So you’re in the market for a new-to-you 1st gen Tacoma; arguably the most bulletproof Tacoma that Toyota has engineered – but why is it so bulletproof? Well, a lot of it has to do with the engines: the baseline 2.4L 2RZ-FE I4, the mid-range 2.7L 3RZ-FE I4, and the big boy, the 3.4L 5VZ-FE V6.
Each of these engines has its own advantages over the other, and each option fits each owner’s needs differently.
In this article, we will be diving into everything you need to know about these everlasting, million mile engines such as power, reliability, maintenance, towing/payload capacity, and more.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: performance.
To no surprise, the 2.4L is significantly underpowered compared to the powerful 3.4L V6 (approx. 50hp). However, as stated earlier, each engine will fit each owner’s needs differently. For instance, if your Tacoma will only be used for in-town driving, the 2.4L will be more efficient than the V6.
|2.4L 2RZ-FE I4
|2.7L 3RZ-FE I4
|3.4L 5VZ-FE V6
According to the EPA, the 2001 2WD Automatic 4-speed Tacoma with the 2.4L, 2.7L, and 3.4L gets the following combined gas mileage, respectively: 20 MPG, 18 MPG, and 17 MPG.
While horsepower ratings might not mean the most to a Tacoma owner, torque might. The 2.4L, 2.7L, and 3.4L generated 160 lb/ft, 177 lb/ft, and 220 lb/ft of torque.
With the 2.4L getting the highest gas mileage, this one wins in efficiency, but to no surprise, the 3.4L V6 wins in overall power.
|Combined Gas Mileage (mpg)
|2.4L 2RZ-FE I4
|2.7L 3RZ-FE I4
|3.4L 5VZ-FE V6
When dealing with these engines, problems are few and far between. However, there are a couple that need to be noted:
Timing Belt Failure on 2.7L and 3.4L Engines
Between the three engines, the only one that has a timing chain is the 2.4L, which this problem does not apply to. However, if your Tacoma has the 2.7L or 3.4L, you will need to stay on top of your timing belt maintenance unless you want a dead truck (change every 80k-100k miles).
To replace the timing belt, it will take someone who is mechanically inclined about 1-2 days. While you’re doing this job, you may also want to consider doing the water pump as well, which is only accessible by taking apart the engine to do the timing belt.
Leaking Valve Covers
While this isn’t a tremendous issue to concern yourself with, it is definitely still something you’ll want to keep an eye on as your mileage continues to climb. This can be identified by small oily residue coming out of the valve covers.
This is due to the engine cycling between hot and cold over several startups. At the point of noticing the issue, it isn’t necessary to fix, but can be done relatively easily.
There really isn’t a clear winner in this situation other than maybe the 2.4L with not having a timing belt. Otherwise, I call this one a draw.
Similar to every Toyota ever made, regular maintenance remains at a minimum. Fluid replacement, oil changes every 3-5k miles, and replacing parts when they get worn out are all common things that are necessary to keep your Toyota running.
The 2.4L has an advantage over the 2.7L and 3.4L in regard to timing belt vs timing chain, which in some aspects can make the 2.4L more desirable. However, that comes at the cost of power, and in all reality, you won’t need to do the job all that often unless you find yourself literally driving around the world a few times a year.
As previously stated, you do not want to neglect changing your timing belt. If it were to fail while you’re on the road, you would be caught stranded with potentially no help in sight.
Again, no evident winner. One engine doesn’t require more maintenance over the other, resulting in another draw.
When buying a Tacoma, likely your first thought isn’t anywhere along the lines of towing. However, it is convenient to be able to pull a small trailer if necessary.
Between 1995 and 2001, the 2.4L and 2.7L shared the same capacity of 3500 lbs., whereas the V6 boasted a whopping 5000 lbs.
In the years 2002-04, the capacity didn’t really change besides the V6. Without the tow package, you were able to pull 3500 lbs., and 6000 lbs. with the tow package.
By no means is the 1st gen Tacoma a good choice for towing frequently. The purpose of a mid-size pick-up is to provide the conveniences of a full-size truck on a smaller, less expensive scale.
If you find yourself towing frequently, it would be smart to look into something like a Tundra or Sequoia.
Nevertheless, the winner in this case is the more powerful V6. With more power comes better towing capabilities.
Character and Overall Feel
While this topic may not seem too important, for some buyers this might be what makes it or breaks it.
As many car owners know, the bigger the engine, the more different the sound is going to be. Between the 4-banger 2.4 and 2.7, there isn’t much of a great sound here.
On the contrary the bigger, faster, more powerful 3.4L V6 will have a deeper growl and can have some minor exhaust work done to make it sound perfect. However, you likely won’t want to modify the exhaust systems of your 2.4L or 2.7L unless you want your Tacoma to sound like a weed whacker.
Sound preference is all relevant to the owner. I personally enjoy a deeper sound, so the V6 would have to be my pick.
Amount of Effort Required to Accelerate
Depending on what you’re using your Tacoma for, this may or may not be an issue for you. However, in regard to the “ease of use”, there’s no doubt that the torque and power of the V6 will get you where you want to go faster than the inline 4s. Again though, this will come at the cost of fuel efficiency.
This also feeds into how smooth the truck rides. If we were to compare the 2.4L 4-banger to the 3.4L V6 accelerating to the same exact speed, we would see that the V6 gets up to said speed with much less effort. Therefore, the ride is smoother and quieter.
The clear winner in the category is the V6 – you just can’t beat power.
Rarity and Future Value
As I’m sure you know, many 1st gen Tacomas are still on the road today. The trucks themselves aren’t rare, but will continue to get rarer within the next decade. In today’s world, however, the V6 engines are harder to find than the smaller 2.4L and 2.7L.
People want more power, and since the 3.4L was one of the most bulletproof engines ever put in a Toyota as well as the biggest to go in a 1st gen, owners are less likely to sell.
In regards to future value, the 1st gen with the V6 will always be more sought after than the 4-bangers. Many people modify their Tacomas to take them off-road, and this hobby requires a more powerful engine than not.
However, the V6s found in the 2nd and 3rd gen Tacomas are also very reliable, so at this point in time, there is really no telling. If Toyota were to pull what they did with the 4th gen 4Runner (no longer producing the V8), this would be a whole different story.
Based on the current market, the 3.4L V6 will be the rarest and most valuable.
At the end of the day, you have to choose what engine works best for you. Will you be zipping around town running small errands? The 2.4L is probably your best bet. Do you want the power of a V6 and towing capabilities? The 3.4L sounds just right. What about a middle ground between the two; the best of both worlds, if you will? Fortunately, the 2.7L has your back.
Please note that the data discussed in this article was all relevant to the Tacoma being “stock”, meaning no additional weight (supercharger, tires, wheels, armor, etc.).
With all these engines being incredibly reliable, you really cannot go wrong. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: it all depends on what you use your Tacoma for.
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: