The Toyota Tacoma has long been King of the Hill in the midsize truck wars. But new, modern entries from Ford, Jeep, GMC and Chevy have challenged that hegemony.
For 2024, Toyota has responded with an all-new weapon.
Remade from the ground up, Tacoma features eight different trims, a suite of standard features, high-tech interior, multiple cab-and-box configurations, and the segment’s first hybrid drivetrain. Standard in the Taco’s dirt-kicking TRD Pro and new Trailhunter trims, the so-called i-Force Max turbo-4 hybrid powertrain pumps out a class-best 326 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. The blizzard of choices includes a stick-shift transmission option, an industry rarity. Game on.
“With even more off-road capability, reliability, (and) a host of options for every owner, we’re confident that Tacoma will remain the top choice for midsize pickup buyers,” said Toyota group general manager Dave Christ.
Like the recently unveiled Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, Tacoma has ditched its V-6 drivetrain. Unlike those competitors, Tacoma still offers two varieties of cab (two and four-door options) and two bed sizes (5-foot and 6-foot) and that elusive manual gearbox.
Unlike other foreign automakers, Toyota has been determined to take on the Detroit Three in the pickup wars. But while the full-size Toyota Tundra has struggled to close the sales gap with the Ford, GM and Ram franchises, Taco has been the benchmark for the midsize segment for two decades.
For Toyota, Tacoma is THE off-road franchise.
It maintained its sales lead even as the Tacoma got long in the tooth and as its rivals — Colorado, Canyon, Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger, Jeep Gladiator — stepped up with state-of-the-art dirt-kickers. With the fifth-gen Tacoma, Toyota appears determined to bring out all the stops to maintain its sales lead.
The Taco shares a lot with big brother Tundra, including the brand’s new TNGA-F global truck platform, digital displays and electrified powertrain option. Where Tundra downsized from a V-8 to a twin-turbo V-6 hybrid in its top-trim models, Tacoma has ditched its V-6 mill for a turbo-4 cylinder mated to an electric motor.
The brawny four leads a family of 2.4-liter turbo-4’s that begin with a 228 horsepower and 243 torque in the base trim SR. Step up to other models and the power increases to 278 horses and 317 torque. Manual transmission models produce 270 horsepower and 310 torque.
The engine is cradled in a remade, high-strength steel ladder-frame with a redesigned, multi-link coil rear suspension offered in top-trim Limited, Trailhunter and TRD Pro models — an upgrade over the truck’s traditional leaf springs for a better ride. Frame cross-members have been fortified to increase durability and carry Toyota-optioned gear like rooftop tents and camp fridges. Max towing clocks in at 6,500 pounds with a 1,709-pound payload. In a sign of how long in the tooth the old Taco was, the ‘24 model gets standard, four-wheel disc brakes. Other modern goodies include a low-speed, trail-assist cruise control feature and electronic power steering.
Tacoma’s calling card is its Baja-tuned, high-speed TRD Pro model — and its ruggedness now informs the entire lineup.
The top-trim Pro is fitted with the latest, greatest, three-way adjustable internal bypass Fox shocks. The TRD Sport trim gets red, sport-tuned shocks; TRD Off-Road gains Bilstein remote reservoir shocks; and Trailhunter introduces Old Man Emu (OME) 4×4 suspension for off-road misbehavior.
The cabin is remade with a tablet screen high on the console dash. A 14-inch touchscreen (shared with Tundra) and 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster are optioned. Other electronic goo-gaws like wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. Also standard is Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 that includes adaptive cruise control and auto high-beams. The rear seats join in the fun with more storage space underneath (gas models only, hybrid models need the space for the battery).
All these upgrades are wrapped in a muscular exterior design penned by Toyota’s North American design team based in California and Ann Arbor.
The new wardrobe is available in SR, SR5, TRD PreRunner, TRD Sport, TRD Off Road, Limited, TRD Pro and Trailhunter trims. Configurations include a two-door XtraCab mated to a 6-foot box, and a four-door Double Cab mated to 5-or-6-foot bed.
“We looked at our truck DNA and the Toyota Baja race trucks for inspiration to capture the extreme spirit of off-road adventure,” said design chief Kevin Hunter.
In that spirit, the Tacoma gains an off-road model, aimed at going off the grid for rock-crawling, stream-fording, and extended campsite journeys. You’ll know it by its bronze-colored “TOYOTA” grille and 20-inch LED light bar. Trailhunter gets an additional two-inch lift courtesy of 33-inch Goodyear Territory R/T tires and an A-pillar air intake.
Trailhunter still defers to TRD Pro as top dog, however.
Likely to list around $50,000 when it is introduced early next year (hybrid models are delayed).,the Fox shock-shod Pro has a ground clearance of 11 inches — two inches higher than the previous gen — front skid plate and wider stance for high-speed off-roading.
The TRD Pro also debuts a seat with its own suspension. Dubbed the IsoDynamic Performance Seat with and air-over-oil shock absorber system, it aims to stabilize the driver’s field of vision on rugged trails.
Assembled in Mexico and California, the new Tacoma goes on sale later this year with an estimated $28,000 starting price.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at [email protected] or Twitter @HenryEPayne.