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2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts – Cautious Upgrade

Earlier this week, the all-new 2016 Toyota Tacoma was unveiled at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, MI. While it doesn’t hit all the marks Toyota fans were clamoring for, it hits many of them.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

Toyota setup an off-road display which caused a bit of havoc for some journalists with its angles.

The all-new Toyota Tacoma is loaded with new interior features, a new exterior and new powertrain options. While it uses intentional design cues from Tundra, the Tacoma stands on its own with a beefy, strong front end and innovative features.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

From right to left is Bill Fay, Toyota U.S. Group Vice President, Mike Sweers, Chief Engineer, and on the far left (below the “O”) is Kevin Hunter of Calty Design Studios.

New From the Ground Up

For many fans, they will see this new Tacoma as being just a refresh of the older model. That is hardly the case with brand new engineering and materials used from the frame on up. In fact, Toyota Chief Engineer Mike Sweers remarked it may share the gas cap in common from the previous generation.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

Does the Tacoma grill look familiar? It should. One the right is the Tundra and the left is the new Tacoma.

While the new parts and engineering is interesting, what does this mean? Quite simply, the new Tacoma weighs less than the previous model thanks to high-strength steel used in the frame, has an improved ride due to dropping the weight and is an overall improvement.

With regards to ride quality, we asked Sweers if the hasslesome driveline vibration issue is finally resolved. Confidently, he told us “if you find one with it, I’ll buy you dinner!” He said the problem was an engineering and manufacturing issue throughout the previous generation. The new truck has different engineering and new spring angles which eliminate the problem.

Improved and New Powertrains

Knowing that they had to do something to appease customers and keep up with the competition, Toyota unveiled a new 3.5L “Atkinson” cycle V6. This engine also incorporates Toyota’s D-4S technology with direct and port injection. This new engine should be more fuel efficient when idling and at lower speeds thanks to the Atkinson cycle. Also, the direct and port injection is really just keeping up the Joneses and is long overdue for the truck.

Toyota will carryover the 2.7L 4-cylinder currently in use as well as a 5-speed manual for the smaller 4-cylinder.

In the larger V6, Toyota will offer a new 6-speed manual transmission in all model trims. This is a nod to GM. Sweers said they watched the reaction to the all-new Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. They said they heard customers gripping about the lack of a manual transmission, so they added the option throughout their truck lineup.

For all engines, they will available with a 6-speed automatic. These transmissions have been adjusted to deliver easier shifting points and better fuel economy. Likely, the first few gears won’t be as tall as in other years and the truck will quickly shift to higher gears for a smoother ride and better fuel economy.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

At first glance the hex grill threw us off, but looking at it in person is much better than the pre-release photos.

Strong, New Styling

Styling seems to be a love/hate question these days and the new Tacoma definitely rides this line. Toyota’s design team at Calty Design in California have been breaking the old “bland” brand image for Toyota with each new model. This Tacoma joins the new 4Runner, Tundra, Camry and Corolla as mold breakers.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

Borrowing the stamped grill of its larger brother and harkening back to days of old, the new Tacoma tailgate has lots of styling lines.

With the look is definitely polarizing with its 4Runner like front-end and hex grille, the truck has presence. One thing to note is that the photos don’t do it justice and in person, the look is much better.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

The new instrument display is cleaner and has a small screen with vehicle information on it.

On the inside, the Tacoma borrows much from the 4Runner. If you have sat in a new 4Runner lately, you will see many, much of the same layout and materials used in the new models.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

The Access Cab size remains the same.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

Storage below the seats in the Access Cab.

While the inside isn’t “flashy,” it has a number of new features that customers will like. Here is the short list:

  • Qi wireless charging
  • Smart key with push-button start
  • Leather-trimmed seats
  • Power moonroof
  • Dual-zone automatic climate control
  • Enhanced touchscreen audio
  • Blind-spot monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert
  • And much more

A few notes on these: The Qi charging is for cell phones and reduces the burdens with carrying a cord around to charge your phone. The push-button start stop is welcome addition and is likely a nod to the GM ignition switch fiasco. Leather seats, moonroof and dual-zone automatic climate control are all about the changing needs of mid-size truck fans who want more luxury. The larger touchscreen and blind-spot monitor are both nods to making the truck safer and easier to use.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

The new keyless ignition may irritate some truck buyers, yet we see it as a welcome change.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

The cabin is very 4Runnerish.

The truck is also billed to be quieter with new seals, multi-layer acoustic windshield  and other damping introduced. Again, this is a nod to the GM offerings and is really what customers want.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

The rear-end has a lot going on versus the tailgates of old and it is refreshing to see.

New Grades

Officially, there will be 5 grades of the new Tacoma offered in both 4×2 and 4×4 configurations. Toyota says each grade will be distinct. The grades are:

  • Work-ready SR
  • Iconic SR5
  • Athletic TRD Sport
  • Tough-as-nails TRD Off-Road
  • Top of the line Limited
2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

Toyota will keep the bed material the same and it looks largely untouched from the previous model.

The SR and SR5 are carry-over names like the Limited. While the TRD name is not a stranger, offering two different grades is new. Toyota says that nearly 40 percent of the Tacoma’s sold are TRD models. This tells them that their customers like to get their trucks dirty.

Our skepticism asks how many non-TRD models are sold at dealers. We think most dealers like to carry the TRD model to show off the capability as well as the additional profit. Sales figures don’t directly relate to customer usage.

Off-Road Goodies

Without a doubt, some of the most exciting new features are in the off-road technology. The new Tacoma will finally bring all the goodies from the 4Runner and be a much more capable vehicle. Here is the short list:

  • Multi-Terrain Select System
  • Automatic Limited Slip and Locking Rear Differential
  • Hill Start Assist Control (HAC)
  • Clutch Start Cancel (manual transmission only)
  • Active Traction Control
  • Crawl Control

The highlights from this list have to be the Multi-Terrain Select System and Crawl Control. If you haven’t used these systems, you really don’t understand off-roading in the 21st Century. The Multi-Terrain Select System is similar to what’s being used on the new Jeep Cherokee and it pretty self-explanatory. By the turn of a knob, you can tell the vehicle what kind of terrain you are driving on. The system will change various systems like the springs, transmission, brake and gas pedals to adjust to this terrain. It basically enhances everyone’s driving ability on various terrain.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

GoPro camera mounts will be standard on all Tacoma trucks.

Crawl Control has long been a staple of the 4Runner and is available on only their top off-road models like the Trail. This system basically handles steep declines and hills by taking over the truck. All you need to do is steer. It is really incredible and makes an amateur off-roader feel like Ivan Stewart. Again, if you haven’t experienced this system, you should it is stunning.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

This is one of four new wheel designs ranging from 16 to 18 inches.

All of these off-road goodies mean new Tacoma owners will be spending lots of time on the trail. Toyota knows these customers love to film their adventures, so every Tacoma will come with a GoPro camera adapter next to the rear-view mirror. No longer will you have to suction cup your GoPro camera to the windshield, it should just snap into place.

2016 Toyota Tacoma Debuts - Cautious Upgrade

The TRD Off-Road seats have an interesting pattern.

Overall, the new Tacoma features a radical new exterior style, improved interior and a host of goodies. While it doesn’t have the “diesel” or “turbo” buzzwords people may expect in this day and age, it is a cautious upgrade on a truck that owns 60 percent of the market.