The 2016 Toyota Tacoma Conquers Tough Terrain Like a Champ

Mid-size pickups—so hot right now. While today the segment grows in mainstream popularity on the backs of the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, you’d be surprised to know that the work horse that is the Toyota Tacoma still outsells both of them; 17,000 found new homes in July of this year alone. And that's on a platform that's already 10 years old.

But out with the old, in with the new, says Toyota. For 2016, the Tacoma got a fresh new look along with a new chassis, new engine, and new interior. From roof to tire, Toyota engineers gave the Tacoma a thorough once-over and thrust it into the modern age of mid-size trucks. 

The 2016 Toyota Tacoma Conquers Tough Terrain Like a Champ: First Drive

Ruff and Rugged Evolution not revolution; you've heard us talk about this before. For Toyota designers, it seemed like a natural progression from the previous generation Tacoma, to the one you see here and now. It’s definitely not too soft-looking, and keeps that rugged appeal that enthusiasts enjoy without losing that classic light truck personality. The natural progression gives way to a meaner grille, sharper body lines that really slim down the whole package, and a whole new lineup of wheels and tires capable for both on and off road. RELATED: Check Out the 2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro Series

The 2016 Toyota Tacoma Conquers Tough Terrain Like a Champ: First Drive

Sleek and Stylish From the rugged exterior comes an interior that feels more like a mainstream truck. Where the previous-gen Tacoma was built with a more blue-collar buyer in mind, the interior of the new Tacoma feels well-thought out, equipped with quality materials, Toyota’s new Entune audio system, and even wireless charging capabilities—a first in the segment. Buttons were easy to find and use, especially locking differential and crawl control settings (we'll get to more of that later). The seats were nice; fitted with either leather or cloth depending on the spec, it was a comfortable ride, all the while Toyota engineers reduced wind noise and gave it a more comfortable suspension. Space is surprisingly limited, though. My 6-foot frame didn’t fit as well as it should have in the front seat while trying to leave room for passengers in the rear. And don’t even think about fitting four people comfortably in the extended cab. RELATED: See Photos of the 2016 Toyota HiLux Pickup

The 2016 Toyota Tacoma Conquers Tough Terrain Like a Champ: First Drive

Willing and Able Now let’s talk about the best part: the driving capabilities. The great thing about the new Tacoma—which can also be said about the old—is that when it comes to mid-size trucks, Toyota usually knows what its doing in the off-road department. Naturally, the 2016 Tacoma didn’t disappoint. Opt for the TRD Off-Road package and you get 16-inch wheels wrapped in a set of off-road capable Michelin tires. On a simple backroad, the Tacoma proves to be a sporty little performer, enthusiastically taking on bumps and tossing gravel haphazardly all the while. Not once did it feel like it was struggling to actually be a truck. When you get to the tough stuff, though, that’s when it really shines. Toyota fitted it with a Crawl Control system that—describing it in the best way possible—feels almost like autonomous off roading. Put it in gear best suited to that terrain, simply push the Crawl Control button, set your speed, and the truck does all the work. No gas, no brake—just make sure you steer it in the right direction. That's what's happening in the video below. If that system sounds familiar, it’s because Toyota was one of the first marques to offer it on its lineup of trucks and SUVs. The 2016 Tacoma being the latest. Other features include a hydraulic lift gate, plenty of 12 volt plugs (including one in the bed), a standard GoPro mount, and some nifty storage compartments under the back seat. RELATED: The Toyota Land Cruiser 70 is a Classic Off Roader

The Verdict The 2016 Tacoma really impressed in a segment that’s filled with some pretty impressive vehicles already. With a little bit of wheel play and a bouncy suspension, it may not be perfect on the road. But off the road, the Tacoma outshines all other mid-size trucks. Pricing starts at just $23,300, going all the way up tot $37,820. The TRD Off-Road package—my personal favorite—starts at $30,765, which isn’t bad all things considered. For that cash, you can choose either a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder version that delivers a respectable 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft torque. Or, opt for the new 3.5-liter V6 that grunts out 278 horsepower and 265 lb-ft torque (we'd go with the latter). Expect to see the new Tacoma in dealers starting next month.

The 2016 Toyota Tacoma Conquers Tough Terrain Like a Champ: First Drive

Specs: Engine: 2.7L Inline-4 / 3.5L V6 Horsepower: 159 / 278 Torque: 180 lb-ft / 265 lb-ft Price: $23,300 (base) Positives: Rugged styling Best off-road truck in the segment Loaded with new technology Negatives: Too soft on the road Not all that spacious

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