Please pardon my bluntness, but where the heck is my A-BAT?

I've just spent a week living with a mid-size supercharged 2008 Toyota Tacoma TRD Double Cab 4.0-liter V6 Long Bed 4x4. Priced at $36,586 it's the best argument yet for the return of pickups with smaller footprints, lower prices, and better fuel economy.

Granted, the truck I drove occupies the spot farthest right in the Tacoma lineup, but it's the poster child for the dilemma facing today's small truck buyers. Why buy a less capable, lesser equipped mid-size when you can purchase a superior full-size hauler for about the same price?

Case in point: Delete the $4,500 (yikes!) supercharger and the Tacoma was a $32,086 236-hp / 266 ft-lbs pickup. That's only $1,899 less than a $33,985 full-size Toyota Tundra SR5 Crew Max 5.7-liter iForce V8 4x4, rated at 381-hp / 401 ft-lbs. Adding the roots-type compressor back to the Tacoma nets 304-hp / 334 ft-lbs. It would only cost another $2,155 to upgrade the Tundra with a TRD Off-Road Package, for a total of $36,140 - or $486 less than our TRD Sport Package #1 optioned Tacoma.

The Tacoma's $3,340 TRD Sport Package #1 added: Bilstein shocks, 17-inch alloy wheels, a limited slip differential, hood scoop, color-keyed bumpers / grille surround / mirrors / door handles / and overfenders, a sliding rear window, fog lamps, remote keyless entry, sport seats, and a metallic trimmed instrument panel.

Compounding the high sticker price is that Toyota recommends the Tacoma's 4.0-liter V6 only drink premium unleaded (with the supercharger 91-octane is mandatory) versus a low-octane diet for the Tundra's 5.7-liter V8. Yes, the Tacoma gets better fuel economy but not that much. According to the EPA, combined city and highway fuel economy for the V6 Tacoma is 18-miles-per-gallon versus 14-mpg for the V8 Tundra.

And it has cheap seats. The pricey TRD Sport Package #1 option replaces standard cloth front buckets with fancier 'Sport Seats' that still only have cloth skins and manual adjusters. The lower trim Tundra SR5 comes standard with power adjustable seats for both the driver and front passenger.

Is this making sense yet?

I won't just pick on Toyota. I recently drove a 2008 Dodge Dakota Crew Cab 4.7-liter V8 Laramie 4x4 with a $35,545 window sticker. If I were looking to buy a new Dodge pickup, I'd look closely at Dodge Ram half-tons available in that price range instead. But at least the naturally aspirated 302-hp / 329 ft-lbs Dakota has two extra cylinders, a power driver's seat, and an infotainment system with navigation for $1,000 less than the Tacoma. The Dakota's 4.7-liter V8 is smooth but it's 3-mpg less efficient in combined driving than the Tacoma.

Toyota has done a lot of things right, though.

The Tacoma has a much higher quality interior, with better ergonomics, than the Dakota. (I'm convinced the Dakota's interior is responsible for turning Jim Press' hair gray, after he joined Chrysler from Toyota.) But there are still plastic bits and hard surfaces everywhere you look inside the Taco. I'd gladly trade the unnecessary serpentine gated automatic shifter for power seat controls.

The Tacoma's almost four-year old exterior is also better looking than the recently freshened Dakota, but I think that Tacoma I drove would've looked better without the faux hood scoop. It's the automotive equivalent of calf or pec implants.

Looking at sales figures, the Tacoma dominates small pickups. Last year 173,238 Tacos were sold versus 75,716 Chevrolet Colorados, in second place, and only 50,702 Dakotas, in fifth place, behind the Ford Ranger and Nissan Frontier.

Driving through Los Angeles and lower Oxnard Counties, I noticed many (nine over four days) late-model Tacomas pressed into service as light duty work trucks. Their composite boxes stored all sorts of equipment, from lawn mowers to ladders to lumber. The only other recently built small pickups I saw performing the same duties were two Colorados, a Ranger, and a Dakota.

I want to like the current Tacoma more than I do. I need a small truck in Southern California because it's not practical to park a full-size at my house and I don't need to tow 10,000-lbs.

I bought a 2002 Tacoma TRD Double Cab 3.4-liter V6 PreRunner 4x2 and fell madly in love with the truck's simplicity, usability, and dimensions. It was priced below $26K because it was a 2WD PreRunner. Today I'd pay almost $29K for a comparable Tacoma that's almost as large as the first-generation Tundra. Current generation Tacos were stretched almost six-inches while front and rear tracks were widened by nearly four-inches.

The raucous and whiny TRD supercharger transforms the Tacoma into a fast sprinter.

The old 3.4-liter V6 Toyota Racing Development compressor was a simple bolt-on piece of hardware but the new 4.0-liter TRD unit is sophisticated and tightly integrated with the Tacoma's engine management and ignition systems. Plus, it adds an air-to-liquid intercooler for improved intake efficiency. The best 0 to 60 time came in at 6.6-seconds. Except for a bit of lag at the start, power was constantly available in all gears and torque was impressively strong.

Toyota covers the supercharger under the truck's original powertrain warranty for up to 5-years or 60,000-miles when installed by a Toyota dealer. Non-dealer installs are warranted up to 12-months or 12,000-miles.

Ride and handling were very good for a long wheelbase crew cab. There was little body roll in corners taken at sensible speeds. Driving the 4x4 Tacoma on the twisty Mulholland Highway wasn't as difficult as had been anticipated. The sport suspension was always on the stiff side of comfortable on the coastal and mountainous two-lane road, especially when the truck hit coarse pavement, but for the most part the truck's behavior was predictable and seldom unsettling. Steering feedback was the biggest complaint - becoming slow and dull at higher speeds.

The long bed option made the Tacoma difficult to park. At 221-inches it was the same length as a Chevrolet Avalanche and only 7-inches shorter than a Tundra CrewMax, and it lacked back up sensors. Several parking attempts in different lots required multi-point turning maneuvers.

All this time spent driving the Tacoma left me wanting something different. Something better. If I wanted a truck this size, I'd get a half-ton. But in the city, do I need a 6.6-second mid-size pickup? No. Do I want better than (an average) 15.2-miles-per-gallon? Yes. Would I settle for a four-cylinder gas engine - or better yet a diesel - in my city truck? Absolutely.

The Tacoma is a decent truck but what I really want is an A-BAT.


2008 TRD Supercharged Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4x4 Long Bed

Base Price: $26,115

JBL Stereo and CD: $560

TRD Sport Package #1: $3,345

V6 Towing Package (6,500-lbs Max): $650

Floor Mats: $199

D-Rings: $53

Security System: $479

TRD Supercharger Main Assembly: $4,140

TRD Supercharger Installation Kit: $360

Delivery Fee: $685

Price as Tested: $36,585

Engine Size and Type: 4.0-liter DOHC VVT-i V6

Horsepower (hp): 304-hp

Torque (ft-lbs): 334 ft-lbs

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Drivetrain: Front engine / Rear-wheel drive/ On demand four-wheel drive system

Suspension: Front - Double A-arm coil over shock and stabilizer bar. Rear - Leaf spring with staggered outboard shocks

Brakes: ABS, Front - Disc. Rear - Drum

Wheels and Tires: 17-inch wheels, P265/65R20 tires

Wheelbase: 140.9 inches

Length Overall: 221.3 inches

Width: 74.6 inches

Curb Weight: 4,145 lbs

Observed Fuel Economy: 15.2-mpg

Listed Fuel Economy: City: 16-mpg, Highway: 20-mpg, Combined: 18-mpg

Observed 0 - 60 mph: 6.6-seconds