It’s hard to believe but it’s been nearly a month from when we brought our new-to-us Tacoma home on 28 November. Since then we’ve logged 3,000 miles on the truck with 1,800 of those miles collected during a trip to Pennsylvania with the balance coming from 3 cross town drives to Cumming, Georgia, part-and-parcel to the purchase and a trip down to Columbus, Georgia, to buy a set of step rails. Overall, I’m still very pleased with the truck. It just seems to be the right fit with the right features and the various changes we’ve made to tailor it to our preferences are nearly complete.
While I’ll get into some other things, it’s probably best to share observations regarding the most important one; how the truck performs.
In terms of fuel economy, it’s a vast improvement over the Tundra but does fall a little short of expectations for the highway. The 1st real test was during our 1,600 mile round-trip drive to Pennsylvania back on 13 & 19 December. The Tacoma averaged about 20.9 mpg for the entire trip vs. 14.8 for the Tundra. Now, bear in mind the route we take is anything but dead flat and, in many areas, has very long grades and quite a few fairly steep grades which takes a big toll on fuel efficiency. One of the frequent complaints about the 3.5L V6 Tacoma is the automatic transmission and how it seems to search for the right gearing on inclines. We definitely experienced this but, from an engineering standpoint I get it: the engine is tuned to balance fuel efficiency with performance. Therefore, it will always try to have the vehicle traveling in the most fuel efficient gearing, hence the frequent shifts. That said, they would have done better to have installed a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) or at least a 7-speed transmission to soften the impact of the gear changes which are often times dramatic. I should also note, the roads were wet on much of our drive to and from PA and that’s never good for fuel efficiency. As a result, during the first leg of the trip to PA we only averaged about 19.5 mpg and then 20.5 mpg during the 2nd leg. During the last leg were were averaging 22.2 mpg and briefly saw an interim average of 23.5 mpg on the less rolling stretches of Interstate 81 from the PA state line through the cut-off at Interstate 78 east of Harrisburg. Considering I switched out the stock all weather tires for the more aggressive Nitto Grappler G2 All Terrain tires, I was still pleased with the overall fuel economy. The fuel mileage we saw on the drive home was similar, perhaps a little worse. Again, still much better than the full-size trucks and our 2006 Tundra and that’s a good thing!
Interestingly enough, the Tacoma’s base weight is ~4,500 lbs compared to our 2006 Tundra at 4,765 lbs and the Tacoma is only about 4″ shorter and 2″ more narrow: definitely a mid-size, not a compact. But, while the 6 cyl Tacoma has more horsepower at 278hp vs. the Tundra’s 271hp, it’s way down on torque at 265 ft lbs vs. the Tundra’s 313 ft lbs. It’s that low torque that limits the Tacoma’s towing capacity to 3,500 lbs vs. 6,800 lbs for the Tundra. However, since we don’t tow much of anything aside from a motorcycle now and again, the towing capacity wasn’t a major factor in our decision process.
As far as the ride quality goes, I installed a set of 1/2″ tall nylon bushings under the front seat rear mounting brackets before we began our trip and that provided a huge improvement in seating comfort, eliminating a pressure point behind my knee and just giving us a better, more upright sitting position. While the cloth seats were comfortable enough, the leather seat covers I’ve just installed (see below) are a vast improvement over the cloth in every respect. As far as the interior noise levels, they seem a bit higher than the Tundra. So, I’m very much looking forward to installing several different sound insulation materials that will go a long way towards making the interior far more quiet, and enhance the sound of the higher-end JBL sound system and various hands-free technologies that this Tacoma came with as part of the Premium and Technology packages.
Any Buyer’s Remorse?
I have moments when I second guess buying both a smaller truck as well as the Tacoma for a variety of reasons, but none of them are really manifesting themselves in terms of my experience with the truck.
On the size question, there’s no doubt about it… a full-size RAM or Toyota Tundra would have been much smoother, quieter riding vehicles, on par with luxury cars. But, they would also deliver far less in terms of fuel economy vs. what we’re experiencing with the Tacoma, and would be a tight fit for our garage and just about every other parking situation and were, quite frankly, a lot more vehicle than we need. And, for whatever reason, I’ve found myself in a somewhat practical mindset when it comes to our vehicles. Yes, it would be a boost to my ego to have a large, powerful luxury truck vs. our mid-size Tacoma which is anything but powerful or large and luxurious. Well, it’s not getting any larger but the luxuriousness is coming along nicely: more on that below. We’ve found the same thing with Debbie’s Honda Accord Sport model. Yes, we could have purchased the more expensive, more luxurious “Touring” model with it’s V6 power and other luxury features but why? The Accord Sport has proven to be a wonderful car that gets amazing fuel mileage and is more than luxurious enough for our wants and needs. And, well, we skinny’d down the motorcycle “fleet” to just the Harley-Davidson Road Glide and it too has proven to be a great match for our needs. There’s no desire to increase the power or add more “bling” as it’s just right the way it is. So, yeah… the Tacoma is probably the right truck for us right now and we’re enjoying everything it has to offer.
On buying a 3rd Generation Tacoma in particular, lets just say there are a lot of critics and criticisms about what is one of the all-time, most-popular trucks. In fact, it’s one of the lowest-ranked mid-size trucks by several different publications that rate vehicles. But, then again, so is the Toyota Tundra, our #1 choice for a full-size truck. But, more specific to the Tacoma have been a number of issues included the aforementioned lack of power, transmission shift points and there have been numerous recalls for bad front and/or rear differentials, a brake system problem, etc. On top of that, there are well over 100 Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) that alert dealers of issues that fall short of recalls, but that they should be aware of if a customer has an applicable issue with their Tacoma. One of those is something we’re experiencing — throttle surge at cold start and other times — which I’ll ask Toyota to address when I take it in for the 15,000 mile service in January. As mentioned, there’s also a noise issue that I think is related to the rear tires we just installed as I don’t recall the truck making that sound when we drove it around with the original, stock wheels and tires. There are also complaints about the seating position, two of which I’ve noticed and one I’ve already corrected. The truck is not the easiest to enter and exit; it’s more like a sports car fit vs. a true truck fit, and it also lacks much in the way of adjustments which is problematic because it’s a bit too low in the back. I addressed this second issue by adding spacers that raise the back seat mounting brackets a 1/2 inch and it made for a huge improvement in comfort that was confirmed on our 11-hour drives to and from PA. On the bright side, the truck is still covered by the original 36,000 mile / 3-year basic warranty, a 5-year drive train warranty and then the 7-year / 100,000 mile Toyota Certified Used Car warranty. So, you can bet I’ll be taking it to Toyota for service until they give me a reason not to, just to be sure our warranties will remain intact. That’s also one of the reasons I opted to use Toyota OEM wheels in the original size, an original size tire and used the Bilstein shocks to level the suspension vs. making any real changes to the truck’s suspension or drivetrain, as the latter would clearly give Toyota a reason to deny warranty coverage in the event of a future issue.
Bottom Line: is it perfect? No, not at all. But we’re getting the things that aren’t quite right addressed for the long-haul as we hope to have this truck for many years and many miles to come. If it turns out I was wrong, we’ll make a change. After all, it’s just a car, not a loved-one.
So, What’s Been Changed?
As far as the changes we’ve made so far, there have been a bunch. The ones I completed in the first week of ownership back as of 4 December included:
- Deep cleaning and shampooing the interior cloth seats and carpets.
- Buffing-out then sealing and polishing the exterior finishes.
- Removing the various warning labels from the driver & passenger sun visors.
- Removing all of the “chrome” brand & feature emblems from the doors and tailgate.
- Removing the special edition decals from the back corners of the
- Replacing the poorly placed and bright stainless steel running boards with a set of used black powder coated NFab step rails.
- Ordering a color matched A.R.E. Z-Series shell, due for delivery in mid-January.
- Figuring out how to integrate my iPod so it’s nearly invisible.
Since 4 December, I’ve:
- Installed a BedRug cargo bed liner
- Had the front windows tinted to match the rear windows.
- Replaced the “funked-up” stone guard material on the rear fender flares.
- Installed factory mud guards.
- Installed factory door sill protective strips.
- Installed new TRD Pro SEMA wheels and Nitto G2 tires.
- Installed Bilstein 5100 leveling shocks to level the truck.
- Corrected / centered the cargo bed on the frame.
- Replaced the stock TRD Sport grille with a TRD Pro grille.
- Installed a center console organizer.
- Installed a wireless charging / magnetic smart phone holder.
And, this past week I received and installed the Leatherseats.com leather seat covers which bears special mention and description as this is one of the more significant upgrades to the truck, never mind being one that took me enough time and effort to warrant a detailed description.