Review: 2011 Toyota Tacoma 4X4 Double Cab
By Roger Boylan
After reviewing two cutting-edge cars of the future one after the other, Toyota’s Plug-In Prius and the Chevy Volt, I got back to basics with a good old pickup truck in the driveway for a week. Actually, it was a good new pickup, so new the dealer’s plastic covers were still on the floor mats and that sickly-sweet plastic-composite “new car” aroma lingered in the air.
My test vehicle was a 2011 Toyota Tacoma 4X4 Double Cab, silver, with shiny 16-in. alloy wheels: elegant but understated. Not overly macho, but far from fey. It’s a really handsome truck. There were barely 2200 miles on the odometer when I got behind the wheel, and about 2700 when I finished. I can honestly say the only miles of the intervening 500+ that I didn’t enjoy were the ones spent jostling over rough terrain as part of the off-road test; but more on that later.
The 2011 Toyota Tacoma is officially denoted a “midsize” pickup, up from the compact status Toyota’s small pickup enjoyed a couple of generations ago, but it’s still a nice size. That the Japanese have a certain genius for miniaturization is obvious from their rice-grain carvings and rock gardens; here’s another example. (Yes, I know the Tacoma’s assembled right here in Texas, but it’s a Japanese truck all the same. Penne alle vonghole prepared in a Brooklyn restaurant is still an Italian dish.) The Tacoma mimics a full-sized truck in everything but actual dimensions. It’s a three-quarters version of its big brother the Tundra (tested here), and in my opinion it’s far better-looking, with better proportions; the Tundra, the longer you look at it, is a bit weird and lumpy, like a giant tadpole.
Not so the Tacoma, which is trim, elegant, and well-proportioned. It comes in three configurations, one more than the average competitor offers: Regular Cab, Access Cab (an extended cab with small clamshell doors), and Double Cab (crew cab with four normal doors). The Regular and Access Cabs boast a 6-foot bed. The Double Cab with a 5-foot bed, like my tester, has a 127.4-inch-wheelbase. For maneuverability’s sake as well as elegance of appearance, this is the one to go for. A 6-foot bed is available as an option, but with a 140.6-inch-wheelbase it transforms the Tacoma into a genuinely big truck, unwieldy in parking lots.
Although you can buy a base Tacoma Regular Cab for $16K or so, most customers head for the Double Cab like mine, which came with four-wheel-drive and a slightly astonishing sticker price of $31,000. Of course, that’s with the Toyota Racing Development package, or TRD (pronounce this abbreviation aloud to understand one reason Toyota’s corporate elite has had occasional problems communicating, over the years). This package includes things like decals emblazoning the flanks with that mellifluous TRD coinage, off-road tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks, a JBL audio system with 6-CD changer, smoked headlamp trim, leather-wrapped shifter and steering wheel, MP3/WMA capability, Bluetooth, satellite radio (but no sat-nav system) and—this is very useful, as I never hesitate to point out—a backup camera linked to the rearview mirror. So: Not cheap by any means, but you do get a good-looking, solid, well-equipped truck with a reputation for sturdiness and reliability. Plus, the 4.0-liter V6 like the one in my test vehicle is a fine engine, familiar to Toyotaphiles from other iterations across the range. In the Tacoma it puts out 236 horses. Now, that doesn’t sound like much in today’s horsepower-mad world, but it’s more than sufficient, and indeed provides the Tacoma with a 0-60 time of very nearly the same as my Jaguar S-Type’s, slightly under 7.5 seconds as timed on my infallible 30-year-old Swiss watch. At the truck’s ride height, there’s less of a feeling of speed than in a low-lying car like my Jag, but a glance at the elegant and simple speedometer under its faux chrome cowling will tell you that Smokey, if he popped up in your rearview, would have you dead to rights.
So this is a fast truck, but it rides serenely and smoothly on most surfaces. On rough roads off the highway, it’s a champ, no surprise there. Just turn the knob on the dashboard to engage the part-time four-wheel-drive system, and hit the trail. I did so, but with the best will in the world I can’t pretend to enjoy crawling along rockfalls with the inevitable head-toss and butt-jolt, although the Tacoma was about as cooperative and docile as any four-wheel-drive I’ve driven. Still, my preference is for the predictable comfort of the main thoroughfare, so if I were shopping for a Tacoma, I’d go for the faux four-by-four looks of the V6-powered PreRunner, which gets slightly better mileage, too: 21 on the highway to the four-by’s still-respectable 20. The optional 4-cylinder engine, with its 159 horses, gets an almost-stellar 19 city and 25 highway, but by eschewing the 6 you’re giving up one of the truck’s best features, so skip it, unless you’re really strapped.
I’ve read complaints in some other reviews about the “sponginess” of the Tacoma’s brakes, and indeed the pedal felt a little softer than it might, but the brakes in mine exhibited no grab or fade and worked fine with repeated applications on both level surfaces and downhill grades. The parking brake is pedal-activated, a decidedly antiquarian touch, but it was easy enough to use and soon became so intuitive that when I got back into my Jag my left foot was idiotically stabbing the empty air where the Tacoma’s parking brake would be. The truck’s steering was accurate and communicative, and conferred an almost sporty feel to its cornering ability on winding roads, especially combined with the V6’s hearty acceleration and the near-seamless shifts of the excellent five-speed automatic transmission. Almost sporty, mind you. It’s still a truck. But it handles the twisties with more aplomb than any other pickup I’ve driven, with the possible exception of the splendid Ford Raptor.
Inside, the Tacoma’s a comfy place to while away the miles. The instrument panel is laid out beneath its hard-plastic binnacle in a simple and logical fashion, with big legible gauges backlit in Halloween orange that Toyota seems to favor for its trucks, and easy-to-use switches. It was all a bit retro compared to the futuristic Volt and Prius I’d been driving, but it suited me fine. The overall comfort level is high throughout the cabin. The front buckets are a bit low, but they’re h to sit in, and anyway, with the truck’s ride height, the lower level of the seats hardly matters. Visibility is excellent all around. Rear seats in the Double Cab are ample, and can accommodate two adults in reasonable comfort. Folding them down is a cinch, and doing so reveals cunningly concealed cubbies and storage spaces for tools, gloves, lunchboxes, and all the other paraphernalia of the working-class hero.
Along with the TRD package already noted, my truck was stuffed with safety wizardry: hill-start assistance control (HAC), downhill assistance control (DAC), stability and traction control, four-wheel ABS (rear drums, though: why, at this price point?), a full array of airbags including seat-mounted side and side-curtain ones, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Included also in my tester’s trim package were a chrome grille and rear bumper, variable-speed wipers, and fog lamps. Oh, and a sliding back window.
In sum, the Tacoma Double Cab is a jack-of-all-trades, or damned near. If you want to haul something wet and dirty, there’s the cargo bed, which includes a 115-volt/400-watt electrical outlet for the tailgating campers among us. If you need to tow a trailer, you can do so, to the tune of 6500 lbs’ dead weight. If you want to take the family for a nice long drive, you have the capacity in the Double Cab to do so in comfort. For just me and the missus, the interior size was perfect. I’ve long wanted another truck; the last one I owned was a ’97 Nissan Hardbody of unsainted memory. But, frankly, the Tacoma V6 Double Cab’s price is a big impediment to me trundling down to my local Toyota dealer, checkbook in hand. In fact, I’d highlight it as the truck’s biggest drawback. But it’s the end of the year and there are still plenty of deals out there, and Christmas is coming for good boys and girls….