Back when I was a kid, some neighbors went down to the local Chevy (or Ford, etc.) dealer every Septemberto pick out the latest model from their favorite car maker. Things have changed since those days, though: for one, you have to read a car's VIN to tell model years apart; for another, most modern cars last much longer than the chrome-happy behemoths of my youth. We sold off a Honda CR-V not long ago when it was a mere nine years old!
All good things must come to pass, so a few months back we parted with an old friend. We traded in our 1999 Toyota Tacoma truck for essentially the same model in a 2013 Toyota Tacoma: an SR5 Extended Cab V6 Manual 4WD pickup. This is our third like it. The first, an '88 Toyota Pickup (they weren't Tacomas in those days) still sits in the driveway. Maybe some things don't change after all.
For 2013, Toyota sells four Tacoma styles: regular cab, Access Cab, double cab, and double cab/long bed. Regular and Access Cabs have six-foot beds, the double cab has a five-foot bed or an optional six-foot bed that's only available on PreRunner models. Drive trains are available in 2WD or 4WD, married to either a 2.7-liter inline four (159 hp) or a 4-liter V6 (236 hp). There's no V8. Five- and six-speed manual transmissions and four- and five-speed automatic transmissions are available with the different engines. Access cabs and double cabs are available in a PreRunner model, which has the clearance of a 4WD in a 2WD format. The regular cab is sold in an X-Runner package, a 2WD with the V6 and 6-speed manual.
Option packages include the SR5 with keyless entry, variable wipers, power mirrors, cruise control and the like; and a .towing package with a class II hitch, heavy-duty battery, and oil and transmission coolers. The TRD package offers special off-road suspension, beefed-up wheels, locking rear differential, and sport seats. Toyota's website has extensive lists of options, which are subject to change.
We began our search over the summer, looking for a 2012 model with the same configuration as our '99. SInce the local distributor doesn't order that configuration, we special-ordered a 2013 model and took delivery in September 2012. Ours has the SR5 package, which includes power windows/mirrors, intermittent wipers, cruise control, tinted glass, sliding rear window, an integrated backup camera, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a bluetooth-ready sound system. We also bought a factory-installed hitch.
Access Cab models have rear-hinged "suicide" doors for rear-seat access; a design change that makes it easier to add aftermarket roof racks like Yakima or Thule than on our '99. There are jump seats in the rear, with shoulder belts and LATCH points for child seats; and compartments underneath for the jack and tire-change kit plus a little extra space. Leg room is about 20 inches with the front seats in normal driving position. We just let the dogs ride back there.
Front bucket seats are comfy and supportive, providing good lateral support and with adjustable lumbar support on the driver's side. Besides a large glove compartment, there's storage in a console between the seats. There's plenty of room for electronics and other stuff you want out of sight, though neither glove box nor console locks. Front-seat passengers get three cupholders in the center while two are mounted at the back of the console for rear-seat passengers. Storage for bottles and other large items is provided in all four doors. Sunglasses and garage-door opener compartments are in a ceiling console, along with a pair of map lights.
Controls are typical Toyota designs: big knobs and switches that can be manipulated with gloves on. The wipers are on the right side of the steering column as is a stalk-mounted cruise-control. In our SR5, audio-system and hands-free phone controls are on the steering wheel face. Switches for foglights, clutch-start cancellation, and traction and stability control are mounted to the left on the dash. Window controls, door locks, and mirror controls are in the driver-side armrest; the passenger has a window control and door lock switch
The dashboard center stack is dominated by an audio-video display with eleven-inch touch-screen. We skipped both NAV and Sirius XM, but use the backup camera display and the audio controls. Besides bluetooth connections, we can also use AM, FM, a single-disk CD player, a 1.5mm auxiliary jack or a USB port, The USB controls iOs devices with display of titles, etc., while "Auxiliary" just plays MP3. I don't use smartphones as audio players, but they are paired to the Bluetooth system for hands-free calling.
Climate-control knobs are mounted below the AV in a three-knob layout: fan, temperature, selector. A/C and recirculation have individual pushbutton switches. There's neither rear defrost nor front-rear selector in this cab style. A shift-on-the-fly 4WD selector is mounted on the driver side of the stack; it's a three-position rotating switch.
Like most modern vehicles, there's a digital odometer and dual trip odometers; though the selector switch is in a spot on the instrument panel that's rather hard to reach. There's no computer for fuel economy, oil life, etc.; though the auto-dimming mirror does include a thermometer and digital compass.
A walkaround reveals little trim, chrome, or pretty badging; suggesting this is a working vehicle. Fenders are slightly flared and the windshield has a moderate rake. The front end is angular; with a narrow, high-mounted grille above a broad, A-shaped bumper and valance. The front end is divided horizontally by the bumper, with a narrow upper grille and a lower scoop. Combining the steep diagonal margins of the scoop with the small, angular upper grille profile and the upswept headlights gives the front view somewhat of a scowling "Asian" face. Personally, I like some of the older, more rounded front ends better.
The six-foot bed has a standard reinforced composite bed liner and rail caps plus an integrated rail system and four tie-down loops. There are compartments in both sidewalls for small objects. We added a matching cap, making the rail system useless but providing security for the bed. With the tailgate down, the bed is eight feet long, though the gap between wheel wells is less than 42 inches.
The stock 16-inch alloy wheels (15-inch steel on regular cabs) have blackwall all-weather tires. The wheels aren't very attractive, though there are plenty of options for both wheels and tires. Toyota includes a full-sized spare mounted beneath the bed.
The driving enperience has improved from our 1999 model year truck. The 259-hp V6 (266 lb-ft torque at 4000 RPM) is plenty responsive, with good acceleration; and the 6-speed manual transmission shifts smoothly and securely, although first gear feels somewhat like the granny gear on large trucks. At 70 MPH in sixth gear the tach reads slightly over 2500 RPM. He climbs well; rarely begging for a downshift on uphills unless he's slowed for sharp curves. On the topic of of curves, the handling is responsive (considering it's a truck) and secure.
A 41-foot turning circle demands three-point U-turns on most streets, but it's smaller than a half-ton truck like a Ford F150. Braking is steady and secure. Shifting into 4WD is dreamlike, considering my 24 years of needing to climb out and lock the hubs. In 4WD the stock tires aren't great for rocky climbs, but the truck itself is ideal for rough terrain and lousy weather.
At highway speeds the Tacoma offers a reasonably quiet ride. There's minor engine noise, though the powertrain has a rather un-Toyotalike whine. Wind and road noise are both minimal, though my experience suggests that more aggressive tires will increase road noise in a trade-off between offroad surefootedness and a quiet ride.
Fuel Eonomy and Safety
The EPA estimates mileage for this configuration to be 16 city/19 highway. On a fall vacation trip with moderate load, we routinely exceeded 21 MPG on the highway. Around town,our mileage is almost always better than 17 MPG.
The Tacoma has plenty of safety features, including front airbags, side-curtain airbags, active restraint system, active headrest tilt, LATCH points, optional DRLs, optional fog lights, traction control, stability control, and much more.
Other factors to consider are a 3-year, 36,000-mile warranty; and Toyota's program of two years or 25,000 miles of free maintenance and roadside assistance. The stated cargo capacity is 1305 pounds and the towing capacity is 3500 pounds stock (6600 pounds with the tow package); both capacities vary by a few hundred pounds depending on configuration and drivetrain.
Our SR5 Tacoma is nicely appointed and we have had a long history with both brand and model. Over five months and 5000 miles, we've found the truck to be an excellent replacement for the '99 model, meeting our expectations and in some ways exceeding them. The one thing we miss is tilt-out windows for the back; our Labrador is bereft without her own fresh air supply.