2014 Toyota Tacoma

While many midsize pickups have been discontinued and most of the remaining models are facing drooping sales, the Toyota Tacoma is still in demand. There's a reason for that: the Taco is durable, adept at towing and hauling, and available in numerous powertrain, cab style and bed length combinations. It's a strong choice for those willing to trade a bit of the capability of a full-size pickup for something that's more wieldy and fuel-efficient.

Recent Changes
Other than a mild refresh two years back, the Tacoma has received only minor updates in recent times. A luxurious Limited package arrived for the previous model year, while this year brings a new SR appearance package and upgraded Entune audio systems. The X-Runner Street Performance Package has been discontinued.

Like nearly all other pickups on the market, the Tacoma features a tough body-on-frame platform with a durable live axle at the rear. Three different cab styles are available: the two-door, two or three-seat regular cab; the Access Cab, which adds two small rear-hinged rear doors and a small backseat; and the Double Cab, which features four normal-sized doors and a full-size backseat. The Regular and Access Cabs come with a 73.5-inch-long bed, while the Double Cab also offers the option of a 60.3-inch bed.

The base motor is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder that produces 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is standard, while a four-speed automatic is optional. Those looking for more power can opt for a 4.0-liter V6 that pumps out 236 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices for the V6 include a six-speed manual and a five-speed automatic.

For both engines, rear-wheel-drive is standard with four-wheel-drive available as an option. When properly equipped, the V6 model can tow up to 6,500 pounds.

Fuel economy for all the various powertrain configurations are as follows: 21/25 city/high mpg for the RWD four-cylinder stick shift, 19/24 mpg for the RWD four-cylinder auto, 18/21 mpg for both manual and auto-equipped 4WD four-cylinders, 17/21 mpg for the RWD V6 stick, 16/21 mpg for the V6 auto equipped with RWD or AWD, and 16/19 mpg for the 4WD V6 stick.

The recent refresh included minor changes to the front end, but the exterior remains relatively simple and no-frills. Bigger changes occurred inside, where the instrument cluster, steering wheel and center stack were all redesigned. The overall design is still unadorned and utilitarian, but the updates did give the secondary controls a more modern look.

On the tech side, Toyota has added new Entune audio systems throughout with available features like Bluetooth connectivity, streaming audio, satellite radio, USB connectivity and access to apps like Pandora Radio and Open Table in order to bring the Tacoma into the 21st century..

The larger DoubleCab V6 models offer a more advanced display audio system with navigation, Toyota Entune services, SiriusXM Satellite Radio (with 90-day trial subscription), HD Radio with iTunes tagging and text/e-mail-to-voice. Also part of this package is a JBL GreenEdge audio system with seven speakers. GreenEdge technology theoretically helps reduce fuel through the use of more efficient speakers that reduce the electrical load on the vehicle.

Buyers of 2WD models and off-road aficionados will appreciate the standard automatic limited-slip differential. Downhill Assist Control (DAC) helps to keep the shiny side of your Tacoma up.

Toyota recently added a new Limited Package, which brings SofTex-trimmed heated front sport seats, a four-way adjustable driver's seat, variable speed windshield wipers, a metallic tone instrument panel trim, a leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio controls, dual sun visors with mirrors and extenders, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with rear camera display and outside temperature gauge, plus a HomeLink universal transceiver.

The package dresses up the exterior with 18-inch chrome-clad wheels with 265/60R18 tires. a chrome grille surround and rear bumper, chrome outside mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators, chrome door handles, and fog lamps.

T/X and T/X Pro packages
For those looking to add a bit of flare to their trucks, Toyota offers the T/X and T/X Pro packages, which come in conjunction with the TRD Off-Road Package. These packages add TRD 16-inch black-alloy faux bead-lock wheels wrapped in 265/70/R16 BFG Rugged Trail tires, side steps, stainless steel exhaust tip and unique exterior graphics.

The Pro package adds a TRD cat-back exhaust system and is only available on V6-powered models.

T/X Baja Series Package
Inspired by Toyota's decades-long involvement in the grueling Baja 500 and 1000 races, the TRD T/X Baja Series Package adds a host of trail-taming off-road kit to the already rugged Tacoma pickup. It is available on Access and Double Cab Tacoma 4Ã--4 models equipped with the TRD Off-Road Package for Baja and the V6.

On top of the extras included in the TRD Off-Road Package - an electronically-controlled locking rear differential, active traction control, hill-start assist control and downhill assist control - the Baja Series Package brings TRD/Blisten racing shocks and TRD coil springs that increase ride height by almost two inches at the front and 1.5 inches at the rear.

Unique gun-metal gray, bead-lock style off-road wheels shod in 16-inch BFGoodrich T/A KO rubber add an extra measure of style and capability, while special exterior graphics and a TRD cat-back exhaust complete the package.

Occupant Safety
All Tacoma models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

Key competitors
With the demise of the Ford Ranger, the Dodge Dakota and GM's Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins the Tacoma's rivals are limited to the Nissan Frontier and the Honda Ridgeline. The Frontier is similar to the Toyota in power and capability, while the Ridgeline is unique among pickups in employing a car-derived platform. It's the most refined ride in the segment but also the least capable.