For about the first decade or so of this century, the Toyota Tacoma enjoyed a stranglehold on the small truck market. It held its own by being rugged, simple, and reliable in a way that its competitors of the day simply couldn't match. But those mid-aughts were a different time, an era where the mid-size truck market had been neglected. That's no longer the case: in a rare moment of sensibility, both buyers and manufacturers seem to have recently rediscovered the merits of the humble mid-size pickup truck. Only a couple years ago, General Motors introduced their wholly-modernized GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado, and now Ford is reintroducing the Ranger, another little trucklet that is sure to entice the small-truck faithful. While the traits that made the Taco a legend still seem to persist in the 2019 Toyota Tacoma, the caliber of the latest competitors mean the aging model will no longer be the de facto small-truck champion it once was.

Best Value

The beauty of a small truck lies in its versatility – a pint-sized carryall is more suitable to being both a daily-driver and a light-duty Home Depot runner than a lumbering full-sizer. The Tacoma expands upon this idea of versatility by being offered in no less than six trims and two cab styles, bed lengths, and powertrains.

We'd walk away from this veritable buffet of choice with a TRD Sport model equipped with four-wheel-drive and the four-seater Access Cab that comes paired with the six-foot bed. The TRD Sport is a definite step up from the base trims both in powertrain as well as content, yet doesn't come saddled with the hefty sticker prices worn by the Limited or the TRD Pro. And while the crew cab (Double Cab in Toyota-speak) is unarguably a practical people-hauler, the smaller four-seater Access Cab and it's mandatory six-foot bed make for a better truck when it comes to doing genuine truck-things. All told, here's our cooked-to-order Taco:

  • Model: 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6
  • Output: 278 hp / 265 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • Drivetrain: Four-wheel drive
  • MPG:17 City / 21 Hwy
  • Options: None
  • Base Price:$35,265 (including the $1,045 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$35,265

Performance

Toyota Tacoma

Tacomas are offered in two different levels of oomph: the base 2.7-liter four-cylinder and a stronger and smooth 3.5-liter V6. It's no coincidence that most Tacomas use the latter mill – it's vastly superior to the bargain-bin four that powers the lower-trim trucks. With only 159 horsepower, the four-cylinder simply doesn't have the strength to lug around two tons of pickup truck. The result is a coarse and unrefined experience. Making matters worse is the lack of a manual transmission; the six-speed automatic is too eager to upshift and ergo exacerbates the dearth of power.

Though the 3.5-liter V6 isn't a rocket ship by any means, it's noticeably quicker and smoother than the base engine. It manages to put 278 hp and 262 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to motivate the Tacoma with ease even when it's brushing up against it's maximum 6,800-pound tow rating and 1,620 payload rating. Like the four-cylinder, the V6 comes in either body style, and unlike the other engine it can be paired up with either the six-speed automatic or six-speed manual. Fuel economy for the V6 is highest when it's in a two-wheel-drive Access Cab with an automatic, as that combo returns an EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway, and 21 combined. The four-cylinder built to the same specifications would return a very-similar 20/23/21 mpg (city/highway/combined).

Out on the road, the Tacoma won't let you forget it's a truck. The ride on most models is firm and harsh; highway expansion joints and the like are felt in full every time, whether or not the bed is loaded or empty. On TRD Pro models, standard Fox shocks make for an even firmer on-road ride due to being focused for off-road hijinks.

Style

No matter how good or bad a truck's stat sheet is, it's ultimately the style that'll determine whether it sinks or swims. In that regard, the Tacoma's doing alright. It's butch and aggressive without looking too much like a Tonka truck or any of its competitors. We're especially enamored with the duds of the TRD Pro, which includes a retro-themed grille spelling out the Toyota name in block letters. Call it kitschy, but we like it. Regardless of trim, the front fascia is a favorite angle of ours, as it's aggressive and purposeful but not so bold as to be overwrought. Out back is typical pickup truck fare, nothing to write home about but certainly nothing to call out, either. Overall, it's a cohesive design that blends current trends with just enough heritage to ensure that no one's confused over what this truck's country of origin might be.

Inside, the interior is upright and rather spartan, which is fitting for what's intended to be a workhorse. Materials are all of good quality and placement of switches and controls is ergonomically pleasing. Oddly enough, the seats have no height adjustment and front occupants sit with a legs-out position. The result is an almost sports-car feel, which might be rather disconcerting when you're trying to wheel around a pickup truck. A lack of head room front and rear is especially noticeable in the Double Cab's cramped rear seats.

Impressively, the Tacoma comes standard with Toyota's suite of active safety features, which includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning. This is nothing to sneeze at, as most competitors don't even offer this level of safety gadgets in their mid-size trucks. Higher trim models also offer blind-spot monitoring as well.

The Best and Worst Things

The Tacoma's robust V6, standard suite of active safety features, and distinctively butch styling keep it a strong contender in the mid-size truck segment.

It's not all roses and lollipops, though. The Tacoma suffers from a rough, truckish ride, and it's also saddled with a tight interior that's lacking basic amenities like driver's seat height adjustment and smartphone compatibility.

Right For? Wrong For?

Toyota Tacoma

The suburban handyman who needs an around-town truck for a myriad of DIY projects would be happy in the proven and tidily-sized Tacoma. Big and tall drivers, though, won't be comfortable in the tight quarters of the Tacoma's cabin, and, as such, should look elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

It wasn't so long ago that the Tacoma was the king of the tiny mid-sizr truck hill. Since then, though, there's been significant upheaval in the market. It's not that the Tacoma has retrogressed; the problem is merely that it's stagnated in a fast-changing segment, one where wholly modern domestic small trucks are reigniting the fire of competition. That the 2019 Toyota Tacoma isn't the best out there doesn't speak to the fallacies of Toyota's popular truck – it only underscores the recent improvement of the competing products and the market in general.