Pros: Muscular V6; numerous body styles; convenient in-between size; sporty interior
Cons: Fuel economy isn't great; Entune isn't widely available
What's New: The big news for the Tacoma is a standard 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system across the lineup. Daytime running lights are also standard.
Why should you consider a 2013 Toyota Tacoma? Because perhaps you don't need an enormous truck that could tow your residence off its foundation, that's why.
Sure, those big trucks get all the press with their incredible capabilities, but they also require sacrifices. If you want to squeeze into a tight parking space at the mall, for example, best of luck in the massive Tundra. If you want your truck to feel somewhat maneuverable and nimble on the road, the F-150 will probably leave you cold. In truth, these full-size beasts just aren't designed for the cut-and-slice of congested daily driving.
Fortunately, the Tacoma is. Granted, it's not nearly as compact as it used to be, but its midsize dimensions are still tidy enough to make it a viable urban option. It's even kind of fun to drive. Plus, the newly standard touchscreen interface with Bluetooth and iPod/USB connectivity ensures that no 2013 Tacoma driver will lack for rush hour entertainment.
Don't get us wrong, the Tacoma is still a proper truck. To wit, it'll tow up to 6,500 pounds, haul about 1,500 pounds with the V6 and it's a champ off the beaten path with 4-wheel drive.
But it's also happy to be your errand-running companion and hang out in your apartment's parking garage at night; and that's why, for many current truck-shoppers, the Tacoma just might offer the best of all worlds.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 Toyota Tacoma comes in your choice of three different body styles: regular cab, Access Cab (extended) and Double Cab (crew). The Access has small rear suicide doors, while the Double has four conventional doors.
Depending on what model you're interested in, the Tacoma offers a wide variety of standard equipment and options. Even the entry-level regular cab model comes well-stocked with daytime running lights, a limited-slip differential, air conditioning and a 4-speaker stereo with a 6.1-in touchscreen interface, iPod/USB connectivity and Bluetooth for both phone calls and music steaming.
V6-equipped Tacomas receive standard fog lamps, and the numerous features offered on pricier Tacomas include alloy wheels up to 18 inches in diameter, skidplates for off-road protection, premium JBL audio and Toyota's smartphone-based Entune system (see Technology for details).
In our interior evaluation, we immediately noticed the crisp black-on-white numerals in the gauge cluster, a welcome upgrade from the old orange numerals. The main controls are exceptionally straightforward, and the touchscreen's virtual buttons should generally be operable with gloves on. Most of the materials seem durable enough, though we wonder how long the silver-painted plastic trim will last before it starts to degrade.
The base Tacoma regular cab features a 3-person front bench, but most Tacomas will have front bucket seats. These come in different forms; we'd look for the ones with adjustable driver lumbar support, as long distance driving comfort will improve significantly. Our only other complaint up front is that the seats aren't mounted high as in other trucks and SUVs, so you don't get the full king-of-the-road feeling.
As for rear riders, the Access Cab model's back seat is more of a cargo hold than a passenger compartment; only kids or small adults will fit back there without complaint. The Double Cab Tacoma is a legitimate 2-row vehicle, providing adult-size space when you need it.
The Tacoma comes with one of two bed lengths: 60.3 inches (Double Cab) or 73.5 inches (standard on regular and Access Cab, optional on Double Cab).
You might expect a utilitarian pickup to be thin on technology options, but the Tacoma's out to prove you wrong. That's especially true for 2013, as all Tacoma models now come standard with a touchscreen, iPod/USB connectivity and Bluetooth connectivity for both phone and music. That's pretty special stuff when you're talking about a no-nonsense truck. Fancier models can be equipped with niceties like a subwoofer and a navigation system.
You can also specify Toyota's smartphone-based Entune system, which leverages your phone's data plan to enhance the driving experience with mobile apps like Pandora online music. But check this out: Only certain Double Cab models are eligible for Entune, so the rest of the lineup is out of luck.
Performance & Fuel Economy
Most Tacomas offer a choice of rear- or 4-wheel drive with low-range gearing. The base engine is a 2.7-liter inline-4 rated at 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque, and it comes with either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic. The inline-4 actually provides respectable acceleration off the line because Toyota has tuned it to provide more low-end torque at the expense of high-end power. Fuel economy is surprisingly unimpressive, though -- the maximum is 21 miles per gallon city/25 mpg highway with the rear-wheel-drive manual, while the 4-wheel-drive manual dips to just 18 mpg city/21 mpg hwy.
Still, the 4.0-liter V6, which cranks out 236 hp and 266 lb-ft, is considerably less efficient. It tops out at 17 mpg city/21 mpg highway with rear-wheel drive and the 5-speed automatic, and slides down to 16 mpg city/19 mpg highway with 4-wheel drive and the 6-speed manual. We like the V6's capabilities, though, as it really unlocks the Tacoma's towing and hauling potential. Acceleration is strong too.
The Tacoma comes standard with stability control, active front headrests and front, side and side curtain airbags.
In government crash tests, the Tacoma Double Cab received an overall score of four stars out of five, including three stars for frontal impact and five stars for side impact. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Tacoma its highest score of Good in all categories except roof strength, where the Tacoma got a subpar Marginal grade.
The 2013 Toyota Tacoma's driving character is hard to sum up because there are so many different models. We mentioned the low seating position, which makes the midsize Tacoma feel like more of a hulk than it really is, but otherwise the Tacoma feels quite maneuverable from behind the wheel. We found parking to be a relative breeze. The 4-wheel-drive models have a higher center of gravity, so handling suffers a bit. On the other hand, a 4-wheel-drive Tacoma with the special TRD Off-Road Package is a beast in the dirt, while the TRD Sport Package optimizes on-road handling. Suffice it to say that if you want a midsize truck, there's likely a Tacoma variant that drives to your liking.
Other Cars to Consider
Nissan Frontier: While the Frontier lacks a regular cab option, it otherwise goes toe to toe with the Toyota -- from its 4- and 6-cylinder engines to its extended-cab and crew-cab configurations. By the way, the Tacoma and Frontier are really the only midsize trucks in town at this point. A new Chevrolet Colorado is in the works, though, perhaps debuting as a 2015 model.
The beauty of the Tacoma is that Toyota makes one for practically every purpose, but we'd love to have the TRD Off-Road Package for ours. Like Marty McFly in "Back to the Future," we just think there's something cool about a tough, trail-ready Toyota pickup.