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20 Years of the Toyota Tacoma and Beyond: A Look Through the Years

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 1/9/2015 Megan Stewart

Nearly 60 years ago, Toyota sold its first car in the United States, and although it started as just a small, foreign company, it has grown into one of the biggest brands globally. Toyota is best known for its compact and midsize cars such as the Corolla and Camry, but its truck line is also rich with history. By 1969, Toyota started selling the first generation of the Hilux pickup truck, but it wouldn't be until 1995 that the Tacoma name would be introduced. Over the past 46 years, Toyota has improved upon the design, engine, safety, and more to bring us the Tacoma we have today.

Toyota will debut the 2016 Tacoma next week at the 2015 Detroit auto show, but until then, you can catch up on the highlights of this model, from the pickup that debuted back in the '60s to the one currently on showroom floors.

First Generation: 1969-1972 Toyota Hilux

1969 Toyota Hi Lux© Provided by MotorTrend 1969 Toyota Hi Lux When the Toyota Hilux first hit the scene, it was offered as a short wheelbase with a 1.9-liter engine capable of producing 84 hp. Available only in rear-wheel drive with a standard four-speed manual transmission, the Hilux used the typical truck setup of the time: A-arms and coil springs in front, a live axle and leaf springs in the rear. Production for this model was based exclusively in Japan, and Toyota wanted to position this new truck to replace the older, larger Stout in most markets. However, it wouldn't be until the second generation that Toyota would offer the Hilux in a long-wheelbase version.

Second Generation: 1973-1974 Toyota Hilux

1973 Toyota Hi Lux© Provided by MotorTrend 1973 Toyota Hi Lux The second generation offered a longer truck bed, a slightly larger 2.0-liter engine that kicked up the power to 109 horses, and the same standard four-speed manual transmission. However, in the Japanese market this model was only available with a three-speed automatic transmission. The 7.4-foot truck bed became the popular choice in the U.S., and the Hilux name was dropped from advertisements in favor of "Truck." In terms of styling, not much changed between the first two generations.

Third Generation: 1975-1978 Toyota Truck

1975 Toyota Pickup© Provided by MotorTrend 1975 Toyota Pickup Not only was the new Toyota Truck sporting a new design, but it was also larger than its predecessor and provided a slightly bigger engine. That didn't necessarily mean more power, though. The new 2.2-liter engine only pumped out 97 hp, thanks to the weight increases in the engine and larger body structure. Toyota also added the SR5 upscale trim package and an available five-speed manual transmission. By September 1977, the automaker reached an important milestone and produced its 1 millionth truck in the U.S. From here on out Toyota made a name for itself in the compact truck segment.

Fourth Generation: 1979-1983 Toyota Truck

1981 Toyota Pickup© Provided by MotorTrend 1981 Toyota Pickup By 1979, Toyota started selling a 4WD variant of the Toyota Truck. However, it could not be purchased with an engine smaller than 2.0 liters. Toyota also introduced the L Series diesel engine for the 1979 model year on 2WD models. The 4WD models weren't available with the diesel engine until 1983. For the fourth generation, the Toyota Truck was redesigned to make use of a solid front axle and leaf suspension, along with single round headlights. The Mojave model was also introduced in a limited production run that features exclusive bucket seats, a two-speaker multiplex radio, and chrome front and rear bumpers. Toyota also introduced a 2.4-liter engine rated at 97 hp with 129 lb-ft of torque. The new engine came standard on the SR5 model.

Fifth Generation: 1984-1988 Toyota Truck

1984 Toyota Pickup© Provided by MotorTrend 1984 Toyota Pickup The next generation in the Toyota Truck lineup saw more changes, including the addition of the Xtracab, a two-row extended cab option. These models featured the 2.4-liter engine along with the new fuel-injected 2.4-liter that produced 105 hp. For a short time, Toyota also offered two diesel engines, a 2.4-liter and turbocharged 2.4-liter. This was the last generation with the four-speed manual transmission, but in its place Toyota offered three- and four-speed automatic transmissions. The 4X4 models also featured an independent front suspension, electronic transfer case, and optional automatic differential disconnect for the front differential. It wasn't until the sixth generation that the Toyota Truck would be powered by a V-6 engine.

Sixth Generation: 1989-1994 Toyota Truck

1989 Toyota Pickup© Provided by MotorTrend 1989 Toyota Pickup With a redesign that produced a longer wheelbase, Toyota rolled out the 3.0-liter V-6 engine to compete with the likes of Nissan, which already had V-6 trucks on the market. Thanks to the new V-6 engine, the Xtracab SR5 earned Motor Trend 's 1989 Truck of the Year award. This award kicked off a string of awards for years. By 1991, small-scale production of the Toyota Truck started at the automaker's NUUMI plant in Fremont, California. This was the future production site of Toyota's new truck.

First Generation: 1995-2004 Toyota Tacoma

1995 Toyota Tacoma© Provided by MotorTrend 1995 Toyota Tacoma For the 1995 model year, Toyota finally gave its small truck a name. The Toyota Tacoma lineup was announced, and carved out a name for itself in the next decade. The new truck offered improved handling and comfort, and as the years went on it added new variants such as the PreRunner Xtracab and Xtracab TRD. By the early 2000s the Tacoma had standard daytime running lights on models equipped with ABS, along with vehicle stability control and traction control. Styling changes were few and far between initially, as the automaker focused more on safety with the addition of passenger-side airbags. But in 2001, the Tacoma received a host of styling changes, new upgrade packages, and exterior color options.

Tacoma Production Moves to TMMBC

2004 Toyota Tacoma© Provided by MotorTrend 2004 Toyota Tacoma Right at the tail end of the first generation of the new Toyota Tacoma, production was no longer exclusively at the NUMMI plant in Fremont, California. In 2004, the Tacoma entered production at the TMMBC plant in Baja California, Mexico. The plant offered an annual production capacity of 180,000 Tacoma decks and 30,000 trucks. In later years, those production numbers grew and the plant created more than 50 jobs.

Second Generation: 2005-Present Toyota Tacoma

2005 Toyota Tacoma front side view© Provided by MotorTrend 2005 Toyota Tacoma front side view The new generation Toyota Tacoma took home award after award, including the title of Truck of the Year from Motor Trend in 2005 for the Tacoma X-Runner. This trim was introduced for the new model year and featured a 4.0-liter engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission. The next model year saw the addition of new standard and safety features, but it wasn't until 2009 that it received any major cosmetic changes. The 2009 Tacoma featured a revised grille and new LED taillamps, and the X-Runner, TRD Offroad, and TRD Sport models featured a smoked headlamp trim. A lower center stack and auxiliary jack were introduced for the 2009 model year, and Access Cab models featured redesigned rear seats for better comfort, along with power windows and doors.

Tacoma Adds Safety Features

In 2009, Toyota added all the safety features necessary for the Tacoma to earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating. The model included standard Star Safety System and front seat-mounted side airbags, curtain side airbags, and active front headrests. The Tacoma was one of the only models in the small pickup segment to earn this rating, as the Nissan Frontier and Dodge Dakota lagged behind, earning less than desirable ratings from the IIHS.

2009 Toyota Tacoma Front Right© Provided by MotorTrend 2009 Toyota Tacoma Front Right

Tacoma Production Starts at San Antonio, Texas

2010 Toyota Tacoma© Provided by MotorTrend 2010 Toyota Tacoma Although production still continued at the TMMBC plant in Baja California, Toyota started a new production line for the Tacoma at the San Antonio plant in 2010. This plant was also home to Tundra production and offered a yearly vehicle capacity of 200,000 units. In 2013 -- 10 years after the plant was constructed -- the 1 millionth truck, a Sunset Bronze Mica 1794 Edition Tundra, rolled off the line. Before this, the San Antonio plant's mission was to build trucks for the U.S. market. However, the plant now exports both the Tundra and the Tacoma to 11 other countries.

2012 Toyota Tacoma Gets Restyled Inside and Out

2012 Toyota Tacoma Front© Provided by MotorTrend 2012 Toyota Tacoma Front For the 2012 model year, Toyota gave the Tundra a thorough refresh, including a refined exterior and completely redesigned interior. The hood, grille, headlamps, and front bumper were updated, and inside the Tacoma showed off a new center instrument panel design with a revised gauge cluster, new steering wheel, and interior black high-contrast center console. Other changes included new seat fabric for the SR5 model, and the Access and Double cab models received new heavy-duty, all-weather flooring. TRD Sport and Off-Road models featured water-resistant fabric protection seats. Toyota also included a new TRD Sport package with minor exterior and interior enhancements.

Toyota Launches TRD Pro Series Tacoma

20 Years of the Toyota Tacoma and Beyond: A Look Through the Years

2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro For the 2015 model year, Toyota rolled out the TRD Pro Series Tacoma, building on what has become the best-selling compact truck since 2008. In order to increase its off-road effectiveness, Toyota added 16-inch black beadlock-style TRD alloy wheels with BF Goodrich tires, TRD-tuned springs with 2.0 inches of lift in the front, a decreased spring rate, a TRD exhaust, and black "TRD Pro" external hard badging. This model hit showroom floors in August 2014 with a price tag ranging from $35,525 to $37,415. With this edition of the Tacoma, the TRD Pro Series family now has a model for almost every need.

Toyota Unveils 2016 Tacoma

2016 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab Limited© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab Limited We have yet to see the newest Toyota Tacoma in person, and the automaker is refusing to let anything slip before it's revealed at the 2015 Detroit auto show. However, we did get a few photos of the new model (by Patrick Hoey). There aren't many notable changes to the exterior, leaving us to guess that the majority of changes took place under the hood and behind the wheel. We expect all models to stay the same, with the base, Limited, and TRD Off-Road package, but when it comes to the engine, we'd wager a guess that Toyota will opt for the smaller 3.5-liter V-6 and 2.7-liter four-cylinder, along with a six-speed transmission. We're curious to see if the 2016 Toyota Tacoma will be able to keep its sales lead with new competitors such as the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon entering dealerships.

Toyota Tacoma Through the Years© Provided by MotorTrend Toyota Tacoma Through the Years
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