The 2020 Toyota Tacoma may be a mild-sauce update of a truck whose basic design dates back to 2005, but when you look at the sales charts, it certainly doesn’t seem like customers are clamoring for something all-new. The Taco is crushing its competition, recording nearly 246,000 sales last year and on its way to besting that in 2019.
However, owning the segment doesn’t mean the Tacoma should get a free pass. Yes, there are a few tweaks for 2020, but this fundamentally remains the same pickup that came in fourth in our recent midsize truck comparison. The cabs, frame, engine and transmissions remain the same, and the exterior alterations consist merely of a new grille, standard LED headlights and some new wheel choices.
Most of the noteworthy changes are inside. A new, 10-way power driver’s seat applies a band-aid to the Tacoma’s longstanding issue of a too-low seating position that forces taller folks into an uncomfortable, legs-splayed-out position. But without changes to the cab dimensions, jacking the seat up exacerbates the Tacoma’s shortage of headroom versus key rivals.
Otherwise, the Tacoma’s smartly finished interior remains competitive, something that we noted in the midsize truck comparo. A new multimedia system happily replaces a much-derided unit, and now includes a larger 8-inch touchscreen (or 7 inches on the SR starter model) with newfound Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa connectivity. A new panoramic view monitor is standard on up-level versions,
MTM is just another reason for the Tacoma to still shine brightest off-road, including here in Moab on the Hell’s Revenge trail, a slick-rock gauntlet that tested every inch of the Taco’s ground clearance, approach/departure angles and 4×4 capability. For these Double Cab models in TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro trims, that capability includes an electronically controlled, low-range 4WD setting, a locking rear differential and Multi-Terrain Select driving modes.
Following a full day on these daunting trails near the Lion’s Back, our convoy of bone-stock Tacomas emerged onto Sand Flats Road, none the worse for wear. The next day brought an all-day run from Moab to equally splendorous Ouray, Colorado, via Geyser Pass Road. This rugged dirt track crosses the LaSal range at 10,528 feet, with snow still hanging on in mid-July. Through it all, the Tacoma’s off-road act was exceptional, perfectly complementing the outdoor scenery.
If I’m venturing into Moab in a 4×4 – or the gnarly off-road trails of Vermont, or the African desert – I’d choose a Toyota over a Jeep, GM, Ford, Nissan or even Land Rover. As a former Jeep Wrangler owner, I will say I loved my Jeeps, but I’d also be first to admit that they were never as reliable, overall, as Toyota FJ’s or Land Cruisers.
While it seems unlikely that the Tacoma is in danger of turning over its sales crown, especially with Ranger’s less-than-explosive debut, there’s also not enough in the 2020 refresh to further entrench its position. Toyota executives insist that they recognize the growing competitive threat, and that they’re taking it seriously. Perhaps we’ll see how seriously soon enough.