'05 Toyota Tacoma
A Lexus With a Bed

Toyota is well known for its hard-earned reputation of building quality vehicles and has made great inroads into the American market with its Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks. For years, Toyota has set the standard in the small truck category and was the first to offer a crew cab compact in the U.S. market with the addition of the Tacoma Double Cab in 2001.

Now in its second generation, the '05 Tacoma Double Cab, along with the regular and extended cab Tacoma, has grown significantly in size and capability. The new chassis is 4 inches wider and 5-1/2 inches longer than before, and the frame is fully boxed from nose to tail with seven crossmembers for strength. The Tacoma is now available in three cab configurations and two bed lengths, including a Double Cab longbed. When properly equipped, the '05 Tacoma can tow as much as 6,500 pounds of toys.

Helping to yank those toys around is a standard DOHC 2.7L I-4, which has a respectable 164 hp and 183 lb-ft of torque, and the stellar DOHC 4.0L V-6 from the 4Runner, which puts out 245 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque. The V-6 is definitely our choice because it spins freely all the way to redline. The V-6 fuel economy penalty is somewhat mitigated thanks to the use of a new five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. We saw our mileage figure hold steady in the mid-16s through mixed testing. The automatic is a smooth operator, while connoisseurs of manual transmissions may balk at the very un-Toyota-like, vague shift action that our tester exhibited.

The '05 Toyota has also brought many innovations to the table, such as the corrosion-proof composite bed, which is said to have a higher impact resistance than steel. The new bed also incorporates a rail system with four sliding cleats, weather-resistant storage pockets, and a 40W/115V AV outlet. The exterior panels of the bed continue to be made of steel.

Once again, Toyota offers the TRD, and now the new TRD Sport, enthusiast packages to off-roaders, but also throws a bone to the sport and tuner truck crowd with the introduction of the lowered X-Runner, a truck that offers the driver more grip than the benchmarked 350Z.

For this test, Toyota sent us a Double Cab 4x4 equipped with the TRD package, which included Bilstein shocks, progressively tuned front coil springs, a 28mm front sway bar, P265/70R16 BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A all-terrain tires, locking rear differential, and sport seats.

When it came time to grab a truck for the off-road portion of our test, the Toyota was clearly the truck everyone clamored for. In the dirt, the Tacoma exhibited a plush and controlled ride, just as capable, but a little bit more comfortable than the Nissan. The Tacoma's advantage in ride quality also extended onto the highway portion of the test, where it was a toss-up between the Tacoma and Dakota for most comfortable cruiser. The Tacoma also had the most pleasing interior in the test, draped in Lexus-like refinement, high-end soft touch plastics, and excellent ergonomics. The JBL sound system also received high marks. With the increase in size, also came a larger cabin which can hold four adults in comfort for the long stretches of highway that are often found between adventures.

While it wasn't our overall winner in this test, the Tacoma still ranks as one of our favorite trucks on the market and should definitely be high on anyone's shopping list. It's Toyota's mix of quality, style, and performance, in a competitively priced package, that makes it the final answer for so many buyers.

From the Logbook:
This new Tacoma offers typical Toyota quality and workmanship, but I was expecting a more dramatic change over the previous Tacoma.
Managing Editor Carl Calvert

The front seats feel just right with good lateral support. The back seat is firm but comfortable.
Senior Tech Editor Bob Ryder

The transmission shifter felt sloppy with no reassurance of what gear we were in.
Feature Editor Travis Noack

Despite driving in Sixth gear at 70 mph, the truck still accelerates hard, which is amazing.
Associate Editor Dan Ward