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Tacoma bulks up to take on the big boys

  • Driver

The new Toyota Tacoma pickup is bigger and more powerful than its predecessor.

Of course, over the past two years, I could have started practically any pickup preview with that sentence. In today's market, upsizing is a necessity.

This eighth version of the Tacoma loudly proclaims that Toyota is no longer happy playing in just the compact market, where it has done quite well since the mid-'60s.

This pickup, in all variations, stakes a claim in the mid-size segment.

Double Cab models with automatic transmissions are 515 mm longer than the previous generation, while shorter Access Cab models are anywhere from 154 to 279 mm longer than the Xtracab models they replace.

A 1,880 mm cargo bed is standard on every Tacoma except the Double Cab four-wheel drive version, which has a 1,550 mm bed.

Engines, too, are bigger, with two choices.

First, an all-new 4.0-litre V6 (replacing the 3.4-litre engine), which makes 240 hp at 5,200 rpm and 282 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,800 rpm.

The standard engine on the two-wheel-drive Access Cab has also grown into a new 2.7-litre four-cylinder that develops 164 hp at 5,200 rpm and 183 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,800 rpm.

The extra power boosts Tacoma's towing capacity. On the four-wheel-drive, V6 version, the new tow limit is 2,268 kg, up from 1,587 kg.

With Toyota's bulletproof reputation, the burlier Tacoma should be well received.

Or will it? Pickup buyers have often confounded manufacturers with how loyal (or fickle) they are to their brands. Despite its success with compacts, the bigger-truck nut is one Toyota still hasn't cracked.

The firm's literature refers to the 2005 Tacoma as "basically on par with Dodge Dakota," an obvious reference to what Toyota sees as the main mid-size competition.

But Dodge and Toyota have very different cultural pedigrees.

Will buyers looking at a Dakota consider the Tacoma? That's the question.

The answer will start to come in late October when the trucks hit showrooms. Unfortunately, a key indicator, the price, won't be available until closer to the launch date. And, at Toyota's request, I can't give you my driving impressions just yet.

Nonetheless, I can tell you a good effort has been made on the interior, giving Tacoma a richly outfitted look.

New standard features include a six-speaker CD sound system, front bucket seats, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, front and rear cupholders, and carpeting on even the base model.

New storage compartments live under the jump seats in back. Rear seatbacks fold flat in the Double Cab for flexibility in carrying people or cargo.

The V6 is linked to a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission, while the four-cylinder comes with a five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic.

An interesting feature is Tacoma's new cargo bed, which Toyota says is made of a composite material that is lighter than steel and more durable. It resists dents and won't rust.

Other goodies: a removable tailgate, integrated side storage boxes, an optional 400-watt power outlet and a standard utility rail for two-tier loading.

The bulked-up new sheet metal reflects a distinctive Toyota look. The grille, lights and hood recall a familiar silhouette, while the tires, wheel-well accents and heavier doors emphasize the growth to mid-size.

It's a good look, which is needed to succeed in this market.

The new Tacoma will have some 18 configurations, allowing personalization as well as set-up choices for recreational or business haulers.

Toyota appears solidly on target with this new pickup.

wheels @ thestar.ca powersports @ sympatico.ca

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