QUEBEC CITYâ€”Canadians love trucks. The top-selling vehicle each year is a pickup and the segment is a fiercely fought one, with manufacturers crowing almost ridiculous torque and towing numbers in an effort to be top dog.
That said, thatâ€™s for the full-size variety. The compact truck segment is shrinking, which is why Toyota put a few writers into the 2012 Tacoma alongside a larger press launch for its new Prius V. The Tacoma hasnâ€™t changed all that much; the company was primarily reminding us that itâ€™s now among the last trucks standing.
Fordâ€™s Ranger is gone for 2012, hanging in longer than its sister Mazda B-Series did, and Dodgeâ€™s mid-size Dakota has also retired. The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon stick around for 2012 but will disappear in favour of a â€œglobalâ€ truck that will hit numerous world markets before we get it. About the only current compacts soldiering on are Nissanâ€™s Frontier (the Equator, a Suzuki-badged version of it, never got off the ground) and Hondaâ€™s front-wheel-biased, unibody Ridgeline.
Changes to the 2012 Tacoma are in trim. A new front face gives it a 4 Runner-style look, and there are two additional cargo tie-downs in the box. The interior is updated with a new steering wheel and door panels, upgraded stereo, revised centre stack, and on the 4×4 models, standard USB port, Bluetooth, satellite radio, cruise control and keyless entry.
There are no changes to the driveline or configuration. All models have four doors: the Access Cab has two small rear ones that hinge at the back and can only be operated when the front doors are open, while the Double Cabâ€™s rear doors are hinged at the front and open independently. Engine choices are a 2.7 L four-cylinder that comes with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, or a 4.0 L V6 with six-speed manual or five-speed automatic. Both engines come in two- or four-wheel drive, with 4×4 models offering two bed lengths.
Base prices run from $22,100 to $29,900. The cheapest model is $200 more than in 2011, but prices fall substantially on the upper lines. At $27,900, the 4×4 Access Cab with V6 and automatic has dropped $2,745 from the 2011 equivalent, while the $29,900 Double Cab is $3,340 less.
The truck still seems pricey, though, especially in its lower levels. The four-cylinder Access Cab 4×2 I drove would have felt far more satisfying had it been around $18,000, but it was outfitted to $25,000. Even so, itâ€™s at the lower end of the competition. The GM models run $24,045 to $36,670, the Frontier from $24,478 to $40,278, and the Ridgeline from $34,990 to $43,690. Thatâ€™s much of the battle compact trucks face: in many cases you can get into a full-size for less money.
Tacomaâ€™s base price includes a/c, power locks and windows, cloth seats, six airbags, active front head restraints and electronic stability control.
If youâ€™re planning on working this truck, get the V6. The 159-horsepower four-cylinder is geared for fuel economy and it revs high on hills and the highway. Making 236 horses and 266 lb-ft of torque, the V6 isnâ€™t the most powerful of the pack â€” the Frontierâ€™s V6 makes 261 horsepower, and GM offers a top-line 300-horse V8 â€” but itâ€™s a gutsy little power plant nevertheless, going about its business efficiently and quietly.
Towing capacity is 1,587 kg. The V6 can be optioned with a Power Package that increases it to 2,948 kg, but itâ€™s costly: $2,300 for the Access Cab and $2,500 for the Double Cab. It includes a Class IV hitch, trailer sway control, rearview camera, upgraded alternator and better cooling, but also throws in such things as alloy wheels, chrome grille and bumpers, leather-wrapped steering wheel and fancier interior. Why canâ€™t I get just a plain little work truck that can haul more than the base model? And why do auto companies â€” and theyâ€™re pretty much all guilty of this, on both big and small trucks â€” offer towing packages that donâ€™t add big, extendable towing mirrors? Tow packages should include tow mirrors, period.
The seats are comfortable but the seating position isnâ€™t, due to a high floor and low-set chairs. The standard telescopic steering wheel helped somewhat, but my leg was still too straight and went numb during the dayâ€™s drive. (My much taller co-driver had the same complaint, so it wasnâ€™t just my short stature.) The ride is smooth, but thereâ€™s too much play in the steering wheel on the highway. These are updated looks on an old-school truck.
Still, Toyota expects to sell about 9,000 of them for 2012. It should do it easily: the upper-line models are priced aggressively, key players have left the market, and those left havenâ€™t been substantially updated in a while either.
Transportation for freelance writer Jil McIntosh was provided by the automaker. Reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
2012 TOYOTA TACOMA
PRICE: $22,100 â€” $29,900
ENGINE: 2.7 L four-cylinder, 4.0 L V6
POWER: 159 hp, 180 torque (I4); 236 hp, 266 torque (V6)
FUEL CONSUMPTION: City 11.5, hwy. 8.7 (I4 A/T); City 13.1, hwy 9.8 (V6 A/T)
COMPETITION: Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline, Nissan Frontier
WHATâ€™S BEST: Nice ride, gutsy V6, improved interior
WHATâ€™S WORST: Seating position, base models seem too pricey
WHATâ€™S INTERESTING: Itâ€™s built in California and Texas