While full-size trucks were the cash cows of Detroit through the Nineties, compact truck development went fallow. The Chevy S-10 and GMC Sonoma were crude, the Ford Ranger ancient, Mazda and Isuzu had retreated to selling slightly disguised versions of their domestic partners' products, and Mitsubishi left the game altogether. Even Toyota and Nissan, who had practically created the small truck market back in the Seventies, seemed to have only a half-hearted interest in it then. Only Dodge, with its somewhat oversize Dakota, seemed to take the market seriously. By the turn of the 21st century, the full-size pickups were all pretty good? and the compact pickups were all pretty mediocre.
That has all changed. This year GM replaced the S-10 and Sonoma with the Colorado and Canyon, and for 2005 Dodge is launching a new Dakota, Nissan has what promises to be a vastly better Frontier on the way, and Toyota's new Tacoma is the subject here.
Who knows which of these new trucks will end up setting the standard for the class? But one thing is for sure: the doddering Ford Ranger and Mazda B-Series look more decrepit and sclerotic with every passing introduction.
Tacomas From Tacoma To Walla Walla
As I've made plain before using The Car Connection's bandwidth (and I've been dissedfor it), I'm hardly thrilled that Toyota's planning to swell my nearly full-size Tundra to beyond full-size proportions when their new Texas assembly plant comes on line in the next few years. But the inevitable growth of the Tundra meant that there was room for the smaller Tacoma to inflate its proportions too.
The new Tacoma ("Taco" to its fans) will be offered in 18 different configurations ranging from a 109.4-inch wheelbase, a regular cab 4x2 stripper with a short bed and 2.7-liter four, to a 140.9-inch wheelbase Double Cab 4x4 with a long bed and V-6. In fact at 221.3 inches, that longest 2005 Tacoma is fully three inches longer than a 2005 Tundra Access Cab. The track is also wider by about four inches than the outgoing Taco, so this is no dinky truck.
In fact thisTacoma is more closely related to the Prado platform that underpins the current 4Runnerand Lexus GX470SUVs than it is to the Hi-Lux pickup Toyota sells to the rest of the world. Hey, the rest of the world likes theirpuny pickups- with their miserly diesel engines and hose-it-out plastic interiors- but here in North America pickups are (or at least can be) luxury items and we demand more comfort and power than that.
The Tacoma's all-new chassis takes much of its front suspension design from the Prado, but it's still very much a traditional truck package. A ladder frame defines the structure, there are A-arms up front damped by coil springs and shocks, and hark! Do you hear those thundering hoofbeats of yesteryear-! Yes that's still a good 'ol solid rear axle on leaf springs in back. Hey, leaf springs handle loads well and package efficiently and that's why every new pickup now sold here and every Conestoga wagon our pioneer forefathers used to settle the west is/was so equipped. The Tacoma's brakes are discs in front and drums in the rear controlled by a standard ABS system and actuated using "Brake Assist" and "Electronic Braking Distribution" systems. The steering system is, as it was on the previous Tacoma, by rack-and-pinion.
Toyota's truck styling has traditionally been conservative to a fault with occasional forays into downright hideousness (See: the Stout). In contrast Toyota really has made an attempt to make the new Taco more visually exciting. Some say the new nose looks like Darth Vader's helmet from Star Wars, others strongly contend that it's more like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica. We'll let the geeks fight that one out.
As on the outside, the new inside is much more stylish than before with the instrumentation buried into circular tunnels and the sound and ventilation system controls placed in a new center stack with a metallic look (but it's plastic). Previous Tacomas had plenty of ergonomic challenges, but all the switches are easy to find and use in this one. Plus the seats are well contoured for a truck. The cab is much roomier than the old Tacoma with the big increases obvious in shoulder and hip room and less radical improvements nonetheless noticeable in legroom and headroom. The rear seat in the Double Cab (crew cab) is particularly accommodating - even adults could ride back there in relative comfort for minutes on end.
All Tacomas get a composite plastic bed inside the steel rear fenders. Toyota says the plastic is so tough that a bedliner isn't necessary and the integrated tie-down rail system includes four adjustable cleats. If you really, really, really want to line the bed however, it will accept a spray-in liner. It's a flexible and accommodating bed that's made better by the presence of 115-volt/400-watt power socket integrated into it.
While there will obviously be a market for every type of 2005 Tacoma, the most intriguing new model is the X-Runner. It replaces the S-Runner and, Toyota says its chassis has been tuned with the Nissan 350Z as its target vehicle.
The new X-Runner will come only as an extended "Access Cab" 4x2 powered by Toyota's 245-horsepower, 4.0-liter, DOHC, 24-valve,VVT-i V-6 (which replaces the 3.4-liter V-6 used previously) and backed by a new six-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic will be available in other Tacoma V-6s, but the X-Runner is strictly shift-it-yourself.
An "X-brace" between the frame rails gives the X-Runner its name, and the X-Runner's suspension is an inch lower than that of other Tacoma 4x2s. It's no surprise that it gets stiffer springs, specific shocks, a rear anti-roll bar to go with the front, and special valving on the power assist for the steering too. But the critical performance element is the 255/45R18 Bridgestone Potenza tires on alloy wheels. Toyota claims the X-Runner will sustain later loads in "excess of 0.9 g" on a skidpad while and that the engine will knock off 0-to-60 mph acceleration in under seven seconds.
With its unique ground effects package, big hoodscoop (also used on other Tacomas) and monochromatic paint, the X-Runner is distinctive but hardly obnoxious.
The V-6 has a nice, throaty exhaust sound outside, but from inside that can't be heard at all (though the engine itself makes a bit of a racket). Considering the V-6's relatively large displacement the solid low-end torque production is no shock, but this isn't the kind of engine that zings eagerly to its easygoing (and none too high) 5500 rpm redline. Hey, it's a truck after all, and the six-speed shifts well - there's fun to be had here and accumulating speed is no problem.
The lowered and stiffer suspension succeeds results in flat cornering on the X-Runner and a few harsh jounces going over relatively small pavement divots. The steering feels fine and turn in is immediate, but it could be a little quicker in this high performance context.
Bound To Impress
Considering Toyota's hard-earned reputation for quality, this new truck's expansive appeal, and the likelihood that prices won't move upward much from the 2004 model, the California-built (one factory in Fremont, California and one more in Tijuana, Baja California) Tacoma is the sort of truck I'd recommend to my sister. If it were available with the V-8, I might even tell my brother to buy one.
2005 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner
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