Nearly the entire class of compact pickups is new. Nissan, Dodge, Chevrolet and GMC all have new models, redesigned from the ground up. (Only the aging Ford Ranger remains from the old school, competing almost entirely on price.) This newest generation of trucks is no longer compact, and many manufacturers now consider them midsize.
Their increased size brings roomier cabs, improved ride quality and increased stability. But manufacturers have gone well beyond that. More power and increased refinement are now part of the picture as well. All of them are available in the increasingly popular crew cab configuration, and their larger size makes this a more compelling choice; the newest crew cab models are practical alternatives to a sedan, something that wasn't really true with the previous generation of compact pickups. These trucks still offer more maneuverability than a full-size pickup, while providing serious hauling and towing utility.
With so many good trucks available, this is a fine time to be shopping for a compact pickup. And the Tacoma may be the best of them, with its comfortable cab, excellent handling, and rugged off-road capability. The Tacoma also enjoys Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability. Properly equipped V6 models are rated to tow up to 6,500 pounds.
The 2005 Toyota Tacoma comes in a wide range of models and body styles, ranging from a $14,000 work truck to a 4x4 Double Cab that tops $30,000. The TRD PreRunner models may make you feel like Ivan "Ironman" Stewart getting ready to win another Baja 500, while the sporty X-Runner may make you feel like Rod Millen preparing to blast up the Pike's Peak Hillclimb.
The 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine comes with a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. The 4.0-liter V6 is available with a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic. Both engines are available with two-wheel drive or part-time four-wheel drive.
The base Tacoma, a 4x2 Regular Cab, comes standard with anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist, a full-size spare, AM/FM/CD four-speaker sound system, tachometer, coolant temperature gauge, digital clock, two powerpoints, fuel warning light, dome lamp and rear mudguards. Access Cab and Double Cab models add more standard features, including bucket seats and a center console. Double Cabs get upgraded seat fabric and power windows, mirrors and door locks. Access and Double Cab models also get upgraded audio systems, including an AM/FM radio with an in-dash six-CD changer and six speakers; Double Cabs also offer a JBL premium audio system with seven speakers, including an amplified subwoofer. Both audio upgrades feature steering wheel audio controls.
Options revolve around five packages: An Enhancement Package for the 4x2 Regular Cab adds air conditioning and styled steel wheels. The Convenience Package for the 4x2 Regular Cab adds cruise control, remote keyless entry, and power windows, door locks and mirrors. The SR5 Package bundles styling and comfort features, including color-keyed overfenders and front bumper, chrome grille surround and chrome rear bumper, center console, intermittent wipers and upgraded interior features and trim. In Access Cab and Double Cab models, the SR5 package also adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter.
The length of the Tacoma varies by body style: Regular Cab trucks are the shortest, measuring 190.4 inches overall on a 109.4-inch wheelbase. Access Cab and Double Cab short-bed models share the 127.2-inch wheelbase and 208.1-inch overall length. Double Cab long-bed models are quite long at 221.3 inches overall on a 140.9-inch wheelbase. All models have six-foot beds except the Double Cab short-bed configuration, which has a five-foot bed.
How to choose: Regular Cab models lots of cargo space in a relatively small package, good for maneuverability in the big city; because they are shorter, PreRunner and 4x4 Regular Cabs have the best break-over angle and therefore offer the best capability off road. Access Cab models feature large dual rear access doors, no good for people but very good for gear. Double Cab models have long rear doors that open 80 degrees for ease of entry or loading gear. Double Cabs offer the comfort of a sport-utility; the long-bed Double Cabs can carry more stuff but are unwieldy in tight places.
The 2005 Tacoma features a composite inner bed, lighter than steel yet tougher and more durable. The bed features two-tier loading and integrated deck rail utility with four adjustable tie-down cleats. The rails are compatible with Genuine Toyota Accessories, including cargo bed cross bars, a fork-mount bike rack, and diamond-plate storage boxes.
The Tacoma offers a comfortable driving position. We found the bucket seats on the uplevel models comfortable, though the seat bottom could be bit longer and have more thigh support. The seats in our SR5 were manually adjustable; lumbar adjustment was provided but there was no adjustment for seat height or the angle of the seat bottom; the power seats available on the new Nissan Frontier have these features. The front seatback on some Tacoma models flips down to form a tray table or to make room for long objects, a nice feature. And big mirrors afford a good view rearward.
The switchgear is easy to operate and everything is where you expect it to be. Big rotary knobs make it easy to adjust cabin temperature even with gloves on; the knobs are electronic, so they're easy to twist. The radio is fully integrated into the upper center stack and it's easy to operate, though the display is nearly impossible to read through polarized sunglasses. CDs sound good through the JBL speakers.
The back seats in the latest generation of crew cabs are far more habitable than those of older trucks. And the rear seat in the Tacoma Double Cab is particularly comfortable for the class, offering good leg room and shoulder room and decent headroom. The seatback is angled back slightly, making it more comfortable. A younger rider should be okay to ride across the state back there and even adults won't complain too much on short trips. The rear windows go all the way down.
The rear seat area in the Double Cab good for carrying cargo as well. The back seat is split 60/40. Flip the seat bottoms forward and fold the two sections down to form a flat platform for gear. It takes two hands to do this and you first have to remove the headrests, a hassle though Toyota has provided a place to store each headrest. The seatbacks are hard, and form a sturdy cargo floor. It's not a bad spot for a dog, better than the bumpy floors in the Nissan and Dodge, but it's a big jump down.
The Access Cab has rear seats, but they're pretty hopeless for humans. It's best used for small cargo that you don't want to put in the bed.
We'd prefer a handbrake lever to the prehistoric pull-out handbrake that comes with manual transmissions. Automatics come with a foot-operated parking brake.
The new V6 engine feels refined and delivers responsive performance. Using variable valve technology, the double overhead-cam 4.0-liter V6 produces 245 horsepower and 282 pound-feet of torque, a 55-horsepower increase over the old 3.4-liter engine. More to the point, the Toyota V6 is more powerful than the five-cylinder engine in the Chevy Colorado or the V6 in the Dodge Dakota. The V6 works well with the five-speed automatic, and it's our first choice. The automatic is super smooth and very responsive, quickly downshifting when you mash the throttle, and it offers five ratios to better keep the engine at the proper revs. The six-speed manual transmission is easy to shift. First gear is a low gear and it seems like a stretch between first and second gears. Toyota recommends 91 octane gas for the V6. Preliminary fuel-economy estimates were 17/21 for a V6 4x4 Double Cab with the five-speed automatic.
The new 2.7-liter VVT-i DOHC four-cylinder engine produces 164 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque, about average for the class but more than the old overhead-valve V6 in the Ford Ranger. Toyota recommends 87 octane. Preliminary fuel-economy estimates were 22/28 mpg City/Highway with the five-speed manual.
The Tacoma handles well, with surprisingly little body roll (lean) in corners and it feels steady in sweeping turns. The Tacoma feels big on the road when compared with older compact pickups. In fact, it is big, wider and longer than previous-generation models. Parking a long-bed crew cab pickup is particularly challenging. The Tacoma Double Cab long bed requires 44 feet to complete a circle, nearly four more feet than a Double Cab short bed. We'd vote for the shorter bed unless we really needed the long bed. A base Tacoma Regular Cab boasts a turning circle of less than 37 feet.
On pavement, the 4x4 and TRD models seemed smooth and refined. The TRD 4x4 is smooth and highly capable off road. The TRD suspension is excellent on rough, rugged terrain. It handles well on rough dirt trails, something we learned while charging up a ski run at Alyeska. It never bottomed on the rough terrain even when we pushed it well beyond socially acceptable standards. The Tacoma TRD model easily handled an off-road course that featured steep ascents and descents, moguls and a log step. We'd feel comfortable in tackling just about anything in one of these. And all of this is accomplished in relative comfort. These trucks don't generate as much uncomfortable head toss as earlier 4x4 compact pickups.
Switching into 4-wheel drive and 4WD Lo is as easy as twisting a rotary knob. We tried to confuse it by switching the knob around and succeeded. The low-range lights wouldn't turn off until we stopped, shut it off and restarted, the old Microsoft reboot.
The Tacoma's brakes are smooth and easy to modulate and can bring it to quick halt without drama. The rear brakes are drums, however, less desirable than the rear disc brakes that come on some of the other pickups in this class.
The X-Runner is a lot of fun to drive and handles like a sports car. It corners flat and generates lots of grip in corners. We drove it hard up a hill climb and were not able to reach its limits. It tracks well and is very stable in tight corners even when spinning the inside rear tire under full throttle. The ride is firm, but seems to ride better than our recollection of the SVT Lightning. However, we didn't care for the feel of the clutch pedal, the steering was vague on center, and there was that inside rear wheelspin. Wind noise seems higher in the X-Runner than in the other models. But this is a tight, sporty truck. There's no cowl shake. The exhaust sounds cool. If you want a truck that can hang with a sports car, then look no farther.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough filed this report from Alyeska, Alaska.
Model as tested
Toyota Tacoma 4x4 V6 Double Cab Long Bed ($25,250)
3 years/36,000 miles
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested
Options as tested
curtain airbags for head protection ($650); JBL AM/FM/CD6 w 6 speakers, subwoofer and steering wheel audio controls ($500); SR5 Package 5 ($2,965) includes limited-slip rear differential, Class IV hitch, transmission and supplemental oil coolers, heavy-duty battery and alternator, 7-pin connector, 16-in. alloy wheels w P245/75R16 tires, fog lamps, remote keyless entry, cruise control, variable intermittent wipers, chrome grille surround and rear bumper, color-keyed front bumper and overfenders, sliding rear window w privacy glass, metallic tone instrument panel trim, leather steering wheel and shifter, sunvisors w mirrors and extenders; daytime running lights ($40); 4-pc. carpet floor mats ($130)
Model Line Overview
Toyota Tacoma Regular Cab 2.7-liter 5-speed manual 2WD ($13,415); w 4-speed automatic ($14,315); Access Cab 5M ($16,855); 4A ($17,755); PreRunner Regular Cab 5M ($14,285); PreRunner Access Cab ($17,615); PreRunner V6 Access Cab 6M ($19,070); 5A ($19,950); PreRunner V6 Double Cab 5A ($21,675); PreRunner Long Bed V6 Double Cab 5A ($22,175); 4x4 Regular Cab 2.7-liter 5M ($17,360); 4x4 Access Cab 5M ($20,690); 4x4 V6 Access Cab 6M ($22,245); 4x4 V6 Access Cab 5A ($23,125); 4x4 V6 Double Cab 6M ($23,870); 4x4 V6 Double Cab 5A ($24,750); 4x4 V6 Long Bed Double Cab 5A ($25,250)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual frontal air bags, seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, anchors for child safety seats; ABS, EBD, Brake Assist
Safety equipment (optional)
4.0-liter dohc 24v V6
Specifications as Tested
air conditioning, cloth bucket seats w passenger-side fold-flat, driver's side lumbar, adjustable headrests and SR5 fabric trim; 60/40 split rear bench w adjustable headrests, power windows, door locks and mirrors, AM/FM/CD6 w 6 speakers, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, 2 power points
Engine & Transmission
4.0-liter dohc 24v V6
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
245 @ 5200
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
solid axle with leaf springs
independent, coil spring double wishbone with gas-filled shock absorbers
solid axle with leaf springs
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear