Review: 2014 Toyota Tacoma - Small truck needs a big makeover

2.7L I-4 RWD
159hp @ 5,200RPM
1,635 kg
180 lb.-ft. @ 3,800RPM
7.5L/100 km

Improved competition challenges the popular but uncomfortable Toyota

It isn?t always easy being a big truck?s little brother.

At one time, compact and midsize models were a large part of the truck segment, but these days, you can count them on one hand. Alongside the Toyota Tacoma, your only other choices are the Nissan Frontier or the Honda Ridgeline. Later this year, GM will reissue its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon nameplates on a pair of all-new midsize models.

These smaller trucks have their advantages, such as easier access and loading, compared to the larger trucks that have grown almost ridiculously big.

But while full-size trucks are continually being upgraded, the smaller models have soldiered on with relatively few changes ? the four-cylinder Tacoma still comes with just a four-speed automatic, for example.

The major issue for many buyers is that, as fuel economy improves on the bigger trucks, the smaller ones post figures that are close and sometimes even thirstier than full-size models.

Throw in purchase prices that can sometimes overlap those of the larger trucks, and many buyers will go bigger just to get more for their money.

The Tacoma comes as the Access Cab, with small, rear-hinged back doors, and as the four-door Double Cab. You can only get two-wheel drive in the Access Cab, with a 2.7-L four-cylinder engine and choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, starting at $22,450. The four-cylinder is also available in 4×4, starting at $27,445.

The Access Cab can also be ordered with a 4.0-L V6, in 4×4 only and with six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, starting at $28,430. The V6 with 4×4 is the only choice in the Double Cab configuration, which runs from $29,920 to $39,195.

My tester was the V6 Double Cab 4×4, with automatic transmission, starting at $31,470.

It was further optioned with an SR5 Power Package for $2,375, which added numerous items, such as alloy wheels, chrome grille and rear bumper, upgraded seat fabric, folding front passenger seat, variable intermittent wipers, backup camera, and heavier-duty components and hitch that increased the towing capacity from the usual 1,587 kg (3,500 lb.) to 2,903 kg (6,400 lb.).

The 4.0-L V6 makes 236 horsepower and 266 lb.-ft. of torque. It?s a great engine to pilot, with strong and linear acceleration, and the five-speed automatic shifts smoothly.

I like the Tacoma?s size and, although its interior looks somewhat dated, it?s very functional. The centre stack controls are simple and easy to use, and the touchscreen stereo includes satellite radio, Bluetooth, and voice control. The 4×4 system is equally easy to access through a large dash-mounted dial.

But I find the truck to be extremely uncomfortable to drive. It gets its ground clearance through a high floor, and its headroom through its low-set seats. This makes it awkward to enter, and it leaves the driver?s leg stretched out almost straight when on the throttle. It doesn?t take long before my leg and foot start to cramp up.

It feels dated in its lazy handling, too. Although the full-size trucks now offer crisp, car-like steering, the Tacoma responds slowly to wheel input. Its turning circle is virtually the same as on a full-size Tundra, and it?s a chore to maneuver it in tight quarters.

The interior provides plenty of storage space, with bins hidden under the rear seat cushions, and large cubbies behind the rear seatbacks.

The rear seats fold flat for even more cargo capacity, but it?s a multi-step process: you have to remove the head restraints, flip the cushions forward, and then pull down the seats. On the plus side, they have plastic backing, so you can slide items across them and then easily clean them up.

The Tacoma has some serious competition in Nissan?s Frontier, which is priced slightly lower at $20,998 to $37,598.

It has a stronger V6 engine, making 261 horsepower and 281 lb.-ft. of torque, although it gets almost the same fuel economy in combined city/highway driving figures ? 11.9 L/100 km to the Toyota?s 11.6. But the major benefit for me is the Frontier?s upright driving position, which is vastly more comfortable.

The Honda Ridgeline beats both for comfort and interior cargo space, but it?s also more expensive, ranging from $36,863 to $44,324. It also uses a front-biased all-wheel system, instead of the part-time 4×4 on the Tacoma and Frontier. I find it more than enough for most tasks, but won?t satisfy those who want a more serious off-roader.

GM?s new models are going to up the ante when they come out later this year, first offering a V6, estimated at 302 hp, and then a four-cylinder diesel engine next year.

Whether or not they?ll be able to kick-start this relatively stagnant segment remains to be seen. But if they do, Toyota will need to drive the Tacoma into the shop for some serious upgrades.

It?s been a very popular big fish in a tiny pond for quite a while, but it?s time for a comfort-and-handling makeover if it?s going to stay in the game.

The vehicle tested by freelance writer Jil McIntosh was provided by the manufacturer. Email:

2014 Toyota Tacoma

Price: $29,920 base, $33,845 as tested
Engine: 4.0-L V6
Power/torque: 236 hp/266 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 13.1 city, 9.8 hwy., 12.7 as tested
Competition: Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier
What?s best: Strong engine, simple controls, interior storage.
What?s worst: Seating position, handling, fuel consumption.
What?s interesting: Even the base model has air conditioning

  • Review: 2014 Toyota Tacoma - Small truck needs a big makeover 2014 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Double Cab V6 with SR5 Power Package - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels
  • Review: 2014 Toyota Tacoma - Small truck needs a big makeover 2014 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Double Cab V6 with SR5 Power Package - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels
  • Review: 2014 Toyota Tacoma - Small truck needs a big makeover 2014 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 Double Cab V6 with SR5 Power Package - photo by Jil McIntosh - for Wheels

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