The 2020 Toyota Tacoma meets expectations before swapping factories
Toyota, Honda and Nissan manage to build competitively priced, high-quality pickup trucks for the U.S. market despite contending with a huge disadvantage — a 25 percent tariff on light trucks, in place since the mid-1960s. The only way to circumvent the tax is to build or finish the trucks in factories in the United States; the final assembly point for Tacomas is in San Antonio, Texas. Either way, Japanese automakers have to deal with front-end costs that do not affect U.S.-based manufacturers.
With light trucks commanding an ever-increasing share of automotive sales in the United States, the Japanese automakers had to step up their game with advanced technology and designs that stand the test of time.
Take the Toyota Tacoma, a midsize pickup truck that competes with the Nissan Frontier, Honda Ridgeline, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon and the newly reintroduced Ford Ranger. Our favorite among this group has been the Ridgeline, thanks to its smooth performance and car-like handling. But the Tacoma has something the Ridgeline lacks — an off-road package rivaling those of the top-ranked U.S.-built trucks.
The pickup-truck market demands a wide variety of styles, from basic work trucks to luxurious vehicles to off-road warriors. The base Tacoma SR, priced at $26,050, has rear-wheel drive, a 159-horsepower inline 4-cylinder engine, and seating for four. Our test truck came in TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Off-Road trim, with 4x4 capability and seating for five. Its list price was $36,965; with options, the sticker price came to $45,288.
With an independent front suspension and leaf springs in back, the Tacoma’s ride was bouncy at times but generally composed. Power delivery tended to be more modest than the truck’s engine and transmission specifications — a 278-horsepower V-6 with 8-speed gearbox — would suggest, and fuel economy was modest as well, at 18 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Toyota also offers a 6-speed stick shift.
The truck came with a strong package of off-road features: 2-speed transfer case, off-road-tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers, locking rear differential, multi-terrain select, crawl control and hill-start-assist control. Among the optional features that will appeal to folks who drive off-road was a multi-terrain monitor, which shows the driver what’s underneath the truck — whether boulders, stumps or smooth ground. This was included in the $1,670 Advanced Technology Package.
In the cabin, the accommodations were comfortable and the controls simple to operate. Some of the plastic panels felt cheap, but the fit and finish were well within the standards of what one would expect in a Japanese pickup truck.
2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road 4x4 DoubleCab
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 278 horsepower, 265 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: 4W Demand, part-time 4x4 system with 2-speed electronically controlled transfer case
Ground clearance: 9.4 in.
Weight: 4,425 lb.
Suspension: double-wishbone front, leaf-spring rear
Wheels: 16-in. machined contrast alloy
Tires: P265/70R16 all-terrain
Seating capacity: 5
Maximum payload: 1,175 lb.
Towing capacity: 6,400 lb.
Fuel capacity: 21.1 gal.
Fuel economy: 18 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
The 2019 Tacoma crew cab was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Just last month, Toyota, which sold nearly 249,000 Tacoma pickups in the United States last year, announced it will move Tacoma production from the San Antonio facility to two plants in Mexico. Tacoma production will end in San Antonio in 2021, and Toyota will begin building full-sized Tundra pickups and large Sequoia sport-utility vehicles there in 2022.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.