Toyota makes the Tacoma pickup truck to fit almost any work-related or recreational pursuit, with two- and four-wheel drive models as well as regular, extended and four-door versions. This year, the Tacoma comes in more configurations than ever before.
For 2001, the entire Tacoma line receives an exterior makeover to give it a more aggressive appearance and a few minor interior upgrades.
Toyota loyalists know that the company's trucks have earned a well-deserved reputation for quality and long-term durability. Tacoma fans also know how successful the brand has been in all types of off-road racing events.
The 2001 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 SR5 equipped with the TRD package amazed us on a rough, primitive road near Big Sky, Montana. It felt like it would go anywhere, and get there in a big hurry. The suspension is fantastic, whether going slow or hauling. Bounding at speed over deep ruts failed to upset the handling in medium-speed corners. Predictably, the handling was much better balanced in four-wheel drive than in two-wheel drive.
It rides reasonably well, though it's stiff at low speeds. That stiffness pays off at higher speeds, however. Like all pickups, it's much better with a little weight in the bed. It used to be that a four-wheel-drive truck rode like it was going over the wooden plank road that used to be the only way to cross the Imperial Sand Dunes in the 1920s. The TRD suspension developed by Toyota and its off-road racing teams does a good job of smoothing out rough roads.
On the road, Toyota's Limited 4X4 held corners very well. With its high center of gravity you don't want to try anything too radical, but it really hangs onto the decreasing-radius turns on freeway on-ramps and in other moderate maneuvers.
Autolocking hubs and a 4WD-High button let you shift on the fly at speeds less than 50 mph. The shift-on-the-fly button lets you slip into 4-High when a good road goes bad on you. (However, Toyota still offers manual hubs for drivers who want to be sure it's locked in or locked out of four-wheel drive.)
A sand patch gave us the opportunity to try the push-button locking differential. We purposely stopped in the middle of the pool of sand. Pressing the button locked the rear differential, forcing the rear wheels to turn at the same speed. This enabled the Tacoma to walk out of the ankle-deep sand with absolutely no trouble. The locking rear differential is indispensable for driving in an area prone to mud and snow. At moderate speed over desert moguls the Tacoma suspension keeps the tires on the terrain for good grip without jarring the occupant's internal organs loose.
We've also driven the 2001 S-Runner. We liked its deep-sounding (but not obnoxious) exhaust note and responsive handling. The five-speed manual transmission shifts smoothly and makes the truck more fun to drive. It makes accelerating into traffic a joy. The standard 3.4-liter V6 turns the S-Runner into a sprinter with 190 horsepower. The sport-tuned suspension setup includes Tokico gas shock absorbers, increased-rate springs, and front and rear stabilizer bars. Ride height is reduced by one inch from the standard 4x2. Though a little jouncy when empty, the ride never felt harsh, and handling was superb. As long as the weather doesn't get too slippery, the S-Runner is as entertaining as anything we've recently driven. It is so much fun that we kept searching for reasons to go for a spin. And for a tick under $18,000, it's a bargain.
We also used an S-Runner to move some furniture from Maryland to Virginia and, like all pickups, it rode better when loaded down. The lower ride height of the S-Runner is a real benefit when it's time to do some work. The bed height of the S-Runner measured 28 inches by our tape measure, a full 3.5 inches lower than a Ford Ranger 4x4 we had at the same time, and that makes a big difference when loading and unloading heavy objects.
Toyota's 3.4-liter V6 is also a good match for the optional four-speed electronically controlled transmission. This combination offers good acceleration performance for passing slow-moving semi trucks on two-lane stretches of highway.
The V6 is available for 4x2 and 4x4 models. It delivers 190 horsepower with 220 foot-pounds of torque at 3600 rpm. Even at that it's still reasonably economical with an EPA city/highway mileage rating of 18/21 on a 4x2 with a 5-speed manual.
Two four-cylinder engines are also available. The base Tacoma 4x2 uses a 142-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which compares well with competing for-cylinder models from Nissan, Ford and Mazda.
There are bigger trucks on the market (including Toyota's full-sized, V8-powered Tundra), and there are more powerful trucks. But there are few 4x4 pickups that offer the combination of style, comfort, and rugged performance you find in the Tacoma Xtracab 4X4 Limited. The newly available Double Cab further diversifies the Tacoma lineup. Plus, cruising down your favorite with the S-Runner will never fail to brighten your day. Overall, the Tacoma is an impressive package.