2018 Toyota Tacoma Review & Compare in Lemon Grove, CA

Almost as famous as the Hilux--the Toyota Tacoma is a mainstay of the truck market

The small-truck segment has really stepped up its game in the last few years. Models like the Chevy Colorado and the GMC Canyon are boosting their capabilities and feature availability; Ford is supposed to be re-releasing its iconic Ranger soon; and the Nissan Frontier is plugging along stoically, hoping to make it to the big leagues someday. In the midst of this pressure to perform--to tow and haul as well as it rides and rolls with the punches, to be as tech-savvy as it is durable and rugged, to be affordable but long-lasting--Toyota has put a lot of energy into its latest generation of Tacoma compact/midsize trucks. The results are pretty telling.

This is a small truck that's been steadily competing for over 20 years, changing and adapting well to the evolving needs of the modern pickup driver, who is more likely to drive their truck along smooth pavement to their office job than along the rough dirt roads of a farm town. And that's ok--there are plenty of great minimalist work trucks remaining for shoppers who are looking for a genuine workhorse; the base Tacoma is one of them.

But, as what we look for in a truck gets more and more complex, the way we build and buy trucks is going to get more complex, too. Fortunately, Toyota is doing a pretty incredible job keeping their midsize Tacoma.

Know how far the Tacoma has come

Once upon a time, when the first Tacoma was hitting US streets back in 1995, it really was a compact pickup truck--about 199 inches long, and only a little bit longer than the 4Runner SUV. Compare that to the current-generation model, which comes in between ~212" -226" long based on configuration, and you can see that the idea of a "compact truck" doesn't really exist anymore. Like cell phones, the functional pickup truck is bigger than ever--but smarter engineering and efficient engine technology balances it all out, and the new, larger cabin is a lot more comfortable for taller drivers who want a more manageable truck.

Over the last two decades, the Tacoma has made a lot of changes--to its appearance, to its features list, and to its personality. What used to just be a budget-friendly buy (that was pretty much guaranteed to go up into the mid- to high-200,000-mile range) has re-branded itself as the truck "built for the endless weekend". This little 4WD beast has come far. This is where pedigree meets passion--and it's hard not to love it.

A classic exterior that's all Tacoma 

Toyota isn't really known for its wild styling--but, the overall look and feel of the Tacoma is clean, classic, and easy to like. Besides, when you've been running it into the ground for 10 or 15 years, are you really going to care if it had the latest chrome grille a decade ago? Probably not.

The Tacoma offers choice of two cab types: Access Cab, where the rear doors are half-sized and open up, suicide-style; and Double Cab, where the rear doors are full-size and open out and forward. Access Cab is the better option for drivers looking to maximize cargo space in the bed, and Double Cab is better for those who will often be traveling with friends or family.

Trim levels for the new Tacoma include the SR, SR5, the Tacoma TRD Sport, Tacoma TRD Off-Road, Limited, and the thrilling Tacoma TRD Pro. The TRD Pro model features the most radically different exterior styling (and you can read about that in the next section below) but the rest of the lineup is fairly similar in its design--one which was definitively sculpted to create that off-road-ready and muscular look that Toyota is building.

While its rivals have been moving more toward softer curves and gentler styling, the Tacoma has held fast to the square, rugged, and well-balanced look of past truck icons. The fenders are big and brawny; the classic hexagonal grille features a centered TOYOTA badge that's not overly prominent; standard projector-beam headlights can be enhanced with available LED Daytime Running Lights; an embossed tailgate gives a confident, smug sort of confidence.

Exterior colors include Blazing Blue Pearl, Super White, Silver Sky Metallic, Magnetic Gray Metallic, Midnight Black Metallic, Barcelona Red Metallic, Quicksand, Inferno, Cement, and Cavalry Blue.

TRD-specific exterior styling 

Toyota loves its TRD line--and so do buyers. So, it makes sense that the automaker really wants to play up the unique capabilities of the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) line on its Tacoma truck, with some really unique styling outside and in. While the TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road both benefit from some key utility upgrades, it's the Tacoma TRD Pro that was really designed for the toughest trails--so it receives equipment like a TRD Pro skid plate made of 1/4-inch aluminum, a trim-exclusive front grille, Rigid LED fog lights, TRD-tuned FOX Internal Bypass shocks, and a TRD Pro cat-back exhaust made of stainless steel with an embossed logo on its chrome-plated tip.

The Tacoma TRD Pro is the most expensive model in the lineup, and is even pretty pricey compared to some of its top-tier rivals, but it's an undeniably capable and tough truck in a segment that's leaning more and more toward cushy highway travel. If you're looking for real off-road capabilities in the small-truck segment, you won't find better than the TRD Pro-tuned Tacoma.

A comfortable and sporty cabin for all types

The cabin of the new Toyota Tacoma doesn't just look good--it feels good, and the quiet calm gives you exactly what you want after a long day at work, at the mountain, on the lake, or even just a bit of peace during a long day on the road. Smarter engineering for interior and glass materials helps keep outside noise, outside. This not only improves basic comfort in the cabin, but it helps improve audio and hands-free calling, too.

In design and layout, Toyota continues its hardy commitment to heritage--and it's why the current-generation Tacoma has been criticized by some for having a cabin that looks a lot like the last-generation Tacoma. It's a solid and effective recipe, including a practical and compact dashboard, big air vents, easy-clean hard plastics, and a very traditional look. Cloth upholstery comes standard on most models, but the Tacoma Limited gives you gorgeous Hickory leather, and the TRD Pro comes with black leather-trimmed seats with stylish red contrast stitching. Dual-zone auto climate control is available, and small touches--like a standard GoPro mount--serve to remind you that this truck is meant for more than just the boring daily hum of city life.

Interior fabric and leather upholstery colors include Cement Gray, Black, Graphite, and Hickory.

Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P) Package 

There are a lot of things that the Tacoma's competitors do well, but when it comes to safety, it's hard to compete with Toyota's small truck. Following the lead of most other new models in the lineup, the Tacoma equips Toyota Safety Sense as a standard equipment package, giving it the most standard active safety features in its class. The package includes Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Sway Warning System, Automatic High Beams, and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

Every Tacoma also comes standard with the Star Safety System: Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Anti-lock Braking System, Electric Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist, and Smart Stop Technology. All of it rounds out the Tacoma as a seriously competitive option for just about anyone.

Engine performance and how it drives 

The current-generation Tacoma offers two engine options: a 4-cyl and a V-6. In the future, we can hope to see a turbo, or even a turbo-diesel, engine to give the Tacoma a more exciting powertrain option, but for now we'll need to be satisfied with what we've got.

The base engine for the Tacoma is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder that's good for 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. If that seems low for a pickup truck, you're not wrong; this option is specifically included to reduce initial costs and keep the Tacoma affordable, and to bump up fuel economy for drivers who need a truck more for home projects than heavy towing. To get more power, you can upgrade to a 3.5-liter V6 engine, which makes a more acceptable 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque.

All Tacoma models can be had with four-wheel drive as an option or as standard; rear-wheel drive is standard on most.

Unless you're aiming for top fuel efficiency, the general recommendation is to choose the V6 engine; you get more for your money with the higher-powered and larger option. The six-speed manual gearbox also provides a more heritage driving feel--while the automatic is a little more efficient (and might be a must-have for any drivers who grew up without the presence of a stick-shift in their life), the manual is a lot of fun.

Towing and payload

As trucks slide toward higher comfort levels, and SUV mode toward greater capability, we're seeing an interesting leveling-out of towing and payload ratings for big SUVs and small trucks. That's to say, if you're hoping for a five-figure tow rating, you're in the wrong segment. Compact trucks like the Tacoma are impressive at hauling small trailers, boats, and pocket campers, but they're understandably limited in total capacity by their size, engines, transmissions, and chassis.

The Toyota Tacoma can tow a minimum of 3,500 pounds when equipped with the four-cylinder engine, which is not surprising. For drivers who are only going to be casually towing smaller equipment, this is well within their needs. If you'll have a larger trailer behind, though, the V6-powered Tacoma is good for a nice 6,800 pounds of towing power. That's not the most in its class (GM small trucks do offer turbo-diesel engine options) but certainly not the least, and especially not the least among gas-powered trucks.

If you want a truck that lasts, you want the Tacoma

It's about as simple as that. The Colorado might give you some flashy features. The Ridgeline has some neat new equipment. The Canyon always looks great. But the Tacoma is one of the very few small trucks on the market today that's really going to last, and last, and last.

Go bare-bones with the SR, go full-out with the Limited, or go far-out off the beaten path with the Tacoma TRD Pro--no matter what you choose, you'll be getting what you bargained for.

Compare the Toyota Tacoma vs the Competition