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10 Most Important Changes to the 2016 Toyota Tacoma

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 2015-08-19 Manufacturer, William Walker, Benson Kong

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We know there’s a lot of interest in the 2016 Toyota Tacoma, one of the most highly page-viewed vehicles on the Motor Trend website this year. We recently conducted our First Drive of this redesigned midsize pickup and discovered plenty of differences and similarities between the new and old models, the new putting forth quantifiable changes while retaining adequate familiarity so as not to alienate the existing customer base. The mass poking and prodding of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma will begin in earnest this September when the trucks land in dealerships.

In the meantime, use our coverage to prime yourself, starting with the Tacoma’s 10 most important changes.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD

1)The interior

Unless you’re planning to put the new Tacoma in the climate-controlled garage along with the rest of your collection, chances are you’ll spend more time inside the truck than outside looking at the bodywork. Toyota wanted a distinctive look and feel for each of the available trims (SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off Road, Limited), and the redone digs leapfrog what had been slapped inside before. The lever-style parking brake has been made standard, perhaps to encourage miscreant activities.

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2)The 3.5-liter V-6

The 1GR-FE 4.0-liter V-6’s exodus from the U.S. market continues, with the new, smoother running, and less vocally demonstrative 3.5-liter V-6 coded 2GR-FKS replacing it for 2016. The two V-6s are mechanically quite dissimilar, with the 278-hp, 265-lb-ft 3.5-liter grabbing a net 42-hp advantage and 1-lb-ft reduction. Torque and power peaks have shifted higher in the rev range—the V-6 redline jumps from 5,500 to 6,200 rpm—but estimated EPA fuel economy improves slightly.

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3)The six-speed automatic transmission

With a 6.21 ratio spread, the new six-speed autos supporting both the 2.7-liter inline-four and 3.5-liter V-6 offer greater driving flexibility than the four- (3.94) and five-speed (4.89) units of yesteryear. Though paired with shorter (numerically higher) axle ratios for 2016, the six-speed transmission’s added steps make shifting sound and feel less dramatic, yielding a more relaxed operating environment. The manual gear-select function works well, too.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD

4)The crash safety

Much like how you used to assume German luxury sedans were safer than anything else on the road simply because they were German, most people didn’t used to expect much from pickup trucks in terms of safety, save for the reassurance of heavy doors and the crush distance between the tailgate and the cab. In this era of cleverer engineering and advanced software guidance, the best possible crash safety should be a given. To help in this area, the Tacoma’s cabin structure has been significantly reinforced, especially at the critical A- and (on the Double Cab) B-pillars.

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5)The driver’s seat position

The driver’s seat doesn’t position you low to the floor anymore, but it also seems like Toyota may have slightly overshot the just-right setting when elevating the H-point. We look forward to hearing from the public on whether the new seat position is within everyone’s comfort zone. The cab itself is still plenty high off the ground, so the vertically challenged can enjoy the sport of hopping in.

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6)The cabin’s calmness

A strengthened frame and body shell provide the solid foundation to appropriately manage NVH, and enhanced sealing and copious rogue-frequency-jamming materials collaborate to keep driver and passenger more sedate. You can drive either a Jeep Wrangler or Tacoma TRD Off Road to the local off-highway vehicle area; the difference in the Taco is you can simultaneously hold a reasonable conversation at speeds above 40 mph (the 2016 Tacoma's center-stack touchscreen is shown here).

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7)The pickup box dimensions

As the industry trend goes, the Tacoma’s box has increased in height, giving the truck more substantial proportions. The various bed widths haven’t changed from the 2015 model, and the lengths are extended by 0.2 inch, all while the box height has gone up 1.1 inches. Of course, the additional depth should pair well with the factory-offered tonneau cover and locking, damped tailgate.

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8)The gross weight ratings

Manufacturer-supplied payload and maximum trailer-weight ratings are cool to look at, but the gross vehicle and gross combined weight ratings are the numbers you’ll take to heart if you do a lot of serious hauling and towing. The GVWR is a flat 5,600 pounds regardless of engine, transmission, driveline, cab style, etc., an upgrade from the outgoing generation’s 4,900-5,500-pound ratings. GCWR is a uniform 11,360 pounds, up from 2015’s 7,500-11,100. Statistically, towing is not a customer priority in this truck segment, but better safe than sorry.

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9)The exterior temperature readout

Is it too much to ask to have an outside temperature display in the Tacoma? On the second generation, the readout moved from the overhead panel to the Homelink rearview mirror to eventually nowhere at all for some trucks, leaving some of the later Taco consumers in the dark with this basic piece of information. The new truck locates the temperature in the gauge cluster on all but the SR model. Look for the real-time, digitized fuel economy meter, as well.

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10)The pricing

At $24,200 to start (including $900 for destination) the Tacoma’s entry price point is higher than it’s ever been. That amount of cash will get you into an SR Access Cab (Toyota speak for extended cab) truck with the 2.7-liter I-4, six-speed automatic transmission, and rear-wheel drive. The Limited model Double Cab with the V-6 and four-wheel drive tops the range at $38,720. Buyers stomaching the increase will be treated to a level of refinement and features (such as a standard backup camera) never before experienced in a Taco.

And now, 10 ways the 2016 Tacoma didn’t change.

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1)The lack of a regular cab

The 2014 model year was the last to feature a standard-cab Tacoma, and 2016 does not fetch the two-door special’s return. Toyota’s sound-off is that regular cabs are more desirable to fleets and the secondhand market instead of the desired retail channels. Early mix expectations for the new Tacoma are 80 percent crew and 20 percent extended cab.

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2)The 2.7-liter I-4

Still kicking as the base engine, the carryover iron-block, 2.7-liter four-cylinder helps keep the base prices down. As with the Highlander, the I-4 is definitely not a volume seller since the Tacoma’s V-6 is projected to make up anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of sales. Once again packing 159 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque, the major change for 2016 is that the I-4 no longer has an advantage in the EPA numbers.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD

3)The fuel tank size

With its 21.1-gallon capacity onboard, the Tacoma continues the fine tradition of carrying the same amount of fuel as its Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon/Nissan Frontier competitors. Now that tank should last a little longer thanks to the more efficient V-6 and six-speed automatic.

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4)The steering

The hydraulically assisted power steering still has a 17.3-17.4:1 ratio with 3.4-3.6 turns lock-to-lock. The feel and response is so close to the last Tacoma’s that it might as well be the same.

2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD

5)The Auto LSD

Tap the stability/traction control button once in a while in rear drive to light up the Auto LSD indicator in the instrument cluster. Hello, open diffs!

2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Toyota Tacoma Limited

6)The low-range ratio

The transfer case on the 2016 Tacoma is new, but the low-range ratio holds steady at 2.57:1. Comparing the most off-roadworthy trucks from the previous and new generations (V-6, automatic, four-wheel drive), we determine the first-gear crawl ratio is more extreme on the ’16 model (36.2:1 to ’15’s 33.7:1). But the 3.5-liter V-6’s higher redline means both can top out at about the same crawl speed.

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7)The pickup box design

Supplier Continental Structural Plastics came to the rescue for the Tacoma’s signature sheet-molded composite bed (with AC power receptacle on TRD and Limited grades). Pros: 10 percent lighter than steel, corrosion resistant, very durable. Cons: slippery without a bed mat, can’t give your uncle’s spray-in bedliner side gig some business.

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8)The hood scoop

If you’d believe 2016 was the year the TRD Sport’s cosmetic hood scoop began to actually pass air into the engine bay, you’d be wrong.

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9)The brakes

Like the steering, the brake pedal feel could have been lifted from last year’s truck. Tacoma and Tundra chief engineer Mike Sweers has a perfectly rehearsed reply when pressed on the new model’s familiar rear 10-inch drum brakes. It basically boiled down to three points. First, Tacomas don’t tow a whole lot. Second, drums are better for off-roading. Third, an improved brake booster and ABS actuator for 2016 mean braking force is distributed exactly as needed.

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10)The demand for TRD

Some 40 percent of Tacomas sold are the TRD models, and 45 percent of Tacoma owners say they go off-roading in some capacity. To satisfy everyone, Toyota allows you to option out a road-focused TRD Sport with four-wheel drive or a TRD Off Road without front half-shafts or the transfer case. How will customers respond to the choices? We’ll find out very soon.

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