No one has been able yet to take much of a bite out of this hot Taco.
Just ask Ford, the latest to try and be fried by the Toyota Tacoma pickup – the Taco – a salty old-school pickup that can apparently scale tall buildings and its competition in a single leap.
Despite facing new models of the Ford Ranger, as well as the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, the Taco grabbed a 39 percent share of the mid-size segment last year, selling twice as many trucks as the second-place Colorado.
That was with a pickup whose six-speed automatic transmission likely dates back to the Clinton Administration.
Moreover, the Tacoma’s new mid-size competitors tend to be quicker, more powerful, offer more features and often ride better than the gritty Tacoma.
It just doesn’t matter. Toyota still can’t squeeze enough production from its truck plant in San Antonio to meet demand for the Taco.
Do you think that Toyota badge on the Tacoma might have some pulling power?
Heck, after a week with a gray 2021 Tacoma TRD Pro, I admit I could feel some tug from the truck – and I’m a Mustang, Hellcat, Porsche sort of guy.
Maybe it was the styling, which is way better than Toyota’s other cars or trucks with their exaggerated grilles and silly, wandering lines.
My four-wheel-drive, off-road flavored Tacoma sported a large horizontal grille spread across its protruding snout that looked bold, not overstated.
The grille was flanked by sleek, contemporary headlamps that wrapped back into flared front fenders topped by a broad hood with a nifty little fake scoop in it.
Embellishing all of that was a serious-looking skid plate just beneath the front bumper, and dirt-slinging off-road style 265/70 tires on 16-inch slotted black TRD wheels.
Meanwhile, square wheel-arches and a deep character line at the base of the doors added some interesting tension to the mix.
As you probably know, off-road Tacomas can tackle most any rocky or swampy obstacle with ease. I was more interested in getting a feel for their street manners, since that’s where most of us spend a majority of our time.
The high-riding Tacoma I had recently relied on Toyota’s venerable 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 278-horsepower, which churned out decent torque and a pleasant low, truck-like growl.
The engine felt pretty good down low or up high, revving past 5,000 rpm as it scrambled to 60 mph in a reasonable 7.7 seconds.
Incidentally: While that acceleration is adequate, it is more than 1.5 seconds slower to 60 than a more modern V-6-powered Chevrolet Colorado.
The Taco’s six-speed automatic doesn’t offer much help, returning sluggish downshifts sometimes and lacking the gear ratios to keep the Taco snarling up steep inclines.
As a result, the truck’s overall fuel economy was a very average 20 miles per gallon – a figure many full-size pickups can match.
But, then, the double-cab Taco had to lug some serious off-road stuff around, including a locking rear differential, full-size spare tire, crawl control and TRD-tuned Fox shock absorbers.
As you might expect from a high-riding 4,700-pound pickup, the Tacoma stepped stiffly over bumps and tended to fidget a lot even when the streets were smooth.
However, the ride rarely deteriorated to the point it was irritating, and actually kind of fit the Taco’s solid-steel personality.
Likewise, its steering was truck-slow, but precise.
Don’t tell Toyota, but I think one of the Tacoma’s attractions was it reminded me of pickups from 25 or 30 years ago – solid but serious beasts that avoided frills and felt as if they might last a lifetime.
The only leather in those old trucks was the owner’s shotgun case. Some of that old-school DNA probably shaped the black interior in my $48,000 Taco.
A shallow upper dashboard, for example, overlapped a center area dominated by a smallish 8-inch touchscreen that featured – get this – knobs for tuning and volume.
Beneath the screen, a slender panel had more real-deal knobs and dials. Another dial on the lower dash controlled the four-wheel drive.
I was so impressed by the Tacoma’s functional interior that I mostly ignored the acres of hard plastic throughout its cab.
Hey, at least the door panels were cast in textured black plastic.
Just focus on the seats, which featured leather bolsters and grippy centers, and looked as if they could easily shake off mud and dirt.
Meanwhile, the back seat was functional, though leg-room was limited.
My pricey Tacoma rolled with just a handful of inexpensive options, including a bed mat ($120); a door-sill protector ($79); and a TRD air-filter ($90).
At some point, I will likely be forced to surrender my Texas ID card because I prefer cars to trucks and haven’t owned a pickup since the 1980s.
If I absolutely had to own a pickup, the Tacoma’s quality, reliability and durability would be appealing – just as they have been for decades.
2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro
- What I liked most: The Tacoma’s tough-guy persona and rock-solid assembly.
- What I would change: C’mon Toyota, how about some modern upgrades to the Taco’s engine and especially transmission.
- MSRP: Base price, $26,250 for entry-level truck; as equipped, $48,523.
- Official color: Lunar Rock.
- Fuel economy: 18 miles per gallon in town, 22 on the highway and 20 mpg overall with filler on the left.
- Odometer reading when tested: 3,650 miles.
- Spare tire: Full-sized.
- Weight: 4,661 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 212.3 inches long/75.2 inches wide/71.6 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 21.1 gallons.
- Towing capacity: Up to 6,800 pounds.
- 2021 Toyota Tacoma in a few words: A basic, somewhat outdated pickup that is still immensely appealing.
- Warranty: Three-year, 36,000-mile overall warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain protection.
- Final assembly location: San Antonio, TX
- Manufacturer’s website: www.toyota.com
- E-mail me at email@example.com
- Up next: 2021 Volkswagen GTI
2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Model Shown. Photo Credit: Toyota.