Like other areas of the world of trucks, civilization has overtaken the compact pickup class, and Toyota's Tacoma line is one of many proofs. The first Japanese entries in this popular class were small, inexpensive and very, very basic. Datsun/Nissan and Toyota got into the market early; they were later joined by Mazda, Mitsubishi and Isuzu. At about the same time, U.S. manufacturers looked to the Japanese companies as sources for their own mini-pickups. As time passed, the small trucks grew, and increasingly sophisticated buyers began to demand amenities far beyond an AM radio and floor mats. Today, the gap between compact and full-size pickups has narrowed considerably, whether the measure is dimensions or dollars. Perhaps even more important, the gap between pickup truck and passenger car has shrunk as well. A softer ride, easier steering and a full list of car-like interior features is as much part of the new breed's makeup as a sturdy chassis and load-carrying ability. That's one of the reasons pickups have emerged as lifestyle statements; they're far better designed for serving all-around transportation needs than they were a decade ago. Which brings us to Toyota's two year-old Tacoma, a prime example of the trend. Dimensionally, it is less than a foot shorter than the Chevrolet S-Series pickup, and has a larger cargo capacity than the standard-bed S-Series. Equipment-wise, it can match the Chevy almost line-for-line in options and powertrain choices. And it is assembled in the U.S., thus avoiding the import duties imposed on Japanese-sourced pickups. More stylish, roomier, more refined and (potentially) better-equipped than ever, the Tacoma has a great deal to offer. The only drawback is one that's common to most Toyota products, and that's price. Feature for feature, Tacomas tend to cost more than most of their direct competitors. On the other hand, Toyota continues to set enviable quality standards, and its products tend to command high resale values as a direct result. In any case, the Tacoma is a far cry from the early thin-skinned, bare-bones mini-trucks that once wore Toyota badges.