Reviews

Living with the 6-Speed Toyota Tacoma Gen 2 V6 Manual Transmission

If you are a fan of the Gen 2 Toyota Tacoma, you have likely heard mixed reviews of the V6 6-speed transmission. Before I bought my 2013 Tacoma, I was a bit on the fence about the transmission but finally decided to go manual. After a good 7 months of driving it, I have a verdict.

6-speed manual transmission review

A review of the Tacoma’s 6-speed manual transmission by Danny Cruz of Rallyways.com

This is a guest post written by Danny Cruz, the man behind the up-and-coming car blog RallyWays.com. If you’re a fan of the Tacoma, you owe it to yourself to check out Danny’s post about his EPIC Tacoma detailing project…it took him 28 hours to complete.

First, let’s lay a couple of ground rules for this write up.

1. We are focusing only on the 6-Speed manual transmissions in the V6 truck. Everyone seems to love the 5-speed in the I4 model, so no point in debating that one.

2. This is a 2013 Toyota Tacoma V6 Double Cab 4×4 TRD Off Road. I understand that there is a big chance the gear boxes in the first trucks closer to 2005 might not be as robust. In other words, in all likelihood Toyota has been improving the box through the years.

3. I’m aware that over time, things like bad syncros can begin causing problems. For this write up I’m focusing more on the experience of driving it, more so than durability since the truck is fairly new.

4. I’m a bit biased towards manual transmissions. I can’t stand slushboxes, so in 99.9% of cases, I’ll choose a manual over an automatic. This means that chances are I want to like the transmission. So note that in your own assessment.

The Debate

The argument against the 6-speed manual in the 2005-2013 generation 2 Toyota Tacomas is that it’s clunky, imprecise, a handful to operate, awkwardly geared and has fragile syncros.

Most of the above complaints are based on feel and personal perception. The exception would the syncros issue that some drivers have experienced needing actual transmission servicing. I’m not going to argue with those. And like I said earlier, most likely, Toyota has quietly upgraded some of the parts over the years.

Tacoma transmission review.

Needless to say, I researched this truck for nearly 3 years before I bought it. Because I’m a hardcore stick-shift driver, at one point I had almost made up my mind on buying a manual Nissan Frontier over the Taco. Yes, those have a pretty slick, car-like 6-speed manual transmission.

In the end, I bought the stick-shift Tacoma and have been driving it for the last 7 months and here’s what I have to say.

The Drive

The 6-speed in the Taco is not a car transmission. It’s definitely a truck. My other cars are Miatas, and those are known for their super-precise transmissions, ala Honda S2000.

The throws are much longer, pretty much like you’re rowing a canoe. Plus, you have to be more deliberate about your shifts. It doesn’t like to be powered-through the gears. It doesn’t like it when you try and shift unusually fast. Again, it’s not a sports car.

First gear is pretty low and short, requiring you to shift out of it almost immediately after you set off. At the opposite end of the spectrum, top gear could be a little higher allowing for better gas mileage on the freeway.

Having said all that, I don’t consider the shifts to be clunky and imprecise. While each throw is long, the actual engagement is positive and offers the right amount of feedback. It doesn’t feel like a rifle, but it’s positive regardless.

There is not a lot of play in neutral either. The entire assembly feels robust, like quality machinery. Once you get used to the feel of the shifter, it becomes second nature and rowing through gears becomes intuitive and fun.

The clutch feel is great – Mainly because it’s heavy enough to feel like a truck clutch, but does not require the legs of a bodybuilder to operate on long trips. In fact, my wife has been driving the truck even more than I have. Even though she’s petite, she has zero problems with the clutch.

2013 Tacoma interior

A shot of the interior of Danny’s 2013 Tacoma.

One thing I really like about the relationship between the clutch, transmission and engine torque is that it’s very user-friendly. In many manual cars, the “sweet spot” of clutch disengagement when letting out the pedal is too narrow. This results in the operation having to be extra-precise in order to avoid jerky shifts or gear-mesh noise from not enough torque due to low-revs. In the 6-speed manual Tacoma, this sweet spot is considerably larger than in many other cars or trucks I’ve driven. Which means that clean, un-jerky manual driving is quite easy to perform.

Downsides

There are a few things I’ve noticed that I’m not so thrilled about. For one, there’s the ECU’s rev-hang feature. I’m actually not sure what the heck this is for, but what it does is it actually holds the revs up for a fraction of a second longer after you let go of the gas in first gear. It might also happen in other gears, but I only notice it in first. The reason I notice it is because it’s usually in first where you’re crawling through parking lots.

This is most annoying when you immediately depress the clutch after pulling off in first to disengage the transmission to coast thru a corner in a parking lot for example. The rev-hang causes a bit of a clunking noise from the clutch when you depress it too fast. This is caused, I believe, from the engine holding the revs longer and the torque being released as the clutch is depressed.

This is something I’ve learned to work around and it has become as second nature as rev-matching for an experienced manual transmission driver like myself. For one, I depress the clutch much more slowly in such situation. I will also compensate by not pressing the clutch immediately after releasing the gas pedal. What I do is a bit more simultaneous. Similar to the way you simultaneously depress the gas and let go of the clutch when setting off, but the inverse of that. In other words, I’m still ever so slightly holding the gas as I start depressing the clutch pedal before coasting. Sounds complicated, but it’s really easy.

The other thing I don’t like is directly related to the fact that it’s a truck. The rev-range is much shorter at 5500 revs to the limiter than it is in a sports car. For that reason, rev-matching is a bit more useless, as you are almost usually close to the correct RPM’s when making downshifts. And, the flywheel being of course heavier, because it’s a truck, a blip of the throttle to rev-match feels a bit delayed causing your to over-rev.

Conclusion

Tacoma parked on ocean overlook

The verdict? Danny is happy he purchased the truck, and happy he choose the 6-speed.

I admit, I was a little worried about buying the 6-speed manual V6 Toyota Tacoma after reading about all the conflicting stories on the Tacoma forums. So much so, that I even considered a Frontier at the time. However, I’m very glad I went with the Taco.

The 6-speed manual is in fact a good transmission, at least from the point of view of a hardcore stick-shift-only driver like myself. While the drive and feel of the gearbox is not at all like a sports car, as a truck transmission, it feels great. The shifting is positive and the harmony created between the engine, transmission and clutch operation is perfectly fine by me. Would I change anything? If I were the engineer, I would eliminate the rev-hang feature and extend the ratio of 6-gear for better freeway MPG. Apart from that I’m very happy with the transmission and even happier that I stayed away from the slushbox.

  • Roodot

    Danny

    Thanks for the fantastic article. I find myself shopping for a 2014 tacoma and am wondering if the manual is in my future. Coming from a 97 4runner with a 5speed I figured the 6speed was a no brainier.

    I don’t know if “manual guys” are just disappearing or if the auto really is a better transmission. I DD my 4runner and rowing those gears can be pretty clunky so I’m used to that.

    Finding a manual to test drive has been difficult in my area so my question is. What are your RPM at let’s say 65,75? Does it feel buzzy cruising at freeway speed in 6th?

    Any extra insight would be helpful, thanks.

    • Jason Lancaster

      Roodot – I can’t offer guidance on RPMs at 65/75, other than to say that they should be similar to those found in the automatic. That’s by design.

      As for the popularity of the automatic, it’s mostly about fuel efficiency. Autos are more efficient than sticks now that they have lock-up converters, and as a result most automakers are using automatics now to produce many of their most fuel efficient models.

      Unless you’d like the control that the stick offers while off-roading, the auto is probably the better option as it offers better real-world gas mileage in most cases, there’s never a need for a new clutch, and transmission services aren’t needed very often in modern autos.

  • Somebody

    You are incorrect about the reason for the automatic being more efficient. By definition, even with a lockup torque converter, an automatic CANNOT be as efficient as an *identically geared* manual. This is because there are periods when the torque converter is UNLOCKED. Unlike the periods of being unlocked, when a clutch is disengaged, you’re not going to be fully on the power, so a disengaged manual won’t be sucking back the fuel.

    The problem with the fuel consumption is, in fact, the poorly chosen gear ratios.

    RA60F Manual:
    1st: 4.171
    2nd: 2.190
    3rd: 1.488
    4th: 1.193
    5th: 1.000
    6th: 0.849

    A750F Automatic:
    1st: 3.520
    2nd: 2.042
    3rd: 1.400
    4th: 1.000
    5th: 0.716

    And just to add a bit of balance;
    R155F Manual (4-cyl)
    1st: 3.954
    2nd: 2.062
    3rd: 1.436
    4th: 1.000
    5th: 0.805

    A340F Automatic (4-cyl)
    1st: 2.804
    2nd: 1.531
    3rd: 1.000
    4th: 0.705

    So what you can see about the 6-speed manual, is that the gear ratios are really very much like the 4-cyl’s 5-speed manual, they just decided to throw an extra gear in the mix between 3rd and 4th. Frankly, this gear is not particularly useful.

    The second thing you see, which is much more damaging, is the ratio of the highest gear; 0.849:1 vs 0.716:1.

    Frankly, if they wanted to add a 6th gear ratio to the thing, they should have put it *after* 5th, giving it a second overdrive ratio in the low 0.7xx:1’s. Doing that would have made the 6-speed manual *more* fuel efficient than the automatic.

    Though not quite as terrible, the 5-speed manual is also pretty far from the 4th gear ratio of the automatic.

    • Tim Esterdahl

      That is a well worded argument for manual transmissions. The only problem with it is that the automotive engineers/companies don’t seem to agree since they offer less and less manual transmissions offered each year. There is really only the one fact that matters: automakers are making the manual transmission obsolete by not offering it.

      -Tim