The 2021 Toyota Tacoma is a compact, very capable, pickup truck that has dominated the small pickup market for years for good reason. Now deep into its third generation of production since taking over for the original Toyota Pickup in 1995, the 2021 Toyota Tacoma is the Swiss Army Knife of the genre. Just as capable hauling groceries on suburban side streets as it is hauling derrière on dirt trails in the desert, Tacoma is a do-it-all tool for all reasons that is available in 32 different configurations. Add a reputation for durability and quality, along with enough comfort, convenience, and style, and you’ve got a compact truck worth considering as a daily driver. 2021 Toyota Tacoma prices start around $26,000.
Tacoma received a makeover for 2020, with much attention focused on the exterior appearance. A new front grille design, with variations for each trim level, spruce up the approach, while new taillights add a techy edge to the departure. Depending on which model you choose, Tacoma can go from glitzy with chrome to “murdered-out” with blacked-out trim. Three TRD models, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, and TRD Pro, come with unique wheels, grille treatments, signature lighting, fog lamps, skid plates, and other bolt-on upgrades to leave little doubt of their prowess.
Tacoma can be built with an Access Cab (two front-hinged side doors and two rear-hinged mini-clamshell side-doors) or Double Cab (four front-hinged side doors). Access Cab models come with a 6-foot bed, and Double Cab models come with a choice of 5-foot bed or 6-foot bed. Access Cab and Double Cab/5-foot-bed models share a 127.4-inch wheelbase, while Double Cab/6-foot-bed models have a 140.6-inch wheelbase, which gives them very different handling character.
Tacoma’s interior matches its exterior. It’s a little techy, a little rugged, quite simple, and functional — there’s no hint of luxury. The dashboard is a symphony of circles, with four round HVAC vents in perfect line with two round analog gauges in the instrument panel, visually echoed with three round HVAC controls in a row across the center stack, and of course, a big round steering wheel. Texture plays a role in the character of the interior, too, with various brushed, smooth, and cross-hatched surfaces lending visual and tactile interest.
Access Cab models get a pair of jump seats as a second row, while Double Cab models get a 60/40-split folding bench with three headrests.
A few throwback elements betray the Tacoma, like the old-fashioned mechanical hand brake lever on the driver’s right, and the small (by present standards) infotainment screen at the top of the center stack. The base audio system is matched with a 7-inch touchscreen with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa, along with Wi-Fi (with a three-month free trial). SR5 and above get an 8- inch touchscreen. Navigation is an option on SR5, TRD Sport, and TRD Off-Road, standard on TRD Pro and Limited trim models. Qi wireless device charging, proximity key and push-button start are standard on TRD Sport and above, while all Tacoma models get three USB ports.
A choice of two engines are offered for Tacoma. The base engine is a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine with gasoline direct-injection (159 hp/180 lb-ft of torque), standard on SR and SR5 models. The engine you want is the 3.5-liter V6 with gasoline direct-injection (278 hp/265 lb-ft of torque), an upgrade on SR and SR5 and standard on all other models. All models are rear-wheel drive with available 4-wheel drive, except TRD Pro, which is 4WD only. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard across the board, with a 6-speed manual transmission available on TRD models.
Fuel economy for the 4-cylinder models is 20 mpg city/23 mpg highway/21 mpg combined for RWD. Knock off 1 mpg for 4WD. The V6 models do almost as well: 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway/21 mpg combined for automatic transmission/RWD, 18/22/20 for AT/4WD. Manual transmission/4WD models get 17/20/18. All Tacoma models run on regular (87-octane or higher) gas.
No matter how polished and comfortable the Tacoma interior gets, you’ll never forget that you’re driving a truck when you’re behind the wheel. Even the SR has a tall seating position, and the big steering wheel is hooked to a rack-and-pinion power steering system that is very workmanlike (tall drivers may find the steering wheel doesn’t extend as much as they’d like). Pay particular attention to tight spaces, as turning circle diameter for Tacoma ranges from 40.6 feet at best (Access Cab RWD) to 44.1 feet at worst (Double Cab Long Bed 4WD), nearly as wide as you’d expect from a full-size pickup.
The truck is heavy (a trade-off for durablity), so acceleration is leisurely — the 0-60 sprint takes slightly over 8 seconds with the stronger V6. Double-wishbone independent front suspension and leaf-spring rear suspension deliver a decent ride on the pavement and even in off-road situations. Upgrade to TRD Pro, and you get FOX shocks and TRD tuning, and your tame Tacoma turns into desert demon. Tacoma can be a perfectly pleasant everyday SUV substitute in Limited trim, a workhorse in SR or SR5 trim, and a fun toy in TRD dress.
Tacoma comes in six trim levels, each with a unique character and list of standard and available features.
- SR, starting around $26,000: This is the base truck, missing standard features like remote door unlocking, power seats, alloy wheels.
- SR5, starting around $28,000: A step up from base, a popular choice.
- TRD Sport, starting around $33,000: Highly customizable with available factory upgrades.
- TRD Off-Road, starting around $34,315: Gets an electronically locking rear differential, a key feature for off-roading. Can be upgraded with Multi-Terrain Select with Crawl Control.
- Limited, starting around $39,000: Pickup truck as SUV, comes with power leather seats, LED headlights and DRL, power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, navigation, proximity key and push-button start, and more.
- TRD Pro, starting around $44,000: The whole shebang for off-roading, including skid-plates, FOX shocks, and more.
Tacoma comes in three available cab/bed configurations:
- Access Cab/6-foot bed: SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road
- Double Cab/5-foot bed: SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, Limited, TRD Pro
- Double Cab/6-foot bed: SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, Limited
If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price a Tacoma on Toyota’s official web site.
Toyota has definitely aimed Tacoma at active people, and made it extremely capable. As such, its best features make off-roading possible in nearly every trim level, either with factory features and options, or with aftermarket upgrades. Standard ground clearance of 9.4 inches and approach/departure/breakover angles of 29/23.5/24 degrees mean a well-equipped Tacoma can go almost anywhere in the right hands.
You might think we’d lean toward the TRD Pro, but actually the TRD Off-Road is our favorite, especially for all-around utility. A 6-foot bed is the minimum length we’d consider in a pickup, and it looks better behind a double cab than the short bed.
Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) is standard on every trim level of Tacoma. That means even the $26,000 SR buyer gets Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beams, and Radar Cruise Control. We wish Toyota had included Blind Spot Monitor with Cross-Traffic Alert on all grades, but it’s standard on Limited and TRD Pro and available on SR5, TRD Sport, and TRD Off-Road.
Toyota’s target is right – active people should consider a Tacoma for their adventures and also for their everyday needs. But Tacoma is a proven, reliable small truck that will appeal to small-business owners and trades people, too. With its fuel-efficient powertrain and rugged build quality, Tacoma can deliver years of service.
Toyota has been conservative with the evolution of Tacoma over the generations because it’s a capable tool that works well – this is a vehicle that underpromises and overdelivers. There are flashier competitors on the market, yet Tacoma sales never falter. Used examples retain great resale value – just try to find one. It’s not unusual to find a Tacoma with over 200,000 miles on the clock, still working hard. In an age of disposable commodities, that kind of durability is something to admire. If a new Tacoma appeals to you, be ready for a long-term relationship.
Add the 2021 Toyota Tacoma to CarExpert’s recommended list.
- Chevrolet Colorado
- Ford Ranger
- GMC Canyon
- Honda Ridgeline
- Jeep Gladiator
- Nissan Frontier
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