If excellent utility and off-road ability are priorities for your next vehicle, the 2018 Toyota Tacoma should be high on your list. The wealth of available configurations means there's likely a Tacoma that fits your needs, and some of them provide an impressive degree of trail-busting capability.
Alongside those specialized off-road Tacomas with their knobby tires, upgraded suspension and off-road driving aids, there are street-oriented versions of the Tacoma, too. Notably, even the more luxurious trim levels share their siblings' lifted stance. It creates a high step-in height and a slightly unusual seating position, but it also means every Tacoma is at least a little adventure-ready.
The Tacoma has some notable competition. The Honda Ridgeline lacks the Tacoma's rugged look, but it offers all the practicality of a pickup plus innovative storage options, a more carlike ride quality and a roomier interior. There's also the Chevrolet Colorado, which feels like a slightly scaled-down Chevy Silverado full-size truck in many respects and has a superior engine lineup. Overall, though, we think the Tacoma hits the spot for what most midsize pickup shoppers are looking for.
The Tacoma is available in six trim levels. The entry-level SR is the work truck of the bunch, with the value-oriented SR5 offering more equipment and more choices. Next up are the very popular and well-equipped TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road variants. The two are identical on the inside, but hardware differences make the TRD Off-Road more capable when the going gets rocky. The more street-oriented Limited used to be the top dog, but that honor now belongs to the TRD Pro, a highly capable and fully equipped off-road machine.
Bare-bones isn't quite the right way to describe the low-dollar SR, the most modestly equipped Tacoma of the lot. Even so, it can be had with an extended cab with a 6.1-foot bed or a crew cab with a 5-foot bed, and you can choose between two-wheel drive or part-time four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case. Its 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine with 159 horsepower is paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. For 2018, all trim levels including the SR gain forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control as standard equipment.
The SR is most easily identified by its dark grille and 16-inch steel wheels. But even this basic Tacoma comes with a sliding rear window, a tough composite bed that needs no bedliner, a movable cleat tie-down system, and a backup camera fitted in the tailgate release handle. Inside, the four-way-adjustable cloth seats have driver-side lumbar adjustment, and the steering wheel tilts, telescopes, and has control buttons that work with the basic Entune stereo, which supports Bluetooth and has a USB interface.
For most buyers, the SR5 is the better deal. In addition to the previous configurations mentioned, you can also get a long-wheelbase version that pairs the crew cab with the 6.1-foot bed. Outwardly, the SR5 gains a chrome rear bumper and a flash of chrome on its charcoal-colored grille. It's got foglights set into its front bumper, and the 16-inch steel wheels can be upgraded to alloys. Remote keyless entry becomes standard, its steering wheel is wrapped in leather, and the sliding rear window uses privacy glass. There's a 4.2-inch information screen between the gauges, and the enhanced Entune audio system supports satellite radio, smartphone-enabled navigation via the Scout GPS app, and Siri Eyes Free voice control.
Next up is the TRD Sport. It is offered in the same cab and bed configurations as the SR5, but it replaces the four-cylinder engine with a 278-hp 3.5-liter V6. All rear-wheel-drive versions use the six-speed automatic, but four-wheel-drive buyers can choose between the automatic and a performance-oriented six-speed manual.
It comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, body-colored fender flares and rear bumper, turn signals in the mirror housings and, everyone's favorite, a hood scoop. There's a 400-watt power outlet in the bed, and the crew cab's sliding rear window is power-actuated. Automatic transmission-equipped trucks gain smart entry and push-button start, and all TRD Sports make the jump to full navigation via the Entune premium audio system's 7-inch touchscreen.
The TRD Off-Road offers the same configuration and engine options as the TRD Sport, and its truck bed and interior and audio trimmings are identical. Visual differences include a chrome rear bumper, textured black fender flares and the absence of the Sport's hood scoop. Off-road performance changes loom large in this trim, and these include knobby all-terrain tires on 16-inch alloy wheels, the deletion of the front air dam, extra skid plates, a lockable rear differential, Bilstein monotube shocks, and an advanced off-road traction control system with multiple terrain settings and crawl control.
Both the TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road crew-cab models can be upgraded with a few option packages. Feature highlights include a sunroof, parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, leather upholstery, and a JBL speaker upgrade and a subwoofer. It's worth noting that the stereo upgrade is not available on models with the manual transmission.
The Limited is the most civilized version of the Tacoma. It is only offered as a V6-powered crew cab with the short bed in either two- or four-wheel drive. It has body-colored flares and rear bumper, and it rolls on 18-inch wheels with lower-profile tires. It lacks the TRD Off-Road's specialized off-road upgrades and is instead upgraded with just about all of the Off-Road and Sport's optional features as standard equipment.
The TRD Pro is sold only as a crew cab with a short bed, and it comes only in four-wheel drive. The V6 engine is standard, but you can choose between the manual and the automatic transmission. It's equipped like a loaded-up TRD Off-Road but sets itself apart with special styling details, including a black throwback grille with "Toyota" spelled out in capital letters. Most notably, it has special Fox internal bypass shocks that give it more off-road capability as well as a tougher stance that's an inch broader and an inch taller.