The Toyota Tacoma is the best compact pickup truck for just about any need, reviewers say. It not only has the lowest starting price of any pickup, it also offers the best safety, fuel economy, interior quality and resale value, along with the widest variety of configurations and options. Experts say you can choose a Tacoma that's roomy enough for a family, brawny enough to tow and haul surprisingly heavy loads, or tough enough for serious off-roading.
The Toyota Tacoma's superior safety ratings and quality scores give it the edge over its closest competitor, the Nissan Frontier (*Est. $17,460 to $29,740), in most reviews. Both pickup trucks get far better reviews than domestic rivals such as the Ford Ranger (*Est. $15,835 to $25,235), Chevrolet Colorado (*Est. $16,705 to $26,940) and Dodge Dakota (*Est. $21,075 to $31,280), all of which suffer from quality, reliability and/or safety drawbacks. The Tacoma gets the highest possible ratings in all crash tests, and the rear-wheel-drive version is nearly as rollover-resistant as the average sedan (the four-wheel-drive version has a higher rollover risk). The midsize Honda Ridgeline (*Est. $28,200 to $36,530) is the only pickup in any class that can match the Tacoma's safety ratings, and no other compact pickup even comes close.
Critics do find a few flaws in the Toyota Tacoma, but they usually consider them minor -- intrusive road or engine noise, for example, and a structure that doesn't feel quite as rigid as the Nissan Frontier's while cornering hard or off-roading. Some testers note that the driver's seat is too low and can't be raised, which could be a problem for short drivers.
The Toyota Tacoma's ride quality gets mixed reviews. Some testers find it smooth, but others find it bouncy, whether they're testing the regular suspension or the stiffer off-road package. Rust complaints have emerged recently, as more than 800,000 Tacomas built from 1995 to 2000 lack sufficient corrosion protection, according to reports. Toyota has offered to buy back many of those trucks, and we found no similar complaints for more recent models. Reliability has been generally good, experts say. The Tacoma is backed by a three-year, 36,000 mile basic warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Toyota Tacoma buyers have a choice of two engines. The base 159-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder offers class-leading fuel economy and adequate power, according to experts. Acceleration is stronger with the optional 236-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6, at the cost of a couple of miles per gallon in fuel efficiency.
Three cab setups are offered on the Toyota Tacoma. The regular cab seats three with a bench seat, and it comes with a 6-foot cargo bed. The Access Cab has a 6-foot bed and seats four with front buckets and forward-facing fold-up seats in the back, although reviews say these back seats aren't habitable for anything but short trips, and the narrow, rear-hinged back doors can box out your shopping cart if someone's parked next to you. The Tacoma Double Cab has four normal doors and either a 5- or 6-foot bed. It seats five, with a 60/40 split rear bench adequately sized for adults. The Tacoma Double Cab is quite roomy for a compact pickup, testers say, but it doesn't offer real stretch-out backseat comfort the way the midsize Honda Ridgeline or a full-size crew-cab pickup does.
Finally, different drive/suspension choices are available for different needs. Four-wheel drive costs extra with any body style. You can add a Toyota Racing Development (TRD) Sport package (*Est. $3,255 to $4,065), which includes a sport suspension, graphics, special seat fabric, etc., or the TRD Off-Road package (*Est. $3,815 to $4,265) with an off-road suspension, locking rear differential, hill ascent and descent control and more. Experts say the off-road-spec Toyota Tacoma is quite capable, holding its own against the Nissan Frontier and the Hummer H3T (*Est. $30,750) in one test.
With a rear-wheel-drive Toyota Tacoma, you can opt for the regular trim (*Est. $15,170 to $20,105); the Toyota Tacoma PreRunner (*Est. $19,965 to $24,000), which reviews say looks like a four-wheel-drive truck with a raised suspension, but without the weight or added traction of actual four-wheel drive; or the Tacoma X-Runner (*Est. $25,285), which has a sport suspension and lower body trim. ConsumerGuide.com tests four different Tacoma trucks; testers find the X-Runner "handles like a sports car" while still offering most of the utility of the other models, although they say the Toyota Tacoma PreRunner and four-wheel-drive models are a better value.
According to Environmental Protection Agency estimates, you'll get the best fuel economy with the rear-wheel-drive Toyota Tacoma's four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission (20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined). Fuel economy drops as you add power, down to 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined with the V-6 engine, six-speed manual transmission and four-wheel drive.
Towing capacity is a modest 3,500 pounds, but a special tow prep package for the six-cylinder Toyota Tacoma ups the ante to 6,500 pounds. Edmunds.com editors single out the composite cargo bed lining as an attractive feature, saying it should resist rust and dents.
ConsumerGuide.com tests most pickups, including several different Tacoma trims, but write-ups here are brief. ConsumerReports.org is known for its unbiased, scientific testing, but although editors here compare the Tacoma extensively with most of its competitors, off-road testing is slim. Edmunds.com's write-up covers nearly every aspect of the Tacoma, but it doesn't rate it against competitors as extensively as the above sources. Kelley Blue Book's single-truck reviews include helpful resale value predictions. Write-ups at Car and Driver and Truck Trend are brief, but these sources test a lot of trucks and carry a lot of credibility. PickupTrucks.com includes the Tacoma in an off-road comparison test. Other sources cover individual aspects of the Tacoma, including safety, fuel economy, ownership costs and the frame rust issue.
Editors conclude that the Toyota Tacoma pickup truck is the class leader in refinement and value, making it a Best Buy for 2009. Testers like the V-6 power but note that the ride can be noisy.
Review: 2009 Toyota Tacoma, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com
ConsumerReports.org reviews focus mainly on reliability, ride quality, handling and safety. The magazine is unique in that it predicts vehicle reliability based on past-model-year reader-survey data. To read this review of the Toyota Tacoma pickup, you must be a subscriber.
Review: Toyota Tacoma, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
Edmunds.com editors say the Toyota Tacoma is an extremely versatile pickup truck, offering a variety of styles and configurations. Editors approve of the roomy cabin, and they point out practical truck features such as the composite cargo bed. They are not as happy with the seating position or the V-6 engine noise.
Review: 2009 Toyota Tacoma Review, Editors of Edmunds.com
PickupTrucks.com tests three off-road-equipped compact pickups: the 2009 Hummer H3T, Nissan Frontier PRO-4X and Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road. Reviewer Dan Sanchez doesn't pick an overall favorite, but he does explain each truck's strengths and weaknesses. The Tacoma does the best job on-road and a good job on the trail.
Review: Small Trucks, Big Rocks! 2009 Midsize Off-Road Comparison, Dan Sanchez, Feb. 7, 2009
5. Kelley Blue Book
The Toyota Tacoma wins the Best Resale Value award for compact pickups at Kelley Blue Book. Editors say it's a much better truck than either the Ford Ranger or Chevy Colorado, and it edges the Dodge Dakota and Nissan Frontier in terms of reliability and resale value. However, it drives more like a truck than competitors from Nissan and Honda do.
Review: 2009 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab Review, Editors of Kelley Blue Book
6. Car and Driver
This brief buyer's guide review praises the Toyota Tacoma's quality, reliability and ride. Editors also like the variety of options and configurations Tacoma offers. However, they note that those options can get expensive, and they downgrade the Tacoma for its "flexy frame."
Review: 2009 Toyota Tacoma Regular Cab, Editors of Car and Driver
7. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The Toyota Tacoma is the only small pickup to earn a Top Safety Pick designation based on crash tests at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group backed by the insurance industry. The truck gets good ratings in frontal crashes, and it is the only small pickup that does a good job protecting occupants in either rear or side crashes. The Tacoma is also one of the few pickups in its class that includes electronic stability control as a standard feature.
Review: Small Pickups, Editors of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
8. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The rear-wheel-drive Toyota Tacoma is one of the two most rollover-resistant pickups you can buy, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests show (the Honda Ridgeline is the other.) The four-wheel-drive Tacoma is more likely to roll over. The Tacoma also earns excellent five-star crash ratings, making it one of the safest pickups in government testing.
Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, Editors of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The rear-wheel-drive, four-cylinder version of the Toyota Tacoma is one of the most fuel-efficient pickup trucks on the market, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This website also includes a chart that compares the mileage estimates of nearly all small pickups, including all of the various Tacoma models.
Review: 2009 Most and Least Fuel Efficient Trucks, Vans and SUVs, Editors of FuelEconomy.gov
10. Truck Trend
Once again, the Toyota Tacoma is Truck Trend's Best in Class selection for the compact pickup segment. Editors praise the Tacoma's choice of frugal or powerful engines and its exceptional towing capacity for a compact.
Review: 2009 Best in Class Compact Pickup, Editors of Truck Trend, March 2009
11. WCVB (Boston)
More than 800,000 Toyota Tacoma pickups built between 1995 and 2000 suffered severe frame rust because of inadequate corrosion protection, this Boston TV news station reports. Toyota offered to buy back the trucks, but some owners who had to junk their Tacomas before the buyback program was announced were not covered.
Review: Toyota Tacoma Owners Fight for Buy-Back, Susan Wornick, May 7, 2008