Elder statesman still has a few tricks up its sleeve. The Toyota Tacoma saw its last meaningful redesign in 2016. Granted, that’s not too long ago, but it was far from revolutionary. Despite being on the older side, the 2021 Toyota Tacoma still has a few tricks, including impressive off-road capabilities and a look that traditionalists love.
Rugged but approachable exterior, cave-like interior.Toyota is 1-for-2 in pickup truck design, as the Toyota Tundra is a whiff, but the Tacoma is a relative hit. The Tacoma is getting up in age, but it boasts strong body lines, bold wheel arches, an upright grille, and all the yesteryear things that made trucks, well … truck-y.
It’s this no-nonsense design that makes it so appealing to buyers in the world truck design that either screaming in your face or about as rugged as microwaved butter. The Tacoma found that balance in 2016 and is milking it.
Inside, the cabin delivers a quick hat tip to modern times with a standard 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system that boasts Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa. Optionally, buyers can add an 8-inch screen with the same smartphone integration.
Outside of these touches of modern, the rest of the cabin is simple and shows its age. The dash is upright with an all-business look, loads of buttons and knobs to tinker with, and plastics as far as the eye can see. Plus, the low roof line creates a cave-like feeling inside.
These touchscreen options match most of its competitors, except the Ford Ranger. Despite being a few years younger than the Tacoma, its standard 4.2-inch non-touchscreen is a throwback.
Looking for a softer-styled pickup cabin? The Honda Ridgeline is mostly a Honda Pilot on the inside, and you can’t get much softer than that.
Off-road skills, but its big V6 disappoints. The Tacoma’s optional 3.5-liter V6 engine pumps out 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. The power feeds through either a six-speed manual – yup, a real-life DIY gearbox – or an optional six-speed automatic. With its big-boy pants on, the Tacoma can pull a 6,800-pound trailer, beating the Ridgeline by 1,800 pounds.
Inside a bubble, the Tacoma’s V6 sounds powerful, but it falls short of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins’ 308-hp V6, the Jeep Gladiator’s 285-hp V6, and the Ridgeline’s 280-hp V6. Plus, that 6,800-pound towing capacity is 800 to 1,000 pounds less than most competitors.
Let’s not even talk about the standard 159-hp 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine Toyota drops in some Tacoma models.
Despite its relative lack of power in the class, it’s nearly unmatched in off-road capability, especially in the TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro models. The TRD Of-Road makes the great use of the Tacoma’s 9.6 inches of ground clearance with the Multi-Terrain Select system, which allows the driver to choose terrain settings, like loose rocks, sand, or mud, for enhanced traction.
The TRD Pro takes this off-road capability a step further with 2.5-inch FOX off-road shocks, TRD-tuned front springs with a 1-inch lift, TRD-tuned progressive-rate rear leaf springs, a TRD Pro skid plate, and more.
Some Tacoma competitors have their own off-road-ready variants, but none are as capable as the TRD Pro.
Comfortable front seats, but skip the rears. The Tacoma has decent front seats that offer good positioning and plenty of leg support for longer drives. It lacks customization with only 10 adjustments for the driver and four for the passenger as standard.
The rear seats are forgettable, though. In the Access Cab model, you get just 24.6 inches of leg room, which will force even children to contort their bodies. In the Double Cab model, things get a little better at 32.6 inches, but these upright, thin-padded seats are for temporary use only.
The Gladiator’s rear seats are no beacons of comfort, but with 38.3 inches of leg room, adults can at least stretch out a bit. The pinnacle of five-passenger comfort in the midsize pickup segment comes in the Ridgeline, which features 36.7 inches of rear leg room and plenty of padding and support in the rear seats.
The Tacoma is a rarity with its standard automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. This safety gear is offset a bit by its iffy four-star NHTSA safety rating. The IIHS hasn’t tested the Tacoma yet.
Every Tacoma competitor not bearing a Honda badge lacks standard safety tech, giving it a distinct advantage. The Ridgeline, however, puts the Tacoma in its place with standard automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitoring.
Final thoughts. The 2021 Toyota Tacoma is getting a bit grey, but it still has loads to offer as a midsize truck. Sure, it may not tow like the Colorado or Gladiator, but it’s competent at tugging a trailer and makes up for its shortcomings with off-road chops and rugged design that’s aged well.
Buyers who need more people-hauling abilities can look to the Pilot-based Ridgeline and its crossover-like cabin. Want better straight-line performance? The 306-hp Colorado offers that. If you have serious towing to do, the Colorado and Canyon offer a 2.8-liter turbodiesel engine that ups its towing capacity to 7,700 pounds.
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