More doors, more grille, and more monochrome paint.

by John Pearley Huffman

Toyota's compact pickups are easy to take for granted. Owners seem to think they can carry absurd loads and continue running without regular maintenance so they load them up like semis and drive them until the crankcase oil turns to taffy. Toyota dealers seem to look upon them as an annuity, regularly selling well with minimal promotion and zero effort. And since they haven't changed much since the introduction of the latest generation and its Tacoma name in 1995, there's rarely much news for the press to get excited about.

For 2001 however, there's something new in Tacomaville, with updating throughout the line, and the addition of four-door Double Cab and S-Runner street performance models. Next year we'll be back ignoring the Tacoma again, no doubt.

Light updates

Aggression seems to sell in the compact truck market, so Toyota has given all Tacomas a new higher nose for 2001 that, they say, "capitalizes on the Tacoma 4x4's strong image." The new grille's slightly trapezoidal shape and thick vertical bars may well evoke that heritage, but it also looks sort of like the grille on the '53 Buick Special. The Buick, however, didn't have new multi-reflector headlamps and could only dare dream of "jeweled" taillamps like the Tacoma.

Also updated is the Tacoma's interior, which gets rotary ventilation controls in place of the archaic sliders that had been used, new door trim and upholstery and a new four-spoke steering wheel. And mainstream SR5 and upmarket Limited models now get white-faced gauges with orange illumination. Nothing earth-shattering - nothing like the '53 Buick - but a definite improvement over 2000.

Regular cab Tacomas continue to ride on a 103.3-inch wheelbase while the extended XtraCab models put 121.9 inches between their axles. Both have a 74.5-inch long bed that's 57.9 inches wide when it's fleet-sided and 49.6 inches across when done up as the new-in-2000 StepSide. Whether 4x2 or 4x4, the front suspension is double wishbones with coil springs, the rear suspension a solid axle on leaf springs and the steering rack-and-pinion. ABS remains optional across the line on the front disc and rear drum brakes.

Mechanically, the Tacoma is strictly carryover with base two-wheel drive models getting power from a 142-horsepower, 2.4-liter, DOHC, 16-valve four. The 4x4s and the looks-like-a-4x4 PreRunner get a 150-horsepower, 2.7-liter version of that engine with the excellent 190-horsepower V-6 topping the range. All engines are available with either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions and the 4x4s get a manually-engaged dual-range transfer case.

The Tacoma also remains a North America exclusive (Toyota sells the somewhat different Hilux pickup in the rest of the world), and all versions of it are assembled only at the NUMMI facility in Fremont, Calif.

Is life better with four doors?

Suddenly it seems the whole world is selling trucks with cabs that have four forward-hinging doors. Toyota's Double Cab joins Nissan's Frontier and Dodge's Dakota four-doors at just about the same time as GM introduces four-door versions of GMC Sonoma and Chevy S-10. Suddenly a market segment that didn't exist at all in 1999 looks very crowded in 2001.

Sitting on the same 121.9-inch wheelbase as the Tacoma XtraCab, the Double Cab's extra cab length comes at the expense of bed length which shrinks 13.0 inches to 61.5 inches. However, that bed is substantially larger than the Nissan Crew Cab, which has a 116.1-inch wheelbase and a 56.3-inch bed length. And while the Toyota's bed is more than five inches longer than the Nissan's, the truck is only 2.3 inches longer overall.

The Double Cab cab itself is hardly surprising; it's an XtraCab with more rear room, a real bench seat instead of jump seats, and easier access to that bench. Again the comparison to the Nissan is natural and first impression is that the Toyota's rear seat has a more comfortable back rest angle and more useable room. Nissan claims 30.7 inches of rear legroom for its Frontier Crew Cab while Toyota asserts there's a full 33.8 inches of leg space in their Tacoma Double Cab. In rear quarters as intimate as these two, that 3.1-inch advantage feels huge.

In head, shoulder and hip room, the two trucks are within fractions of an inch of one another. For the larger Dakota Quad Cab, Dodge claims 36.0-inches of rear legroom and substantially greater hip and shoulder room (though slightly less rear headroom). Adults wouldn't be very comfortable in any of these trucks' rear quarters for a long trip, but if the kids complain about being sentenced to the Tacoma's back bench, tell them to go find another family.

Toyota will sell the Double Cab as a two-wheel drive with either the 2.7-liter four or 3.4-liter V-6 in its nose, or as a four-wheel drive powered only by the V-6 in either SR5 or Limited trim levels. The DoubleCab chassis is tuned for the heft of the four-door body, but is otherwise unchanged from regular Tacoma-spec. Standard is P225/75R15 tires on 15x7-inch steel wheels, while P265/70R16s on 16x7-inch alloys are optional or as part of the available PreRunner 4x2 and TRD 4x4 packages. According to Toyota's preliminary specifications the Double Cab should weigh in between 120 and 150 pounds heavier than the XtraCab, which should have some minimal impact on performance and fuel economy ratings.

If anything, the Double Cab feels even more substantial than its brother XtraCab. On the pre-production vehicles made available for driving, the Double Cab doors closed with typical Toyota precision and were rattle-free. The seats in all Tacomas have always felt is if they sit closer to the floor than in other trucks, and that feeling continues in the Dual Cab. But it's a sensation to which one becomes acclimated rapidly. Not surprisingly, considering that it rides on the same wheelbase, the Double Cab's ride and handling are indistinguishable from the XtraCab and in the thin air of Montana's mountains no difference in performance between the two was immediately apparent.

Is the Double Cab innovative? No, not really. But as is expected from Toyota, it's a thoroughly developed product that meets or exceeds reasonable expectations.

Streets of Tacoma

While the Double Cab is obviously the most substantial addition to the Tacoma range, the new S-Runner also pushes the line into a new arena: street performance. Available only as a 4x2 XtraCab (either regular or StepSide bed) powered by the 190-horsepower, 3.4-liter, DOHC, 24-valve V-6 backed by a five-speed manual transmission, the S-Runner hunkers down on a one-inch lower suspension, is monochromatically finished in either Black Sand Pearl or Radiant Red paint and gets a tuned exhaust with a chrome tip.

While there's no reason the S-Runner should be quicker than any other V-6-powered 4x2 Tacoma, it definitely handles better. Besides the already mentioned lowering, the S-Runner benefits from stiffer springs, 1.1-inch diameter front and 0.9-inch diameter rear stabilizer bars and Bridgestone Potenza P235/55R16 all-season radials on 16x6.5-inch alloy wheels. In many ways, including tire size and general type, the S-Runner's suspension changes neatly parallel the justly renowned ZQ8 handling package GM offers on Chevy S-10s and GMC Sonomas.

Except for the leather covered wheel and shift knob, and white-faced instrumentation, the S-Runner's interior doesn't feel particularly racy. Toyota claims the front buckets are "sport seats" but they don't feel much different than those on other Tacomas. But turning the key does bring a nice burble from the exhaust never before heard on a factory Tacoma.

Clutch and shifter effort are more truck-like than sporty, but the engine itself revs with a satisfying eagerness. On curves the S-Runner's steering effort seems a bit greater, but it translates into directional change quickly and the inevitable understeer appears gradually and moderately. But this isn't a vicious machine; the ride remains reasonable, and the tires are quiet and quite capable of handling the inevitable muck and slush of regular commuting.

The lowered suspension cuts the S-Runner's available payload from the normal 4x2 XtraCab's 1749 pounds down to 1373 pounds and the maximum trailer weight drops from 5000 to 3500 pounds. But this isn't really a truck for hauling anything except ass anyhow. And considering its rather svelte 3125-pound curb weigh the lusty nature of the V-6, that's something the S-Runner may well do better than any other compact truck.

Toyota is planning to build just about 5000 S-Runners during 2001 (about two per dealer) and is encouraging the young buyers it expects for the vehicle to consider adding TRD's side skirt and front valance body kit at their dealers. With or without the extra plastic, Toyota should have no trouble selling them.

2001 Toyota Tacoma S-Runner

Base price range: $22,000 (est.)
Engine: 3.4-liter V-6, 190 hp
Transmission: Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Length/width/height: 203.1 in/66.5 in/62.5 in.
Wheelbase: 121.9 in
Curb weight: 3125 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/highway): 18/22 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags
Major standard equipment: Tilt steering wheel, aluminum wheels
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

2001 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab

Base price range: $19,000 (est.)
Engine: 2.7-liter in-line four-cylinder, 150 hp; 3.4-liter V-6, 190 hp
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, rear- or four-wheel drive
Length/width/height: 202.3 in/70.1 in/67.5 in
Wheelbase: 121.9 in
Curb weight: 3430 - 3705 lb
EPA city/highway: 19/22 mpg (four-cyl., two-wheel drive, auto)
17/19 mpg (V-6, four-wheel drive, auto)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags
Major standard equipment: Tilt steering wheel, bucket seats
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

© 2000 The Car Connection

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