Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Toyota cemented its reputation as a builder of tough pickup trucks with a line of small durable workhorses that sometimes wore the Hilux badge and were sold around the world. Available with 4WD or 2WD and in various cab permutations, what they lacked in size and carrying capacity, they more than made up for in agility and seeming indestructibility.
Even now, if they haven’t rusted into oblivion, 1980s vintage Toyota trucks are still sought after by enthusiasts and hard-core off-roaders. I remember coming across one high in the Rocky Mountains several years ago, parked beside a natural hot spring, with absolutely no road leading to it. I had just spent the better part of a morning hiking in the rain up to this spot, and the trail had been washed out and resembled a stream bed more than it did a pathway. It was tough sledding getting up there on foot, scrambling over huge boulders and fallen trees, and across flooded gullies. How that truck managed to plow its way up there is a mystery I’ve yet to figure out.
Anyway, the current incarnation of the Hilux is the Tacoma, and although it’s still an off-road rig par excellence, and is better than it used to be in terms of cab room and entry/exit, the 4WD version may be one of the most awkward vehicles to get in and out of I’ve ever encountered. Because it’s perched fairly high off the ground, you can’t just step into it like you would with a sedan or minivan. You have to tilt your upper torso in first, grab something and hoist the rest of your body in, while ducking down to avoid hitting the top of the door frame and scooting your butt into the bucket seat. Once there, headroom is at a premium, and, as they say, getting there ain’t half the fun. Getting out is slightly more straightforward, but still awkward.
My tester, the Doublecab, is powered by a 4.0-litre V-6 that develops 236 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. This gets my vote as one of the smoothest and most tractable V-6 engines on the market – virtually noiseless in operation and responsive at all rpms.
You can choose from either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission with this engine. I had the latter and, unless you’re a serious off-road basher, the autobox is sufficient. Interestingly, according to Natural Resources Canada, it delivers slightly better fuel economy than the manual, especially on the highway (9.8 litres/100 km versus 10.5). That said, it adds $1,400 to the truck’s price tag.
The 4WD is of the part-time variety, and you get all four wheels churning via a dash-mounted knob. It has a two-speed transfer case and other off-road equipment in the form of an undercover skid protector, a vehicle stability control system and a limited-slip differential. This is one four-by-four I wouldn’t hesitate to take into the wilds.
It’s reasonably civilized inside as well, with a climate control system, Bluetooth, a full roster of airbags and a slick storage compartment hidden behind the back seats. Not a lot of room back there, but enough to stash away things from prying eyes.
My tester also had the SR5 “power package” ($2,500), which included a transmission cooler, upgraded alternator, a trailer wiring harness, back-up camera, towing package and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Although I didn’t take this Tacoma off-roading (much as I would have loved to), I actually put it to work and loaded it up with a yard or two of compost –.about three-quarters of a bucket-load from a full-size front-end loader. Other than compressing the rear suspension and having to leave the rear tailgate open, it was a cake-walk. My tester also had a spray-on protective bed liner, which is an excellent idea, as it makes cleaning up much simpler. Just hose it out and Bob’s your uncle.
However, this is not primarily a down-and-dirty workhorse type of truck. It’s too small to be taken seriously as a tradesman’s vehicle. A comparable full-size Tundra is only a couple thousand more expensive and it has a powerful V-8 engine and more capacity and interior elbow room. Toyota is also anxious to move the Tundra and a little haggling on your part might get the price down even further. In short, dollar for dollar, the Tundra is more truck for the money.
But for weekend getaways and getting lost up in the mountains, few trucks can match the Tacoma.
2012 Toyota Tacoma 4X4 Doublecab V-6
Type: Compact 4X4 pickup
Base Price: $28,500; as tested: $34,170
Engine: 4.0-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 236 hp/266 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel with four-wheel-drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.1 city/9.8 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Ridgeline, GMC Canyon, Ford F-150, Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier