Did you know that the very first pickup truck hit the market back in 1927? Yup, it was the “Model T Runabout with Pickup Body” and it cost a cool $278.00. From that very first year, the combination of a cab for driver and passengers, combined with a flat bed – or flatbed with sidewalls – has proven a useful and popular configuration. According to Statista, there were 3.7 million pickup trucks sold worldwide in 2017, of which about 568,000 were in North America. In 2018 Toyota grabbed fourth place in total pickup truck sales – 116,000 units in North America – with the Toyota Tacoma, an impressive jump of 22% over the previous year’s sales. In fact, the Tacoma is the best-selling mid-size truck for the last twelve years.
When Toyota offered me the chance to drive a 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road for a week, I jumped at the chance to find out what made it one of the best selling pickup trucks in the world. And our timing was splendid as a heavy snowstorm hit on my first day with the vehicle. For the Tacoma, however, it was no problem at all. The 2019 Tacoma TRD (TRD stands for Toyota Racing Design if you’re curious) features 4WDemand 4×4 as part of its multi-terrain select smarts, along with Crawl Control if I hit some really tough terrain.
The truck also features a 3.5L V6 with dual VVT-I, pushing out a fairly modest 278hp at 6000 rpm. With a full towing package, it’s rated to tow up to 6600 pounds (less with the smaller engine, of course) and while there’s nothing fancy with rear cameras or automatic anti-sway AI computer systems, the vehicle’s ready for a payload and trailer with power plugs and plenty of strap mounts on the bed and convenient tow electrical plugs adjacent to the rear license plate.
As a dual-cab, the configuration I drove offered seating for five, though the legroom in the back wasn’t great when the front seat was adjusted for a tall driver, as you’ll see in one of the photos below. In fact, let’s jump in and see some photos as I continue talking about the Tacoma TRD. To start, the exterior on, as I said, a very snowy day:
Toyota also has its Tundra pickup truck – even larger than the Tacoma – but if you read “mid-size” and thought it was a cute little mini-pickup, you can immediately see from the photo above that is not the case. This is a solid vehicle that offers a decent size bed and seating for a big work crew or growing family. Nevertheless, it’s not a full size truck that challenges your parking skills or guzzles gas.
In fact, the Tacoma in its most modest configuration offers up to 23mpg highway (20mpg city) which ain’t in the same ballpark as the Toyota Prius Prime at its most efficient, of course, but is still darn good when you consider that the average fuel economy across all vehicles back in 2015 was a modest 25.2 mpg. By 2020 overall vehicle fleets are supposed to be in the high 30’s, which means no company will be able to afford inefficient trucks in their lineup, and by 2025 the number’s even higher.
Then there’s what I actually saw with the Tacoma TRD unloaded, without a trailer, over a few hundred miles of driving. The reality is starkly highlighted on the main dashboard gauge layout below:
17.0mpg. Considerably better than the 13.5mpg of the Chevy Silverado 1500 I drove a few weeks ago, but that also featured a big 5.3L V8 engine too, offering considerably greater towing and hauling capacity.
Then again, people don’t purchase a mid-size pickup because they seek to have the most fuel efficient vehicle on the road, but because they need to haul cargo, tow trailers or otherwise exploit the capabilities of the design. And oh, that back cargo space:
While it wasn’t my plan to tow a load of snow, you can see that it’s still a big bed with plenty of capacity. In fact it’s 73.7 x 41.5 inches, with sides just a hair less than 20-inches tall.
A closeup shows some of the impressive details and features that make the bed as useful as possible:
In addition to the many hooks and loops for tie-downs on the deck rail system, the covered outlet above is a 120V/400W power outlet, ready to power your gear when you’re on a job site or showing off your tailgating prowess at the big game. Since we’re looking at the exterior features, check out the convenient trailer electrical plugs, safely covered but ready to jump into action as needed:
There are corresponding interior features to help driving a trailer, whether a boat, jetski or cargo trailer full of tools or supplies.
However, finding those controls might take a bit of practice.
The dashboard of the 2019 Tacoma is busy!
One thing to highlight is the empty space behind the gear shift: It’s not just a storage space, it’s a wireless Qi charging pad that can help keep your Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy or even Google Pixel phone charged while you’re driving. Down side: You can’t really see your phone screen while it’s in the charging bed, which is probably good from a safety perspective but proves a bit frustrating in practice if you need to keep up on incoming text messages or similar.
One row of buttons illustrates the dilemma of a modern vehicle designer too. Can you guess what each and every one of these buttons controls?
For the record, BSM = Blind Spot Monitor (why would anyone ever disable this?), ECT = Electronically Controlled Transmission, P))) = the Intuitive Parking Assist switch, the rear sliding window control (darn helpful once you figure out how to use it) the AUX / USB plugs, the Qi wireless charging switch and an old-school 12V “cigarette lighter” plug. My guess is that many Tacoma owners don’t even know what all these buttons do and there’s a lot of discussion online about exactly when to use – and not to use – the Electronically Controlled Transmission too.
But that’s not all. There’s another set of buttons awkwardly placed above your head, mixed in with the overhead light and sunroof controls (if included):
These all turn out to be really important controls, even if they’re a bit hard to find without a bit of study. The lowest control is the champ, it’s the multi-terrain selector: The truck has specific features designed for five different terrains. Again with the acronyms though: MTS = multi-terrain select and the options, left to right, are Mud & Sand, Loose Rock, Mogul, Rock & Dirt and Rock. Got it?
Above it are two more controls that apparently just didn’t have any space on the main dash: vehicle stability control and rear differential lock control. The Open/Close and Up/Down are for the sunroof and the interior light buttons at the very top are reasonably intuitive. 🙂
But this speaks to an issue with all modern vehicles that are so jam-packed with safety and other electronics. The user interface can get pretty confusing. In fact, it’s smart to read through that user’s manual that comes with your car nowadays, whether it’s a simple sedan, a fancy EV or a pickup truck. Otherwise you might never know all the features and capabilities!
Earlier I mentioned that once the driver’s seat was adjusted, there wasn’t too much legroom left for the rear passenger. You can see that more clearly in this photo:
Us tall drivers have long since learned to shift the seat forward a bit if there are passengers, just as my kids have learned it’s more comfortable to sit behind the passenger than the driver. But if you’re at all tall, well, you can see that a work crew might be fine for a 20min ride to the job site, but a 4 hour haul to some remote location might produce some grumbles.
And, finally, another exterior photo, because this is fundamentally one nice looking pickup!
Which leads to the question: what’s it like to drive? I found that the Tacoma was a fun and easy drive with very little adjustment needed when compared to smaller vehicles. However, even with the larger engine option, it had only limited get up and go when merging onto the highway, but I’d rather have a truck with modest acceleration and better fuel efficiency, so that’s a trade off I accept. Otherwise, I did find the dashboard a bit confusing, as detailed earlier, and wished I had a better place to stash my phone while driving, but overall, a solid, comfortable drive and a truck that shows its years of design refinement.
Finally, I’m not someone that really needs a pickup truck, so for me it was an exotic drive. If you’re someone who is constantly hauling cement, lumber, gear, tools, sports equipment or towing a trailer, however, this best-selling mid-size pickup might be just what you need! Failing that, make friends with someone who owns a Tacoma for your occasional hauling needs. 🙂
AS DRIVEN: 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road 4×4 double cab in Cavalry Blue / Black, with 3.5L V6 Atkinson Cycle with Dual VVT-1 engine and 6 speed automatic transmission. TRD Premium Off-Road Package, Technology Package, All Weather Floor Liners and Bed Mat. MSRP: $36,465. AS DRIVEN: 41,538.
Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the 2019 Tacoma TRD for a week in return for this writeup. #LetsGoPlaces