If cars and trucks can be assigned human personalities, the 2011 Toyota Tacoma sport pickup is a punk. With flashy stylings, a tight set-up and cocky power, it sticks its chin out into traffic and promises to drive up and over anything that stumbles across its path.
The smaller sister of the work-friendly Tundra, the Tacoma is the peppier, sportier hauler in Toyota family. It might lack the bigger truck’s V8 power, but it gets off the line quicker and responds tighter in turns.
To generate towing capacity and guarantee unusually perky acceleration for a pick-up truck, Toyota front loads the power from the 4.0 liter, 236 hp V6. The result is a an angry, aggressive little pick-up truck that growls at intersections, barks when you hit the gas, and roars as you push up to its cruising gears.
For this road test, Toyota provided a $35,000, double-cab, kitted out version of the Tacoma, complete with the TRD Off-Road Extra Value Package [MSRP, $4850.00]. The TRD includes tightened off-road suspension with special Bilstein shocks, 16” alloy wheels, heavy duty BF Goodrich sport tires, a front tow hook and a locking rear differential.
When you add that to the Tacoma’s standard issue four wheel drive on demand, rack and pinion steering, coil spring double wishbone front suspension and rear leaf spring suspension with staggered outboard-mounted gas shock absorbers, and you end up with a little truck that’s eager to get out there and tear up some hills. I felt bad offering nothing but dull Los Angeles streets for it to blow over during the weeklong test drive.
As a side note, I send kudos along to the designer of the sport-equipped Tacoma – and indeed any truck designer – who manages to design the vehicle with the gas shocks and main springs visible under the overfenders. It’s simply badass and scares children as you drive by. That’s not a scientific observation of a Motor Press Guild-approved review point, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
But, be forewarned: The site of a tough, modern off-roader like the sport-equipped Tacoma will cause some more delicate drivers of smart cars and scooters to think you’re some redneck barbarian out to drive your pickup to Walmart to stock up on ammo. That’s OK. You don’t want to have any contact with those oh-so-enlightened, judgmental weeds. They have no blood in their veins and carry as much inherent charisma as an under-ripened turnip. Rev your engine as you pass and they’ll spill their vegan decaf soy Similac latte on their Birkenstocks. Vroom!
Meanwhile, back in the cap of the Tacoma, you’ll enjoy an adequate collection of toys and comforts – even if it’s a pared down version of what you get in the 4Runner or Sequoia. There’s an AM/FM CD stereo with Sirius XM with subscription, but no satellite navigation standard. The sport version also offers upgraded seats with extra lumbar support to accompany the full arrangement of Toyota’s Advanced Airbag System.
Like all 2011 Toyotas, the Tacoma includes the Star Safety System, Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, ABS with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution. Those braking systems are especially important when you consider than front-loaded power from the Tacoma’s V6. You’ll get from 0 to 60 in about seven seconds, and that’s quick for a truck. If you need to hit those brakes and kill that aggression, the stopping power is there.
As for gas mileage, the Tacoma isn’t as demanding as larger V8 trucks with a city MPG of 16 and 20 highway.
Sadly, I can’t report on its true off-road capacity as I didn’t have the courage to run over the Angeles Crest and out into the wilderness. It seems the Toyota Corporation like getting their press fleet test vehicles back in one piece. I don’t know where the fun is in that, but what can you do?