EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 23, 2012

Small Toyota Tacoma gains larger role

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — My first reaction to the Toyota Tacoma pickup was, now here’s a tidy, manageable truck that can still do a lot of work for me.

The “tidy” side of that assessment relates to Tacoma’s size. Starting at a list price just over $18,000 and ranging close to $29,000 on the high end, the Tacoma is a compact pickup truck. That separates it from the more common, full-size pickups. Full-size pickups are really quite large. They’re the work trucks you see barreling between lawn-service jobs pulling long, landscaping trailers, or, in a few months, pushing snow plows.

Compact pickups like Tacoma step down in size. Therefore they avoid the challenges attached to a full-size model, which get more difficult to maneuver due to their weight and bulky dimensions.

Compacts are more economical, too. A standard Tacoma with rear-wheel drive and a gutsy four-cylinder engine comes with a fuel-economy rating of 21 miles per gallon in city driving, 25 mpg on the highway. If you switch from manual to automatic transmission, Tacoma’s fuel-use estimate drops to 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. But that’s still well above its full-size sibling, the Toyota Tundra pickup truck, which starts at 16 mpg city, 20 mpg highway in its basic, rear-drive configuration.

But while it’s easier to drive and easier on the ol’ billfold, the Toyota Tacoma is still a truck to its core. It rides on a sturdy, rigid frame designed to bear heavy loads. Four-wheel-drive and the Pre-Runner rear-drive versions sit on high-mount suspensions that increase ground clearance and let Tacoma approach steeper grades than light-duty vehicles. In the model’s specifications, Toyota publishes a full spectrum of work-load capacities the truck handles, depending on how it’s configured, from payload weights that its back can bear to towing maximums for trailers – which range up to 6,500 pounds for models appropriately equipped.

Another indicator comes from the two engines available in Tacoma – a 236-horsepower, 4.0-liter V6 in addition to the four cylinder. Both are calibrated for serious work, maximizing torque output, which is a measure of a vehicle’s pulling power.

Finally, as if to add more evidence that Tacoma is ready for action, the truck is styled with the hallmarks of rugged, construction-lot design. They include its broad horizontal hood and roof, square-shouldered doors, big cut-outs and brawny flares around the wheels, and the gaping vertical grille above a stout bumper.

Toyota offers three cab configurations – like full-size pickup trucks – to suit Tacoma to a wide span of transport needs. They start with a basic two-door cab with seating for three. The Access-Cab features wide-opening half doors in back that offer easy entry to two flip-down jump seats. The Double Cab comes with four doors and a regular back seat.

Although some commercial, business-truck users buy Tacomas, the model’s combination of serious capabilities and moderate size draws more consumers who use it for personal hauling, said Zack Mangold, sales manager at Rockingham Toyota Scion Honda, Salem, N.H. They value its day-to-day manageability, along with its at-the-ready work ethic.

“We have new drivers who are 18 years old buying this truck, all the way up to people in their 70s,” he said. “We can see a family man buy a model with the full four doors, or we can see the Access Cab going to someone who doesn’t need a full-time back seat. We can have workers using it for their jobs, and we can have a businessman who wants a pickup for weekend yard work and dump runs.”

At Rockingham, the most popular configuration is the Access Cab outfitted with the TRD Off-Road Package, Mangold said. That adds dressier, 16-inch alloy wheels, front skid plate and tow hook, and a rugged suspension tuned for off-road use. It includes body details to distinguish the model more, like a chrome frame around the grille and chrome rear bumper, body-colored over-fenders and darkened glass. The package also adds niceties, such as power outside mirrors, remote locking, leather wraps for the driver and a back-up camera that displays in the auto-dimming rear view mirror.

The set-up typically goes to a driver who will use the Tacoma as a work horse on weekends, but as an everyday transporter through the work week, perhaps to commute to a job, Mangold explained.

“You tend to see somebody spend more money on a pickup if it’s going to be a primary vehicle.” he said. “If they’re going to be using it more, they want more.”

The mainstay of Tacoma buyers are drivers who already know the model, the manager said.

“A lot of customers trading into a new Tacoma are coming out of a 1998 to a 2004 model with 150,000 to 200,000 miles on it,” he said. “That’s why they’re coming back. They want the longevity.”

But lately, as gasoline prices march higher, Rockingham Toyota is seeing more people trade full-size pickups for the greater economy of the Tacoma.

“We have a lot of customers trading out of big V8 trucks right now,” Mangold said.

The Tacoma is the top-selling compact pickup in a field that used to have more models. But Ford stopped making its Ranger compact hauler in 2011. The Chevy S-10 small pickup disappeared before that. Now it looks like Toyota’s longevity, keeping Tacoma fit for duty in its tidier body, may yield a full-size pay off .

2013 Toyota Tacoma Vehicle type: 2- and 4-door, 3- and 5-passenger, rear- and four-wheel-drive compact pickup Price range: $18,365 to $28,935 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 2 years/25,000 miles free scheduled maintenance and roadside assistance Base engine: 2.7-liter I4 Power: 159 horsepower at 5,200 rpm; 180 lb.-ft. torque at 3,800 rpm Base transmission: 5-speed manual Fuel economy: 21 mpg city; 25 mpg highway (RWD with manual transmission) Wheelbase: 110 inches Length: 190 inches Width: 72 inches Height: 66 inches Weight: 3,315 pounds Fuel capacity: 21.1 gallons Turning circle: 36.8 ft.