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2021 Toyota Tacoma Review

The Toyota Tacoma continues to be the best-seller among midsize pickup trucks. Even as new or reborn rivals like the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, and Jeep Gladiator present fresh competition, they haven’t been tough enough to overtake this king of the hill.

The Tacoma has achieved its leader status for good reason. It has built its reputation on reliability, durability and lofty resale value. And while the Tacoma is well into its current lifecycle, Toyota has continued to update this midsize pack to keep it more than relevant.

The 2021 Tacoma remains a highly recommendable pickup truck, and one that appeals to a wide variety of buyers. It is offered in over 30 configurations, from a basic 4-cylinder work truck to a V6-packing off-road powerhouse. It even offers a manual transmission that is surprisingly easy to use, and all models include Toyota’s great suite of active safety features.

What’s New?

After newsworthy updates last year that included a power-adjustable driver’s seat (finally!) and standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto/Amazon Alexa integration, only a handful of changes arrive for the 2021 Tacoma. All V6 models now get dual-zone climate control as standard, and two new editions join the party. The Trail Edition is based on SR5 Double Cab models and includes built-in bins in the truck bed, while the Nightshade that’s based on Limited Double Cabs has aggressive, darkened aesthetics. TRD Pro models get a new color: Lunar Rock, which replaces Army Green. See the 2021 Toyota Tacoma models for sale near you

What We Like

  • Legendary durability
  • Ruggedness and off-road readiness
  • Infotainment system is competent, finally
  • Price is reasonable, resale value is tops
  • Accident-avoidance technology comes standard on all trims

What We Don’t

  • Driving position is still a little awkward
  • Towing is a chore with the automatic transmission
  • Exhaust drones in TRD Pro model
  • Cabin is no overachiever

How Much?

$26,150-$46,780 (plus $1,175 destination charge)

Fuel Economy

The Tacoma is offered with two engines, each of which is available with either rear-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive.

The 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine produces 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. It comes only in a 6-speed automatic transmission. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2020 numbers, the 4-cylinder gets 20 miles per gallon in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and 21 mpg in combined driving with RWD. 4WD lowers those numbers by 1 mpg.

The V6-powered Tacoma gets virtually the same fuel economy and is more recommendable anyway. This 3.5-liter engine produces 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque and can be paired with a 6-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual transmission. (The manual is only available on Tacomas equipped with 4-wheel drive.) Fuel economy differs based on drivetrain, transmission, and body style. Tacomas equipped with RWD and an automatic transmission get 19 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined. The 4WD Double Cab and TRD Pro get 17 mpg city/20 mpg hwy/18 mpg combined. Opting for the manual yields only a moderate improvement.

When properly equipped, the Tacoma is rated to tow up to 6,800 pounds. That said, we’ve used a current-generation Tacoma to pull a small camping trailer weighing less than half of the max load and found the whole experience to be rather unpleasant. We place most of the blame on the automatic transmission, which wanted to sit in third gear at high RPM just to do 70 mph on the highway. If you’re planning on doing a lot of towing, you might want to look elsewhere.

Standard Features & Options

The Toyota Tacoma is offered in six main trims: SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, Limited, and TRD Pro. Most models are offered in what Toyota refers to as Access Cab and Double Cab variants (these are more commonly known as extended and crew cabs, respectively), though the Limited and TRD Pro are only offered as a Double Cab. Access Cab models seat four passengers total, while the Double Cab is better suited for passengers with its five seats and roomier rear cabin. Toyota also offers the Tacoma in two bed lengths. Access Cab models come with a six-foot bed, while Double Cabs come with a 5-foot bed, although a 6-foot bed is optional on lower trims. Note these starting prices for each trim are before the $1,175 destination fee.

The base-level SR trim ($26,150) comes standard with 16-in steel wheels, power accessories, a composite bed that doesn’t require a bed liner, bed tie-down points, air conditioning, a rearview camera, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a GoPro mount, three USB ports and a 7-in touchscreen interface. The SR comes standard with the 4-cylinder engine but can be upgraded to the V6.

One step up from the base trim is the SR5 ($27,940), which adds a more refined exterior trim, rear tinted windows, a power driver’s seat, keyless entry, fog lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with phone and audio controls, satellite radio and an 8-in infotainment system.

The new Trail Edition ($34,005) is based on SR5 Double Cab models and features 16-in TRD off-road wheels with Kevlar all-terrain tires, lockable bed bins (one of which also acts as a cooler with drain plugs), 120-volt bed-mounted power outlet, blacked-out badging and black seating with tan stitching.

The TRD Sport trim ($33,060) offers increased curb appeal and improved road experience. The Tacoma TRD Sport boasts standard V6, an on-road-oriented sport suspension, proximity entry and push-button start, dual-zone climate control, LED daytime running lights, 17-in alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, an auto-dimming mirror, and a wireless phone charger. Crew cabs include a power rear window. TRD Sport models also come standard with the V6.

The Tacoma Limited ($38,905) is only offered in the Double Cab and prioritizes comfort-oriented features, adding 18-in alloy wheels, leather upholstery, heated front seats, rear parking sensors, a power sunroof, blind spot monitoring and a rear cross-traffic warning system, all as standard.

The new Nightshade Edition ($39,905) is based on the Limited and adds smoked-out wheels, darkened chrome grille, black exhaust tip and other blacked-out aesthetics

The choice for outdoor enthusiasts is the Tacoma TRD Off-Road trim ($34,315), which boasts 16-in wheels, mild all-terrain tires, a Bilstein off-road suspension, skid plates, the deletion of the front air dam for a better approach angle, a locking rear differential, Toyota’s Crawl Control and Multi-Terrain Select systems and some unique styling elements. While the TRD Off-Road is cheaper than the Limited, it’s arguably a much better value — it tops out at around $45,000 with the addition of the TRD Premium Off-Road package, which gets you almost all of the good stuff offered on the Limited.

The TRD Pro ($44,075) is only available with the double cab and 5-foot bed, and it builds off of the TRD Off-Road trim by adding upgraded Fox-branded shock absorbers that give the vehicle a 1-in lift, a TRD cat-back exhaust, Rigid Industries-branded fog lights, a hood scoop, leather seats, all-terrain tires, unique wheels, and a few other aesthetic filigrees. A JBL audio system is included as long — as you opt for the automatic transmission. Toyota often advertises the TRD Pro with a snorkel-style air intake, but this is an accessory that can be purchased from your dealer and installed on any Tacoma, not just the TRD Pro.

When it comes to options, many lower-end Tacomas offer equipment that comes standard on higher trim levels as an upgrade, such as power moonroof, V6 engine, premium JBL audio system, and blind-spot monitoring.

All new Toyotas come with Toyota Care, which covers 2 years/25,000 miles of complimentary maintenance and roadside assistance.

Safety

Every 2021 Tacoma comes with Toyota Safety Sense P, a suite that bundles forward-collision warning and pedestrian detection with automatic emergency braking, radar cruise control, lane-departure warning, and automatic high beams. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems are optional on the TRD Sport and the TRD Off-Road trims and standard on the Limited and the TRD Pro.

Every truck also comes standard with anti-lock brakes, stability control, side-curtain airbags, driver- and passenger knee airbags, and a rearview camera.

In crash testing conducted by the third-party Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Tacoma earned a score of Good in most major categories, which is as good as or better than the competition. In the government testing by NHTSA, it earned four stars, similar to the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon, and Nissan Frontier.

Behind the Wheel

When running errands around town or covering long distances on the highway, the Tacoma can feel a bit more rough-and-tumble than its rivals from General Motors and the Honda Ridgeline. The Tacoma’s ride is a bit bouncier and its driving position is still a bit odd, as the default seat height has you sitting pretty low to the floor. Thankfully the now-adjustable driver’s seat largely can rectify this. The back seat isn’t much better, even in the crew cab.

But while the Tacoma isn’t the most refined midsize truck on sale today, it’s arguably the most fun. It feels like the smaller, more agile truck that it is. Its steering is comparatively responsive and it feels playfully tossable, especially in the dirt. The Tacoma is a great choice for off-roading and offers two trim levels, the TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro, tuned for that specific purpose. Note that the cat-back exhaust in the TRD Pro model tends to drone.

As for the powertrains, the 4-cylinder engine is merely adequate. Most drivers will likely skip it and go straight for the V6 — which is a good move, as it boasts far more power and nearly the same fuel economy as the 4-cylinder.

Other Cars to Consider

2020 Jeep Gladiator — While it’s based on the rough and rugged Wrangler, the Gladiator is the most modern midsize pickup on sale today in a number of areas. It offers a great infotainment system, a surprisingly nice interior, and a lot of fun features. The roof and doors come off, too. That said, the Gladiator is still considerably more expensive than the Tacoma, the drive is harsher and the bed is only offered in 5-foot length. A diesel variant arrives for 2021.

2020 Ford Ranger — The Ranger offers arguably the best powertrain in the midsize pickup segment, not to mention a competent array of active safety features and a great infotainment system. But we found its suspension harsh, especially in SuperCab models.

2021 Chevrolet Colorado — The Colorado and the GMC Canyon, its mechanical twin, are overshadowed by the new Gladiator and the new Ranger, and they don’t have as much character as the Tacoma. Their interiors are subpar and, overall, it feels like GM kind of mailed it in with these two. The off-road-oriented Colorado ZR2 is a bright spot in the lineup though, and these GM siblings stand out for their available diesel engine.

2020 Honda Ridgeline — When it comes to midsize trucks, think of the unibody Ridgeline, which is based on the Honda Pilot, as the Tacoma’s polar opposite. It’s every bit as comfortable, refined and versatile as the Tacoma is rough, rugged and single-minded. If you aren’t 100% sold on owning a pickup, the Ridgeline might be the one for you.

Used Toyota Tacoma — The Tacoma has been around a long time, and this current model is several years into its generation. That means you can get a simila

r Tacoma used to save some money. Bargains can be elusive, however, as the Tacoma has tremendous resale value.

Questions You May Ask

How much can a 2021 Toyota Tacoma tow?

Depending on the engine under the hood, the Tacoma can tow up to 6,800 pounds. That’s impressive, but a bit less than the Jeep Gladiator, Chevrolet Colorado and Ford Ranger.

Is the 2021 Toyota Tacoma 2- or 4-wheel drive?

The 2021 Toyota Tacoma comes in both 2- and 4-wheel drive (2WD, 4WD). It also comes as an access cab with a 6-foot bed or double cab with a 5-foot bed.

What are the approach, departure and break-over angles on the 2021 Toyota Tacoma?

On the standard SR 4WD model you’re looking at 29.0/23.5/21.0; for the TRD Off-Road, 32.0/23.5/21.0

Where is the 2021 Toyota Tacoma made?

The Toyota Tacoma is made at two factories: One is in San Antonio, Texas, and the other is in Baja California, Mexico.

Autotrader’s Advice

If you have no intention of getting your truck dirty, there are better options out there than the Tacoma. (If this is you, check out the Ranger or, even more road-comfortable Ridgeline). If you do plan on going off-road, though, the 2021 Toyota Tacoma is a great option, and we think the TRD Off-Road trim offers the best overall value by accentuating the Tacoma’s best attributes. The TRD Off-Road comes with virtually every off-road feature available in the Tacoma’s toolbox without the styling and feature frivolities of the pricier TRD Pro. Find a Toyota Tacoma for sale

 

Matt Degen
Matt Degen is an author specializing in interesting news and features about cars. Matt is a longtime lover of both cars and news, as well as the latest technology. He was the past automotive editor of The Orange County Register newspaper and a former board member of the Motor Press Guild, the nation’s largest automotive media association. He holds degrees in Communications and Culinary Arts.... Read More

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