2021 Toyota Tacoma Review
Not everybody needs the size and capabilities of a full-size pickup. That's where midsize trucks come in, and the 2021 Toyota Tacoma is one of the better choices in the class. It trails behind the more city-friendly Honda Ridgeline and all-terrain Jeep Gladiator in our rankings, but we think the Tacoma is a sensible middle ground between the two. It also feels a little more refined than rivals from Chevrolet, Ford and GMC.
After last year's significant refresh, there are no changes to the core Tacoma offerings. There are, however, a pair of new limited-edition trims for buyers looking for something a little different. The Trail Special Edition is based on the near entry-level SR5 trim with the double-cab body style. Limited to 7,000 units, it comes with all-terrain tires and lockable bed storage bins. The driver's side bin is even insulated so it can function as a built-in cooler. There's also a Nightshade Special Edition based on the more expensive Limited trim, but changes are only aesthetic, with blacked-out badging and trim throughout. Just 5,000 are planned for production.
Is the Tacoma the right midsize truck for you? Check out our Expert Rating to get our in-depth take on the 2021Tacoma.
What's it like to live with?
When the Tacoma was redesigned in 2016, we wanted to know what it was like to live with, so we bought one. Specifically, we purchased the 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road and lived with it in our long-term fleet for nearly two years, putting over 40,000 miles on the odometer. The Tacoma has received some updates since its redesign in 2016, but it's the same generation truck so most of our observations apply. To learn about everything from seat comfort to reliability, check out all the details in our long-term Tacoma test.
The Toyota Tacoma is the best-selling truck in its segment for a reason. Foremost, it enjoys a long-standing reputation for durability and go-anywhere capability. But it's also smooth, efficient and easy to get along with on the road.
How does the Tacoma drive?
The Tacoma steers and handles smoothly and is generally easy to drive. The main exception is the brakes, which feel grabby and can induce nosedive in hard stops. We do wish the 3.5-liter V6 felt a bit more willing, but there is enough power for daily use. The transmission shifts predictably and is able to get the most out of the engine.
Off-road is where the Tacoma truly shines and stands above all others except the Gladiator. The Tacoma has the clearance, gearing and traction to tackle serious terrain, and the brakes and throttle prove brilliantly precise and controllable in low-range crawling situations.
How comfortable is the Tacoma?
The Tacoma was never a disagreeable truck to ride in, but changes introduced in 2020 made it a little bit more pleasant. A fully adjustable 10-way driver's seat comes standard in V6 trucks, and this seat promotes long-range comfort for drivers of almost all shapes and sizes.
The thicker side-window glass cuts down the wind noise compared to prior years, though the Colorado and the Ridgeline still have an edge here. The same is true for ride quality since the Tacoma is still truckier than its smoothest-riding competitors. As for the climate system, it has effective heating and cooling and is easy to adjust.
How’s the interior?
The Tacoma's main drawback is its tallish step-in height. Get past that and everything else is solid once you're inside. The controls are logical and straightforward, including the large infotainment screen and the recently redesigned knobs and physical shortcut buttons.
The 10-way power seat provides a greater range of adjustability than in pre-2020 models, but we wish the telescoping steering wheel pulled out more. The front-seat roominess benefits from the seat's added downward adjustability, but other dimensions remain the same as before. Visibility is very good thanks to the profile of the hood, ample side windows, and a forward- and side-looking camera system.
How’s the tech?
The latest Tacoma is pretty well stocked with tech features. Toyota introduced a new screen in 2020 that featured a larger size, crisper map graphics and quicker responses than in previous models. You also get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and even Amazon Alexa. Built-in navigation is an inexpensive upgrade option, and it's probably worth getting if you're planning on venturing out of cellphone range a lot.
Toyota's approach to standard active safety tech is admirable. Adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, automatic high-beam control, and even a driver drowsiness warning system are all standard on all grades.
How’s the storage?
The Tacoma's truck bed is ideal. It's made of a composite material that needs no bedliner, and it has an enviable combination of fixed and movable tie-downs. Loading is easy because the tailgate opens low and its bedsides aren't comically tall. With a 6,800-pound maximum tow rating, the Tacoma does lag behind some others, but the deficit isn't large.
Interior storage for small items is adequate. Folding the rear seats down into their cargo-carrying position is a little fussy, but as a result it offers better storage space than all but the Ridgeline and the Gladiator. Installing child safety seats is easy, but larger rear-facing and infant seats might eat into front passenger room.
How economical is the Tacoma?
The 3.5-liter V6 engine and six-speed automatic combo earns 20 mpg combined (18 city/22 highway) in 4WD trim and 21 mpg combined in rear-wheel-drive models. Our testing leads us to believe that these ratings are achievable and accurate.
We tested a 2016 TRD 4WD Off-Road for more than a year and averaged 18.6 mpg over 40,000 miles of use. We were able to exceed the highway rating on several road trips, and there are good reasons why our truck may have come up just over 1 mpg short. Our home-base location skews the mix toward city driving, and the TRD Off-Road has knobbier tires and lacks the front airdam that comes on most Tacomas.
Is the Tacoma a good value?
You get a lot of well-built truck and a bed with many standard cargo-handling and safety features for your money. The value equation is particularly good on the TRD models. Build quality is solid, and Toyota trucks are known for their mechanical durability. Although warranty coverage isn't generous, you do get two years of free scheduled maintenance.
Toyota's Tacoma manages to deliver fun in a right-size pickup package. Its TRD off-road packages are the real deal, not sticker packages inflated by marketing hype. The buying public has responded with fierce loyalty, and this truck has also attracted the attention of the aftermarket, which supports it with many products that enable all sorts of customization. The Tacoma is great for those who want the look and feel of an off-roader even if they'll never get it dirty because it's also an easy-driving and dependable pickup truck.
Which Tacoma does Edmunds recommend?
The midtier TRD Sport and Off-Road are quite appealing. They both add plenty of features and offer a diverse options list. Of the two, the TRD Off-Road is our pick. It enhances the truck's off-road ability while keeping the cost reasonable. While the deletion of the airdam comes with a slight fuel economy penalty, we think it's offset by the more comfortable ride provided by the smaller wheels and Bilstein shocks.
Toyota Tacoma models
The Toyota Tacoma is a midsize pickup truck offered in six trim levels: SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, Limited and TRD Pro.The SR and SR5 come standard with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine producing 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. Optional for those trims — and standard on all others — is a 3.5-liter V6 with 278 hp and 265 lb-ft on tap. A six-speed automatic is common across the lineup, though some trims offer a six-speed manual transmission in conjunction with the V6.