Everyone knows that nothing lasts forever. Our clothes wear out, computers slow down to the point of infuriation, and our bodies get tired and worn out. However, some things, like cockroaches, Nokia cell phones, and Toyota Tacomas exceed our expectations.
The Tacoma has gained a cult following due to its life expectancy, which is similar to the cockroach while being updated quickly enough to avoid the pitfalls of irrelevance like the Nokia cell phones of the mid-2000s.
We polled the audience of the Canadian Gearhead YouTube channel and the #1 reason why they think the Tacoma is so popular was pretty obvious:
Toyota and reliability are practically synonyms at this point and the Tacoma is no exception. In 1995 Toyota introduced the Tacoma pickup truck and it quickly built a reputation of reliability with trucks commonly racking up 300,000 kilometers and beyond.
A 2007 model-year truck famously rolled over 1,500,000 miles, that’s 2,414,016 kilometers if you’re from the great white north. This isn’t surprising to anyone that knows anything about Toyotas. They haven’t stumbled into this reputation – it’s been well-earned from the start. It would be a bigger surprise if their trucks didn’t have the same reliability that their cars have.
In the case of the Tacoma, it comes down to simplicity and iterative design. The drivetrain and suspension on the Tacoma are fairly simple and haven’t been radically redesigned since its inception in 1995. There have been some updates to the suspension most notably in the second-generation trucks.
In 2005 the steering knuckle was shortened and equal-length control arms were implemented; this has remained nearly unchanged going forward. The rear suspension has always been a simple solid rear axle with leaf springs. There isn’t a lot that can go wrong with such a simple design, therefore it has proven to be extremely reliable.
On top of being simple, the lack of major changes has allowed Toyota to refine its suspension design over the years. By making small changes they’re able to identify weak points and update them as they go along.
This has been Toyota’s gameplan for nearly three decades, however, rumor has it that the all-new 2024 Tacoma will have coil springs in the rear instead of the traditional leaf spring. I can already imagine the outrage online about such a departure from the Tacoma recipe. Only time will tell if this design change will be embraced by the fans.
A huge factor in Tacoma’s reliability is found in its engines. An engine’s reliability or lack thereof will often determine whether or not a vehicle is perceived as reliable to the consumer. Toyota has only offered five different engine options since the Tacoma was first introduced in ‘95.
Three V6s and two inline four-cylinder engines have been available. These engines are incredibly reliable. The four-liter V6 in the second generation trucks is considered by some to be one of the most reliable engines of all time. The 1.5 million mile truck I mentioned earlier was equipped with the 2.7L I4.
Bottom line: no matter the engine you choose when buying your Tacoma, it will go the distance.
As emissions and fuel economy regulations have become more strict, Toyota made the decision to replace the 4.0L with the 3.5L V6 used in the Sienna and the Lexus RX 350. This engine is more complex than the four-liter and implemented the Atkinson combustion cycle while managing to remain reliable to a fault.
Cost of Ownership
There are many things to consider when purchasing a new vehicle. Not only is there the upfront cost of the vehicle, whether that be the purchase price or monthly payment. There’s also the cost of insurance and maintenance – but one cost many buyers overlook is depreciation.
It’s a well-known fact that a car will lose most of its value in the first five years. The average Tacoma only loses 33% of its value in the first five years. Though the initial purchase price may be slightly higher than a competitor, it more than makes up for it by returning a greater amount when it comes time to trade in or move on.
In addition to that, Tacomas are in high demand. This means that finding a buyer should be simple and painless, whether you go the marketplace or the dealership route
The national average cost of automobile insurance is $1,428. Due in part to its high safety rating and host of standard driver assistance features, the Tacoma comes in at $1,181 annually. This is well below the national average, making yet another argument in favor of the Tacoma.
Maintaining a Toyota is a relatively inexpensive endeavor and the Tacoma is no exception. As per CarEdge.com, the average Tacoma costs only $6,420 to maintain in the first ten years of its life. Even though that number is $3,901 less than the average pickup truck, by doing some of your own maintenance that number could be further reduced.
Bigger isn’t Always Better
In North America, buyers often buy the biggest, most powerful vehicle they can afford no matter what the vehicle will be used for. Think F-250 with a 6-inch lift kit, 37’s, and an 8-inch exhaust pipe bellowing black smoke. In a world dominated by bigger and bigger trucks, the Tacoma is a breath of fresh air.
With 5 and 6 foot bed options there is plenty of space to handle anything the average pickup truck buyer could possibly need it for. With a payload capacity of up to 1,400 pounds and max towing of up to 6,400 pounds the Tacoma can get the job done.
Being a smaller truck has major advantages as well. Finding a parking spot at the grocery store is easier with a smaller truck, and its size makes it perfect for hitting the trails on the weekends. Aside from the Jeep brand, there isn’t a name more synonymous with off-roading than Tacoma.
The Tacoma has been used as an off-road vehicle since day one. The short wheelbase and short front overhang naturally make it a great option. The current TRD Pro has stellar approach, departure, and breakover angles at 36.4, 24.7, and 26.6 degrees respectively, making it a close competitor to the Jeep Gladiator.
While all Tacomas except 2 models (more on that later) are quite capable off-road two of the six available trim levels are more off-road focused. The TRD Off-road and TRD Pro can handle just about everything a weekend enthusiast could throw at them.
With a locking rear differential and available crawl control on the new models, it has cemented itself as one of the most capable off-roaders on sale today.
Save the Manuals!
If you’re like me, you spend several hours per month crawling through dealership parking lots, drooling over cars you can’t afford, and getting out to check out the car of your dreams only to find out it’s completely ruined by having only two pedals.
Being able to choose your own gears is especially handy when crawling or bombing across an open field. You never have to worry about the truck deciding it wants to maximize fuel economy by choosing the next gear only to have the engine fall on its face.
Fans of the Tacoma can rest assured some manufacturers haven’t given up on the euphoric driving symphony that is rowing your own gears. In fact, the Tacoma is one of only two pickup trucks that can still be ordered from the factory with a manual transmission option. Here’s to hoping that doesn’t change for the 2024 model year.
The Tacoma is one of those enthusiast vehicles that are so often modified that even the manufacturer couldn’t deny it. The TRD parts catalog for these trucks is absolutely dizzying. The cargo bed has more configurations available than I ever thought possible. From simple cargo dividers and bed extenders to carrying every type of outdoor equipment known to man the Toyota has you covered.
Toyota will also very happily sell performance upgrades to Tacoma owners. It starts small with oil fill caps and high-flow air filters. Then quickly ups the ante with lift kits, beadlock style alloy wheels, and even superchargers for select models.
It’s clear the Tacoma is a blank canvas just waiting to be turned into a masterpiece, and that’s just the options straight from Toyota. Many aftermarket companies have built their business around selling lift kits, skid plates, lighting kits, bumpers, and overlanding accessories for these trucks.
In many ways, a Tacoma is the perfect one-car garage vehicle. It makes a comfortable commuter that is relatively fuel-efficient, it can be used to tow a trailer or move larger items, and makes a great “fun” vehicle for the weekends. I mentioned there is a myriad of overlanding accessories available from Toyota themselves as well as many aftermarket brands.
This makes the Tacoma perfect for the outdoorsman in all of us, with tents, kayaks, and bicycle racks you’re sure to find just the right setup for your lifestyle. Not to mention the available bed rail camera mount to capture your sweet backcountry adventures and make your buddies jealous.
If you’d rather have a sporty low-slung truck there just so happens to be a Tacoma for you. In fact, there are two different variations of this recipe. For the first generation model, Toyota released a trim level called S-Runner.
They started with a two wheel drive Xtra cab, lowered it an inch, and equipped it with sport-tuned shocks, springs, and anti-sway bars. Then they dropped in the 3.4L V6 and a 5 speed manual transmission. To round out the project it was fitted with an exhaust system that let everyone know this wasn’t your standard Tacoma.
For the second generation, the name changed to X-Runner because of an X-brace used to stiffen up the chassis. The development team was also much more committed to making a truly sporty truck it seems, since they benchmarked it against the Nissan 350z and gave it true “sports car” styling with the hood scoop and body kit. The X-Runner surely looked the business.
The X-Runner benefited from the second generation’s V6 option being the 4.0L which made an extra 40 horsepower. It also received a limited slip differential and a 6 speed manual instead of the 5. If you’re looking for a practical sports truck, the X-Runner might just check all the boxes.
If that wasn’t sweet enough, remember that supercharger I mentioned earlier? TRD sold a kit for the 4.0L back in the day! They aren’t available anymore but you might be lucky enough to find one of these trucks with it already installed. If not there are kits sold by other aftermarket manufacturers like Magnuson.
I think it is safe to say that the Toyota Tacoma is a valiant competitor in the battle of the trucks. Whether you are looking for a vehicle with tow capacity, off-roading capabilities or a five- year old soccer team taxiing service, the Tacoma is the vehicle to consider.
After spending hours doing research on this topic, I have come to discover that the sports car enthusiast inside of me really wants this truck. I can just see it now: my Tacoma hauling my toy trailer with my GR Supra inside for a race weekend. Ah, yes.
Jeremy got his start in the automotive industry in 2012 as a detailer. He also tried sales and a role in the service department at a Chrysler dealership before deciding to become an automotive technician for Volkswagen. Read more about Jeremy: