The Toyota Tacoma is a pick-up truck manufactured by Toyota since 1995. It was built to fill the gap in Toyota’s catalog as a compact pick-up truck. However, after two decades of improvements and refinements, it grew much bigger and became a mid-size truck.
This truck’s name comes from the Salish Indian word for the mountain that provided water to their tribe, which later changed to Mount Rainier. Toyota wanted the name to suggest nature’s power, but it suggests Tacoma, the city in the State of Washington, more in current times.
Toyota Tacoma - 1st Generation (1995-2004)
The Toyota Tacoma was a compact pickup truck first produced in February 1995 at the Toyota plant in Freemont, California. It was introduced to replace the Toyota Hilux offered worldwide, which in America was simply called Toyota Pickup.
With the Tacoma, the manufacturer paid more attention to ride quality, handling, comfort, and safety, as well as robustness and payload. This vehicle was designed with a strong focus on the needs of the American and Canadian pickup markets in which the compact and medium-sized models, in particular, were often used as passenger vehicles and not just exclusively for commercial and agricultural purposes.
The Japanese pickup came out with good options for its time and it was already equipped with great driver aids such as daytime running lights, ABS, and stability / traction control as standard. The pickup truck was offered with two and four-wheel drive as well as with automatic and manual transmission.
Toyota Tacoma’s first generation came out with 3 engine options. The smallest option was 2.4 liter four-cylinder with 106 kW/142 hp and a torque of 217 Nm. 2.7 liter four-cylinder with 112 kW/150 hp and a torque of 240 Nm and 3.4 liter V6 with 142 kW/190 hp and a torque of 298 Nm was the rest of the options.
In 1998 various versions of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) came onto the market. In conjunction with the V6 engine, these were equipped with a limited-slip differential at the rear. In the same year, the manufacturer also brought out the Prerunner models. These featured the same suspension, frame, styling, and engines as the Tacoma 4×4 in that model year.
Also, the Prerunner could be specified with the TRD Off-Road package, which also included a limited-slip rear differential and some other chassis changes, like the Tacoma 4×4 if the car had the V6 installed.
The first generation Tacoma underwent a total of two cosmetic facelifts: the first took place in 1998 and the second in 2001. The facelifts mainly affected the headlights, grille, and tailgate. Mechanical changes included contactless ignition and lengthened rear leaf springs. More safety features such as a passenger airbag have also been added.
In addition, all 4×4 models were equipped with Toyota's Automatic Differential Disconnect System. And finally, a four-door double cab model was added, which reduced its bed from 2 meters long (on the extended version) to 1.7 meters.
In addition to the 2001 facelift, a new S-Runner equipment package followed, which included the installation of the V6 engine. These included 16″ alloy wheels, a manual five-speed gearbox, and Tokico gas pressure shock absorbers.
The Toyota Tacoma was crowned with success from the beginning and gained more and more popularity over time. In 2004, it even outperformed the Nissan Frontier and Dodge Dakota but still trailed, albeit just slightly, the Ford Ranger. Finally, in 2005, a second edition of the Toyota Tacoma pickup superseded the first generation.
Toyota Tacoma - 2nd Generation (2004-2015)
The second edition of the Toyota Tacoma pickup truck was larger, more powerful and was presented for the first time at the 2004 Chicago Auto Show. While the Hilux genes were still clearly recognizable in the first generation, the second edition of the Tacoma developed into a genuine American truck.
Development of the second generation Toyota Tacoma began back in 2000 under chief engineer Chikuo Kubota. The first prototypes were built later in 2003, development did not end until the second quarter of 2004.
The new Tacoma grew by almost half a meter on the outside, which also put it firmly in the middle-class segment. The pickup was also available in 18 different configurations, including three cab variants, four transmission variants, two engine variants, and two platform lengths.
When it came to engines, the Toyota Tacoma pickup truck was supported by either a 4.0 liter V6 engine with 176 kW/236 hp and a torque of 361 Nm or a 2.7-liter R4 engine with 119 kW/159 hp and a torque of 244 Nm. There have been some improvements in the V6 models over the past few years, such as a trailer load of 2.95 tons and a payload of 750 kg.
The Toyota Tacoma II had an extensive safety package as standard, which was constantly being expanded. For example, brake assist (BAS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), rollover sensor, side airbags/curtain airbags, active headrests (rear), and traction control (TRAC) were on board ex-works.
With the X-Runner equipment, the manufacturer replaced the poorly selling S-Runner equipment of the predecessor. Thus, the Tacoma X-Runner was equipped with the 4.0-liter V6, paired with a 6-speed manual transmission, 18-inch alloy wheels, a suspension lowered by 50 mm, and an X-Brace suspension package.
If that wasn't enough for you, you could also order the Tacoma with the optional Toyota Racing Development (TRD) off-road package. The pickup also had a downhill (DAC) and a hill-start assistant (HAC). There were also optional fully or partially lockable differentials for the off-roader.
In general, the Toyota X-Runner was a limited special model, which was available in four exterior colors. The main differences from the other trim levels concerned the chassis, and the stiffened frame due to X-beams in the rear part plus two crossbeams. In addition, this pickup could be equipped with larger brakes (BBK) from TRD, which brought 332 mm brake discs and brake calipers with four calipers.
All Toyota Tacoma pickup models had four mounting rails (for loads of up to 100 kg), lashing hooks, loading boxes, and those with the TRD package even had a socket on the loading area.
From the 2006 model year, various optional equipment details were offered as standard. In 2009, Toyota brought more safety details, but the partially mechanically lockable differential was no longer available. Only the TRD models continued to have a fully lockable differential. Toyota produced the second generation Tacoma pickup until 2015 when it was finally superseded by the third generation.
Toyota Tacoma - 3rd Generation (Since 2015)
Twenty years after the first Toyota Tacoma was designed and built in America, the third generation of the Japanese pickup truck was officially introduced in January 2015 at the Detroit Auto Show in the USA. This was followed by the marketing itself in the autumn.
The Tacoma pickup truck became the class favorite, so to speak, and the benchmark by which all midsize pickups are measured. Not only is it extremely reliable and durable, but it also enjoys an excellent resale value. In addition to its good looks, the vehicle also has reasonable towing and payload values and decent off-road mobility.
In the USA, the compact Toyota Tacoma has been the best-selling midsize truck for many years. Over 7 million units have been sold to date, of which around 75 percent are still on the road today. This circumstance only too clearly reflects its legendary characteristics of quality, durability, and reliability.
The third edition of the popular Tacoma pickup is offered with two cab versions - extended cab (Toyota calls it Access Cab) and double cab (Double Cab). It also came with with two engine options- a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine and 3.5-liter V6. Short or long beds were still an option and so was the option of rear and all-wheel-drive.
In addition, the third generation shines inside and out with numerous improvements in almost every aspect - including design, robustness, performance, fuel efficiency, powertrain, chassis tuning, and off-road technologies.
The 2016 Toyota Tacoma differs from the previous model mainly with a new, more aggressive grille, new headlights, and a more muscular hood. The rear also shines with a redesigned latched tailgate and integrated spoiler designed to improve aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. The appearance is finally rounded off by a stamped and embossed Tacoma logo.
When it comes to cab choices, the 3rd generation Toyota Tacoma comes with two versions – Access Cab and Double Cab, each with two different length loading areas. The Regular Cab version has been removed from the range in the new generation.
The interior has also been heavily revised and is characterized above all by a sportier design and more luxury. Inside you will find a larger touchscreen display, a completely new dashboard (hard plastic has been replaced here with soft-touch materials), and a leather option.
In addition, a windscreen made of acoustic glass, a sound-absorbing headliner, a floor silencer mat, and improved insulation on the doors reduce road and wind noise. According to the manufacturer, the overall noise in the new Tacoma was reduced by 43 percent. However, compared to the current Ram 1500 or Ford F-150, it still represents the screaming child next to the sleeping baby.
While taller drivers found the cabins of the first and second-generation Tacomas a bit uncomfortable, the third edition shows significant improvements in this regard.
When it comes to rear legroom (on the four-door crew cab), however, space is still limited and doesn't compare to the Toyota Tundra's sedan-style rear seat. Speaking of the rear bench seat - this can also be easily folded down, creating additional storage space in the cabin.
All in all, the new edition of the Tacoma pickup comes in six different trim levels, these are the base SR, SR5 (mid-range), TRD Off-Road, TRD Sport, Limited, and TRD Pro (the latter was only added in late 2016). Toyota Racing Development, short TRD, is the department in the group that mainly ensures driving pleasure in the off-road area - as a way of maximizing off-road capability.
The Tacoma pickup is available in a 4×2 and 4×4 configuration in all trim levels – except for the TRD Pro, which is only available with all-wheel drive. The third edition of the Toyota Tacoma was primarily developed by the Toyota Engineering team at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Among other things, they improved the rigidity and overall strength of the frame by using high-strength steel. This is a hot-stamped, high-strength alloy that is stronger and lighter than conventional steel, optimizing safety and performance. A corresponding chassis tuning was also carried out. Thus, the Tacoma III glides more smoothly on the road and even more powerful off-road.
The third-generation Toyota Tacoma is powered by either a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine or a 3.5-liter V6.The 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission or a 5-speed manual transmission, delivers 159 hp at 5,200 rpm and 244 Newton meters of torque at 3,800 rpm. The 3.5-liter V6 unit is available with a 6-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual transmission. It delivers 278 hp at 6,000 rpm and 360 Newton meters of torque at 4,600 rpm.
Whatever you need to haul, the new Tacoma pickup is ready. Equipped with the powerful 3.5-liter V6 and the tow package, the load donkey (as rear-wheel drive) is able to gain around 3,100 kg on the hook and move almost 700 kg on its loading area.
Equipped with the Tow Package, the Tacoma has a Class IV hitch, ATF cooler, engine oil cooler, power steering cooler, 130-amp alternator, and Trailer Sway Control (TSC). The latter equalizes the brake pressure on each wheel and regulates the torque, giving more control over the trailer.
The manufacturer expanded its range in 2018, which means that every Toyota Tacoma is equipped with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) as standard. The TSS-P ensures a higher level of safety and includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and dynamic radar cruise control.
Even the basic version of the Toyota Tacoma comes with electric windows, central locking, a sliding rear window, a composite bed with moveable mounting brackets, a reversing camera, and a Bluetooth-compatible stereo system.
In this equipment, you also get cruise control, remote keyless entry (RKE / keyless entry system) as well as satellite radio and fog lights.
In addition to the SR5 equipment, there are 17-inch alloy wheels, an air scoop on the hood, painted fender flares, integrated turn signals in the side mirrors, an electrically sliding rear window, and an improved stereo system with navigation and for automatic drivers, the keyless push-button system.
The TRD Off-Road equipment lives up to its name and is a "must-have" for all off-road fans. Equipped with all-terrain tires on 17″ alloy wheels, skid plate, textured black fender flares, a chrome bumper, a rear differential lock, Bilstein dampers, Hill Start Assist Control (HAC), an off-road traction control system (Multi-Terrain Select ) with driver-selectable terrain settings (such as loose rock, mud, and sand) and the Toyota Crawl Control system.
The latter helps the driver to steer the pickup in difficult terrain, as the truck brakes and accelerates independently. This equipment also includes a sunroof, key-less entry, Qi wireless phone charging capability as well as a blind spot monitoring system, and a reversing camera.
This is the more luxurious equipment version. We are talking about leather upholstery, automatic air conditioning (two zones), a sunroof, heated front seats, a high-quality JBL sound system with subwoofer, 18-inch wheels, a navigation system, and the keyless push-button.
In late 2016, manufacturer Toyota added the TRD Pro trim for the 2017 model year, which has been the top-of-the-line model ever since. Here you can expect unique features that have been put together to form a complete package.
For example, the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro is also (in addition to the TRD Off-Road package) equipped with improved Fox shock absorbers, which raises the chassis by a total of 25 mm. The rear axle was also equipped with new progressive leaf springs.
There are also other extras such as TRD Pro cat-back exhaust (stainless steel rear exhaust), TRD Pro Desert Air Intake (air intake), TRD Pro skid plate (reinforced skid plate), Rigid Industries LED fog lights, and a heritage-inspired "Toyota" grille.
The Tacoma TRD Pro is offered exclusively as a double cab, with a short loading area and all-wheel drive. Its interior is black leather with red accents and stitching. For the 2017 model year, it was available in Barcelona Red Metallic, Super White, or Cement finishes.
With the TRD Pro model year 2018, the colors Midnight Black Metallic and Cavalry Blue replaced the colors Barcelona Red Metallic and Cement. Over 40 percent of Toyota Tacomas sold are TRD models, which is a hard proof that Tacoma owners love to get their truck dirty.
Protecting Your Toyota Tacoma
Throughout its construction, the Tacoma has earned a reputation for being exceptionally reliable. A big bonus - especially in the used car segment. From the buyer's point of view, no generation and no model year stand out. The numerous revisions and improvements were generally never serious enough to make earlier models lose their attractiveness.
The Toyota Tacoma is therefore a really reliable vehicle. If you protect and care for it, it will be your best friend for many years. For your protection needs, you should trust no other than the Coverking since they are the official partner of most automotive manufacturers.
Check out the Coverking website and you’ll find car covers, seat covers, dash covers, etc. made custom for each and every model Tacoma ever built! Just choose your vehicle’s make and model from the drop down menu above the site and see for yourself!
Tankut Basar is an ARA (American Rally Assoc.) Racing Driver and an FIA Bronze Category License Holder. His passion for driving began with karting like most racers. He started racing internationally at the age of 22. Tankut loves everything car-related and will keep enjoying the drive until the end.