Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

2013 TOYOTA TACOMA: 'Big' truck, small package

Tacoma is the go-to truck in the small-pickup market

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The Toyota Tacoma packs big-truck capability in a vehicle that doesn't take up the real estate of a larger truck.

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The Toyota Tacoma packs big-truck capability in a vehicle that doesn't take up the real estate of a larger truck.

Toyota's Tacoma has fended off many competitors over the years, and right now the only direct competitor to this mid-size pickup is Nissan with its Frontier.

There's not too much to worry about for Toyota, though, because the Tacoma has been outselling the Frontier this year in Canada by a margin of more than three to one. General Motors is bringing out a replacement for the GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado, but not until next year, so essentially the Tacoma is the go-to truck for those in the small-pickup market.

With full-sized trucks making consistent gains in cutting fuel consumption without watering down their capabilities, some may feel that smaller trucks are becoming redundant, and truck sales figures tend to support that position. But there's a lot to be said for these smaller trucks that still have some serious capabilities but come in a more city-friendly size.

While not officially part of the current light-duty truck vernacular, smaller pickups have historically been referred to as quarter-tons, while the more conventional full-size trucks adopted the half-ton designation. That was once an indication of their payload capacity, but those numbers have been far exceeded by today's trucks. Now, a "half-ton" full-sized truck has a minimum payload capacity of around 700 kg, or three-quarters of a ton, and can reach double that amount depending on how the truck is equipped.

And the "little" Tacoma? Standard payload is 475 kg, or half a ton. And it can tow 6,400 lb. with the towing package. Yes, the little truck has come a long way.

Tacoma's changes are minimal for 2013: an upgraded audio system and a new Limited model represent the extent of upgrades for this year. The truck underwent a more significant refresh for 2012 so, unless you're looking at a Honda Civic, you don't expect much in the way of changes just one year hence.

While the four-banger Tacoma starts at $22,335, most buyers will be more interested in the V-6 model, which starts at $27,125 with standard four-wheel drive and six-speed manual gearbox. The V-6 also gets a sliding rear window, rear privacy glass, wheel-mounted audio controls, keyless entry, cruise control and power exterior mirrors.

Double Cab models get four full doors and a five-foot bed rather than the six-footer offered on extended-cab models. Base prices for the Double Cab V6 4x4 are $28,615 for the manual and $30,165 for the five-speed automatic that was in our tester.

We were also treated to the $5,400 TRD Sport Package which adds a host of items like the aforementioned upgraded towing capacity, transmission and engine-oil coolers, an upgraded alternator, 17-inch alloys, Bilstein shocks, LED brake lights, heated sport seats, water-repellent seat fabric, a backup camera, variable intermittent wipers and a host of cosmetic improvements that work together to make the truck look current and rugged.

For towing, there's also trailer sway control, a seven-pin wiring harness, a class IV hitch and integrated turn-signal lamps. Inside, the package adds leather for the steering wheel and shift lever, metallic accents, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and other goodies. So we're talking mid-thirties for a well-equipped truck, an entirely reasonable sum.

There's not much to say about the Tacoma's styling, except that the LED taillights and fake hood scoop are a little over-the-top. But, overall, this is a clean truck that looks smart inside and out. The touchscreen that is standard across the board is well integrated into the dash design. It's too bad the display for the rear-view camera is on the mirror. While it certainly keeps the driver looking in fewer directions, the image is small and it would be easier to see what's there if the large touchscreen were utilized for this.

The 4.0-litre V-6 under the hood pumps out 236 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque -- that's old-school in a world where Ford's six-cylinder trucks are squeezing more than 300 hp out of 3.7 litres. The five-speed slushbox is old-school as well -- mechanically, this design does not hide its age.

Drive modes consist of 2H, 4H and 4L, indicating that this is a part-time four-wheel drive system with a low range. Drivers can switch between two- and four-wheel drive (high range) at speeds up to 100 km/h, but the vehicle needs to be stopped and shifted into neutral to switch between high and low ranges.

Suspension hardware consists of a double wishbone setup in front and a leaf-spring rear setup with gas shock absorbers. True to truck form, this rigid rear axle is designed for simplicity and load-carrying capacity, so Tacoma drivers should not expect the kind of ride that an SUV or crossover can provide. I crossed railroad tracks while rounding a curve and the rear end of the truck stepped out noticeably, but this was not unexpected.

I have a few quibbles about the truck, like the absence of a warning for low windshield-washer fluid and no heat for the exterior mirrors. The truck was also thirsty during its stay with me, consuming around 14 L/100 km with an even split in city and highway conditions. Some full-size trucks can deliver similar performance, so make sure lower fuel consumption isn't the reason you're looking at a smaller truck.

But the Tacoma packs big-truck capability in a vehicle that doesn't take up the real estate of a larger truck, boasting payload and towing capacities that used to be the domain of full-sized trucks.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2013 E2

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