All New 2016 Toyota Tacoma First Drive – Unbelievable Off-Road Prowess

After years of being stagnant, an all-new 2016 Toyota Tacoma will hit dealer lots in a month. While critics may see the new truck as just new sheet metal with a lame GoPro mount, they are completely wrong. This truck takes the mid-size truck to another level – an off-road machine capable of flying through the woods and crawling down steep inclines without breaking a sweat.

2016 Toyota Tacoma First Drive

Toyota’s group vice president and general manager Bill Fay called this truck “bad ass.” While marketing speak is one thing, on this statement, I couldn’t agree more.

Before we get to the driving impressions, let’s start with the specs.

Two New Engines And Transmissions

First, as we already knew, the Tacoma will be offered in two different engine configurations – a 2.7L four-cylinder and a 3.5L V6 with the Atkinson cycle. It will also be offered in a six-speed automatic and manual transmission for 4wd and a five-speed manual for four-cylinder engine. Both transmissions have been substantially reworked to be smoother shifting and provide better fuel economy.

On the 2.7L DOHC with VVT-i technology, the engine will produce 159 HP and 180 lb-ft of torque @ 4000 RPM. It is EPA estimated to return 19/23/21 city/highway/combined MPG in a 2WD and automatic transmission configuration. In the 4wd configuration, it is rated at 19/21/20 for the manual transmission and 1 MPG better HWY for the automatic.

For the larger, 3.5L V6 with Toyota’s D-4s technology (both direct and port fuel injection – an important market advantage), it will produce 278 HP with 265 lb-ft of torque at 4600 RPM. The 278 HP, by the way, is an increase of 42 HP over the previous V6. Fuel economy for this engine is rated at 19/24/21 for 2wd paired to an automatic transmission. On the 4wd model, it is rated at 17/21/19 for the manual and 18/23/20 for the automatic.


Next, let’s talk pricing. The 2016 Toyota Tacoma will be offered in five different grades:

  • SR
  • SR5
  • TRD Sport
  • TRD Off-Road
  • Limited

The SR is the basic work model, the SR5 is the base model and volume leader. Both the TRD offerings will account for a large part of the pie as well. The difference between the TRD models is the suspensions setup. TRD Sport is meant for more desert, Baja racing while the off-road is meant for rock-crawling and trails. The TRD off-road has Bilstein shocks as well.

For the Limited, this is the top of the line model with chrome accents, leather interior, etc…

Pricing breaks down like this:

  • $23,300 for the SR Access Cab, 4×2, 2.7L four-cylinder engine
  • $34,745 for the Limited Double Cab, 4×2, 3.5L V6 with six-speed automatic
  • $24,825 for the SR Access Cab, 4×4, 2.7L four-cylinder engine
  • $37,820 for the Limited Double Cab, 4×4, 3.5L V6 with six-speed automatic

Pricing for the TRD off-road and sport editions will be around $30k to mid 30s. Options will likely push the truck closer to $40k.

NOTE: there will not be a regular cab. FYI – the GM twins aren’t offered in a regular cab either.

Inside the Cabin

A quick note about inside the cabin. I found it felt a lot roomier than the GM twins, had a better driving setting position and more visibility than the twins as well. There are also a slew of new features like:

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

The one big downside is the lack of USB ports. Seriously, there is one below the radio. While, this isn’t a deal breaker, I wondered how you were going to keep all your friends smartphones charged while heading out for a day on the trail. I can’t quite figure out why there aren’t more of these ports especially some in the rear in the double cab setup. It likely won’t take long for someone to modify their cabin.

Driving Impressions

My first time driving the 2016 Toyota Tacoma was much like other journalists in the back country of Seattle, Washington. With Mt. Rainier trying to poke its head through the clouds, a group of journalists took the Tacoma through a series of off-road course obstacles which resembled an roller coaster. This setting was a lot of fun (and scary at times as well) and it really reinforced what Toyota is trying to do with the Tacoma. Simply put, it is an off-road truck first and foremost. It also is clearly different than the Tundra.

2016 Toyota Tacoma First Drive

You ever hear off-road guys talk about wheel articulation? This is what they are talking about. For a TRUCK, to have that much articulation is crazy.

During my first drive, I had many questions on how it would drive. First and foremost, I knew the Crawl Control is an amazing feature and I wondered how well it worked in a truck application. For those who don’t know, this isn’t a “new” feature from Toyota. It was first developed for the Land Cruiser and is well known among the 4Runner crowd. In the Tacoma, it didn’t disappoint. Without getting into specifics how it works just yet, it basically handles the brakes, engine and transmission for steep inclines and declines (like HOLY COW steep). The driver simply needs to give directional input, the system handles the rest.

Also, adding multi-terrain select, keeping the locking rear differential, adding hill start assist and a new coil-spring double wishbone front suspension improves the capability.

This equipment was put to the test over the off-road course Toyota spent weeks putting together. I’ll say two things about this experience:

  1. Most journalists and owners will NEVER put their trucks through this extreme of an off-road adventure.
  2. After praising the course, Toyota Chief Engineer Mike Sweers quipped to me, “If you think that is tough, you should have seen our test course.”

Driving the Tacoma over the course, it is just so immediately clear what they are focusing on. Toyota’s Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager, along with other Toyota staff have said repeatedly, their analysis shows over 40 percent of the buyers pick the TRD off-road models. Also, they took a lot of time pouring over social media and forums to see what the owners were up to. The message back was a resounding off-road message. Owners went rock-crawling, climbed over sand dunes and traversed over desert terrain. This truck does all of that and throughout the cabin, off-road equipment and pricing, it is meant to attract younger owners who want to do this. From the cleverly designed GoPro mount, powerful engine and off-road goodies, this stock Tacoma will literally perform better than 90 percent of the modified off-road machines you see out there IMO.

2016 Toyota Tacoma First Drive

Pictures don’t do justice to do this incline/decline. We were told it was 150 feet and 40 degrees. Just think roller coaster since that is what it felt like.

Another question I had was about the Atkinson cycle. Many on this site and elsewhere have wondered about how it would perform and how it would tow. I have two things to say on it.

  1. I would challenge anyone, like Toyota challenged me, to feel the difference when the engine enters the Atkinson cycle mode. I never could feel a thing.
  2. The tow rating for the truck stands at 6,800 lbs which is a 300 lbs increase. In other words, it tows just fine.

Another note on towing. Toyota said when they surveyed people on what was important to them, towing was #22 on the list. It was so unimportant to the mid-size truck buyer, that Toyota didn’t even bother showcasing its towing prowess at our event. The message was loud and clear, if you are buying a mid-size truck, like the Tacoma, to tow, you are in the wrong market. It will do it, but that’s not really what this truck is all about.

2016 Toyota Tacoma First Drive

See the rope laying on the ground to the right? That is a good visual clue on how steep this was.

Also improved was the entire braking system. While I simply disagree with Sweers on the drum brakes, he makes valid points on brake wear and how they have improved them, I think customer serviceability would dictate disc brakes, I can’t argue with the braking performance. These improvements were also made necessary for the Crawl Control and other features to work well. No need to go aftermarket here, the stock ones are really great.

2016 Toyota Tacoma First Drive

A little dirt trail is nothing the Tacoma can’t handle.

Finally, I drove the Limited for about an hour back to Seattle on city and highway streets. For me to say it rode better than previous models is an understatement. The ride quality is not only better, Toyota was also able to finally rid the truck of the low-speed vibration issue. No longer will owners have to deal with this annoying problem. Done. Fixed. Over.

Diesel Question

As expected, the┬ádiesel question came up a few times. I have a new take on this from talking with Toyota and thinking a bit more on it. My take is – who cares? At the event, Toyota talked about off-road prowess relentlessly. Lost in the conversation and not highlighted was fuel economy. Why? This truck isn’t meant to return amazing fuel economy. It is meant to return an amazingly fun time.

Look, sure Toyota could throw a diesel in this truck. Would it dramatically improve the truck’s off-road prowess? Nope. Would it raise the price all in search for a few more MPGs? Yep.

If you want fuel economy, go buy a Prius. If you want to have fun, like real, better than Six Flags fun, buy a Tacoma.

2016 Toyota Tacoma First Drive

THIS is “home” for the new 2016 Toyota Tacoma Off-Road.

The Final Word

After driving it for several hours and talking with engineers, product reps and other journalists, I have a simple conclusion. I. WANT. ONE. Period. Why? The cabin feels roomy, the fuel economy is pretty good, the price point is spot on, the off-road prowess makes me want to take up a new weekend obsession, the drivers position is ideal, the GoPro mount makes me want to buy a camera, the bed is easy to access, etc… I really could go on and on.

If there was ever a question on why Toyota is the mid-size truck leader, this truck answers it completely. It is really perfect in nearly every way.