- Engines offer a good balance of power and fuel efficiency
- Wide variety of body styles and trims
- Strong safety scores
- Impressive build quality
- Well-appointed interior
- Low seating position
- Spongy brake pedal
- V6 can get noisy
While the word "downsizing" has developed some negative connotations in recent years, there's still something to be said for the concept. To illustrate our point, let's use the 2012 Toyota Tacoma as an example.
In an era where the price for a gallon of gasoline can be volatile, ditching your thirsty full-size pickup for something like the Tacoma makes a lot of sense. This downsizing also pays dividends in terms of everyday maneuverability, as the truck's smaller dimensions make it a lot less stressful to do everything from finding a parking spot at your local warehouse store to scooting through openings in traffic.
The fact that the Tacoma is offered with multiple body styles, engines, drivetrains, suspension setups and levels broadens its appeal from no-frills work truck to comfortable family transportation. And while it's true you'll be giving up some of the capabilities of a full-size truck, it's also important to ask yourself how many times you actually need to haul a dozen four-by-eight plywood sheets or tow a 10,000-pound trailer?
A reputation for sturdy build quality and excellent reliability also puts the Tacoma on par with many of its full-size competitors. For 2012, the Tacoma also takes a clear lead in the arena of in-car electronics, adding Toyota's new Entune services to the options list. This includes Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, HD radio, satellite radio, text/e-mail reading, Pandora and iHeartRadio streaming, and real-time traffic info (among other things). If all that's not enough, a price tag that's significantly lower than for those big trucks should help seal the deal.
The 2012 Toyota Tacoma also compares favorably with its few remaining competitors in the midsize pickup segment. The cleverly designed Honda Ridgeline is an attractive option for personal use, but lacks the burliness many pickup buyers demand. Ford and Dodge have already pulled out of the segment and GM's entries are so underwhelming at the moment they might as well head for the exits as well. That leaves the Nissan Frontier as the Tacoma's only serious competition. The Frontier is an equally capable and muscular-looking truck, but its interior isn't as spacious or refined. Add it all up and the Toyota Tacoma is one of the few midsize pickups appealing enough to give downsizing a good name.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2012
The 2012 Toyota Tacoma gets updated styling inside and out, plus several new high-tech entertainment features.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2012 Toyota Tacoma is a midsize pickup offered in Regular Cab, Access Cab (an extended cab with small rear-hinged doors) and Double Cab (crew cab with four full-size front-hinged doors) configurations. Both Regular and Access Cabs come with a 6-foot bed. A 5-foot bed is standard on Double Cab models, with a 6-foot bed available as an option.
All three Tacoma body styles are offered in a choice of two- or four-wheel drive. Rear-wheel-drive PreRunner versions adopt the rugged look of their more off-road-capable siblings but without the added weight, reduced fuel economy and improved traction of actual four-wheel-drive versions. The rear-wheel-drive X-Runner model adopts a more street-oriented stance with a body kit, hood scoop, 18-inch alloy wheels, lowered sport-tuned suspension and standard V6, plus foglights and an upgraded sound system.
In its base trim level, the Tacoma Regular Cab is an ideal work truck with more standard amenities than other bare-bones pickups. Standard features include 15-inch steel wheels, a limited-slip differential, air-conditioning, a composite bedliner, a bed utility rail system, a cloth bench seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio and auxiliary audio jack. Four-wheel-drive versions equipped with an automatic transmission also get front bucket seats. The base model Access Cab gains upgraded cloth upholstery, front bucket seats, a rear bench with under-seat storage, power locks and windows, and a six-speaker sound system. The entry-level Tacoma Double Cab adds 16-inch steel wheels, a front skid plate, power mirrors, driver seat lumbar adjustment and an upgraded six-speaker sound system with an iPod/USB audio interface and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity.
Most options (which can vary by the region of the country in which the truck is sold) are grouped into packages with varying availability depending on your body style and drivetrain choices. The Convenience package adds a sliding rear window, privacy glass, keyless entry, cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls and power mirrors to Access Cabs. Several variations of the SR5 package (available on all but Regular Cabs and X-Runner Access Cab) typically combine exterior and interior upgrades like a chrome grille and rear bumper, the Convenience package items, foglights, variable-speed wipers, nicer cloth upholstery, a rearview camera and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Some of these items are available separately.
The TRD Off-Road package includes 16-inch alloy wheels, fender flares, a heavy-duty suspension, a locking rear differential, hill start assist and hill descent control (automatic only), skid plates, sport seats and the extra convenience items from SR5 and Convenience packages. The street-oriented TRD Sport package includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a hood scoop, a sport suspension, hill start assist and hill descent control (automatic only), sport seats and the extra convenience items from the SR5 and Convenience packages. The TRD Sport Upgrade package adds to the regular version 18-inch chrome-clad wheels.
V6 Access and Double Cabs with the short bed can be equipped with the T|X and T|X Pro packages. The T|X adds unique black alloy wheels, all-terrain tires, black tube steps and a stainless-steel exhaust tip. The T|X Pro adds to those items a cat-back exhaust and special side graphics.
V6-powered PreRunners and 4x4 Double Cabs can also be equipped with Display Audio with navigation, which includes a touchscreen electronics interface, a navigation system, a rearview camera, voice controls, HD radio and Toyota Entune real-time information and Internet music streaming.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The 2012 Toyota Tacoma's interior isn't fancy and there's a fair amount of hard plastic about, but the space still ranks as the nicest in this understandably utilitarian segment. The design has been upgraded for 2012, replacing the old, dated silver-painted controls with a slicker black surface. It's an attractive change, but most importantly, the gauges and controls remain clear, straightforward and user-friendly. We do wish Toyota would've added a few more storage bins in the cabin, however.
Front bucket seats offer good comfort and support, though some may find they are mounted too low to the floor. While the Access Cab's rear jump seats are only fit for small children (and then only in a pinch), the Double Cab's backseat is surprisingly adult-friendly, especially compared to the squished confines of the Nissan Frontier. In both cases, rear seats flip up or fold down to create protected storage for items you'd rather not leave floating around in the bed. Speaking of which, the bed's composite materials make dents and dings a non-issue, while the available bed-mounted household-style 115-volt AC outlet is bound to come in handy for camping trips, tailgate parties and other outdoor fun.
Standard safety equipment on the 2012 Toyota Tacoma includes antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum) with brake assist, stability and traction control, front-seat side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and front active head restraints. Hill-start assist and downhill assist are available on four-wheel-drive models equipped with the automatic transmission.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Tacoma Double Cab came to a stop from 60 mph in a short 126 feet.
In government crash testing, the 2012 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab received an overall rating of four stars (out of a possible five), with three stars for frontal crashes and five stars for side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Tacoma its top rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset and side crash tests, but a second-to-worst rating of "Marginal" in the roof strength test.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The 2012 Toyota Tacoma is available with two different engines and a choice of rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
Most configurations come standard with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on Regular and Access Cab models, while the PreRunner Double Cab gets a four-speed automatic that's also available as an option on the other two body styles. EPA fuel economy numbers for this engine in a two-wheel-drive automatic-equipped Tacoma are 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. With four-wheel drive and the automatic transmission, the four-cylinder is rated at 18/21/19. The manual numbers are slightly worse.
A 4.0-liter V6 that puts out 236 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque is standard on the four-wheel-drive Double Cab and X-Runner, and available as an option on the Access Cab and PreRunner Double Cab. A six-speed manual is standard with the V6, with a five-speed automatic available as an option. EPA estimates for a two-wheel-drive, automatic-equipped V6 Tacoma come in at 17/21/19, while the four-wheel-drive V6 is rated at 16/21/18.
In Edmunds performance testing, a V6-powered Tacoma Double Cab turned in a 0-60-mph time of 7.7 seconds, which is suitably quick for a midsize truck. Properly equipped, the Tacoma can tow 6,500 pounds.
Buyers who don't plan on hauling or towing heavy loads and who are trying to save some money out the door will find the 2.7-liter four-cylinder a perfectly acceptable choice. However, it's not especially more fuel-efficient than the brawnier V6, which is a better choice for both work and play thanks to its abundance of low-range pull. We think it's definitely worth the extra money.
Generally speaking, the 2012 Toyota Tacoma's ride quality and handling are decent enough on the pavement, though models fitted with the firmer suspensions can feel a little jittery with the bed empty. Properly equipped four-wheel-drive versions are also capable off-roaders. Braking performance is similarly competent, but the soft brake pedal doesn't do much to inspire confidence.
The 2012 Toyota Tacoma is a top choice in the midsize pickup segment thanks to its highly capable nature and wide array of configurations.