2004 Toyota Tacoma Double CabA fond look back, an exciting look ahead
Toyota's Tacoma is about to turn a corner. This tough truck has endeared itself to a wide range of pickup enthusiasts since its introduction in 1995, but soon will be going through some major changes. As with the truck market in general, size matters and bigger is better. So expect to see a re-designed Tacoma in the next model year that will be closer in size to the Dodge Dakota and Chevy Colorado, just as the Tundra will likely swell in size as well.
In the meantime, it's worth noting the high points of the current-generation Tacoma, since there are jillions of them out there, and it will continue to be a significant vehicle in the public's eyes. That's because this competent and compact pickup is so stout and well made. Some Toyota loyalists may even shed a tear for the loss of this soon-to-be ousted smaller model, as they know that sometimes less is more.
Whether you're tackling a tight trail or threading your way through a supermarket parking lot, sometimes the little guy is the best tool for the job. Anybody who's had to herd one of those full-size behemoths in search of a big enough berth can appreciate this. And unless you routinely haul a ton of gravel or a stack of plywood, the Tacoma's bed has plenty of cargo space for most everyday duties.
In addition to offering a narrower and more maneuverable chassis, the Tacoma's strong suits include a choice of several different drivetrains, all smooth running and reliable, not to mention on-road stability control complemented by off-road capability.
The Tacoma also comes in a variety of body configurations-17 to be exact. No really, 17. Not surprisingly, each new configuration comes with a significant up-charge, as dealers know all too well of the Tacoma's excellent reputation for reliability. So if you want to add options, expect to pay some serious money before making your choice.
That's not the case with every upgrade, however. Even as the current model prepares to sing its swan song, the 2004 model now has ABS standard with Electronic Brake Force Distribution. Toyota engineers designed EBD to optimize brake pressure at each wheel for greater control, especially when cornering. In addition, a Brake Assist system determines if the driver is attempting emergency braking, and supplements braking power by engaging the ABS.
Both 4x4 and 4x2 models come with Active TRAC, a traction-control system intended for off-road use. Also, V6 models can now be equipped with Vehicle Stability Control. We ran a V6-powered 4x4 Tacoma on some washboard roads, and deliberately broke loose the rear tires for some slippin' and slidin' in the dirt. Since we don't even come close to the off-road skills of Ivan Stewart, we found the VSC came in handy in keeping us out of the ditches and gullies. There's plenty of power to throttle steer around a switchback, but the handling is still smooth and tractable.
Speaking of power output, we should take a look at all the various engine options on the Tacoma. You get to choose between three different powerplants. At the entry level, a two-wheel-drive Tacoma has a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine, rated at 142 hp and 160 pound-feet of torque. The next step up for both the 4WD Tacoma and 2WD PreRunner is the 2.7-liter four that offers a few more horses at 150hp, but a bigger jump in torque to 177 lb-ft.
Leading the powertrain lineup is a 3.4-liter V6 that pumps out 190 horses and 220 lb-ft of torque. It's standard on the Double Cab model and optional on the Xtracab models. And if you're looking for even more muscle, Toyota Racing Development has an EPA-certified, fully warranted supercharger kit that boosts the V6 output to 260 hp.
Transmission choices include either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. When it comes to towing power, four-cylinder models can handle up to 3,500 pounds, while the V6 is capable of handling up to 5,000 pounds.
Three basic body styles of the Tacoma are available, in either 2WD or 4WD: Regular Cab, Xtracab and Double Cab. Toyota also offers Tacomas with a PreRunner package that has 2WD but the looks, higher ground clearance and heavy-duty suspension of 4WD models. Interestingly enough, about 40 percent of all Tacomas sold are 4WD. Whichever drivetrain you choose, all Tacoma models ride on double-wishbone, coil-spring front suspension, and a leaf-spring rear end with staggered shock absorbers. The 4x4 and PreRunner models upgrade to gas-filled shock absorbers.
The Double Cab is a compact crew cab that offers four full-size doors and a longer passenger compartment, providing a vehicle that's part pickup, part SUV. The Double Cab's bed length is shortened from 74.5 to 61.5 inches, so the overall dimensions don't get over-extended. Toyota also offers a special 2WD S-Runner Xtracab sport truck equipped with the V6, a five-speed manual transmission and a sport-tuned suspension.
Even though standard features are somewhat limited, and options are available mostly a la carte, Toyota does offer both the SR5 and Limited option packages that bundle the most desired features. A TRD off-road package is also available that includes an upgraded suspension, meaty 16-inch wheels and a locking rear differential.
One final footnote about the Tacoma's upcoming revamp, this current model holds its value better than any other truck on the market. According to the Auto Leasing Guide, after three years of ownership, Tacomas can expect to sell for more than 60 percent of their original purchase price, while some brands' residual vale is as little as one third!. Yet another good reason to grab a Tacoma now before this enduring model is no longer available. (www.toyota.com)