2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro: The Taco has still got it

The most popular midsize truck for a reason

Photos courtesy of Toyota

SAN DIEGO — It’s easy to see why the Toyota Tacoma has been the best-selling midsize truck in America for more than a decade.

For one, it’s been around for a long time, while most of the competition (Ford Ranger, Jeep Gladiator, Chevrolet Colorado) has come and gone and come back again over the years.

For another, Toyota really knows how to make a reliable pickup. Head out west to Colorado, and you’ll see the Tacos, new and old everywhere. It rivals the venerable Subaru Outback as the unofficial car of folks who want something bulletproof reliable, and eminently practical.

I’ve driven several Tacomas over the years and come away impressed every time, both because of its impressive lineup of

features and its sheer pigheadedness when it comes to certain types of new technology.

Under the hood, for example, is a 3.5-liter V6 making 278 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque. It has all manner of clever tricks to improve fuel economy like variable valve timing and using something called an Atkinson Cycle. And all that gives it a fuel economy of 18/22/20 in the Tacoma TRD Pro that I reviewed.

Having terrible fuel economy is a Toyota truck staple, thanks to hundreds of thousands of fuel-sipping hybrids that the company sells to balance the scales. Not that Tacoma owners seem to mind. They just want something that’s going to get them to the top of the mountain and back again, every time.

Then there’s the interior. I like the Tacoma interior because I feel like I can dump an iced coffee in here and just wipe it down with some Clorox wipes, and you wouldn’t know the difference. But the buttons on the dashboard look like they’re from the last century.

With some truckmakers putting enormous iPad-sized touchscreens in their rigs, the Tacoma’s gigantic industrial buttons and knobs might seem out of place. But that’s just the Tacoma — and they work great while wearing gloves. And Taco owners don’t seem to care.

Another thing that Tacoma owners don’t care about is clumsy on-road handling and an automatic transmission that can generously be called unrefined. They also don’t mind the cramped cabin, especially in the second row.

But when it comes to off-road chops, boy is the TRD Pro — my test unit this week — a champion. The TRD Pro starts at $46,780, and my version was optioned up to $50,545 thanks to a $699 graphics package, a $140 rubber bed mat, a step to climb into the bed more manageable, and more.

The off-road-focused TRD Pro package includes FOX shocks, skid plates, a lifted suspension, and off-road-focused tires. It’s wildly capable and ready for nearly any off-road mission thanks to a much-improved approach (35), departure (23.9), and breakover angles (28.5) — though it suffers in day-to-day driving.

This is particularly humorous since many people buy the TRD Pro (and the less-expensive but still capable TRD Off-Road) package for the look more than the capability. The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is the same way.

People are happy to pay extra for an excellent off-road capable look, even if it worsens the actual driving experience. See every lifted redneck pickup truck that never leaves the pavement for more.

But perhaps the most commendable thing about the Tacoma is all the standard safety features that Toyota stuffs into every pickup that comes off the line. It’s awkwardly called the Toyota Safety Sense P and includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control.

Some of these features — adaptive cruise control — are barely offered on competitor vehicles, or they’re buried at top trim levels. They’re standard on the Tacoma, which is huge. It’s 2021, and if

Toyota can install them on this aging truck, there’s no excuse for other carmakers to not make them standard on their brand new rigs.

There’s also creature comforts like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (although not wireless), USB ports, a wireless phone charger, and an ok-but-not-great JBL stereo.

I loved my week with the Tacoma, even with the kludgy transmission and splashy suspension on the road. It’s forgivable given how fantastic the rest of the truck is. From the look to the performance to the sturdy buttons on the interior, just about everything on the Tacoma is lovable, even if imperfect.

It’s easy to see why the Taco is so popular, and if I were on the market for a capable midsize pickup, it would be at the top of my list.

About Jordan Golson 186 Articles
Jordan Golson is North State Journal's automotive reporter. He covers cars - both foreign and domestic - from around the globe.