The 2021 Toyota Tacoma gains new Nightshade and Trail Special Editions this year, but otherwise carries over the things that keep it the top-selling mid-size pickup truck in the U.S. It’s excellent at off-road driving in TRD spec, has a useful pickup bed and an available crew-cab body, and can be configured with part-time four-wheel drive and a manual transmission.
It’s also bouncy to drive on public roads, has a skimpy back seat, and though it has automatic emergency braking standard, crash-test scores aren’t great. We give it a TCC Rating of 5.0 out of 10.
Being one of the best-looking mid-size trucks doesn’t make the 2021 Tacoma a Lexus LC, though. It’s chunky and expressive from the massive grille back to the end of the headlights. That’s where the party stops, and the hard work begins. Tacomas have a spit of detail here and there, but it’s the interior that wins us over, with its wash-and-wear sensibility and big, useful knobs and buttons; it’s bro culture’s own Playskool in there.
The Tacoma fills a pedestrian need in stock SR trim, with a 159-horsepower 4-cylinder and a 6-speed automatic transmission, but guzzles fuel as it puts in those long hours. Swap in four-wheel drive, a 278-hp V-6, a 6-speed manual transmission, and lift the ride height and swap in Fox shocks, and the Tacoma TRD Pro or Off-Road models are ready to cruise the kind of dusty berms and crested ridges that stock photographers dream about. Towing rates up to 6,800 pounds, so bring along the Seadoos, too.
Tacomas can be configured as work trucks, too, which means a toolbox fits behind the front seats in extended cabs where people should not. Even crew-cab Tacomas aren’t great at hosting people; the seatback sits too bolt upright, like it’s waiting to sit for a deposition. But the cabin’s trimmed with durability in mind, and the bed’s useful, too; at 5 or 6 feet long it’ll bring home as much flat-pack furniture as you’re willing to assemble.
Toyota builds automatic emergency braking into every Tacoma, and gives each power windows and mirrors, a sliding rear window, and at least a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Lightly optioned SR5 Tacomas strike a sweet spot, and get better front seats than the base SR; TRD models can be fitted with an under-truck camera that can flush out obstacles before the truck grinds over them, expensively. A Tacoma TRD Off Road, in desert tan, with an in-bed tent and a week’s worth of provisions, would only be missing one prop in the recurring adventure fantasy of ours: a drowned iPhone.