Automotives: Toyota Tacoma gets new look, power, size for 2005

DETROIT -- The pickup truck business continues to grow in size as well as popularity. Toyota and Nissan have joined the full-size pickup competition with Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge, and the compacts seem to have grown restless. The Chevrolet/GMC C...

DETROIT -- The pickup truck business continues to grow in size as well as popularity. Toyota and Nissan have joined the full-size pickup competition with Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge, and the compacts seem to have grown restless. The Chevrolet/GMC Colorado/Canyon grew in size for 2004, and the Dodge Dakota has grown several inches for 2005.

Now Toyota, which has been building little pickup trucks for over 30 years, will come out with the eighth generation of its compact Tacoma, and it, too, moves right on up near the larger trucks. It is longer by six inches, wider by four inches, roomier inside, and more potent under the hood with an optional 245-horsepower, 4.0-liter V6 with 282 foot-pounds of torque.

That's an increase of 50 horsepower, which leads to a towing capacity increased by 1,500 pounds.

The humorous side to all this midsize truck growth is that the Toyota Tundra seemed just right to a lot of people, although big pickup types criticized it for not being as large as the F150 Ford, Chevy Silverado, Dodge Ram, or the Nissan Titan. When Dodge unveiled its new Dakota, it claimed it was the only compact truck with a V8, but it turns out it is actually longer than the Tundra, which may be larger than the compact segment, but certainly does have a V8.

Now, in its quest to establish superiority among less-than-full-size pickups, the new Tacoma grows right past the Tundra. The longest 2005 Tacoma is now longer, at 221.3 inches, than the shortest Tundra, which means we can assume that the next Tundra, which will be built in a huge, all-new plant in San Antonio, Texas, will grow substantially.


Meanwhile, back at the Tacoma, the all-new 4.0-liter V6's 245 horsepower not only represents an increase of 55 horsepower over the old Tacoma's smaller V6, but it also has more power than the Dakota V8. So the competition intensifies.

Three specific Tacoma models are going to come out of the NUMMI plant in Fremont, Calif., and they will be aimed at three specific segments of the compact-truck market. Market research gave Toyota the idea to focus on enthusiasts who'll like the Access Cab to haul dirt bikes, ATVs and watercraft; maturing young guys who may go for the Double Cab as a combined SUV with a cargo bed; and the youthful "Gen-Y" guy who wants a tuner-type street hot-rod, and who will find the X-Runner most desirable.

All of them will begin arriving in dealerships in October from the NUMMI plant, and in December, more Tacomas will be built in a new plant in Baja, Mexico, to help Toyota achieve a projected annual output of 170,000 Tacoma trucks.

Toyota is aiming the Tacoma directly at younger men, although it will build three distinctive personalities into the trucks with the regular-cab, extended Access Cab with rear-door access, and Double Cab with a full four-door cab. Among its models will be a very sporty X-Runner.

"We expect 15 percent of those will come from sales of Regular Cabs, 40 percent from Access Cab, and 45 percent from Double Cab models," said Bob Carter, vice president of sales for Toyota. "We expect 80 percent of Tacoma buyers will be male, with a median age of 42, which is six years younger than the segment average. Sixty percent will be married, 45 percent will be college graduates.

"Twenty-one percent of compact pickup buyers are under 35, and Tacoma gets one out of every four in that segment," Carter added. "And among buyers who are under 20, 43 percent of them buy Tacomas."

Toyota intends to keep the most basic model down to an attractive $12,400 base price, which should maintain the broad base Tacoma has always attracted, but Toyota also knows most buyers will move upscale, and the Double Cab V6 will start at $22,000.

American truck buyers recognized those first Toyota Stout and Hilux pickups -- remember the Hilux -- as solid, substantial little trucks that worked tirelessly and with great durability. For many years, before and after being rechristened the Tacoma, the Toyota compact pickup waged a worthy battle with the likes of the Ford Ranger, Chevy S-10, Dodge Dakota, and small pickups from Mazda and Mitsubishi. The new Tacoma moves upscale.


"Every part has been revised," said Paul Williamsen, project engineer for the new Tacoma. "It has all-new suspension front and rear, an all-new platform, and a new engine."

The platform is a revised unit that also serves as the basic underpinning of the Lexus GX470 and the Toyota 4Runner SUVs. While significantly stronger and stiffer, the more powerful engines and roomier interiors also set the stage for a vast array of model configurations. No less than 18 models can be created out of the three cab types.

The Regular Cab and the Access Cab -- which now will have dual-access-doors -- have a 73.5-inch bed, while the Double Cab four-door offers a choice of either a 60.3-inch bed or a 73.5-inch bed. The are 4x2 and 4x4 models, and a PreRunner set-up which has the 4x2 two-wheel arrangement but with the raised riding stance and styling of the 4x4 models. Wheelbases vary according to model, too, with Regular Cab models on 109.4 or 110 inch length between the axles, while Access Cabs move up to a 127.8-inch wheelbase. The Double Cab has a 127.8 base, except for the long-bed model, which has a 140.9-inch wheelbase.

Four-wheel drive models are equipped with Torsen differentials, which do the job of limited-slip units in four-wheel-drive settings. The new engines are a strong element in the stylish changeover of the Tacoma. The big news is the 4.0-liter V6, which has dual-overhead camshafts and variable valve-timing, with the 245 horsepower representing a large increase over the 190-horse 3.4 unit it replaces. The 4.0 V6 also will be the base engine in the 2005 Tundra, and continues to be the mainstay of the 4Runner.

The base engine in the Tacoma is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder, also with dual-overhead cams, now producing 164 horsepower and 183 foot-pounds of torque. That engine replaces both the 2.4 and 2.7 four-cylinder engines previously used. The V6 needs 91 octane premium, while the four-cylinder, which Toyota anticipates will account for 30 percent of Tacoma sales, makes its power on 87 octane regular.

In four-cylinder models, buyers can choose between a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The V6 versions have either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic. The V6 with the five-speed automatic can cover 0-60 in 7.5 seconds, a fact that undoubtedly will entice younger buyers, while more buyers will be impressed with the 6,500-pound towing capacity, compared to the 5,000-pound maximum of the 2004 Tacoma.

The raciest Tacoma is the X-Runner, which is a flashy model named after the "X-braced" reinforced frame for maximum torsional rigidity. The X-Runner has full ground effects, with lower fascias set off by integrated foglights in the front, and a large hood scoop, plus three monochromatic color schemes -- red, black and "Speedway Blue." The X-Runner comes lowered by an inch and on high-performance tires on 18-inch alloy wheels, and has firmer springs, with Bilstein gas shocks specially placed on the outboard side of the frame rails, and a firmer rear stabilizer bar and special steering quickness.

In X-Runner form, the Tacoma gets under seven seconds for 0-60 sprints, and its lateral acceleration measures 0.9-g., better than the Nissan 350Z sports car that was used as its benchmark. That model is different from the normal Toyota Racing Development (TRD) models, which create special off-road packages, and a better-handling on-road package.


Inside, improved room and creature comforts also add storage spaces under the seats, and safety characteristics with door beams and airbags and air curtains that let the Tacoma meet all passenger car safety requirements, which means they are beyond standard truck requirements.

With special features such as bed tie-down cleats that can be moved to an infinite number of settings -- very Nissan Titan-like -- and high sightlines similar to big trucks, the Tacoma could well be declared big-enough by pickup buyers who want some room but also want some fuel-efficiency and maneuverability.

John Gilbert writes weekly auto reviews. He can be reached at .

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