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2009 Toyota Tacoma ReviewThe Good
The 2009 Toyota Tacoma's wide variety of truck configurations offers something for everybody, and solid engines matched with 4WD options provide good hauling power and offroad performance.The Bad
Though it ranks high in its class for fuel economy, the '09 Tacoma still gulps gas, and adding option packages jacks up the price significantly.
The CarGurus View
For those needing the utility and ruggedness of a 4WD pickup without wanting to spend a lot on gas, the '09 Tacoma's midrange size and functional versatility look like a good compromise. A choice of three different cabs and off-road packages lets you cherry-pick your truck according to your needs. Throw in Toyota's reputation for reliability, high build quality, and two solid power plants, and you'll see why the Taco has such a loyal fan base.
At a Glance
Although due for a makeover, the '09 Toyota Tacoma remains a consumer favorite, so it returns this year with few changes. One of the most well-rounded and best handling midsize pickups on the market, according to professional reviews, the Taco improves its credentials by adding standard traction and stability control, active front head restraints, rollover sensors, and an automatic limited-slip differential to its safety profile. A new rearview camera, optional for Access and Double Cab trims, aids the visibility problem noted in past years.
Other minor additions include an MP3-compatible CD player, an MP3 jack, and optional Bluetooth and satellite radio. Access Cabs get a new storage compartment beneath the rear jump seats. On the outside, the '09 Tacoma dresses itself up with LED taillights and a chrome grille surround. Four new colors have also been added, with Magnetic Grey earning praise from one happy owner.
This versatile pickup comes in three different cab configurations (Regular, Access, and Double) with two bed lengths, two engine choices, and the option of rear-wheel or part-time 4WD. Both a four- and six-cylinder engine offer plenty of towing power, and various offroad packages equip the rugged truck for serious workhorse utility. For those wanting to play as hard as they work, an X-Runner high performance package comes with a sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks, 18-inch wheels, a lowered ride height, and a body kit. Other Sport options include the SR5 and TRD Sport Package that variously add a hood scoop, sport seats, color-keyed body parts, flared fenders, foglights, and leather trim. All Cabs offer a PreRunner trim, which acts as a RWD light-duty offroader without the extra weight or reduced mpg of the 4WD trucks.
Trims range from the purely functional Regular to the more high-end Double. All offer superb handling, a relatively comfortable ride for a truck, good towing capacity, and confident powertrains. As gas prices stay high, the more economical, but still capable four-cylinder engine option becomes an attractive choice for those looking only for a reliable everyday utility pickup, rather than the extra towing heft of the more powerful V6.
Both Regular and Access Cabs have a choice of two engines. Standard on both, the 16-valve, 2.7-liter DOHC inline-four engine delivers 159 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. It comes paired with either a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission and averages 17/22 mpg.
Optional for these trims and standard on the Double Cab is a 24-valve, 4.0-liter DOHC V6 engine. It has a choice of a 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual, both with overdrive functions. Together, they put out 236 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 RPM. Test drives reveal 0-60 times around 7.8 seconds, relatively speedy for a midsize pickup, and critics find the V6 exhibits a broad power range. When properly equipped, the V6 Tacomas can tow up to 6,500 pounds.
Ride & Handling
The '09 Tacoma rides like a truck, because, well, it is a truck. Its firm double wishbone front and solid live axle rear suspension translate into a slightly bouncy ride, particularly when carrying heavy loads, but most owners find the driving experience comfortable and smooth. Those trims equipped with the sport-tuned suspension and larger wheels increase overall harshness, but offer a more direct and satisfying handling experience for drivers.
The addition of standard traction and stability control and an automatic limited-slip differential with downhill assist control adds extra confidence in slippery situations and wreaks less wear and tear on the excellent brakes. The part-time 4WD system comes with both high- and low-range gearing, and the inclusion of skid plates and 9.3 inches of ground clearance in all but the X-Runner, means expert performance when needed offroad.
Regular Cabs ride on 15-inch wheels, while the Access, 4WD, and PreRunner trims get 16-inch alloys. The Double and TRD option package boost that to 17 inches, while the sports-oriented X-Runner sits on noisier 18-inch alloy wheels.
Cabin & Comfort
Meant more for utility than luxury, the '09 Tacoma keeps its comfort and convenience features to a minimum, but still manages to provide a refined and pleasant interior that surpasses many pickups in this segment. Three different cab formations range from work-oriented to family hauler.
Two-door Regular cabs feature a three-person bench, while the Access adds rear jump seats and suicide rear doors that open in conjunction with the front doors. Both cabs come with a choice of a 5-foot or 6-foot pickup bed. The top-range Double Cab features two regular-size rows of seats and four full-size doors, but only the smaller 5-foot bed. The smaller bed compensates for the larger cabin, in an attempt to keep maneuverability manageable. Front legroom measures 40 inches throughout all cabs, while rear legroom measures a leg-cramping 28 inches in the Access and a mediocre 32.6 in the Double. Along with the flat-folding 60/40 second row in the Double, both the Access and Double Cabs include a folding front passenger seat to accommodate longer objects.
Test drives reveal clear and reachable gauges and standard tilt and telescopic steering to enhance driver ergonomics. However, reviews of both the 2009 and similar 2008 model find the front driver's seat mounted too low for optimal visibility and comfort. Sparsely outfitted, Regular cabs offer a CD player, but air-conditioning is optional. The Access and Double improve conditions considerably with power features, air-conditioning, remote entry, and a new 6-speaker sound system. They also add an overhead console and underseat storage compartment. Features such as cruise control and leather trim can be found in the SR5 Package, which adds some style to the pickup.
All cargo beds come with built-in storage compartments, a bedliner, and adjustable tie-down cleats. The scratch- and dent-resistant interior is built to take a beating. Options include a 115V power outlet, a cargo cover, cargo net, and roof rack.
With the addition of standard traction and stability control to the long list of safety equipment, the 2009 Tacoma should match and possibly exceed crash test scores from 2008. In that year, it was the only pickup to receive a Good rating from the Insurance Institute for front and side impacts. The NHTSA gave it five stars in the same categories. The traction and stability control become part of the STAR Safety System, which also includes four-wheel ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. Trims equipped with 4WD also add a downhill assist to slow down wear and tear on the brakes and a hill-start function that helps in tricky terrain.
New active front head restraints should also improve the Marginal whiplash ratings from 2008. The '09 Tacoma features dual front airbags in Regular Cabs and side curtain airbags for both rows in the Access and Double Cabs. Side curtain bags now come with rollover sensors. A tire monitor measures pressure for all trims.
What Owners Think
Drivers find both the inline-four and V6 engines plenty powerful for everyday work utility, although the V6 serves as the better towing truck. Despite a firm ride from its truck suspension, the '09 Tacoma feels smooth and comfortable, and owners praise its expert handling. Other compliments go to its roomy interior and extra safety features for 2009, and a lot of owners like the overall look and style of the pickup. Most seem pleased with the fuel economy, which ranks better than most pickups in the class.
There are few complaints from owners of the '09 Tacoma. Those that exist focus on some missing features, such as the lack of a sunroof option or spray-on bedliner. Some want more standard equipment for the sparsely outfitted Regular Cab.
The '09 Tacoma has not yet received reviews from CarGurus owners, but those that drive the 2008 model feel the V6 delivers confident passing and towing power well-suited for hauling passengers or cargo. They echo the praise for the roomy interior in the Double Cab, although one owner found the rear seats somewhat cramped.
by Ann Jackman
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