2003 Toyota Tacoma Reviews and Ratings

Limited 4WD

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2003 Toyota Tacoma
Mitch McCullough, NCTD Editor-in-Chief

Toyota knows what compact truck buyers want, and its Tacoma pickup delivers the goods. Toyota Tacoma boasts a heritage of solid service as a work truck along with a hard-earned reputation as a winning off-road race truck.

Toyota makes a Tacoma to fit almost any work-related or recreational pursuit. The Tacoma line starts with a simple two-wheel-drive work truck loaded with nothing but quality, durability and reliability. The line tops out with fancy four-wheel-drive models that offer features comparable to a compact sedan.

Changes for 2003 emphasize safety. All Tacoma models now stop with anti-lock brakes (ABS); while child restraint system (CRS) anchors have been added to the front passenger seats of standard Cab and Xtracab models, and to the outboard rear seats in Double Cabs.

Model Lineup
Tacoma pickups are available with standard, extended (Xtracab), and four-door cabs (Double Cab).

Base rear-wheel drive (4X2) Tacomas start at just over $12,000. Frugal in features, these are working machines powered by an economical 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine that will push them along for many years of reliable service.

Four-wheel-drive Tacomas come with either a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine (starting at $16,510) or a 3.4-liter V6 ($19,720).

An SR5 option package adds air conditioning, tilt steering, variable intermittent wipers and other features. The price and content of the SR5 package varies with cab, engine, and driveline. V6 Double Cabs and V6 Xtracab 4x4s can be ordered with a similar Limited package, which includes most SR5 content plus power windows, locks and mirrors. Again the precise content depends on the body style.

A StepSide bed option ($310) features bulging rear fenders and a small step behind the doors (not available on Double Cabs).

PreRunner is a 4x2 truck with an off-road suspension. It is patterned after the specially prepared pickups used by off-road racing teams to scout or pre-run a desert race course prior to a race. PreRunners are available in standard, Xtracab, or Double Cab configurations, and with either the 2.7-liter inline-4 or 3.4-liter V6. PreRunners start at $14,015.

Xtracab S-Runner is a low-riding street sports model with a suspension tuned for handling on pavement. S-Runner comes with the 3.4-liter V6, five-speed transmission, sport seats, and color-keyed trim.

The TRD (Toyota Racing Development) off-road package can be added to 2WD PreRunner or 4WD Xtracab models. The TRD package adds Bilstein shocks, a locking rear differential, increased-rate front and rear springs, a larger stabilizer bar, P265/70R16 B.F. Goodrich tires, overfenders (color-keyed on Limited models), and special graphics.

Also available from TRD is a fully warranted, dealer-installed supercharger for the 3.4-liter V6. The TRD blower boosts output by 40 percent, from 190 to 260 horsepower.

Aside from an exterior makeover for 2001, the Toyota Tacoma's appearance has changed little since it was introduced in 1995.

We've recently spent time in a V6-powered 4x4 Limited, an S-Runner, and in a basic four-cylinder StepSide model. The Limited and the S-Runner each had the 3.4-liter V6 and Xtracab body style. But that's where the similarities ended.

The 4x4 Limited has a tough, off-road look to it, with big, beefy tires and enough ground clearance to hop over medium-sized rocks and stumps. The S-Runner is much lower to the ground, and is graced with bodywork add-ons that go well with its handsome five-spoke alloy wheels and low-profile tires. In fact, several people stopped to admire the S-Runner and wanted to know where they could get one.

The four-cylinder StepSide is a more modest-looking, practical truck, ready to do some work, although the StepSide body features elegant rear fenders, more shapely and less radical than on most similar retro-truck designs.

Toyota Tacoma's interior is comfortable and functional.

Drivers over six feet tall will find the standard cab a mite cramped for space. The Xtracab has a little more legroom (42.8 inches versus 41.7), plus room to recline the seat.

Standard in Xtracabs is a 60/40 split bench front seat, comfortable for driver and passenger. The bucket seats in the Xtracab Limited we test-drove felt too big for the cab, giving the space a cramped feeling. But they sure were comfortable, and that lumbar support in the driver's seat was a godsend on a long drive. The cloth trim seems to be of good quality. In the extended rear cab area there's a little table that folds up to serve as either a cup holder or as a support for a child-restraint seat.

Double Cabs are reasonably roomy in the back-seat area. There's lots of knee room and good headroom, but the upright seatback makes the space most suitable for short trips. Getting in and out of the back seats is awkward because it requires swinging your feet around the B-pillar.

We found the large instruments easy to read, which feature orange instrument illumination. White-faced gauges are available on some models. Controls well placed and functional. Electric rotary climate controls add a touch of convenience, and there's a comfortable four-spoke steering wheel. An assist strap is provided on the driver's-side windshield pillar. The Tacoma has a pull-out hand brake, which is inconvenient and seems old-fashioned. Door pockets are provided, along with two auxiliary power outlets located under the cigarette lighter, dual cup holders, a driver-side foot rest, tinted windshield glass, auto-off headlights and adjustable front seatbelt anchors.

Driving Impressions
Your experience in the Toyota Tacoma depends largely on the model and optional equipment. They drive quite a bit differently, but all do a good job in the roles for which they are designed.

The two-wheel-drive work truck rides smoothly and handles reasonably well. Off-road versions offer impressive handling and capability in the rough stuff. And for street rodders, the S-Runner is fun to drive.

Two four-cylinder engines are available. The base Tacoma 4x2 uses a 142-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which compares favorably with competing four-cylinder models from Nissan, Ford and Mazda. The Toyota 2.4-liter is economical to run, with an EPA-estimated city/highway mileage of 22/25 mpg when matched with a five-speed manual transmission. For 4X4 models, Toyota offers a 150-horsepower 2.7-liter inline-4 that rates 18/21 mpg in the EPA cycle.

The V6 is available for 4x2 and 4x4 models. It delivers 190 horsepower at 4800 rpm, with 220 pounds-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. Even at that it's still reasonably economical, with an EPA city/highway mileage rating of 18/22 for a 4x2 with a five-speed manual.

The five-speed manual transmission shifts smoothly and makes the Tacoma more fun to drive. It makes accelerating into traffic a joy.

The optional four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission is a good match for the 3.4-liter V6. This combination offers good acceleration for passing slow-moving semi trucks on two-lane stretches of highway.

The TRD suspension developed by Toyota and its off-road racing teams does a good job of smoothing out rough ground. A Toyota Tacoma 4x4 equipped with the TRD treatment offers impressive handling on rough, primitive roads, as we found out near Big Sky, Montana. The Tacoma feels like it would go anywhere, and get there in a big hurry. The TRD suspension is fantastic, whether going slow or hauling. Even deep, bounding ruts failed to upset the handling in medium-speed corners. Handling on dirt roads is much better balanced in four-wheel drive than in the two-wheel-drive mode. The TRD Tacoma rides reasonably well, though it's stiff at low speeds. That stiffness pays off at higher speeds, however. Like all pickups, it feels much smoother with a little weight in the bed. At moderate speed over desert moguls, the Tacoma suspension keeps the tires on the terrain for good grip without jarring the occupant's internal organs loose.

Auto-locking hubs and a 4WD-High button let you shift on the fly at speeds less than 50 mph. That's a convenience when a good road goes bad. The available push-button locking differential forces the rear wheels to turn at the same speed. This enables the Tacoma to walk out of ankle-deep sand with absolutely no trouble. The locking rear differential is indispensable for driving in an area prone to mud and snow.

On dry pavement, the Tacoma 4X4 holds corners surprisingly well. Given its high center of gravity you don't want to try anything too radical, but this truck really hangs on in decreasing-radius freeway ramps and in other moderate maneuvers.

The 2WD S-Runner offers responsive handling. Cruising down your favorite twisty road with the S-Runner will never fail to brighten your day. Its 190-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 produces a deep-sounding (but not obnoxious) exhaust note. The sport-tuned suspension setup includes Tokico gas shock absorbers, increased-rate springs, and front and rear stabilizer bars. Ride height is reduced by one inch from the standard 4x2. Though a little jouncy when empty, the ride never felt harsh, and handling was superb. As long as the weather doesn't get too slippery, the S-Runner is as entertaining as anything we've recently driven. It is so much fun that we kept searching for reasons to go for a spin.

We used an S-Runner to move some furniture from Maryland to Virginia and, like all pickups, it rode better when loaded down. The lower ride height of the S-Runner is a real benefit when it's time to do some work. The bed height of the S-Runner measured 28 inches by our tape measure, a full 3.5 inches lower than a Ford Ranger 4x4 we had at the same time, and that makes a big difference when loading and unloading heavy objects.

You can't beat Toyota pickups for quality, durability and reliability. So look no further if those benefits are at the top of your list. Overall, the Tacoma is an impressive package.

There are bigger trucks and there are more powerful trucks than the Tacoma. But there are few 4x4 pickups that offer the combination of style, comfort, and rugged performance that you'll find in the Tacoma Xtracab 4X4 Limited. The Double Cab adds rear seating or some needed interior cargo space.

Model as tested
Toyota Tacoma 4X4 Xtracab V6 Automatic ($20,620)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Fremont, California
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Limited package ($3,855) includes air conditioning, power windows, door locks and mirrors, intermittent wipers, cruise control, sport seats, tachometer, leather-trimmed tilt steering wheel and shift knob; TRD off-road package ($1,380) includes off-road suspension, rear locking differential, 265/70R16 Goodrich tires; high-4WD selector switch ($135); carpet floor mats ($76); bed liner ($299); receiver hitch ($359)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Regular Cab 4x2 ($12,100); Regular Cab 4x4 ($16,510); Xtracab 4x2 PreRunner ($16,690); Xtracab 4x2 V6 ($19,020); Double Cab 4x2 PreRunner V6 ($19,170); Double Cab 4x4 V6 ($22,320)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags with passenger-side deactivation switch, front seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, CRS child restraint anchors, four-wheel ABS
Safety equipment (optional)
3.4-liter 24-valve V6
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
60/40 split front bench seat, rear cloth jump seats, AM/FM/cassette stereo with 6 speakers, power antenna, two auxiliary power outlets, power steering, power brakes, ABS,16-inch alloy wheels

Engine & Transmission
3.4-liter 24-valve V6
Drivetrain type
four-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
190 @ 4800
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/drum with ABS
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear
live axle

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

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