We think of pickup trucks as work vehicles. The association is so strong that some people drive pickups just for a working-man image, even though they don’t really need the heavy hauling capacity of the big open box in back.
But the Toyota Tacoma pickup takes a different turn in its approach to trucking. The Tacoma attracts people for its support of adventurous outdoor activities as much as for its workplace prowess.
“It’s designed for off-road. So it’s a great vehicle for weekend warriors, whether they go camping, dirt biking, snowmobiling, or anything like that,” said Ryan Horgan, vice president of Rockingham Motors in Salem, New Hampshire. Rockingham operates the adjacent dealerships Rockingham Toyota and Rockingham Honda on South Broadway.
“They tend to spend a lot of money for accessories, whether it’s racks for the bed, or mud-guards or other off-road equipment,” continued Horgan. “I’ve seen some people go so far as to put snorkels on their Tacomas.”
A vehicle snorkel is an elevated air intake for the engine, so the truck can keep running when it fords deep water.
The Tacoma is known for rugged and sturdy construction. Also, Toyota sells specially equipped models that are optimized for off-road travel. In addition, The Tacoma’s medium size compared to standard American pickups makes it better able to maneuver in wild, wooded confines and to negotiate over out-of-the-way trails.
“When you go off road, it’s an easier truck to handle because it’s smaller. It’s more maneuverable,” explained Horgan.
He noted that the Tacoma pickup is a popular choice for an extreme off-road activity called overlanding. Overlanding is all-day and overnight motor trekking in remote, rugged areas with no paved roads.
“They meet up in northern Maine or Vermont and go off-road for long distances,” Horgan explained. “It’s a whole subculture out there. The Tacoma is a very popular vehicle in their world.”
The homepage of the website for an overlanding enthusiasts’ group named Expedition Overland, at xoverland.com, shows a pair of Tacomas raising spray as they crash in parallel through water. Features inside the website detail how to intricately equip Tacoma pickups from a wide span of years for overlanding.
The Tacoma isn’t exclusively an adventure machine. It also finds fans among more traditional pickup drivers who want a truck for hauling loads – but smaller loads than commonplace, standard-size pickups can handle.
“A lot of people don’t need a full-size truck. They like the size of the Tacoma,” said Horgan. “They can use it for the commute to work, and they still have the versatility of the bed in back, for things like going to the garden store,” he illustrated.
Toyota sells the Tacoma in rear-wheel- and all-wheel-drive variations. The company offers two cab types. The smaller Access Cab fits four, employing an occasional-use back seat. The larger Double Cab accommodates five, due to its full rear seat. Engine choices are a 159-horsepower four-cylinder mated to a six speed automatic transmission, and a more robust, 278-horsepower V6 engine. The six-cylinder motor comes with a choice of either the automatic, or six-speed manual transmission.
Most pickup trucks of any type no longer offer manual transmissions as an option. In the Tacoma, the availability of a manual gear box helps keep the truck connected to a family of followers who want it to retain long-standing abilities that they find appealing.
“The Tacoma has a long history, and it’s always stayed true to itself,” said Horgan of Rockingham. Toyota brought out the first version in 1995, made in the company’s San Antonio, Texas, pickup factory.
“There’s a nostalgia for the truck. And there’s still a die-hard following for the manual transmission. There’s people who look for it,” Horgan said. He estimated that about 25 percent of Tacoma buyers at Rockingham Toyota choose the manual transmission. That’s a high percentage these days when most people don’t even learn how to handle a stick shift.
The Tacoma’s fervent fan base also helps account for the high resale value the truck retains, Horgan noted. On the used-vehicle market, he sees healthy demand for Tacomas that are even 15 and 20 years old.
The middling-sized Toyota pickup starts at a list price of $21,170 for a rear-wheel-drive model. Four-wheel drive adds an additional $3,075.
The variations specially set up for off-road travel are priced in the upper range of the Tacoma line. They’re the TRD versions, with the TRD label referring to “Toyota Racing Development” – although in this case that’s rally racing, which is off-road endurance racing. The TRD grades start at a list price $33,865 for a Tacoma TRD Sport with rear-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive adds $1,975, bringing the list to $35,840.
The TRD grades range as high as $47,785 for a four-whee-drive TRD Pro with five-passenger Double Cab.
That’s the version I evaluated for a week, giving me a taste of some special ways the Tacoma can perform as both an around-town transporter and an in-the-bush adventure seeker.
In Petersham in central Massachusetts, a hiking-trail access lot I parked in wasn’t overly remote. But in this early season its surface was an uneven mixture of water, ice, snow and mud. The exit drive was a significant incline. When I tried to climb it, the back wheels of the Tacoma spun. But of course, I’d left the truck’s drive system set in two-wheel drive, which uses less gas when you ride on pavement. To power away from the trail head, I simply set the dashboard selector switch to four-wheel drive. The Tacoma walked up the slope like it was level land.
Later, when visiting a granddaughter at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, I made a run to a CVS pharmacy with three students and a dog in the Tacoma. The lot was packed, so I circled while the students dashed inside. When I noticed a wide, elevated island separating sections of the lot, I stepped the Tacoma up the eight-inch curb and parked it aslant as it straddled the lot surface and the high median.
The Tacoma was off-road again, and I felt high.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2020 Toyota Tacoma
Vehicle type: 4-door, 4- and 5-passenger, rear- and four-wheel-drive mid-size pickup truck
Price range: $21,170 to $47,785 (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: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 20 mpg city; 23 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 127 inches
Length: 212 inches
Width: 74 inches
Height: 71 inches
Weight: 3,980 pounds
Fuel capacity: 21.1 gallons
Turning circle: 40.6 ft.