unsafe and they didn't care that it was dangerous; all they wanted to do was ride in the back. I didn't let them. However, we did have picnics in the truck bed just so they could be back there and enjoy the fresh, parked air.
My test Tacoma had an optional 236-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 engine with aluminum block/cylinder heads, dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, making 266 pounds-feet of torque. When paired with four-wheel drive and a five-speed automatic transmission, the Tacoma gets an EPA-estimated 16/20 mpg city/highway. A 159-hp, 2.7-liter four-cylinder gets 18/21 mpg. The Tacoma uses regular gasoline.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Not Really
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On
At first, the Tacoma's novelties — the rear-hinged doors and the subwoofer between the rear seats — were fun. I almost didn't hear the kids' complaints over the road noise and the stereo system.
Then the kids started loathing how tight the fit was in the backseat. It's not that bad in terms of legroom, but there's no angle to the seatbacks, forcing the kids to sit up very straight. They didn't have any complaints about storage as there are two easily accessible cupholders in the back of the center console. There's also a cubby between the two rear seats as well as deep door pockets that can hold a water bottle and a few other items.
For me, the Tacoma was a comfortable fit because it's smaller. Everything was within easy reach. The interior storage wasn't great, but there were a few small cubbies in addition to a deep center console. I especially liked the little shelf next to the ignition; it was the perfect spot for a wallet, cellphone or other gadget.
This four-seat pickup doesn't have a touch-screen anywhere in its cabin. While its stereo and climate controls were easy to use, they seemed somewhat dated. To turn off the front passenger seat's airbag, I had to put the key in a lock and turn it. There's one thing to be said for these old-fashioned systems: There's no learning curve to use them, which is fine with this busy parent.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Here's the chink in the Tacoma's skid plate: child-safety seats. The rear seat cushions are so narrow that my daughter's booster seat hung over the lip of the bench. A rear-facing infant seat fit in the Tacoma, but I had to move the front passenger seat all the way forward and put the seatback in an upright position. There's only one set of lower Latch anchors in the Tacoma Access Cab.
The Tacoma received the top score of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact and rear crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It got the second-lowest score of Marginal in roof-strength crash tests.
The Tacoma has standard rear-wheel drive, four-wheel antilock brakes with front disc brakes and rear drums, stability control and traction control, and six airbags including side curtains for both rows. Four-wheel drive is optional.
Get more safety information about the 2011 Toyota Tacoma here.