Ever since the first compact Toyota pickup truck hit the market in the '70s, Toyota has garnered the reputation for producing stylish pickups that offer legendary reliability and ruggedness. So, when Toyota invited us up to Anchorage, Alaska, to sample the all-new '05 Tacoma, we were anxious to see what Toyota could have done to make an old favorite even better. Over the past 10 years, the Tacoma has proven to be popular with young buyers, acting as a gateway to the Toyota brand. For 2005, the Tacoma gets its first real major redesign since its introduction as a '95 model and continues as an America-only product, differing from the Hi-Lux models found in the rest of the world. The new Tacoma also broadens its appeal with its larger size and a range of cab, bed, powertrain, and trim options.

The '05 Tacoma has all-new sheetmetal, which carries on the Tacoma design tradition of a tall stance and chiseled exterior. In the cabin, the driver is greeted with a Lexus-like interior swathed in pleasing colors and high-grade materials. Toyota engineers and designers were able to make the interior more comfortable with redesigned seats, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and a lot of storage cubby holes. The new instrument panel has a more modern appearance, and the instrument cluster is always lit, thanks to low-draw LED lighting. The gauge bezels are also accented with attractive chrome rings. New convenience features include a new overhead console information center and an electro-chromatic rearview mirror.

The Tacoma is available in three cab configurations, including a new four-door access cab, which replaces the previous two-door extended cab. Each Tacoma model comes with a 73.5-inch bed standard, however, buyers of the double cab can opt for a shorter 60.3-inch bed length if overall vehicle size is an issue. You might not expect it, but the bed is also packed full of technology. Starting with first-in-class fiber-reinforced sheet-molded composite (SMC), the new bed offers better dent resistance than steel, 10 percent less weight, better impact strength, and immunity to corrosion. The SMC bed also incorporates a steel frame around the rear opening for added strength. Another likeable improvement with the SMC bed is a standard rail system with four sliding cleats rated at 220 pounds each, in addition to a removable tailgate, four storage boxes between the bed and fenders, and two rear tie-down points rated at 440 pounds each. An available 40W/115V AC three-prong outlet is also offered in the bed. This is the highest rated outlet in any gasoline-engine vehicle - more than enough to power your big screen and blender in the desert.

Behind the grille is a newly available engine, the 245hp 4.0L DOHC V-6 with VVT-i from the 4Runner, which out-muscles the outgoing 3.4L by over 50 hp. The 4.0L also has the highest power output of any compact truck engine, including the 4.7L V-8 in the Dakota, and can be had with either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic. The standard engine is an all-new 2.7L DOHC I-4 which replaces the previous 2.4L and 2.7L I-4s. The new 2.7L has 164 hp and 183 lb-ft of torque, and is available with either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic. Models equipped with 4x4 received a new electronic transfer case and front disconnect axle. Depending on the model, the Tacoma can be optioned with an electronic limited-slip differential, mechanical limited-slip differential, or a locking differential.

Underpinning the '05 Tacoma is an all-new chassis, which is 4 inches wider and 5-1/2 inches longer than before. The new chassis is fully boxed up front with seven crossmembers, which helps with a standard tow rating of 3,500 pounds. Checking off the towing package will get you up to 6,500 pounds of pull and the addition of an automatic transmission cooler, 130-amp alternator, an oil cooler, and an upgraded battery. Across the line, brakes are 10.83-inch ventilated discs up front with 10-inch rear drums. Electronic brake force distribution with ABS, as well as brake assist for panic stops, is standard on all models.

The Tacoma retains its signature double A-arms with coilover shocks up front and leaves in the rear. There are two different suspension packages offered. The first is the return of the TRD Off-Road package, which gets specially tuned progressive front coils and Bilstein monotube shocks, a 28mm front sway bar, and 16-inch P265/70ZR16 BFG Rugged Trail tires. Also included are sport seats with rear map pockets and an overhead console with temperature and a compass. Fog lamps and a locking rear diff are also part of the deal. The second package offered is the TRD Sport package which adds improved handling over the standard suspension with P265/65R17 Bridgestone Duelers or Dunlop Grandtrek tires, a limited-slip differential, sport seats, fog lamps, monochromatic paint, and of course, the hood scoop. The PreRunner model, a 2WD with a 4x4 look, will also return for 2005.

With all of the improvements to mention, we saved the best news for last. With this redesign, Toyota has taken the S-Runner idea a step further by offering the X-Runner - a high-performance pickup with more grip than a Nissan 350Z. The X-Runner is only available as an access cab with the V-6 and six-speed manual transmission, and has extra crossbracing on the frame, in addition to a highly tuned suspension and unique P255/45R18 Bridgestone Potenza RE050s on special 18x8-inch wheels. The 1-3/4-inch drop and body kit give the X-Runner a serious stance. In addition to the included hardware improvements on the X-Runner, TRD has developed an optional 13-inch big brake kit with four-piston aluminum calipers, which will appeal to even the most discerning enthusiast. This kit has 23 percent more swept area than stock and substantially improvesbraking while reducing fade. A supercharger is also said to be in the works.

While we didn't get to spend as much time as we would have liked to in the '05 Tacoma, we can tell you that it is an impressive vehicle. Toyota worked hard to retain everything that has made its truck line so successful over the years, while adding upscale refinement and features. The new Tacoma will easily continue to be one of the best trucks on the market - big or small. Look for a full road test and review of the new Tacoma in our upcoming Truck of the Year issue.

Specs'05 Toyota TacomaVehicle Type: Two- and four-door pickupBase Price: TBA

Engine: 2.7L DOHC I-4/4.0L DOHC V-6Power: 164 hp at 5,200 rpm/245 hp at 5,200 rpmTorque: 183 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm/282 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm

Transmission: Five- or six-speed manual/Four- or five-seed automatic

Wheelbase (in): 109.4/127.2/140.9 Length (in): 190.4/208.1/221.3Width (in): 72.2/74.6 (4x4)Height (in): 65.7/69.9 (4x4)Curb Weight (lb): 3,750-4,200 (est.)Payload (lb): TBAMax Tow Rating (lb): 6,500