Best 3rd Gen Tacoma Engine: Comparing the 2.7 I4 and 3.5 V6

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Toyota 2GR-FKS 3.5L V6

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Toyota offers dozens of different ways to configure a third generation Tacoma. There are different bed lengths, cab sizes, transmission choices, and trim packages. Truly enough to make your head spin! The most defining feature, though, is what engine you choose to equip. Here there are only two choices: a 2.7 liter inline four cylinder or a 3.5 liter V6. 

To simplify things a bit, the four cylinder is only offered on the lower trim packages of SR and SR5. You can still have it as a double cab or access cab, with or without four-wheel drive. The rarest combination seems to be a manual transmission, 4wd, 2.7. This was only offered on the earlier years of the 3rd gen truck.

Specifications and Technical Info

Known as the 2TR-FE, the 2.7 liter engine (2,693cc to be exact) uses four cylinders and natural aspiration to put out a modest 159 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. This engine is a perfectly square design with the bore matching the stroke, each coming in at 95mm.

2.7L 4-cyl (2TR-FE)3.5L V6 (2GR-FKS)
Horsepower159 hp278 hp
Torque180 ft-lbs265 ft-lbs

In a time when most manufacturers have honed in on 2.0L being the ideal size for a 4 cylinder, seeing one as large as 2.7 liters is rare. The understressed powerplant produces a healthy, but far-from-mind-blowing 180 lb ft at 3,800 rpm, a product of a 10.2:1 compression ratio.

Like any inline four, one of the biggest challenges to making it refined is canceling out the natural vibrations. Toyota does this with twin counter-rotating balance shafts which are gear driven off the crankshaft. A timing chain drives the dual overhead cams, operating 16 valves. These are equipped with VVT-i (variable valve timing with intelligence) for both the intake and exhaust sides.

There’s a trend here of Toyota mixing tried and true designs with new technology. Another example of this is a more traditional fuel injection system: sequential multiport versus the now ubiquitous direct injection systems.

Tacoma 3.5 V6

While direct injection does help squeeze out a bit more power and efficiency, it is also known to cause carbon buildup on intake valves. Buyers who go with the 2.7 engine will appreciate not having to worry about these cleanings down the road. The contrast here to this old-school EFI is the computer controlled opening of the throttle.

They’ve also used a lot of new coatings on the internal components to reduce friction, which is a boon to both fuel economy and long-term wear. 

The “big” engine offered in the third generation truck is the 2GR-FKS. It’s interesting to refer to this as the big one though, since this 3.5 liter is significantly smaller than the 4.0 that played the role during the second generation. Although it’s playing with a handicap with regards to displacement, the 3.5 was a big step up in horsepower, making 278 compared to 236. 

Toyota 2GR-FKS engine

Similar to the four, the V6 uses timing chains to operate dual overhead cams with four valves per cylinder. Again, these utilize the VVT-i system for both intake and exhaust valves.

A big difference with the 3.5 though, is that instead of just using port injection Toyota designed a system they call D4-S. Supposedly D4-S stands for Dynamic Force-Superior and uses a port injection AND direct injection system which can use either or both sets of fuel injectors depending on various parameters in order to optimize power and efficiency.

As a bonus, the port fuel injection can help keep the intake valves clean which has been the bane of direct injection.

Gas Mileage

Alright, this is probably the first thing that comes to mind when comparing the two engines. Let’s compare the more common configuration of an automatic paired with 4wd. We’ll look at the SR access cab though as the 2.7 is not available with a double cab 4wd. 

The EPA rates the 2.7 at 19 city, 22 highway, and 19 combined. This is rather odd that the combined is the same as the city- I can’t say I’ve ever come across such a rating before!  The same configuration with the V6 is rated at 18 city, 22 highway, and 20 combined. 

2.7L 4-cyl (2TR-FE)3.5L V6 (2GR-FKS)
City19 MPG18 MPG
Highway22 MPG22 MPG
Combined19 MPG20 MPG
* Stats for both engines in the same Access Cab Tacoma with 4WD and automatic transmission *

For some anecdotal data, I have a SR double cab, 4wd, V6 automatic. For mostly city driving, I usually get around 17 with a light foot on the gas, but many hilly streets to climb in my part of the world.

When I have the chance to let it stretch its legs on a road trip, it can do 24 mpg all day so I would say that 20 combined is pretty accurate. My research on internet forums shows that the four cylinder can get into the upper 20s if you are extremely easy on the pedal. 

Capability

How much capability does the Tacoma sacrifice when pushed along by that smaller engine? Looking at those same 2 configurations we used above, the 3.5 is rated for a payload capacity of 1,285 lbs- not too shabby for a mid-size truck!

Very interesting though, is the payload of the 2.7 coming in at a whopping 1,445 lbs. I imagine this is due to the GVWR actually being rated the same for both at 5,600 lbs. The lighter curb weight of the 2.7 results in this oddity.

As you could have probably guessed, the V6 can do significantly more when it comes to towing. The 3.5 is rated at 6,500 lbs. while the 2.7 has a measly rating of 3,500 lbs. Tongue load ratings follow this trend at 650 and 350 lbs., respectively.

Which engine is right for you?

I remember when the 3rd generation trucks first came out- the new 3.5 V6 was not getting a lot of love and people were referring to these as the “turd gen” trucks on internet forums. I suppose there were some teething issues with the earliest builds, because now that these have been around for a few years, there are quite a few out there with over 300k miles and still going strong.

The 2.7 carries the crown for being a super tough and basic engine that takes a beating and keeps on kicking. If you yearn for the simpler trucks of yesterday, the 2.7 might just scratch that nostalgic itch for you.

3rd gen Tacoma with motorcycle in bed

Toyota has really restricted availability of the 2.7 though. I searched some automotive sales websites for the whole USA and only 7% of the new trucks have the little engine. As we covered early on, the four just isn’t offered with a lot of the possible trim configurations. I imagine it’s mostly fleet use and some hardcore fans of the 2.7 that are buying these trucks. 

I wish I could say I’ve done a lot of tough work with my truck- hauling gravel, towing boats, etc. In all honesty though, my truck lives a rather mild life like most others in North America. It serves as my second vehicle for when the weather is too nasty to drive my fun car. Mine has hauled many motorcycles in the bed and the 3.5 is never bothered by that little bit of extra weight.

We also do a long highway slog a couple times per year with the cab filled with dogs and people and the bed filled to the brim with our things. The engine really sings when climbing the mountains through West Virginia which brings me to one of my few complaints about it- it sounds terrible!

This didn’t come as a surprise to me as I rarely find a V6 that is pleasing to my ears. What is shocking though, is that Toyota offers a TRD exhaust for it. The last thing I want out of this truck is more noise!

One response to “Best 3rd Gen Tacoma Engine: Comparing the 2.7 I4 and 3.5 V6”

  1. Irgenox Avatar
    Irgenox

    I have an ’09 2.7L. Best vehicle I’ve ever owned and wouldn’t trade it for anything. 172,000 miles with a cross country move under its belt and it still runs like new. The 5-speed manual makes it even better.

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