We once heard a journalist colleague make a hilarious quip about the Toyota Tacoma’s age, and it was this: “it’s so old that the Dead Sea was only just getting sick when the current generation arrived.” It might not be that ancient, but the Tacoma is, and we’ll say this diplomatically- a bit of an anachronism. Where most trucks these days have smooth, turbocharged downsized engines, this one makes do with a 3.5 litre V6 that sounds like a wind tunnel chuffing at full bore when you cold start it. It still features a strange driving position where you feel like you’re sitting on the floor, the rear axle squirms and skips about on anything but smooth tarmac while the steering offers a vague approximation of path control. Sounds like a real turd, at least dynamically, until you get the Tacoma into its element like towing stuff and navigating off-road trails that would leave lesser trucks for dead. It is then that the light bulb goes on and you get why so many people love this thing; and why it is such a strong seller for Toyota despite being so firmly rooted in the past.
For one thing, its size makes it a much better proposition for doing normal truck stuff than some of the massive full sizers plying our roads these days. It can do most of the things that they can, and then pull of something those brutes can’t and that is be parked easily in a garage or on the streets. We cannot count the times we have seen a Ford F-150 in the school pickup lane doing carpool, or the massive heavy-duty diesel-powered beasts complete with dual rear wheels ferrying the contents of a Costco shop home. Sure, they can do that kind of stuff no problem, but it just seems like massive overkill to us. The Tacoma’s tidy footprint makes it a much better choice for the vast majority of would-be truck owners. Toyota knows this to be a hard truth, which is why it has remained faithfully committed to building the Taco for the last 28 years. It turns out that decision was a great one from a business perspective- Toyota sells a ton of these things year over year, and for a while it had the segment pretty much to itself- now we see GM, Ford and even Hyundai trying to cash in on the surging interest in a segment that most brands turned their back on years back.
Our Access Cab tester represents the end of the line for the current Tacoma and it’s a bit of an outlier for a few reasons. One, most Tacos we see in the wild are Double Cab four door version making our two door ‘coupe’ spec somewhat unusual- and when was the last time you saw jump seats for the rear passengers? A close friend remarked that it represents “the Tacoma recipe in its purest form”, and they should know- they’ve owned three of them over the years in various spec. Perhaps the manual gear lever sprouting up between the seats influenced their comment- perhaps not. Either way, this truck is something of a unicorn because we pretty much never see them outfitted with the DIY transmission, much less with one mated to a naturally aspirated V6 to boot. Cloth seats, analogue gauges and good old-fashioned buttons and knobs for the climate control are pleasing vestiges of an era in trucks that is drawing quickly to a close. In a nod towards contemporary technology, there’s a small touchscreen that is as good as it needs to be in this application. If you’re looking for frills, you will need to step up a higher trim level but when you do that, the manual gearbox is no longer on the menu. Frankly, we thought our tester was perfect just the way it was; cars and trucks just don’t come like this anymore, eschewing simplicity for complication.
We recently got out of a GR Corolla- also equipped with a 6-speed manual ‘box- right before settling into the Tacoma, and adjusting from the short throw snickety-snick of its transmission to the looooong motions the Tacoma’s lever travels before getting into gear took a little while. But once you get used to it, what the manual lacks in precision it makes up for in fun and personality. It also compliments the wheezy old V6 engine rather well, allowing you to extract the maximum amount of performance from an engine that relishes being revved out in the same way the kids tuck into a plate of steamed brussels sprouts- very reluctantly but obediently. Seriously, it feels like this engine has a flywheel made of depleted uranium and will trudge to redline but won’t sound all to happy doing so. The drivetrain does not cater to those looking for speed, but it doesn’t have to. It was designed to be as durable as the terrain the Tacoma can navigate and provide many years of trouble-free motoring which is exactly what the legions of fans and loyal buyers want.
Is Tacoma Nation clamouring for a truck that still requires the twisting of an old-fashioned key? If so, great! Toyota has ‘em covered. But for those who long for a Taco with all the gee-whiz tech and packed with the latest doodads, they will be best served by waiting for the new generation of Tacoma which is coming to a showroom near you sometime soon. It promises to take the new one to places our tester could never dream of (have you seen those trick shock absorbing seats?!?!) while retaining the core values that have made the Tacoma so endearing over the years: the right size but brought up to date with the latest kit buyers expect these days.
Except “these days” are extremely numbered, aren’t they? When this generation gets let out to pasture, it will truly be the end of an era. We know that the new Taco will be measurably better in every way than our tester- but by whose definition of better? Some folks will go bananas for all the new tech, modern drivetrains and other nods towards modern automotive kit that’s become commonplace this year. But, there will be those who fall on the curmudgeonly side of the spectrum who will miss the gold old days. With the sheer amount of Tacoma’s out there, the preowned market should offer the salve they crave to scratch that old school itch. We have said this a lot lately, but it still holds true: if the Toyota Tacoma in is current guise appeals to you- you had better act fast.
2023 Toyota Tacoma 4X4 Access Cab - Specifications
- Price as tested: $46,053
- Body Type: 2-door, 4 passenger truck
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/four-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.5 litre V6, 24 valves, DOHC
- Horsepower: 278 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 265 @ 4,600 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Curb weight: 2,114 kg (4,661 lbs)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 12.2L/100km (19 mpg)