2007 Toyota Tacoma

Part of the fun of test-driving vehicles is test-driving a new lifestyle to go with them.

Part of the fun of test-driving vehicles is test-driving a new lifestyle to go with them.

For instance, I felt like a snob in the Audi A6, a bohemian in the BMW Z4 and 30 years younger in the Volkswagen GTI.

So when I picked up the Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, I suddenly felt like, well, an accidental arborist.

Now the Tacoma is sort of like a suburban-sprawl pickup. It's not one of those critter-squishin', three-tonne, hemi-under-the-hood jobs you see delivering some handsome guy to cap a gas well in an Ansel Adams landscape.

You're more likely to see the Tacoma at the Water Depot or Sleep Country Canada, maybe with an ornamental dog in the back. Thusly, I felt perfectly at home in my cinnamon-heart red Tacoma 4×4 double cab V6 priced out at $37,270.

Let's start with the exterior: it's okay, but there's something vaguely unbalanced about it.

The truck bed, with only two metres of cargo space, looks stubby and tacked on. That's likely because that double cab, which allows you to carry some human freight, takes up some important real estate in the middle of the truck.

It's a bit like those bizarre contraptions you see on the fruit farms in Niagara, where an old Pontiac Parisienne has had the back end amputated to allow for transport of Bing cherries.

In a desire to be different perhaps, the wheel wells have some sharp angles that are oddly cubist but definitely memorable.

The front end is friendly-looking, like a dog hoping for adoption at the SPCA. Overall, the design seems to be a bit of a hedge, like: "yes I am a pickup truck, but you could drive me to the funeral home if you had to."

Now, legions of Tacoma fans will disagree with me, including the young man at Toyota headquarters who turned over the keys and said it was his dream car.

"You're going to love it," he said with adolescent ecstasy.

Love it? No. Like it? Sort of.

My preference is for small, sporty cars, so I was anxious to see what driving the suburban sprawler would be like.

Again, it was okay, like how wine from a box is okay.

I found myself driving conservatively, which is not a bad thing in a pickup truck. My Tacoma 4×4 had a 4.0-litre engine producing 236 horsepower. Power in the smooth five-speed automatic was adequate. I stayed out of the passing lane, not because the truck was underpowered, but because it felt like the right thing to do.

The sensation of speed in a truck is totally different than in a car. It's surprising how often the speedometer crept up to 120 km/h unnoticed. Does this explain why some trucks seem to be driving at a maniacally fast speed?

Another interesting benefit of driving the red pickup was the ability to implement the gross tonnage rule. Because the truck is bigger and more visible than what I usually drive, there seemed to be less need to drive gingerly in parking lots. Not to say I was a jerk or aggressive, just that I felt less likely to be hammered by someone else in a big vehicle.

Visibility is good, the side mirrors are up to the job and the Tacoma is not too frightful to manoeuvre even in the Water Depot lot.

When pressed into service, the model I tested can tow 2,268 kg and carry 623 kg of stuff.

The cargo bed is made with damage-resistant composite material, which Toyota says won't rust.

It comes with storage boxes and a removable tailgate, but could be customized further with bike racks, cargo dividers and various covers, whatever fits your new lifestyle.

The cabin was an inoffensive place to spend some time. The interior surfaces in this particular truck were various shades of porch paint grey and nicely fitted, though a more supportive seat would have been nice. This one just didn't fit.

The Tacoma's radio and climate controls are user-friendly chunky knobs and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, which helps in proper seating set-up.

After spending a week with the Tacoma, the most impressive thing was entrée and acceptance into new worlds available to pickup drivers. For instance, I drove into the works yard of Davey Tree in Hamilton. It was quitting time and all the shiny green and yellow trucks were returning with their chainsaws and chippers. I felt right at home, even though my Tacoma was tool-less.

But the best time was a sunny Sunday afternoon spent exploring the fantastic industrial landscape of Hamilton Harbour. Driving past immense freighters unloading windmill blades, past scrap-metal yards and Great Lakes stevedores, the Tacoma was the prefect partner.

Stopping to take photos and admire the Ed Burtynsky landscape, I felt as if maybe I belonged there.

I might have loved the Tacoma in the 1980s, when we were renovating our house and loading boxes of plasters and lath in a Taurus wagon to go to the dump. Somehow we made do with the wagon.

But if you see rakes, hoes, brooms and saws in your future, then mating with the well-built Tacoma, which comes with Toyota's reputation for reliability, might be the right lifestyle choice.


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