The Toyota Tacoma does something other mid-size pickups like the Chevrolet Colorado or Ford Ranger don’t; it outsells the brand’s full-size pickup truck. The third-generation Taco turns eight this year, and while fans have grown to love this bestselling mid-sizer, its standard equipment is getting a little dusty. A wimpy 159-hp inline-four engine and a six-speed automatic transmission are standard, while a 278-hp V-6 comes with either the auto or a six-speed manual transmission. The Tacoma and Jeep Gladiator are the only two pickups sold in the U.S. with three pedals. The Tacoma’s base powertrain is the least powerful in the segment, but the rear-drive single cab model remains a far more affordable choice than both the Gladiator and Honda Ridgeline. It can tow slightly more than the Nissan Frontier at 6800 pounds, but its awkward seating position, poor fuel economy, and low-rent interior furnishings hold the highly capable Tacoma back.
What’s New for 2023?
Toyota is adding two new appearance packages to its SR5 trim level for 2023 Tacomas. The SX package, which was previously available on the SR trim, is available for V-6 SR5 with both Access Cab and Double Cab bodies. It adds black over-fenders, black wheels with black lug nuts, and more black badging and trim details scattered throughout. The Chrome package, available on SR5 Double Cab with the five-foot bed, adds 18-inch polished wheels, chrome door handles, exhaust tips, and tailgate logo, as well as a leather-wrapped shift knob. SR5 models with the V-6 now get Toyota’s Smart Key and a power-adjustable driver’s seat, and every V-6 now comes with automatic dual-zone climate control. Limited trim levels now get a power-adjustable driver’s seat, the 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, Smart Key, and a 360-degree camera on Limited Double Cab Tacomas. TRD Pro off-road models get a new exclusive Solar Octane color for 2023. The TRD Sport is now available in Electric Lime paint.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
It’s good to stick with what the Tacoma does best, with the TRD Off-Road crew cab (a.k.a Double Cab). It comes standard with an electronic locking rear differential, and we’d take ours with the optional four-wheel drive. We’d pass on the wheezy four-cylinder base engine and upgrade to the more powerful V-6. While not selecting the automatic transmission means missing out on certain options, we prefer to shift gears ourselves and avoid the auto’s clumsy behavior. This decision limits us to the shorter 5.0-foot cargo box, because—for whatever reason—the manual isn’t compatible with Tacos fitted with the 6.0-foot bed. Likewise, the Premium packages are not offered with our transmission choice. Still, every model has 16-inch wheels, black over-fenders, copious driver assists, and an infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot. We’d also choose the Technology package with options, which brings upgraded front lighting with LED elements as well as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and parking sensors.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Tacoma’s optional 278-hp V-6 engine makes 265 lb-ft of torque and provides decent performance and towing muscle, but the base 159-hp four-cylinder makes only 180 lb-ft of torque and is underpowered and best avoided. We also advise steering clear of the persnickety six-speed automatic transmission with either engine—stick with the six-speed manual and the V-6. Anchored by the automatic, even the bigger engine struggles at times. The TRD Sport and the Limited models are oriented toward city driving, whereas the TRD Off-Road and the TRD Pro versions seek rougher paths. Still, none of these choices are particularly quick. Far from the first choice for ride quality and handling, the Tacoma can tackle the trails or rough back roads with ease. It can be outfitted to take advantage of dirt-treading opportunities or pavement cruising. The Limited delivers a satisfying ride that is smoother and quieter than the off-road versions. We’ve driven the Tacoma TRD Pro out west and found its lifted suspension, beefy shock absorbers, and gnarly tires made it one of the best trucks for off-roading but less enjoyable for everyday driving.
More on the Tacoma Pickup
Towing and Payload Capacity
At its brawniest, the Tacoma can tow up to 6800 pounds with rear-wheel drive; four-wheel-drive versions can pull 6500 pounds. The Tacoma’s 1685-pound maximum payload capacity is only available on two-wheel drive models with the four-cylinder engine, going with four-wheel drive and the V-6 engine results in much lower capabilities.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The V-6 Tacoma’s EPA-rated fuel economy ranks in the middle of the pack, but in our real-world highway testing, it falls short of more efficient competitors. Although the manual transmission with the V-6 has the worst fuel economy, it’s way more fun to drive. In our real-world fuel-economy test, the Tacoma matched its EPA highway estimate of 23 mpg. Still, this was 5 mpg less than the Honda Ridgeline and the diesel GMC Canyon.
For more information about the Tacoma’s fuel economy, visit the EPA’s website.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Sticking to your roots is commendable, but it doesn’t work in the favor of the Tacoma’s cabin. The utilitarian layout and materials are of a different era—the last one. Even the higher trim levels rely heavily on hard plastics and minimalistic materials. However, the Tacoma finally offers a power-adjustable driver’s seat. Still, cramped quarters are a staple of the Tacoma. The crew cab’s rear seat is where passengers in the Tacoma will have to squeeze, as legroom is abysmal. The Tacoma has more than enough volume in its five-foot or six-foot bed, but it disappoints with few storage cubbies and limited carry-on space inside. Storage capacity is restricted inside the Tacoma, and the crew cab we tested was only able to hold nine carry-ons in the back seat. Aside from the center-console bin, there aren’t many usable storage bins or cubbies.
The Car and Driver Difference
Infotainment and Connectivity
We’ll give Toyota a nod for incorporating touchscreen infotainment in every Tacoma. The base model features a 7.0-inch display, and all other trim levels have an 8.0-inch screen. The company also has finally added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, which should improve the user experience versus the previous infotainment system. While several USB ports and a wireless charging are available, the Tacoma still doesn’t offer a mobile hotspot as do some of its rivals.
How to Buy and Maintain a Car
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The Tacoma might have only average crash-test ratings, but it has the most standard driver-assistance technology in its class. While the Ridgeline maintains its class-leading status here (thanks to excellent crash-test scores), the mid-size Toyota has more impressive tech than its other rivals.
For more information about the Tacoma’s crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
- Standard forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking
- Standard lane-departure warning
- Standard adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
The Tacoma’s warranty coverage aligns with most rivals, and Toyota offers the best complimentary scheduled maintenance plan in its class.
- Limited warranty covers three years or 36,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for two years or 25,000 miles
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-/4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door pickup
PRICE AS TESTED: $44,627 (base price: $43,700)
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 24-valve Atkinson-cycle V-6, aluminum block and heads, port and direct fuel injection
Displacement: 211 cu in, 3456 cc
Power: 278 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 265 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 127.4 in
Length: 212.3 in
Width: 75.2 in Height: 71.6 in
Passenger volume: 100 cu ft
Curb weight: 4661 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 7.7 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 23.5 sec
Zero to 110 mph: 34.2 sec
Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 8.1 sec
Top gear, 30-50 mph: 4.2 sec
Top gear, 50-70 mph: 5.3 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.0 sec @ 89 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 113 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 180 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.70 g
EPA city/highway driving: 18/23 mpg
C/D observed: 19 mpg
C/D observed 75-mph highway driving: 21 mpg
C/D observed highway range: 480 mi
More Features and Specs