The Toyota Tacoma, America's best-selling compact pickup truck, continues to garner praise _ and sales.
The no-nonsense Tacoma is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports. Two months ago, the Tacoma also was named the top truck in its category in J.D. Power and Associates' 2011 Dependability Study measuring issues of owners of 3-year-old vehicles over the last 12 months of ownership.
The Dependability rating comes on top of years of noteworthy praise for the resale value of earlier Tacomas.
Meanwhile, U.S. figures through the first four months of 2011 show today's Tacoma is on a pace to easily top 100,000 sales for another year and hold onto the best-selling compact truck crown.
To be sure, the Tacoma rides like an older-style truck with a good amount of bounce and high-above-the-pavement seating.
But the 2011 Tacoma has arguably the nicest interior in the compact segment and offers plenty of rugged capability while still fitting inside most family garages. It's also a bit thriftier on gasoline than larger, full-size pickups.
And with so many versions of Tacoma available _ from base, regular cabs with standard-size pickup beds to four-door, double cab models with long beds and sport truck options _ it's easy for buyers to find a Tacoma that fits their style.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail prices, including destination charge, for the 2011 Tacoma is $17,175 for a base, 159-horsepower, four-cylinder, regular cab, two-door model with manual transmission and two-wheel drive.
The lowest starting retail price for a 2011 Tacoma with automatic is $18,075. The lowest starting retail price for a 2011 Tacoma with four-wheel drive is $21,030, and the lowest starting retail price for a 2011 Tacoma with up-level, 236-horsepower V-6 is $23,560.
Competitors include the 2011 Nissan Frontier, which has a starting retail price of $19,010 with 152-horsepower four-cylinder, King Cab body style, two-wheel drive and manual transmission. The 2011 Ram Dakota from Chrysler has a starting retail price of some $24,000 with 210-horsepower V-6, two-wheel drive, extended cab body and automatic transmission.
The Tacoma's exterior hasn't been freshened much in recent years, but it's still an attractive truck with flared fenders over the wheels, a truck-worthy, sizable grille up front and truck beds whose side walls are low enough so even someone my size, 5 foot 4, can stand next to the bed and see what's inside.
The test truck was flashy, with its bright, Speedway Blue Metallic paint and optional alloy wheels.
Inside, the Tacoma has lots of hard plastic interior trim, but it's nicely done, with textures and silver-colored accents here and there. For example, the test truck's optional JBL audio system had a good-sized, silver-colored surround at the radio faceplate that jazzed up the center part of the dashboard.
And fit and finish on the test Tacoma was excellent, inside and out.
Hidden storage spaces, however, are limited to the glovebox, center covered console and door pockets. But I found the rectangular slot next to the automatic shift lever in the test Tacoma to be a convenient place to put my cell phone.
Back-seat cushions pulled upward for more loading space in the Double Cab model, but there were none of the nifty, built-in storage cubbies back there that are in some other trucks.
I was grateful that the more than 4,100-pound test truck with four-wheel drive had the more powerful, 4-liter, double overhead cam V-6. I needed it to move this Tacoma spunkily up hills on the highway. Mated to a five-speed automatic, the engine has 266 foot-pounds of torque peaking at 4,000 rpm, which is better than the 235 foot-pounds of torque delivered by the Dakota's 3.7-liter V-6. (The Dakota also is available with a 302-horsepower V-8.)
Fuel mileage isn't a huge improvement over that of bigger pickups. The Tacoma test truck with four-wheel drive was rated at 16 miles per gallon in city driving and 20 mpg on the highway, so the range on one tank should be close to 380 miles. But the test truck needed a fill-up of its 21.1-gallon tank after some 300 miles, meaning I didn't get anywhere near the federal government's combined city/highway rating of 18 mpg.
At least the Tacoma uses regular unleaded gasoline.
I had to scoot up to get on the seats of the Tacoma, as the test 4X4 truck had a healthy ground clearance of 9.3 inches.
Seats were fabric-covered. They didn't mask the nearly constant bounces.
The tester had optional backup camera, but the image, displayed at one edge of the rearview mirror, was small.
Towing capacity is 6,300 pounds to 6,500 pounds, depending on the model of Tacoma. That's a lot of stout pulling power for a less-than-full-size truck.
Many safety features are standard, including frontal, side and curtain air bags, electronic stability control and traction control.
But Toyota issued a safety recall in March for certain 2008-2011 Tacomas that were sold new with accessory wheels, instead of factory wheels, and the tire pressure monitoring system was not recalibrated to take into account the new tires. Tire pressure monitoring systems alert drivers that a tire is losing air pressure, so the driver can get this addressed before the tire goes flat or otherwise affects vehicle handling.
In addition, the 2011 Tacoma earned a five-out-of-five-stars rating for side crash protection in U.S. government crash tests. In frontal collision testing, the 2011 Tacoma garnered only three out of five stars.