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Capable-to-potent powerplants, a wide variety of cab, bed and style configurations, decent safety scores, some pleasing interior qualities and a downright goatish appetite for unfriendly terrain keep the 2012 Toyota Tacoma the front runner in its class.The Bad
Iffy braking, cramped rear seating in the Access Cab trim, some unseemly racket from the V6 and a driver’s seat that’s set a bit too low for many indicate that this light-duty pickup still needs work.
The CarGurus View
At the top of a dwindling heap, the 2012 Toyota Tacoma does its work with little fanfare and plenty of efficiency. A pleasing array of cab and bed configurations, a choice of engines and, when properly equipped, a fearsome aptitude for off-road adventures ought to keep this pint-size pickup on top, at least until it’s the last one standing.
At a Glance
At one time, small-to-midsize pickups were all the rage, and it seemed like everyone had one. Now Toyota’s Tacoma is the best of a dying breed—it's been the best-selling compact/midsize pickup for the last two years running. Spiffy and sporty, plush and practical, the 2012 Tacoma has a trim level to fit nearly any taste from the daily commuter to the job-site boss. And, as if that weren’t enough, some subtle yet effective upgrades to the cabin and exterior trim give this year’s light-duty hauler a bolder look inside and out, while a number of high-tech additions, including Toyota’s Entune traffic advisory, music streaming and Internet radio services, are made available for this model year.
Trims for the 2012 Tacoma lineup, as is traditional, include the 3-passenger Regular cab as the base trim level and the PreRunner, available in either the 5/6-passenger Access cab or the 5/6-passenger Double cab with its 4 independently opening doors. The base V6 sub-trim comes in either the Access cab or Double cab configuration, while the XRunner sub-trim is offered only with the Access cab. Both the Regular and Access cab variations come with a standard 6.1-foot bed, while Double cab versions are delivered with a standard 5.0-foot bed, though the PreRunner and V6 variants can be equipped with the 6.1-foot bed in certain drivetrain configurations.
Of course, all base Tacoma editions in all three cab configurations are offered in standard rear-wheel drive (RWD) or with available part-time 4-wheel drive (4WD), though V6 editions come only with 4WD. Properly equipped with the optional TRD (Toyota Racing Division) Off-Road package, Toyota’s 4WD-packing mini-trucks are proven to be formidable off-road machines, though with the standard suspension, their proper place is on snowy pavement or muddy back roads. XRunner and PreRunner versions are offered solely in RWD.
Nissan’s Frontier, despite less refinement and cabin room, provides the Tacoma its only competition worthy of the name, with Honda’s snazzy Ridgeline lacking the heft and the ruggedness to measure up, practicality-wise. Alas, with the demise of Ford’s lackluster Ranger, the still-available Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon try, but can’t come close to the Tacoma’s combination of utility, performance, room and reliability.
Base and PreRunner variations of Toyota’s 2012 Tacoma lineup carry the standard 2.7-liter inline 4-cylinder (I4) powerplant with variable valve timing (VVT). Mated with either the standard 5-speed manual transmission or an available 4-speed automatic, this capable four-banger throws down 159 hp at 5,200 rpm and 180 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm. A rear limited-slip differential is also standard with either transmission, while a properly equipped RWD Tacoma can tow up to 3,500 pounds. Mileage varies with transmission and drivetrain configuration, with RWD 5-speed stick-shift Tacomas showing 21 mpg city/25 highway, 4WD with the manual transmission 18/20, RWD 4-speed automatics 19/24 and 4WD automatics 18/21.
XRunner, Base V6 and PreRunner V6 trims sport, obviously, a 4.0-liter V6 powerplant. Combined with either the standard 5-speed automatic or an available 6-speed stick shift (standard on the XRunner), this peppy V6 pumps out 236 hp at 5,200 rpm and 266 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Properly equipped, and again with the standard rear locking differential, a V6-toting RWD Tacoma can tow up to 6,400 pounds while mileage works out to 17/21 for RWD trims with the 5-speed automatic, 16/21 with the 6-speed stick shift, 16/21 for 4WD V6s with the 5-speed automatic and 15/19 with the 6-speed manual transmission.
Those Tacoma pickups equipped with 4WD boast a mechanical center limited-slip differential, as well as a rear limited-slip differential. Each also sports electronic hi-lo gear selection and auto-locking hubs.
Though most reviewers find the four-banger competent enough for ordinary driving, many prefer the more refined and potent V6 for the workload expected of a pickup. A V6-equipped RWD Double cab Tacoma, after all, was clocked from 0-60 at 7.7 seconds, which is about average for the class, but far better than the four-banger’s 8-plus seconds. Manual transmissions are lauded by reviewers for easy throws and smooth shifts, while both automatic transmissions are noted to be responsive and glitch-free. A number of reviews do find, however, that the V6 tends to be a bit noisy on hard acceleration, though it settles down nicely at cruising speeds.
Ride & Handling
With its double-wishbone front independent suspension bolstered by a live rear axle, as well as front and rear stabilizer bars, the Tacoma is found by most reviewers to provide a reasonably pleasant ride. Be advised, however, that those trims equipped with the firmer sport-tuned or off-road-oriented suspension systems and no weight in the beds are noted by many reviewers to dance a bit on rough surfaces.
Street-wise RWD-only PreRunner and XRunner trims with their 16- and 18-inch steel and alloy wheels, respectively, are noteworthy for their surprising agility, especially on dry pavement, with the XRunner particularly adept in exhibiting little body lean in fast cornering. Base Tacomas sporting standard 15-inch steel wheels, and especially those in 4WD configuration, are described by most reviewers as displaying noticeably more body lean in tight corners, with steering generally less weighty and precise.
Brakes in Base and PreRunner trim levels are noted by the majority of reviews to demonstrate adequate stopping power, though pedal action is described by some as a bit too spongy for truly confident stopping. Braking in the XRunner, on the other hand, is noted by reviewers as potent and true, all the way around.
Finally, reviewers find that those Tacoma pickups equipped with available all-terrain tires generate a grating whine on the highway but sure do the job in traction-challenged environments.
Cabin & Comfort
Regular cab Tacoma trucks for 2012 are a tad on the Spartan side, though they do boast trailer wiring, cloth upholstery, telescoping tilt-wheel steering and simulated alloy cabin accents. A single-CD player with 4 speakers also comes standard in the Base trim level, as does auxiliary MP3 audio input.
Access cab Tacomas with 4WD and automatic transmissions sport skid plates, front bucket seats, remote power door locks and power windows, while Double cab Tacomas carry standard power-adjustable outside mirrors, satellite radio, two extra speakers, a USB connection and Bluetooth hands-free communications technology.
The fun-loving Tacoma XRunner, meanwhile, adds a body kit, hood scoop, alloy wheels, cruise control and a low-slung sport-tuned suspension to the mix, while also throwing in a subwoofer to bolster the already impressive stereo setup.
Options for the 2012 Tacoma depend largely on location, drivetrain and body style as far as availability is concerned. Those trucks with the Access cab configuration can be equipped with the Convenience Package, starring a sliding rear window, keyless entry, Bluetooth hands-free communications and cruise control, while the SR5 Package adds a number of exterior and interior upgrades, as well as a rear-view camera.
The TRD Off-Road Package, available only to 4WD-equipped Tacomas, offers 16-inch alloy wheels, a heavy-duty suspension, descent control, hill start assist, additional skid plates and sport front bucket seats, with the TRD Sport Package (RWD only) flaunting 17-inch alloy wheels and a sport-tuned suspension. A TRD Sport Upgrade Package adds 18-inch chrome-clad wheels, while the T/X and T/X Pro packages toss in all-terrain tires, black alloy wheels and tubular side steps, cat-back exhaust with stainless steel exhaust tips and unique graphics.
Finally, 4WD-equipped Double cab Base Tacoma trims as well as PreRunner V6s are eligible for a navigation suite featuring a dashboard-mounted display and Toyota’s Entune system with internet music streaming, Pandora and iHeart radio, and real-time traffic info.
Reviewers generally seem pleased with the subtle yet effective upgrades to the Tacoma’s once-bland cabins, though a few note that it’s still basically utilitarian in nature, not to mention bland by design. Seats are comfortable, according to most reviews, with the available sport bucket seats garnering added kudos for their extra support. Though Regular cab trims are noted to be roomy and pleasant by the majority of reviewers, Access cab editions, with their fold-up jump seats, are unfortunately deficient in both rear seat room and positioning. Double cab variations, on the other hand, are lauded by reviewers as roomy and comfortable fore and aft, as well as boasting a bit more techno-bling.
Finally, cabin storage is described by most reviewers as adequate in Regular and Access cab trims, with Double cab editions flaunting much more stowage capability with rear under-seat bins, as well as fold-flat rear seats for added interior cargo capability.
Standard safety features across the 2012 Tacoma lineup include 4-wheel antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum) with emergency brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, as well as traction and stability control. Dual front side-mounted airbags, as well as front and, in Access and Double cab trims, rear head airbags also come standard, along with front headrest whiplash protection. The XRunner is delivered with front fog/driving lights, while daytime running lights and a security system are optional for all trim levels.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives those Tacoma trims tested its second-highest rating of 4 stars for overall safety. Its highest 5-star rating is awarded for side impact testing, with a middling 3 stars awarded in frontal crash tests and 4 stars given for rollover worthiness. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), meantime, gives the Tacoma lineup its best score of Good in front and side impact testing, while allowing only a next-to-worst score of Marginal in roof-strength tests.
What Owners Think
Some build-quality issues, especially with the 4WD transfer case, plague a number of 2012 Tacoma pickup owners. Many owners also mention a distinct aura of cost-cutting in cabin ambiance, despite this year’s upgrades, while a few others note that actual mileage numbers are not as economical as expected. A number of owners, meanwhile, grumble that the cloth seats stain way too easily, and still others are disappointed in the lack of a number of traditional standard creature comforts and amenities. Finally, owners of the I4-equipped Base and PreRunner trim levels complain of poor braking distances as well as the aforementioned pedal anomalies.
On the positive side, however, this entry-level pickup didn’t get to be number one through lack of attention to the basics. Owners invariably give Toyota’s midsize truck kudos for its spiffy looks as well as its surprising ride comfort with the standard suspension system. Special praise is meted out for the spacious and comfortable Double cab trims. Handling, especially in the XRunner, is lauded by a host of owners, while both engines receive praise for efficiency and performance.
Finally, this mini-truck’s compact turning radius means better maneuverability according to virtually all owners, while the standard all-season tires lead to a downright sedate cruise. Those owners fortunate enough to own the TRD Off-Road package are effusive in their praise of its kick-butt attitude when far from the beaten path.
Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
What's your take on the 2012 Toyota Tacoma?
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Looking for a Used Tacoma in your area?
CarGurus has 31,390 nationwide Tacoma listings starting at $2,995.
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