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1997 Toyota Tacoma REVIEW logo 4/6/2017

Con: Luke-warm about the revised styling. Dangerously close to full-size truck prices.

Pro: Powerful, rugged, and reliable.

What’s New: The 1997 Toyota Tacoma receives several new value packages that make optioning the truck easier. A locking rear-wheel differential is now available on all 4WD models. Bucket seats can be had on all Xtracab Tacomas this year; not just the SR5. Two-wheel-drive models have new headlamps and a new grille that make the vehicle look more like the T100.

Review: Toyota's sixth-generation compact pickup debuted in April, as a 1995.5 model, with an actual model name: Tacoma. It's supposed to suggest the rugged outdoors, as well as strength and adventure. Any of three potent new engines goes under the hood, and the pickup rides an all-new chassis. Toyota aimed at aggressive styling, inside and out, and Tacomas sport an excellent selection of interior fittings. Regular and extended Xtracab bodies are available, with either two- or four-wheel drive. A deep-sculpted grille/hood/fender structure imparts a sporty personality to the truck, to attract customers who select their 4x4s on non-utilitarian grounds.

Two-wheel-drive Tacomas get a 2.4-liter four-cylinder base engine, rated 142 horsepower (26 more than the prior generation). Tacoma 4x4s earn a 150-horsepower, 2.7-liter four. Toyota claims that its four-cylinder engines are comparable to V6s from competitors. But if those won't suffice, consider the latest V6 option: a dual-overhead-cam, 24-valve unit that whips out 190 horses and 220 foot-pounds of torque. With V6 power, borrowed from the bigger T100, this compact pickup can tow up to 5,000 pounds and soundly whip any factory sport truck in the stoplight dragrace. In contrast, the V6 engine available in the prior-generation pickup delivered only 150 horsepower and 180 foot-pounds.

All Tacomas have front coil springs instead of the former torsion bars, but 4x4s feature longer suspension travel than before, to improve ride/handling qualities, whether on- or off-road. Track width has been increased, too, for a more stable ride. Rack-and-pinion steering replaces the old recirculating-ball layout, for better feel and response. Manual-shift trucks feature reverse-gear synchronization, to reduce gear noise when shifting into reverse. Four-wheel antilock braking is an option, but all pickups contain an airbag for the driver. In top-of-the-line SR5 Xtracab pickups, a One-Touch Hi-4 switch is available for easy, pushbutton engagement of four-wheel-drive. By redesigning and lowering the floor by 1.6 inches, Toyota makes 4x4s easier to enter.

Tacomas are produced at the NUMMI joint-venture facility in Fremont, California, having been designed in that state. Options include cruise control, air conditioning, a sliding rear window, tilt steering wheel, and moonroof. We like the Tacoma, but question the value it represents. These new Toyota trucks don't come cheap. Guess that's the price you pay for the peace of mind a Toyota provides.


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