This week we get two Toyota vehicles designed to tear up the desert mule trails. The Tacoma is an old design that, aside from a new engine, has had very few updates over 16 years. But because of its reliability, it still remains the second best selling truck around.
The base fee is $27K for the economy four-cylinder, but this was tricked out with the TRD Pro pack, so it hit $47K.
The TRD has plenty of off-road goodies like bigger tires, raised suspension, beefed shocks, skid plates and more. It is powered by the proven 3.5-liter V6 engine rated at 278 horsepower. Most come with a six-speed automatic transmission, but this one had the rare six-speed manual.
Back in the old days, the manual gearbox gave better acceleration, superior fuel economy and more reliability over an automatic. The opposite is true today. Fuel economy for the automatic is rated at 19/24 mpg, the manual only 17/20. Fuel economy here was only 14.5 mpg on a trip uphill to Flagstaff, and 17 on level freeway pavement. The manual shift lever has too-long throws and is awkward to use. I can’t think of any legit reason to have a manual gearbox in this truck, or any truck for that matter. Some sports cars work great with a manual, but few trucks. Yet going by my emails, there are plenty of fans searching Toyota dealers for a Tacoma with a manual tranny, so it’s nice they still offer one.
Next up is the 4Runner SUV. It is an even older design than the Tacoma, with antique five-speed automatic transmission and an older 270-horsepower, 4.0-liter V6 that was removed from the Tacoma ages ago. Yet it is the proven reliability that sells. The base fee is $35K, but since this has the TRD Pro pack too, it hit $53K.
This is not a vehicle that was intended for much street driving, with clumsy cornering and slow acceleration. Fuel economy is claimed to be a dismal 16/19 mpg. The best we saw was 18.5 on the freeway, with 14 in the city. There are many large V8 powered trucks and SUVs that do better. But when driven in the dirt as intended, the 4Runner TRD is unstoppable, going over the roughest terrain with ease.
Only the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon can match it, but it costs just as much and is less reliable. Unless you are willing to spend $100K for a flagship Toyota Land Cruiser, the 4Runner is the best off-road choice.
Chad Haire, of Phoenix, test-drives vehicles for this feature.