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Toyota Tacoma Through the Years

Art Michalik

Through three Toyota Tacoma generations since 1995, this truck has continually proven itself as being reliable and tough-as-nails.

Toyota’s Compact Trucks

1981 Toyota Pickup - carsforsale.com

1981 Toyota Pickup – carsforsale.com  |  Shop Toyota Pickup on Carsforsale.com

Since 1964, Toyota has offered customers in the U.S. a pickup truck. Starting with compact trucks, as customer expectations have increased, the company has shifted its offerings to the mid-size pickup category.

The first pickup sold here carried the name Stout. The replacement, the Toyota Hilux, began production back in 1968 and was an immediate success. Until the Tacoma launch, the Hi-Lux was sold in the U.S. as the Toyota Pickup, eschewing the Hi-Lux name.

1989 Toyota Pickup - carsforsale.com
1989 Toyota Pickup - carsforsale.com

The Hilux is still produced and sold in most of the world and remains very popular. It’s a basic truck offering outstanding durability and reliability but didn’t provide the comfort and features American buyers were expecting. Toyota needed a compact pickup designed specifically for the North American market.

The initial designs for the upcoming new Toyota pickup were developed at Toyota’s California design center to accommodate U.S. buyer preferences while preserving the reliability owners had expected from a Toyota pickup. Here’s the history of Toyota’s greatest pickup and the different Toyota Tacoma generations.

The Tacoma Name

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro - pressroom.toyota.com

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro – pressroom.toyota.com  |  Shop new Toyota Tacoma on Carsforsale.com

Besides being the name of a major city in the State of Washington, Tacoma is the Coast Salish Peoples’ name for Mount Rainier, the 14,411-foot peak that overshadows the Seattle area. The name Tacoma is most likely translating to ‘snow-covered mountain.’ Seems like a fitting name for a well-made truck that loves to tackle the elements.

First Generation (1995–2004)

1995 Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com

1995 Toyota Tacoma – pressroom.toyota.com  |  Shop Toyota Tacoma on Carsforsale.com

  • Beyond a more stylish exterior, more comfortable interior, and improved ride quality over the old Toyota Pickup, the new Tacoma also featured improved safety features like airbags and anti-lock brakes.
  • The first Tacoma generation could either be ordered with a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. Engine choices included a 142 horsepower 2.4L four-cylinder, a 150 horsepower 2.7L four-cylinder, and a 3.4L V6 that developed 190 horsepower.
1998 Toyota Tacoma 3.4L V6 - carsforsale.com
1998 Toyota Tacoma 3.4L V6 - carsforsale.com
  • Two-wheel drive (2WD) Tacoma trucks were available with the 2.4L or 3.4L automatic and manual transmissions. Four-wheel drive and PreRunner Tacoma trucks were available with the 2.7L and 3.4L engines. PreRunner and Double Cab models came only with an automatic transmission for the first generation. At the same time, buyers of the regular cab and Xtracab four-wheel drive could choose from a manual or automatic transmission.
  • From 1997 on, the 2.4L or 2.7L four-cylinder engines were available with the standard cab. A TRD Off-Road package was introduced in 1998, which added a locking rear differential, among other off-roading goodies. The package was only available on PreRunner and four-wheel-drive models equipped with a V6.
2001 Toyota Tacoma DoubleCab - pressroom.toyota.com
2001 Toyota Tacoma DoubleCab - pressroom.toyota.com
  • Toyota added a new crew cab model to the lineup in October 2000. The crew cab, officially the Double Cab, featured four doors.
  • In 2008, Toyota announced a 15-year, unlimited-mileage corrosion warranty for 1995–2000 model years due to frame corrosion affecting around 800,000 of the first Tacoma generation. Toyota offered to either repair the frame or buy back the truck at 1.5 times its KBB retail value. The corrosion warranty was later extended to include 2001–2004 model years; however, the only option was a frame replacement.

Second Generation (2005–2015)

2005 Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com
2005 Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com
  • Toyota unveiled a bigger and more powerful second-generation Tacoma in early 2004 at the Chicago Auto Show, with first models available for sale October of 2004, as a 2005 model.
  • This new Tacoma was available in eighteen different configurations, including three cab configurations, four transmissions, two engines, and two bed lengths.
  • The three cab configurations consist of regular cab, access cab, and double cab. Transmissions choices were a four-speed automatic, five-speed automatic, five-speed manual, and six-speed manual, depending upon trim. Beds were either five feet or six feet in length.
  • The base engine was an all-new 159hp four-cylinder, while the new 236hp V6, which replaced the 3.4L V6, raised the tow rating of 6,500 lbs and the payload capacity to 1,650 lbs.
2010 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner - carsforsale.com
2010 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner - carsforsale.com
  • Toyota also introduced the X-Runner trim, which replaced the S-Runner model from the previous generation. The X-Runner featured a V6 engine paired with the six-speed manual transmission. Other enhancements included 18-inch alloy wheels, chassis reinforcements, and a suspension package that lowered ride height by two inches.
  • The second Tacoma generation came equipped with a composite inner bed that included a deck rail system with four 220 lb. rated tie-down cleats, hook-pins, and storage boxes.
  • There was a minor facelift for the 2009 model year, including a revised grille on some models, new LED taillamps, and smoked headlamp trim on the X-Runner, TRD Off-Road, and TRD Sport models.
  • Also, in 2009, Toyota dropped the mechanical limited-slip differential offering instead an open differential with an electronic system that engages individual wheel braking to replicate the function. However, TRD off-road models continued to feature a locking rear differential.
  • Second-generation Tacoma trucks were assembled in Tijuana, Mexico and Fremont, California (in what’s now the Tesla factory). The plastic/composite beds were all manufactured in Mexico. However, in August 2009, Toyota announced it was relocating Tacoma production from Fremont to San Antonio, Texas.

Third Generation (2016–Present)

2016 Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com

2016 Toyota Tacoma – pressroom.toyota.com  |  Shop Toyota Tacoma on Carsforsale.com

  • Shifting from the Chicago to the Detroit Auto Show (formally the North American International Auto Show), Toyota presented the third Tacoma generation to journalists and customers in January 2015. The new Tacoma went on sale on September of 2015, as a 2016 model.
  • The third generation Tacoma truck’s styling was based mostly on the 2014 model year 4Runner SUV and the 2014 model year Tundra pickup. It featured a more aggressive appearance, with a larger grille and projector-beam headlamps. The tailgate and bed were redesigned and featured a debossed Tacoma logo. There are also design elements to reduce drag and generate increased fuel economy.
  • Underneath, Toyota constructed the new frame from high-strength steel, increasing the frame’s rigidity and lowered its weight. The body is also built using high strength steel through a new hot stamping process that also reduces weight. Other updates included the suspensions, rear differentials, and rear axle to improve the truck’s road manners while maintaining its off-road capabilities.
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2019 Toyota TRD - pressroom.toyota.com
2019 Toyota TRD - pressroom.toyota.com
  • The Tacoma was initially available in six distinct trims: base S.R., mid-level SR5, TRD Off Road, TRD Sport, Limited, and the range-topping TRD Pro. The Tacoma is offered in Access Cab and Double Cab configurations with short or long bed lengths. The Regular Cab model was not available in the third Tacoma generation.
  • Toyota upgraded the interior of the Tacoma with soft-touch materials replacing the previous generation’s hard plastics. Also, a leather option was added. Other enhancements included a larger touchscreen display mounted in an all-new instrument panel.
2019 Toyota Tacome - pressroom.toyota.com
2019 Toyota Tacome - pressroom.toyota.com
  • To reduce road and wind noise, Toyota upgraded the Tacoma with an acoustic windshield, better-insulated doors, and more weather stripping. For the first time, Toyota offered dual climate control in the third-generation Tacoma.
  • The TRD Off Road trim models features an all-new terrain select mode. This allows the driver to choose between different types of terrain, such as loose rock, mud, and sand. There’s also a new CRAWL mode that enables the driver to steer in challenging terrain while at the same time the truck’s computer manages braking and acceleration.
  • In 2015, Toyota and Universal Pictures celebrated the 30th anniversary of the original Back to the Future motion picture with a Toyota Tacoma Concept. The one-off Tacoma was inspired by the original Toyota pickup that appeared in the film. It featured the same features and black color paint trim, K.C. HiLite driving lamps, and mud flaps, among other features.
  • For 2017, a TRD Pro model with greater off-road capability was added, which featured FOX Internal Bypass shocks, TRD Pro cat-back exhaust, TRD Pro skid plate, Rigid Industries LED fog lights, and retro ‘TOYOTA’ grille.
  • For 2018 the Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) was included as standard equipment, including forward-collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. Safety features such as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are available.
  • For the 2020 model year, the Tacoma received an exterior refresh.
  • In addition to the exterior facelift, there are plenty of new technologies on the inside. These include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa capability. On the SR5 model and higher, there is a power-adjustable driver’s seat. There’s a new Panoramic View Monitor for 360-degree bird’s eye views of the truck’s immediate surroundings on the Tacoma Limited Double Cab.
2020 Toyota Tacoma - pressroom.toyota.com

2020 Toyota Tacoma – pressroom.toyota.com  |  Shop new Toyota Tacoma on Carsforsale.com

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2016 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Art Michalik
Art Michalik

Art Michalik brings a career full of experience in the automotive industry to his writing. He has guided marketing at two major tire companies, represented some of the biggest names in the automotive aftermarket at an ad agency, built the enthusiast social media presence at a major online retailer and even managed one of the most famous racing schools in the world.

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