Can Toyota continue to dominate the midsize pickup market? That was the key question in mind as I set out for a first drive of the 2024 Toyota Tacoma. The midsize truck certainly looks good on paper, with eight trim packages, four powertrains — including a first-ever hybrid — and a seemingly endless list of body, bed and technology options. How did it stand up, on-road and off? Check out this review on Headlight.News.
As the crow flies, it’s barely 40 miles back to my hotel in downtown Los Angeles. But it’s another world out at Malibu’s rugged Calamigos Ranch. Only a small portion of its 5,500 acres have been developed. And, for the moment, I’m creeping along on a hardscrabble trail carved through the rugged Santa Monica Mountains.
My vehicle of choice is the newly redesigned 2024 Toyota Tacoma. The truck, appropriately enough, has long been the king-of-the-hill in the midsize pickup segment. But it’s been facing some increasingly tough domestic and import competition in recent years so, with the fourth-generation pickup, Toyota is determined to stave off challengers like the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon and Ford Ranger — all three of which are also newly redesigned..
On paper, at least, the 2024 Tacoma has a lot going for it, starting with a ground-up makeover that sees it migrate to the TNGA-F platform, the same architecture as the full-size Toyota Tundra. It gains 4.5 inches of wheelbase, about 2.5 inches in track and another two inches in height. It also introduces a new powertrain lineup, including Tacoma’s first hybrid. Plus you can add new features like the TRD Pro’s IsoDynamic seats and an assortment of advanced safety and comfort technologies.
Now, out at the Calamigos Ranch I’ll get my first chance to see how it all comes together.
Options, options, options
When it comes to midsize pickups, no one offers more options than Toyota. There’ll be eight new Tacoma trim packages available for 2024, beginning with the base SR model starting at $34,700. At the upper end, buyers can opt for the well-equipped Limited, starting at $52,100. There are four off-roaders, including the $41,800 TRD Pro Off-Road that I drove, as well as the all-new Tacoma Trailhunter that will join the group next spring.
Buyers will also have the choice of two body styles: the XtraCab and the roomier Double Cab. Then, they’ll be able to choose either a 5- or 6-foot bed.
Add the availability of four different powertrains, including the new I-Force Max Hybrid, Tacoma’s first gas-electric package — and its most powerful engine package ever. There will be the choice of rear, four-wheel or all-wheel drive, and while most buyers will wind up with an 8-speed automatic, the Tacoma TRD lets them row their own, with a 6-speed manual.
Add an array of tech features, including upgrade gauge and infotainment screens, as well as updates complementing the Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 suite of advanced driver assistance systems.
Listening to owners
It doesn’t take long to sense all the work the automaker’s product development team has put into the 2024 Toyota Tacoma. At first glance, the new truck might not look all that different from the outgoing model. But take a closer look. Not only has it grown bigger but it’s also difficult to find more than a handful of parts and components carried over from the outgoing truck.
Toyota clearly listened to what Tacoma loyalists have been telling it, among other things addressing some common complaints. The new powertrain portfolio delivers more power and plenty of low-end grunt, enough to tow up to 6,500 pounds with the beefiest of the conventional gas engines, and 6,000 pounds with the new I-Force Max hybrid.
The trucks front seats now sit about 2 inches taller than before, providing a much better seating position. That said, it’s still a bit of a yoga maneuver for someone my height — at 6’2” — to get in or out of the new Tacoma due to the design of its doors. But, once inside, there’s now plenty of headroom.
Behind the Wheel
Over the course of a long day, I had the chance to drive three of the 2024 Tacoma trim packages, including a base SR model, the more luxurious Limited, and the TRD Off-Road.
All three feature some welcome upgrades, especially inside — though the SR remains a fairly plain-jane work truck for those on a tight budget. The Limited shows off the handsome new interior which is better organized and features upgraded materials, largely eliminating the drab plastics past generations of the Tacoma have suffered from. There are plenty of new storage nooks inside all the new versions, though the Limited Hybrid does sacrifice a bit of space in the bins under the back bench. That’s due to intrusion from its lithium-ion battery pack.
The TRD Off-Road, meanwhile, is clearly designed for serious trail time. It’s easy to access its unique controls, and there are several switches that can be assigned to duties such as operating aftermarket lights.
On the trail
I began my day heading out onto the trail carving its way around the Santa Monica Mountains. While clearly not in the same league as, say, Moab or the Rubicon Trail, it clearly showed off the capabilities of the Tacoma TRD Off-Road.
The truck’s increased ground clearance — at 11 inches — and improved wheel articulation were shown off well as I tackled a series of moguls and then crept across a big rock pile. Motivated by the most powerful of the three I-Force gas engines, a 2.4-liter turbo-4 making 278 hp and 317 lb-ft. of torque, the TRD handled them as easily as it might a potholed Michigan roadway.
The TRD offers buyers the option of a third version of the I-Force drivetrain, making 270 hp and 310 lb-ft, and paired with a 6-speed manual.
Equally impressive was the truck’s behavior on-road. Clearly, the added right height negatively impacted handling, especially on the torturously twisted Latigo Trail heading down to the Malibu beachfront. But the off-roader’s upgraded suspension provided a much smoother and confident ride than the outgoing off-roader.
On the road
The ride and handling of the SR and Limited models were markedly better than what the gen-3 truck could offer, as well.
With its base engine, a 2.4-liter turbo-4 making 228 hp and 243 lb-ft, the SR clearly has to work hard to handle the sort of steep hills carving up the Malibu countryside. The Limited delivered a much more satisfying experience, and I expect to see a sizable share of buyers opt for the I-Force Max powertrain the Limited Hybrid.
That package pairs a 2.4-liter gas engine and a 1.87 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery to pour out 326 hp and 465 lb-ft. Torque comes on quickly and smoothly and is likely to change the way many people think of a gas-electric drivetrain. It does lose about 500 pounds of towing capacity, at a max 6,000 pounds, however, due to the added weight of the hybrid package.
One note: the Limited Hybrid gets a full-time all-wheel-drive drivetrain, rather than the four-wheel-drive package found on the rest of the lineup. It sacrifices the 4WD system’s locking differential.
The outgoing Tacoma was anything but a tech showcase. Toyota has clearly wanted to catch up with the 2024 truck. To start with, base models now feature a 7-inch digital gauge cluster, higher trims getting a 12.3-inch display. Base models come with an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, but a 14-inch package is available as standard or option, depending upon the trim. Toyota’s now added its Alexa-like voice assistant, the Audio Multimedia system, as standard fare across the board.
Wireless charging, as well as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available as options or standard, depending upon the trim. And there are plenty of USB-C ports, including two 45-watt plugs in the center console.
The 2024 Tacoma also gets the latest Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 suite of advance driver assistance systems across the line-up, including features like pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, road sign assist and other features. But there are a handful of desirable features, such as blind-spot detection, available as optional upgrades.
More to come
For now, I can only imagine what several other Tacoma trim packages will offer, as they’re still months away from production.
These start with the even more rugged TRD Pro, with its Fox Quick Shift shocks, Fox Internal Floating Piston bump stops and cat-back dual exhaust tips. But the most intriguing feature is the new IsoDynamic Performance Seat with its tunable, four-way shock absorbers. It’s designed to ease your ride and help keep you focused on the road whether rock crawling or going all-out across the Baja.
Then there’s the new Tacoma Trailhunter. Targeting overlanders, it adds features such as ARB’s Old Man Emu position sensitive 2.5-inch forged monotube shocks with rear external piggyback style remote reservoirs, a steel rear bumper, rear recovery points, and a bed utility bar with removeable panels. It also adds two inches of ground clearance up front and 1.5 in the rear, while riding 33-inch Goodyear Territory R/T tires, a trail exhaust tip, a high-mount air intake on the passenger side, and rock rails.
The first of the 2024 Toyota Tacomas pickups are just going into production and, according to the latest word from the automaker, should be available for delivery just before the end of the year. Three of the four off-road packages, the TRD Pre-Runner, TRD Pro and Trailhunter, won’t arrive until spring, as I earlier noted. For serious off-roaders, they should be worth the wait, though the TRD Off-Road package is also a good option with a shorter wait.
I’ll reserve final judgement on the new 2024 Toyota Tacoma until I get to drive the entire line up and have longer access to some of the key trim packages.
That said, my initial experience with the midsize pickup was nothing short of impressive. On the whole, Toyota has done precisely what it needed to do. Sure, it didn’t exactly stretch the envelope when it comes to design, but it really didn’t need to. With Tacoma, it’s all about the drive, and there’s a model that should meet the needs of just about every possible driver. It’s hard to imagine any competitor toppling the fourth-generation king-of-the-midsize hill.