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Nine times out of ten, when film footage of the wars in Afghanistan/Iraq/Somalia/Lebanon/Chechnya etc. is shown on TV, it seems like the bad guys are always racing around in a Toyota pickup of some kind.

No doubt, this isn't something that Toyota is particularly proud of, but it's either a testament to the efficacy of the company's distribution network, or is a convincing demonstration of the durability and ruggedness of their products. If they can stand up to this kind of abuse and punishment, they must have something going for them, right?

The entry-level Tacoma, in particular, appears to be the ride of choice in many war-torn parts of the world and, in 2005, it was on the receiving end of a redesign that gave it larger dimensions and a new drivetrain.

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Originally introduced in 1995, the Tacoma was, and is, built at Toyota's NUMMI plant in California, and in 2005 was offered in three body configurations with two engine choices: a 2.7-litre four-cylinder and a 4.0-litre V-6.

The four-banger developed 164 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 183 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm, while the V-6 put out 245 hp at 5,200 rpm with 282 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm. This latter power plant was some 50-per-cent more powerful than its predecessor, and both engines had Toyota's variable valve timing system.

Transmission choices were a four-speed automatic and five-speed manual with the smaller engine, and a five-speed automatic and six-speed manual for the larger.

You could get the Tacoma with either two- or four-wheel-drive and the 4WD system was of the shift-on-the-fly variety; a dash-mounted dial allowed you to pick low or high range and there was no "neutral" position.

Toyota also increased the size of the Tacoma's disc brakes for 2005 - something of a sore point on the previous models - and their TRD (Toyota Racing Development) division offered a wide range of off-road extras, including upgraded suspension components, skid plates, locking differential and so on.

As for the body styles, there were actually only two versions, but one came with a longer wheelbase.

The base version had what was called an Access Cab, which meant it had two regular full-size doors and a pair of smaller doors that revealed a jump seat behind the front buckets. The Double Cab, meanwhile, was a legitimate four-door pickup, with full-size doors all round and five-passenger seating.

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Both versions had additional storage space under the jump seats and against the rear bed. The Double Cab also came with folding rear seats, for additional storage room. Either way, you were getting a spacious, airy truck with plenty of elbow room.

The restyled Tacoma also had all kinds of handy little features. For example, a 400-watt AC power outlet at the back of the bed could handle small power tools and recreational appliances, and there were six tie-down points and four storage boxes located between the bed and fenders. The tailgate was also removable.

Options included a cross-bed tool chest, locking storage boxes, cargo divider, roof racks and a bed extender. Interestingly, Japanese truck-maker Hino (now a subsidiary of Toyota) was involved in the redesign, providing R&D for the upper body, interior trim, truck bed and bumpers.

There's just one safety recall from Transport Canada to report. Apparently, the parking brake mechanism can come apart and affect the amount of free play in the parking lot pedal. This is apparently an easy fix and can be set right at any dealership.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has this, too, as well as a couple of alerts for possibly malfunctioning airbags. One concerns regular cab models equipped with a bench seat, while the other involves possibly improperly inflating front, knee and side-curtain airbags.

NHTSA also has 21 technical service bulletins on file, running the gamut from a howling rear differential, to water leaks through the front body, to possible cold-start issues, to an "excessive sulphur odour." Most of these bulletins take the form of service advisories, as opposed to alarm-bell-ringing warnings.

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Consumer Reports loves the Tacoma. Other than one minor complaint with the drive system, it gets this organization's top marks, in every department, right across the board.

In fact, with one or two minor contretemps, the Tacoma gets Consumer Reports' blessings for every model year from 1999 onward, with their top used-car predictability rating.

Market research company J.D. Power is a little less enthusiastic, bestowing "average" marks in most areas. Power train quality, in particular, doesn't come up to this organization's standards. Still, it includes the 2005 Tacoma in its "top three" for mid-size pickup truck dependability, and gives it "better than most" for overall dependability.

These days, expect to pay anywhere from the high $8,000 range to just under $22,000 for a four-year-old Tacoma, depending upon equipment level. The V-6 models are pricier, as are the Double Cab models and 4WD versions.

*****

2005 TOYOTA TACOMA

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Original Base Price: $22,125; Black Book Value: $16,350-$21,725; Red Book Value: $8,800-$14,375

Engine: 2.7-litre, four-cylinder/4.0-litre V-6

Horsepower/Torque:

164 hp/183 lb-ft for four-cylinder

245 hp/282 lb-ft for V-6

Transmission: Four-speed automatic, five-speed manual for four-cylinder/Five-speed automatic, six-speed manual for V-6

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Drive: Rear-wheel-drive/All-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km):

12.7 city/9.7 highway (V-6 with five-speed automatic); regular gas

Alternatives: Dodge Dakota, Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger

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