Toyota Tacoma skimps on driving charms
Toyota’s small pickup trucks have a long-lasting reputation for dependability, and the Tacoma model has been the best-selling vehicle in its shrinking class for several years. So it’s understandable that Toyota hasn’t wanted to tinker too much with success.
But there is room for some adjustments to the Tacoma formula. Even as most new pickup trucks manage to blend capability with luxury, the redesigned 2016 Tacoma sticks to the basics – despite a price tag that hits $40,020 as tested. And while some aspects of the new Tacoma’s design and character are a matter of taste, others represent ways in which the vehicle is simply compromised.
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The truck’s interior packaging, already imperfect since its last redesign back in 2005, remains subpar. A high floor and low roof mean that getting in and out takes some care to avoid hitting your head, and the tallest drivers won’t fit well once they are inside. The rear seat is even more cramped, even with the crew cab. And the low, hard, flat front seats aren’t especially comfortable even on the leather-trimmed Limited model.
Toyota did replace the most popular engine for 2016, swapping out a 236-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 in favor of a 3.5-liter with 278 horsepower. It also went from a five-speed automatic to a six-speed. These changes boosted EPA fuel economy ratings by 2 miles per gallon, to 18 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 20 mpg overall in the tested four-wheel-drive V6 model. (A manual transmission and four-cylinder engine are also available.) Acceleration is noisy but not lively, and the transmission downshifts slowly.
That’s not to say the new Tacoma is utterly unlikable. By all accounts it has retained impressive off-road capabilities, and it can tow a respectable 6,700 pounds. The redesigned dashboard has a nice layout that’s user-friendly and hits the sweet spot of looking and feeling high-quality without seeming too delicate for a heavy-duty truck; the brown leather is also both classy and sturdy. And there’s no reason to question the Tacoma’s hard-won reputation for longevity and high resale value.
But the more modern Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon are more accommodating for day-to-day transportation, with superior acceleration, interior comfort, handling agility and overall civility, while still offering solid capability and an available diesel engine. Some Tacoma buyers may prefer the Toyota’s more utilitarian character, though issues like a less comfortable driver’s seat are hard to justify.
For maximum refinement and luxury, Honda has just redesigned the Ridgeline, a model that’s essentially a Pilot crossover (itself derived from the Odyssey minivan) with a bed instead of a third-row seat. And if comparatively manageable dimensions aren’t a priority, you can get the all-out space, comfort and capability of a full-size pickup for not much more money than a smaller Tacoma.
Buick Cascada favors comfort over performance
Fans of convertibles don’t have a lot of choices these days that are even remotely affordable. Most options are sporty cars like a Ford Mustang or Mazda MX-5 Miata, or have a love-it-or-hate-it personality like a Volkswagen Beetle.
Enter the new 2016 Buick Cascada, brought over from General Motors’ European Opel division. Priced from $33,990, standard features that include heated leather seats, a power-operating top, 20-inch alloy wheels and a touch screen navigation system – you can’t get a bargain by skipping those features, but it’s reasonable enough for a car that’s so well-equipped.
If the Buick name makes you worry that the Cascada is some sort of wallowing barge, fear not. This is a compact car with respectably tight steering and handling, though it’s still designed more for pleasant cruising than for corner-carving. Those 20-inch wheels are potentially worth a re-think, though, as they make the ride a little stiff.
Acceleration isn’t very lively from the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine even though it’s turbocharged to 200 horsepower, and gas mileage is mediocre: EPA ratings of 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway; the tested car averaged 25 mpg in a week-long test in a mix of mostly highway and suburban conditions.
Inside, the Cascada has space for four passengers, and even the back seat isn’t too horrible for adults. The cabin is well-finished but some of controls and displays look a little dated; the Cascada has already been sold in Europe for several years, and in-dash technology has moved quickly during that time.
But it’s hard to be too picky. The closest competitor is an Audi A3 that costs some $7,000 more than a comparably equipped Cascada. For open-top gentle cruising, Buick has staked out a compelling niche.