Trucks & SUVs

Can an Old Toyota Tacoma Still Compete With the New One?

Although the Toyota Tacoma and 4Runner aren’t built on the same platform, the truck and SUV do share a few things. They’re both body-on-frame, with V6s and a reputation for durability and reliability. That’s perhaps due in part to their shared ‘ancestor’, the Toyota Hilux. However, the Tacoma also shares one more thing with the 4Runner: high residual value. Tacomas resist depreciation very well, with used models sometimes costing almost as much as new ones. But will the Tacoma share one more thing with the 4Runner: will older models be just as good as newer ones?

Off-roading new and old Toyota Tacomas

Autoblog tried to determine the answer, comparing a 1998 Tacoma with a 2017 TRD Pro model in Canada’s Banff National Park as well as the Cascade Mountains near Seattle, WA. There, both trucks faced rocky roads, copious snow coverage, and a few trails that seemingly hadn’t been used in years.

Both the 1998 Toyota Tacoma and the 2017 Tacoma TRD Pro handled themselves well. Even with the route was overgrown with weeds and chainsaws needed to be brought out, both trucks made it out.

But, driving to the off-road sections, on paved roads, revealed how the Tacoma has evolved over the years.

Where a new Toyota Tacoma is better than the old one

Now in its 3rd generation, the Toyota Tacoma has become a much more refined vehicle. Zack Klapman of The Smoking Tire actually owned the US-version of the Toyota Hilux, and he commented on how daily-drivable the new Tacoma is. In comparison to the 1998 truck, Autoblog found the 2017 model to be much more car-like.

The truck now comes with Toyota’s latest safety features suite, power outlets and lights in the bed, and offers features like built-in navigation. The ride, especially with the TRD Fox shocks, is significantly more comfortable, and the cabin is quieter. While the interior has received some criticism, it’s designed to be rugged and long-lasting, in keeping with the truck’s image.

TFLtruck reports the Tacoma’s bed has gotten bigger and deeper, so owners can carry more stuff. The truck’s tow rating has also improved: the first-gen could only tow 5000 lbs, but the newest truck is rated for up to 6800 pounds. No doubt aided by the increase in engine performance. The first-gen Tacoma’s biggest engine was a 3.4-liter V6 making 190 hp and 220 lb-ft. The second-gen truck got a 4.0-liter V6 making 236 hp and 266 lb-ft. And the current Tacoma’s 3.5-liter V6 makes 278 hp and 265 lb-ft.

The latest Tacoma is also more fuel-efficient. On the highway, TFLtruck reported the second-gen 2015 Tacoma with a 5-speed automatic got 20.7 mpg. On the same test loop, in the same conditions, the third-gen 2016 Tacoma with a 6-speed automatic got 22.2 mpg.

However, older Tacomas do have their own strengths.

Does an old Tacoma still have something to offer?

The Toyota Tacoma has gotten larger and heavier over the years. While that has some benefits, such as a larger bed and higher riding position, it has its downsides. Compared with the latest truck, it’s much easier to load and unload items from the bed of a first- or second-gen.

2020 Toyota Tacoma interior
2020 Toyota Tacoma interior | Toyota

And while Zack Klapman found the seating position of the latest Tacoma comfortable for long journeys, he also found it somewhat cramped. The steering wheel can telescope, but not very far, meaning drivers have to sit closer to the dashboard. That dashboard, meanwhile, may have large buttons and an appealing aesthetic, it also intrudes quite a bit more into the cabin than in previous versions.

1997 Toyota Tacoma 4x4
1997 Toyota Tacoma 4×4 | Bring a Trailer

Older Tacomas may not have the latest safety features, but they do have thinner pillars and a more open greenhouse. Not only is visibility just as good, if not better, Nathan of TFLtruck specifically sought-out a first-gen Tacoma because it had a 3-person front bench seat.

Autoblog’s 1998 Tacoma did suffer some break-downs due to its age. In fact, one last-minute part failure in the differential almost caused Autoblog to abandon the test. But, as with some (though not all) of the 4Runner’s problems, that’s less to do with inherent flaws than sheer age. Arguably, newer Tacomas have had more problems than earlier ones.

The 2016 model had transmission issues. The 2007 Tacoma is by far the most problematic Tacoma, with rusting frames that Toyota had to recall and replace completely. There have also been paint and clear coat failures, as well as sticking accelerators.

How prices compare

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro
2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro | Toyota

To be fair, Toyota has addressed these issues, and since 2018, transmission complaints have been essentially non-existent. But these newest models have another problem: cost. The TRD Pro model has a $42,690 base price, and a bare-bones base Tacoma costs roughly $27,000.

2nd-gen Toyota Tacoma
2nd-gen Toyota Tacoma | Team O’Neil via YouTube

In contrast, Autotrader reports first-gen Tacomas only cost about $10,000; second-gen trucks often cost less than $15,000. And while the first-gen Tacoma wasn’t quite a Hilux underneath, it’s a very affordable way of getting a truck that’s pretty darn close. Hagerty reports classic Toyota pickups are rising in value, with some well-preserved examples selling up to $55,000. With a little modification, it’s possible to get a first-gen Tacoma that performs like a classic Hilux for much cheaper.

Which one should I buy?

Ultimately, which Toyota Tacoma is best for you depends on what you intend to use it for. Newer Tacomas can tow more, have more standard safety features, and are easier to live with and drive. And you can get a TRD Pro with a manual. However, they’re bigger, which may make it harder to park in small spaces, and it’s more difficult to get things from the bed.

Older Tacomas ride more like old-school trucks, with firmer, bouncier rides. They can’t tow quite as much and are pretty bare-bones. But they’re just as good off-road as the new ones, and their smaller footprint has its benefits. They’re also significantly cheaper, if not as safe.

But, if you were wondering if an old Tacoma could still keep up with a new one, the answer is yes.

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