by Frank A. Aukofer

Toyota has not been able to scale the wall of buyer loyalty to full-size U.S. pickup trucks. But it perches at the pinnacle of the midsize class, of which its 2019 Tacoma is the latest example.

Among the big guys, the Toyota Tundra is an also-ran in sales behind the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram and GMC Sierra, besting only the last-place Nissan Titan.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_001_46e6b73e2c3bfc00e65384bbb61115fcebe259ffBut against the slowly-increasing midsize nameplates, it is the unchallenged champion. In 2018, it was expected to sell more Tacoma pickups than nearly all of its competitors combined, including the Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier, GMC Canyon and Honda Ridgeline, although the Ridgeline is in a class by itself as a more car-like amalgam.

The curious trend in all of this is that the new crop of midsize pickups are nearly as big — or even bigger — than some earlier full-size pickups.

Bumper to bumper, the Tacoma 4X4 Double Cab Long Bed is nearly 19 feet long and it is six feet tall with a 6 feet 2 inch cargo bed. It weighs 4,840 lbs, can tow a trailer weighing up to 6,400 lbs and carry a payload of 1,120 lbs. A decade ago, the full-size 2008 Ford F-150 was 18 feet 1 inch long, 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighed 5,360 lbs, with a payload of 1,480 lbs and a towing capability of 6,200 lbs.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_003_ef9b7576d7ba7efd9f2e7049634af8ee0bb87a2fMost big trucks back then got their grunt from large and thirsty V8 engines. Engineering advances over the years have squeezed ever more horsepower and torque from smaller-displacement power plants. The tested Tacoma gets its power from a 278-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 265 lb-ft of torque. On the TRD Off Road 4X4, the power routes to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.

The tested Tacoma, with a base price of $38,120, came equipped for pasture and logging-road duty. It had a part-time four-wheel drive system with a two-speed electronically-controlled transfer case and an off-road tuned suspension system with special shock absorbers, a locking rear differential, hill-start assist and multi-terrain crawl control.

But because of its length and wheelbase — the distance between the front and rear axles — of 11 feet 5 inches, the Tacoma Off Road could not be expected to handle seriously pockmarked terrain as well as a smaller machine. However, the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator midsize pickup truck will have nearly the same shortcoming with a wheelbase of 10 feet 7 inches and an overall length of 18 feet 2 inches.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_004_3a8248857bb7d0324f488932f4ab596d5d58f2afFull safety equipment, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning are part of the standard equipment. The tested TRD Off Road also had options that included blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, sonar rear parking assist, leather-trimmed upholstery with heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof, JBL premium audio system with integrated navigation, and a cover for the cargo bed.

All of that brought the bottom-line price to $42,430, which is not inexpensive but looks reasonable compared to the $60,000 and up sticker prices on many full-size pickups. Price is one reason manufacturers are closely monitoring the midsize pickup market. Ford recently reintroduced its midsize Ranger pickup.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_007_331b22b457d747c6db5b552ac7cca61ecb8d9327On paved roads, the tested Tacoma mainly displayed its off-road characteristics. The ride was bouncy and stiff with seemingly direct connections between road irregularities and the driver’s lower back and bottom. It tracked decently in a straight line, but the beefy suspension system makes for problematical comfort on a long trip.

Mitigating that somewhat are front seats that are supportive and middling comfortable. Though they have only manual adjustments, there are enough to accommodate most body sizes. There’s space in back for three, though seating is upright and knee room is tight. The center-rear position is compromised by a floor hump, hard cushion and intrusion of the center console. Rear vision is limited by back seat headrests so it’s important to get those big outside mirrors properly adjusted.

2019_toyota_tacoma_off_road_006_ed9ebf5e42a922ed31dba8561df5a18e2f1414efThe V6 engine makes plenty of power but you have to slam the pedal to engage it. In ordinary driving, the throttle is stiff, making the engine/transmission combination feel sluggish. Engine drone is loud under hard acceleration.

Overall, don’t expect the Tacoma — especially in the tested trim — to be anything other than what it is: a rugged, solid truck with an enviable reputation for durability and reliability.

2016_toyota_tacoma_trdor_28_170ad64be7d4e750a886f7dc942f15fd173fb26bSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4X4 Double Cab Long Bed midsize pickup truck.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 278 hp, 265 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with part-time four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 18 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger volume: 100 cubic feet.
  • Cargo bed length: 6 feet 2 inches.
  • Weight: 4,840 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,120 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,400 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/22/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,120.
  • Price as tested: $42,430.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2016_toyota_tacoma_trdor_31_07d7a0e69594c5d39805f91df23a6d5373bf81dePhotos (c) Toyota