Keen eyes will notice that we’ve never reviewed a Toyota Tacoma on this cute little website. It’s not for lack of trying; I had one scheduled in 2021 that had to be cancelled because another journalist ran it into a potted plant or something. But I wasn’t really eager to reschedule. I’ve had this intangible dislike for the current-gen Tacoma for a while and was not super pumped about the loan, knowing that I had to then produce content and not be entirely rude about my feelings toward a truck that a lot of people seem to like, Toyota themselves included. A new one’s allegedly coming soon, but until then, the 2023 Toyota Tacoma is the ongoing sales champion of the midsize truck market. I spent a week with one to figure out the appeal.
I tried to get a little introspective at first. My last time driving a Tacoma was Christmas night of 2021, when I flew in to Kansas City’s hallway of an airport – since replaced – and thought “a truck” would be a better highway cruiser than the Prius also on offer from the exhausted woman working the Avis counter. My relationship was outwardly fine but inwardly less so, and as my then-partner and I hustled down I-whatever at 85 miles per hour, I couldn’t find much to like about the white Tacoma SR5 I had chosen. Maybe the disdain for the truck was misplaced, as I grappled with a relationship between two good people that I knew wasn’t gonna work. Or maybe it was real and the truck deserved the criticism I had at the time.
The 2023 Toyota Tacoma needs no introduction. It’s been the same truck since 2016 and was facelifted in 2020. Despite looking similar to the prior second-generation Tacoma that came out in 2005, Toyota and Wikipedia say this one’s “new” as of 2016.
A four-cylinder is the standard-issue engine, though most buyers will end up with the corporate 3.5 liter V6, which makes 278 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on most Tacomas, with a six-speed torque-converter automatic optional. My Blue Crush tester had the automatic and optional-yet-common four-wheel drive.
On my TRD Off-Road trim, a locking rear differential and Bilstein shocks tuned for off-road use accompanied all-terrain tires as the key party pieces. Crawl Control and Hill Start Assist rounded out the trim level’s key differentiators. While Toyota does offer an extended cab and longer bed, my tester featured the more common full crew cab and shorter 5.5 foot bed.
Despite nicer Limited and more capable TRD Pro trims costing less, my specific truck was optioned to the hilt and carried an eye-watering MSRP of $47,395.
Before you even drive the 2023 Toyota Tacoma, you’ll notice it’s a bit discombobulated inside. Taller drivers – I’m 6’1” most days, 6’6” in stilettos – will struggle to find a decent seating position, with legs straight out but the steering wheel a far reach. Or you’ll pull the seat closer and have your knees approaching your earlobes. Somewhere in there is a middle ground that is only okay. In any case, you’ll have to squeeze your thighs between the steering wheel and seat cushion when you get in and out.
The rest of the interior is similarly just “there.” The radio is at one angle, the climate controls at another. Nice, large buttons control various functions, but the rear window control is differently shaped and not illuminated at night. More controls hang out on the roof, near the sunroof buttons, placed there perhaps only because there was room.
Foot on the brake and hit the start button, let’s go places! The corporate V6, so silky in other applications, awakes with a growl that’s trying to be more edgy than it really is. Chevrolet is doing this on the 2023 Colorado and its four cylinder, too, and it doesn’t work there either. This would be less important if truck buyers didn’t tie their sense of self to their vehicle quite so hard, but manufacturers are left figuring out how to make everything sound vaguely like a diesel or V8 or both.
Not to be all doom and gloom, I actually like the V6. It’s great in a lot of Toyota and Lexus products and makes good power and torque toward the top of the revs. It’s just not much of a truck motor, and the transmission and axle gearing work against it around town, making it feel slower than it really is. Put your foot down and it’ll hustle, but bum around town and you notice each of the long six gears.
Ride quality was also pretty good, both in the city and on the highway, no doubt aided by the softer-than-others Bilsteins and Goodyear Wranglers with poofy sidewalls. The truck soaked up bad city roads and big highway imperfections with ease. I even towed my (empty) enclosed trailer with the Tacoma, and it handled better than expected given the saggy rear-end, a consequence of soft off-road suspension focus.
Steering is fine as truck steering goes – the Tacoma went where I pointed it – and a touch heavy in parking lots but okay otherwise. Stopping was more tricky, as the brake pads didn’t offer enough initial bite on pedal application. That combined with the soft suspension to produce a lot of nosedive moments when I went for the brakes, didn’t quite get enough, pushed harder and got more than I needed. Owners will get used to it, but others do it better.
“Others do it better” is something I kept considering throughout my week with the 2023 Toyota Tacoma. Frankly, none of the midsize truck segment has been much better in the last decade or so. Everything’s had its strengths and weaknesses, but they all played second-fiddle to each manufacturer’s half-ton offering. None have really been excellent all-around efforts. The Tundra, F-150, Silverado and so on are where volume and profit combine and it’s where the most focus is placed. Those trucks are the flagships, not these.
The flip side of being the majority leader of a segment is that whenever it’s New Truck Time, everyone involved knows it has to be fantastic. Chevrolet just launched the new Colorado, GMC’s Canyon is not far behind, and those come on the heels of Nissan’s updated Frontier last year. Those three are all pretty good. Ford’s got a new Ranger on the way that looks promising. Jeep will likely facelift the goofball Gladiator, but it’s fine as it sits if you like a little camp with your camping.
Toyota, though, cannot half-ass the new Tacoma, whenever it gets here. They’ve held the majority of this segment because while the Tacoma is only okay, the competitors haven’t really been too compelling either. And as a buyer, if you’re equally nonplussed by every option, why not get the truck everyone else has? It should, if nothing else, carry that legendary Toyota reliability. Despite not loving the truck, I understand that approach as a buyer.
I still think my criticism first levied a few Christmases ago is valid. A week in this 2023 Toyota Tacoma didn’t do much to change my late-2021 impressions – but it did get me excited for what’s to come from Toyota whenever they do launch this truck’s successor.