Review: The Toyota Tacoma is a charming pickup truck — which makes up for its imperfections
The 2023 Toyota Tacoma is one of the last in this generation of the mid-size pickup truck.
We drove one from the top-of-the-line TRD Pro trim, and it came to $52,188 after options and fees.
The Tacoma wasn't perfect, but it charmed us anyway.
The 2023 Toyota Tacoma is one of the last of its kind. The current generation of the truck, which debuted in 2015, is on the way out, and a new one — likely with powertrain upgrades, more modern components, and a nicer interior — will soon take its place.
But I've always had a soft spot for the current Tacoma. After driving one for a week, I understand why.
The Tacoma is Toyota's mid-size pickup, which slots in under the full-size Tundra at a base price of $27,750. For the 2023 model year, buyers can choose a 159-horsepower, four-cylinder engine or a 278-horsepower V6, and both offer the option to send power to just the rear wheels or all four. The truck also comes with either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission.
Toyota's lineup is in a transition period, with new generations of its vehicles either here or on the way. The aggressive new styling package for its trucks and SUVs — big, square grilles and angular headlights — can be seen on the new Tundra and Sequoia, while the Tacoma and 4Runner still have the softer, rounder looks of their outgoing generations. New models are expected in the next year or two, with full performance, appearance, and technology makeovers.
My loaner Tacoma, which I drove for a week, was a TRD Pro. The "TRD" stands for Toyota Racing Development, and the TRD Pro is the most expensive trim on the Tacoma with a base price of $47,185. My truck had the V6 and an automatic transmission, and with a few minor optional features and fees, it came to $52,188.
The first time I saw my loaner Tacoma, it looked like a glow stick. Its bright-orange paint and black accents — including a giant black hood scoop with "TRD Pro" etched into it — were so visually jarring that I had to stand there for a second just to get used to them, and the truck looked so much like a Cheez-It box that I drove it straight to the grocery store and bought one. (If orange isn't your thing, the $36,000 TRD Off-Road trim has a lime-green paint option.)
I love how the Tacoma looks. To me, the rounded edges all over the truck — the body panels, headlights, and everywhere else — have aged so gracefully since 2015, while other automakers shift to a more angular aesthetic that will be out of style in a few years.
I'm not a truck person, but I've always thought that if I bought one, I'd consider a Tacoma from this generation for two reasons: the looks, and the fact that you can get one with a manual transmission (even today!). Considering how few new cars come with manual transmission in America, and how only 4% of Tacoma buyers choose the stick, that's a huge plus.
—Alanis King (@alanisnking) January 30, 2023
I'd never driven a Tacoma until this one, and the first thing I noticed when I got in was how open it felt. The cabin was surrounded by big, upright windows, making the truck feel even more spacious and giving me all the visibility I needed. Whenever I maneuvered or changed lanes, I could see everything behind and next to me.
That did not apply to the front of the truck. The hood didn't just protrude into my line of sight; it was ungainly, making it hard to park or get a sense of what was around me. This made me — a bad parker — even worse at parking.
—Alanis King (@alanisnking) January 25, 2023
Inside, the Tacoma is very 2010s. That's a good thing to me, because that era had a perfect blend of infotainment screens and tactile controls. I got to adjust my seat heaters, cabin climate, and everything else with dedicated controls instead of a screen, and even if they felt a little old and inelegant, I appreciated them.
That's because buttons and switches give me tactile feedback (rewarding!) and allow me to use them without looking down (I'm searching for a shape, not tapping a flat screen!). The 2010s were the golden age for this, and I'm glad the Tacoma hasn't left them yet.
My loaner had the Tacoma's six-speed automatic, a highly criticized transmission that's become more obsolete as new cars adopt eight-, nine-, and 10-speeds. Having fewer gears in general makes shifts less smooth — imagine taking the stairs three steps at a time instead of one — and the Tacoma's transmission is particularly clunky.
Each time I hit the gas, the truck let out a strained arrrggghhh, labored to pick up speed, and was slow to shift through its already-limited number of gears. Driving it on the highway was a slog.
It didn't help that the truck looks all beefed up — TRD off-road suspension, a giant hood scoop, and a lift kit — but only has 278 horsepower. Sure, its beefiness is for off-roading, but I inherently associate a cool appearance with more power. Instead, when the gas pedal hits the floor, all I'm met with is a struggle.
The slowness of the truck, combined with awkward hood visibility and a steering wheel that required a lot of input to turn, made me misjudge how long it would take me to do certain maneuvers. More than once, I thought I had enough time to turn right at a red light, didn't, and ended up cutting off another car at the intersection.
One time, I even cut off someone I knew. We pulled into the same parking lot, they made fun of me, and I had to admit that wasn't my first stoplight blunder that week.
I didn't love how the Tacoma handled on the street, but I got used to it as the week went on. The handling also wasn't enough to deter me from potentially buying a manual one in the future, because I liked the truck otherwise.
I was traveling all week, so I didn't get to test the TRD Pro where it does best: off-road, where folks I trust say it's unstoppable. I hope to find out for myself one day.
The Tacoma is old, and some of its traits — driving- and technology-wise — make that obvious. But some obsolescence is to be expected, since a new generation of the truck will be here any day now.
I still have a soft spot for the Tacoma, even if it wasn't perfect. It's a great-looking truck that's aged better than most, and I can forgive a lot of flaws in a vehicle if I can get it with a manual transmission. The Tacoma, unlike most new cars and trucks in America, lets me.
I just hope the next one does, too.
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