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The 2024 Toyota Tacoma Is a Huge Leap Forward

2024 toyota tacoma first drive
The 2024 Toyota Tacoma Is a Huge Leap ForwardMack Hogan

The previous-generation Toyota Tacoma is a rightful legend. The truck’s blend of utilitarian design, off-road capability, and unbeatable reliability have ensured its spot as the best-selling mid-size truck. There was only one issue with it: It is not a nice vehicle to drive or be driven in. The new redesign fixes that. The 2024 Toyota Tacoma handles well, rides better, and feels far more refined. It may not have the American trucks beaten on all counts, but it finally feels like a sophisticated product, one that’s worthy of segment domination.

Blame the new frame for a large portion of the Taco’s improvement. The new truck rides on the same TNGA-F body-on-frame architecture that underpins the Tundra, Sequoia, Lexus LX, Lexus GX, and upcoming Land Cruiser. After our experience with the Tundra, LX, and Sequoia, we weren’t sure what to expect from the new Tacoma. The full-size products saw some improvement in the switch to TNGA-F, but none of them blew us away.

2024 toyota tacoma first drive
Mack Hogan

It’s now clear that the Tacoma gets the biggest payoff from the switchover. The previous-generation truck was hampered by ancient bones and a series of patchwork upgrades to keep it competitive. But its weaknesses showed through, with a maximum capacity that all but guaranteed that any “overland” Tacoma build is over max payload. The new one can haul up to 1705 lbs in 4x4 Double Cab configuration with the i-Force Max hybrid powertrain.

We won’t get to drive the hybrid until spring of 2024. In the meantime, the only engine available is a turbo 2.4-liter in two states of tune. Base SR trucks ($31,500 to start) get 228 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque, while i-Force engines make 278 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque. That torque peak comes at 1700 rpm (or 1600 rpm for the base motor), so there’s plenty of low-end oomph, even if you have to rev it to 6000 rpm for peak power. When the hybrids hit the market next spring, they’ll offer 326 hp and 465 lb-ft of twist.

2024 toyota tacoma first drive
Mack Hogan

For now, the i-Force and standard 2.4 seem up to the job. The i-Force matches the power output of the 2023 truck’s 3.5-liter V-6 while trouncing that engine’s 265-lb-ft torque max. The standard 2.4 beats the 159-hp, 180-lb-ft four-cylinder from last year’s truck on both metrics. Fuel economy improves, too, with figures ranging from 20/26 city/highway for the 4x2 base automatic truck to 18/23 for the manual, 4x4, i-Force model. That’s right, the manual is still on the menu, and you can even get it on the good trims.

Powertrain-wise, Toyota made smart choices and serious improvements. In both specs the 2.4 has enough grunt to move the truck about. It just doesn’t seem to enjoy the work. Toyota says that the 2.4 in the trucks is built for a 50 percent heavier duty cycle than the 2.4 turbo in the Highlander (with which it shares many parts), but the engine works hard and makes plenty of noise when powering a truck. Chevy’s 2.7 liter feels much more relaxed in the Colorado. That makes sense, given its midrange tune provides 310 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque.

2024 toyota tacoma first drive
Mack Hogan

The Chevy also pulls more. Rear-wheel-drive Tacomas can tow 6500 lbs. Subtract 100 lbs if you want a 4x4 truck. The Colorado and Canyon can pull 7700 lbs in either 4x2 or 4x4 configuration, as can the Jeep Gladiator. Ford’s redesigned Ranger should be able to handle 7500 lbs. Even the Nissan Frontier can tow 6640 lbs.

So the new Tacoma keeps its family tradition, not besting competitors on stats but attempting to provide enough utility for the weekend hauler. As Toyota describes it, the Tundra is what you use to haul your toys to the sandbox. The Tacoma is a toy you use in the sandbox.

2024 toyota tacoma first drive
Mack Hogan

To demonstrate, the company took us on a sandy off-road loop on a ranch in Malibu, California. The route was primarily a fire road, with a few obstacles added by Toyota in the lead up to the event. Nothing the old Tacoma, or any old truck, couldn’t handle. But the course gave us a chance to check out the TRD Off-Road ($41,800 to start) model’s best new trick, an electronically disconnected front sway bar. Disconnect it—which you can do on the move, while maxxed out on articulation—and you get an extra four inches of travel between the front two wheels. You can still lift a wheel thanks to that long wheelbase, but it’s much easier to keep traction.

The TRD Off-Road model also gets a locking rear differential and monotube Bilstein remote-reservoir shocks. The TRD Pro steps it up to Fox internal-bypass shocks, and includes plenty of other goodies like shock-absorbing seats, but since that trim is hybrid-only it’s off-menu until next year. For now, the TRD Off-Road model provides plenty of capability for the weekend adventurer, with a comfortable ride on the trail, plenty of low-end power, a new and improved crawl control system, great articulation, and the requisite locking differential.

2024 toyota tacoma first drive
Mack Hogan

But it’s on-road where the Tacoma makes its biggest leaps. The new truck is far quieter than the last one, though engine noise remains. And Toyota’s focus on driveability and road manners has paid off. The 2024 Tacoma is a comfortable truck, which can’t be said of any of its predecessors. You still get body-on-frame jitters and some occasional busyness from the rear end, but I’d have no problem with daily-driving this truck. I can’t say whether it rides better than the new Colorado (or Ranger, which we haven’t driven) without a back-to-back comparison, but they’re finally in the same league.

If the ride is good, though, the handling is exceptional. On the twisting canyons of Malibu, California, I was shocked by how easily I could huck even the base-model Tacoma into tight corners. The truck has secure, now electronically assisted steering, with a precise tiller and predictable dynamics. It’s not a fun or engaging thing to hustle, but if you’re in a hurry it won’t fall apart when it counts. Plus, the new eight-speed transmission is good at keeping the I-4 in the meaty part of its powerband.

I experienced all of this in the truck’s full redesigned interior. Unlike previous Tacomas, the new one’s cabin looks designed, rather than merely assembled. It’s a far sleeker, cooler cabin, which feels somewhat antithetical to the Tacoma’s status as a folk hero, but it’s a better place to spend time. The interiors of our pre-production testers all had unfinished plastics—they hadn’t gone through the process Toyota uses to create depth and texture, so they were shiny and monotonous—but things looked far better than in the last truck. The new infotainment system is a breeze to use, and the dreadful seating position from the last truck has been corrected. I found it easy to find a comfortable spot for the seat, though at 5’ 6” I’m not a good source for our tallest readers. Unfortunately the seat itself still felt cheap and not as supportive as I’d like, though it’d take a longer drive to confirm that feeling.

2024 toyota tacoma first drive
Mack Hogan

Still, it’s these leaps that are so important to the Tacoma. Because, yes, the Tacoma is not top-of-class when it comes to refinement, or interior design, or capability. But a product doesn’t have to be the best at everything. It has to be the best at some things, and good enough at everything else. In 2023, the Tacoma was the best at long-term reliability and good at off-road capability, but the worst at almost everything else. For 2024, the Tacoma’s sterling reputation lives on, but now backed by a solid driving experience, even better off-road capability, good fuel economy, and a cabin that feels modern enough.

It is not the most luxurious midsize truck. Its engine can’t match the Colorado’s. But it’s good enough that I don’t really care about those compromises. If the 2024 Tacoma can match the reliability reputation of the previous truck—which is not guaranteed with an all-new truck—then it’s safe to say it’s the truck I’d buy. Anyone can build a good product, but a great product is one that lasts.

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