Once upon a time, the honest, hardworking compact pickup truck was, well, compact.
The last two decades of vehicles blowing up to caricatures of their original selves has also had an effect on the truck market. While the vast majority of pickup buyers go for the full-size half-ton models such as the popular Ford F-150, GMC Sierra and Ram 1500, the midsize truck market is very much alive. This is the 2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, the top dog of the Tacoma line, long reputed to be one of the most reliable trucks in existence.
While the compact pickup is mostly dead, these “little” trucks like the Tacoma, Ford Ranger, GMC Canyon, Chevrolet Colorado and more are an excellent choice for those who don’t need the massive size of today’s half-ton. With their smaller footprint, mid-size trucks are easier to maneuver in urban settings, and are more than enough truck for many buyers. The Tacoma was last redesigned in 2016, and holds up its reputation of being one of the most reliable vehicles on the road, ever.
It’s not all that old, especially when compared to the archaic Nissan Frontier, but the Tacoma does show its age in a few ways. The interior is very obviously previous-generation Toyota, and isn’t the most modern cabin. The floor is very high, so taller drivers with long legs may have issues getting comfortable. It lacks a heated steering wheel, and the column itself doesn’t have much in the way of adjustability.
But, people who buy Tacomas don’t care about any of that. The 3.5-liter 24-valve V6 is tried and tested, with 278 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 265 lb-ft. of torque at 4,600RPM. A six-speed automatic is the gearbox most buyers will opt for, though our tester was equipped with the delightful six-speed manual transmission! That’s right, a model year 2021 pickup truck with a stick – what a time to be alive!
It’s no slick-shifting gearbox and definitely feels very “trucky”, but the shifter falls into the gates effortlessly and is easy to modulate with quick flicks of the wrist. The throws are rather long, but the manual allows drivers to rev higher and make use of the peaky nature of the V6. It’s not exactly a powerhouse, but comes alive in higher RPMs and in the lower portion of the band, just grunts along effortlessly. One neat touch is a switch on the dash disabling the need to depress the clutch when starting.
The TRD Pro is the most capable version of the Tacoma, and adds things like a front skid plate, TRD-tuned rear leaf spring suspension, Fox shock absorbers, and a locking rear differential. It also gets 16-inch wheels with 265/70R16 off-road tires. It still manages to ride well, though very obviously a truck. We didn’t venture off the beaten path during our week, but moreso wanted to establish whether this truck can be driven daily by the average driver. The answer is absolutely – the bed is short enough to manage around downtown Toronto and the overall driving manners are good.
Fuel efficiency is rated at 13.8L/100km in the city and 11.4L/100km on the highway, for a combined 12.7L/100km. Over one tank of fuel used in our test vehicle, we averaged 13.9L/100km in an even split between city and highway driving. We can expect drivers outside of winter conditions to meet the highway rating without issue. The 79.8-liter tank only requires 87-octane regular fuel to operate optimally.
The Tacoma’s cabin got some much-needed updates last year, including a larger eight-inch touchscreen housing the infotainment system. The native Toyota system is still dated and in need of an update, however those using smartphone connectivity can circumvent this. The TRD Pro still requires a key to be turned to start, however the safety suite gets blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, collision warning and more. Also included is a Multi-Terrain View Monitor that helps navigate when off-road.
Toyota Canada prices the 2021 Tacoma from $37,990 for the Access Cab in base trim. The Double Cab tested here starts at $44,940, and the TRD Pro package is an additional $7,420, bringing the as-tested total to $52,360 before freight, PDI and taxes. All Tacomas come standard with Toyota Safety Sense P, a five or six-foot bed (short-bed only on the TRD Pro), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other unique bits to the TRD Pro include smoked taillight housings, heritage “TOYOTA” logo on the grille, LED fog lamps, and a TRD shift knob.
Regardless of transmission choice, the Tacoma TRD Pro with its five-foot bed can haul 6,400 pounds with its generous towing capacity. Other models can tow up to 6,800 pounds, which is a minimal increase. The TRD Pro can also hold a maximum payload of 1,175 pounds, and models with the longer bed can do up to 1,370 pounds. It’s more of a truck than the Honda Ridgeline, and a far better choice than the Frontier and Ranger.
Buyers shopping in the midsize truck segment should really only choose between the GM twins and the Tacoma. The 2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro has one major rival, and that’s the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. With legitimate off-road chops and interiors that are more than livable, consumers have two exceptional choices. The Tacoma wins on its reputation for longevity, reliability and being known as one of the most durable trucks in the world. This is a true apocalypse vehicle, one that can get you anywhere, anytime.