The compact and mid-size light truck segment in North America is the redheaded stepchild of automotive marketing. Once a bastion for solid profits and equally solid demand, a roaring economy and clever automaker doublespeak created a desire for larger trucks and SUVs, even for those who didn't need them.
But with tighter CAFE fuel economy targets looming in the US, along with other factors, automakers are again realizing the benefits of having smaller utility offerings, trucks and SUVs alike.
While General Motors rolls out the reintroduced Colorado and Canyon twins after leaving the market for a few years, there's been another company that has stood by its compact/mid-size truck offering: Toyota.
The Japanese company, along with Nissan, have continually built their Tacoma and Frontier pickups even while the domestic automakers completely left the segment. Honda has also held fast with its Ridgeline offering. And at Toyota there's an all-new Tacoma, complete with a new engine, new transmissions, and a design more befitting of the recreational truck lifestyle.
At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the new Tacoma came to life on the stage (after a few very engineered leaks to the press), sporting lines similar to the bigger brother Tundra, but details all its own.
Under the hood of the new Tacoma will be two engines as before. The four-cylinder option, measuring in at 2.7L in displacement, is basically a carryover powerplant from the previous generation truck. But, the 4.0L V6, widely known for being thirsty, has been sent off to the great beyond in favour of a new Atkinson-cycle 3.5L V6 engine. No output numbers were released for either engine, though you can expect numbers for the 2.7L to be around the same while output for the new 3.5L V6 to be improved over the outgoing 4.0L, rated at 236 hp and 260 lb-ft.
Another much needed mechanical change is the addition of new transmissions. Four- and five-speed offerings are no longer, replaced by six-speed automatics for both engines and a six-speed manual for the V6 (there's no longer a manual option for the four-banger). The move will definitely improve fuel economy over the current generation pickup.
While small in size versus the Tundra, the new Tacoma tries to return big fun, especially off-road, with available Crawl Control and other features. Crawl Control will allow a driver to select a speed between 1 and 5 mph for use in adverse conditions so he or she can focus on steering and wheel placement. Think of it as off-road cruise control. Multi-Terrain Select System, Automatic Limited Slip, Locking Rear Differential, and Hill Start Assist Control are also available.
Designed by the pens at CALTY in California, the Tacoma takes its visual inspiration from desert racing trucks, yet blends this focus with the current design language at Toyota. Examining the sheet metal reveals the lineage between the new small truck and its bigger brothers, but it sports a fresh treatment for grille and headlights. LED daytime running lights complete the look up front while a stamped Tacoma tailgate badge lets those behind you know exactly what you are driving.
The interior is also all new, bringing the Tacoma into modern times and slightly beyond.
Inside, a new “handlebar” design theme in the instrument panel meant to to create a more driver-focused experience. Materials have been significantly upgraded, along with additional tech. For those with a more adventurous spirit, a GoPro mount is equipped as standard on all trims.
The new Tacoma will be available in five trims -- SR, SR5, Limited, TRD Sport, and TRD Off-Road -- and will go on sale in Canada later this year.