The 2024 Toyota Tacoma Adds Some Polish But Keeps The Fun
8.6 / 10
– Malibu, California
During my zillionth rewatch of The Simpsons, I’ve arrived at the episode when Marge starts working at a real estate agency owned by the unscrupulous Lionel Hutz. In an attempt to counter Marge’s vigilant honesty, he advises her to describe dilapidated homes as “rustic” and small ones as “cozy.”
That clip pops into my mind every time I drive a previous-generation Toyota Tacoma, a vehicle I really like in spite of its obvious drawbacks – think “charmingly vintage” driving dynamics and a cramped interior that meets Mr. Hutz’s excessively euphemistic standards for comfort. Thankfully, the 2024 Tacoma is here to make good on its predecessor’s failings while still maintaining an affable, Toyota-spec fun factor behind the wheel.
The old truck’s underpowered engines are replaced by a 2.4-liter turbo four in three states of tune. The Taco’s new platform (TNGA-F, shared with the Tundra) is much stiffer to the benefit of capability, handling, and comfort. The cabin finally has space for folks taller than 5-foot-10, and the tech suite is contemporary. Like real estate, the mid-size truck market is hotter than ever, but the new Tacoma is ready to deal.
|2024 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road
|Turbocharged 2.4-Liter I4
|270 Horsepower / 310 Pound-Feet
|Price As Tested
Outdoor Living Space
As always, Toyota takes great pains to ensure its pickup truck lineup is adventure-capable, and in the case of the Tacoma TRD Off-Road I drove, that means trim-specific monotube Bilstein dampers with remote reservoirs, robust 32-inch all-terrain tires, a few key frame reinforcements, and an optional front sway bar disconnect system. With 11.0 inches of ground clearance, the Tacoma TRD Off-Road has little trouble tackling rock gardens and desert washes, and the commendable 32.2-degree approach, 24.7-degree breakover, and 26.6-degree departure angles are at or near the top of the class for mid-sizers (excluding more expensive, harder-core trims like the Colorado ZR2 and Ranger Raptor).
The TRD Off-Road comes standard with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and an 8.0-inch infotainment display, but my tester had the optional 14.0-inch center touchscreen that looks much more appropriate in the Tacoma’s modern cabin. It also had a manual transmission, which isn’t available with the low-speed Crawl Control and hill descent assistance that come standard on autobox-equipped trucks, but the pickup I drove did have the aforementioned sway bar disconnect system that improves articulation over off-road obstacles.
|Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road
|32.5 / 26.6 / 24.7 Degrees
|Chevrolet Colorado Trail Boss
|30.5 / 22.4 / 21.0 Degrees
|Ford Ranger FX4
|30.2 / 25.8 / 23.0 Degrees
|Jeep Gladiator Willys
|40.8 / 25.0 / 18.4 Degrees
|Nissan Frontier Pro-4X
|32.3 / 23.0 / 19.6 Degrees
That combination of features led to a surprisingly easy, yet still involving driving experience on the 30-minute off-road trail Toyota set up in the Santa Monica Mountains. Thanks to a short first gear and the low-range transfer case, I was able to simply remove my foot from the clutch and let the torque multiplication idle the Tacoma through rocks. That low gearing also helped me tackle steep ascents and treacherous downhills with barely any braking or throttle application. Some credit surely goes to the engine, which makes all of its 310 lb-ft at just 1,700 rpm – automatic-equipped trucks boast 317 torques at the same revs, for the record.
And with the sway bar disconnected, the Taco’s front axle bobs and floats over all but the largest dips, improving stability and driver confidence in low-speed off-road situations immensely. But even with it fully engaged, the Tacoma’s softly sprung suspension gives it decent comfort in the rough, with a short, maneuverable wheelbase adding to the fun in coastal California’s tight scrub oak confines. As expected, the Toyota is one of the more entertaining entries in the mid-size truck segment when dirt and rocks are involved. But to my surprise, its off-road talent doesn’t come at the expense of on-road competence.
Great Flow For Entertaining
Out on the highway, the TRD Off-Road’s well-tuned Bilstein shocks and stiff TNGA-F platform give it better control and ride comfort. Wind noise is decently hushed, and although there’s some predictable thrum from the BFGoodrich All Terrain T/A rolling stock, it never rises to an unacceptable level. On Los Angeles’ famously unkempt freeways, the Tacoma resists porpoising motions well, but uneven pavement does elicit some jiggling from the live rear axle. The Chevrolet Colorado does a better crossover imitation in that respect, as does even the previous-gen Ford Ranger.
Handling on twisty roads isn’t particularly athletic (again, squishy all-terrain tires), but while the old Tacoma would start to feel out of sorts on a cloverleaf on-ramp, the new one maintains its composure even hurtling down a curvy descent into coastal Malibu at highway speeds. The torque-rich engine works well going back up the same incline, allowing the Tacoma to pass slower traffic in fifth gear while the old one would be screaming away in third and still losing speed.
As expected, the Toyota is one of the more entertaining entries in the mid-size truck segment when dirt and rocks are involved.
Speaking of, the manual gearbox may be ropey in feel and long in throw, but it’s still fun to stir the gear lever around – suddenly I’m 22 again, taking a stint behind the wheel of my buddy’s 1992 Toyota 4×4 during a long weekend camping trip through Yellowstone. It’s great that Toyota offers a stick shift, even if it’s only on certain trims of the four-door Double Cab. Only the Jeep Gladiator offers as much DIY fun, and that truck is far more expensive and far less composed on-road.
Unfortunately, while the Tacoma’s front seats offer the space and support that us 75th-percentile adults need, the rear of the Double Cab is still the stuff of mini-truck legend. With the front row set for my 32-inch inseam, I couldn’t get particularly comfortable in back, with my knees either brushing the front seat or splayed out to the side like a leapfrog. Headroom is acceptable, and the Tacoma’s passenger quarters are marginally more spacious than the Nissan Frontier’s, but the domestic competition is better still.
Built-In Theater System
The new Tacoma continues to treat its front-seat passengers with a vastly improved infotainment system relative to the old one. Displayed on my tester’s 14.0-inch screen, the software is far easier to use, with simpler menu structures and crisper graphics than its predecessor. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both wireless, regardless of screen size. The system’s touch response leaves a little to be desired, and it’s difficult to swap between native and smartphone apps without multiple inputs – a simple home button would solve that issue. Otherwise, the tech suite is finally up to the mid-size standard.
And the Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 active safety features take their spot at the top of the class. Like most of its competitors, every Tacoma comes with automatic emergency braking, forward collision monitoring, and lane departure prevention. But Toyota goes further, giving even the utilitarian SR model full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane centering, and automatic high beams for the LED headlights. TSS 3.0 works very well at keeping the pickup well-spaced from surrounding traffic, even in heavy traffic and through construction zone lane shifts.
Now Accepting Offers
Unlike real estate, we seem to be at the end of the era when dealerships could charge over MSRP for new vehicles, which may help prospective Tacoma owners swallow a slightly larger pill. For 2024, the base Tacoma SR Access Cab 4×2 costs $31,500 plus $1,495 destination, up $2,900 over the outgoing pickup. There’s a more powerful 228-hp engine – up from a paltry 159 – and the SR does offer a lot more technology than its immediate predecessor. But nearly 34 large still feels like a lot for a work-grade two-seater (the extended-cab Taco no longer offers a bench seat, rear jump seats, or rear-opening doors).
Move into a volume model like the SR5 Double Cab and all of a sudden, you’re staring down a $38,695 barrel for a 4×2 or $40,095 for a 4×4. A manual-transmission TRD Off-Road like the one I spent my day in demands $43,295 before options, which in the case of my tester should add about $1,500 to the bottom line.
Is 45 large too much to ask for a midsize pickup? My inner Grampa Simpson says yes. But then again, Chevrolet’s four-door-only Colorado costs only about $2,000 less, both at the bottom end and comparably equipped. The newest Ford Ranger demands a bit more than the Tacoma, and the base Jeep Gladiator Sport is a $41,515 proposition before any options at all. And let’s not forget that while most of Toyota’s primary competitors are limited to a single four-door, 5-foot-bed body style, the Tacoma adds an extended cab and a crew-cab long-bed layout to the mix – so does the Nissan Frontier, to be fair.
Honestly though, Toyota trucks could sell a bajillion units on their cool-cat reputation and sterling reliability alone. But unlike its predecessor, the 2024 Tacoma deserves to be as desired as it is, thanks to a comfortable ride, quiet cabin, easygoing engine, and personality-stuffed driving character. Charming indeed, no quotation marks needed.
Check Out These Tough Trucks:
The new Tacoma will offer a so-called I-Force Max hybrid powertrain in some trims, with a turbocharged 2.4-liter engine and electric motor producing 326 horsepower and 465 pound-feet. At first, however, Tacomas will offer a non-hybrid turbo four that makes 228 hp on the base SR, 270 hp on Tacomas with the manual gearbox, and 278 hp on all automatics except the entry-level truck.
All Tacomas get a limited-slip rear differential for more traction, but if you go for the TRD Off-Road, you’ll get strategic frame reinforcements, remote-reservoir monotube shocks, and 32-inch all-terrain tires. The TRD Pro and Trailhunter trims should be even more capable, but we haven’t driven them yet.
The 2024 Toyota Tacoma starts at $32,995 with destination, making it one of the more affordable entries in the mid-size pickup segment.
|2024 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road
|Turbocharged 2.4-Liter I4
|270 Horsepower / 310 Pound-Feet
|18 City / 23 Highway / 20 Combined
|$31,500 + $1,495 Destination
|Trim Base Price