The recipe to build a good truck is not difficult, but everyone seems to be getting it wrong. Most trucks these days are trying to cater to a huge segment that want a luxury SUV that has a bed slapped on to the back. The problem with this design is that trying to please so many different people has compromised the purpose of the truck.
But then I drove the new 2014 Toyota Tacoma.
From the moment I climbed inside it was apparent that Toyota focused on turning the Tacoma into a proper truck. The seating position is high, the door closes with a satisfying thump, and the interior looks made for function over form. There are dozens of cubbies and holes to store things, the passenger seat folds down into a work surface table, and there are multiple 12v plugs.
Our tester was a top-level 4×4 Double Cab with a 4.0-liter V6. The 4.0-liter may be a hundred years old, but with 236 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque it has plenty of grunt to get the job done. It is tuned to provide low rpm pull and it has the old school truck feel. It is a joy.
The actual interior is a very functional place. Cloth seats and lots of plastic make cleaning easy, while the central console, multiple cup holders and big glovebox keep everything organized. The rear seats are comfortable for decent length journeys and legroom is more than acceptable if the person up front is 6 feet or less. There is more storage under those rear seats. They fold up to reveal a set of plastic bins with lids. A perfect place to store extra tools, gloves, or emergency items like flares and blankets. The tire jack is also stowed here.
Behind the wheel the Tacoma feels like any normal truck. Steering is quick to respond, but not exactly sporty. The steering is light to make maneuvering easy, especially in tight parking or while handling a trailer load. The suspension is stiff enough to cope with the weight of a large load, but never feels busy or overworked. When you point the Tacoma at some uneven terrain, it flexes nicely and keeps the truck mostly upright.
I didn’t have the chance to give the truck a thorough off-road flogging thanks to time constraints, but I did have the truck at the end of the heavy snows, so I took it through some heavy slush. Unless you are purposely hooning in 2WD mode, the Tacoma showed no serious signs of being flummoxed by the cold and slippery gunk on the roads. Having 4WD doesn’t break the laws of physics when it comes to ice, but considering the very plain street tires on this thing, I was impressed with the way it coped.
That actually covers my entire experience with the Tacoma. It is not a vehicle that will blow your mind, but it does everything a bit better than you expect, and it feels good doing it. From the chunky driving feel that comes from the old school body on frame construction, to the bounce and sway when going off-road it just feels like a real truck.
I never worried I was going to break it, I never worried my cargo load was too big, and I never worried that it couldn’t handle the road conditions. It is sturdy, confident and capable. Nothing more, nothing less. What else can you ask from a truck than that
If there is a weakness to the Tacoma, it comes from the few features that are design to make it appeal to everyone. The Entune audio unit with the navigation system is far from the worst thing I have ever used, but there are better options out there. I couldn’t always get my phone to pair, it had to update itself multiple times over my few days with it, and of course most of its features use your cell phone data, eating away your precious little amount of cell phone data. When it worked, having Pandora in the dashboard is great, but I am not sure it was worth the hassle. At least the actual navigation software is pretty decent.
After the Tacoma left my care, I found myself missing it. I live in farm country, I have multiple horses, I travel with my dogs, drive through mud, muck and fields, and I need a real truck. A Sierra HD Denali may have a great diesel engine, but that leather interior isn’t a place for my mud-covered mutts. I need a machine that is built to get stuff done, not coddle me on my city commute to work.
The Tacoma feels like that truck. It is not big enough to haul a two-stall horse trailer, but aside from that it is very close to perfect. I am waiting to see how well the new diesel engined Colorado/Canyon twins from GM are going to be, but the Tacoma may just be the truck I decide to pay to have parked in my drive.
I love this little truck.