Trucks & SUVs

Taco Tuesday: The 3 Toyota Tacoma Generations Explained

With humble beginnings, selling its first model in the U.S. about 65 years ago, Toyota is now one of the most globally familiar brands. The Toyota Tacoma pickup truck is one of the most beloved Toyota models in North America. Here are all three Toyota Tacoma generations explained.

2016 Toyota Tacoma parked in front of a mountain
2016 Toyota Tacoma | Toyota

It all started in the 1990s

According to MotorTrend, the first generation of Toyota’s global Hilux pickup went on sale in 1969. Then, over 20 years later we got our very first Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. In 1995, the name was introduced.

single and double cab models of the 1998 Toyota Hilux on display together in a field of yellow wildflowers.
Toyota Hilux | Toyota

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Though a few other generations of the Toyota Hilux and then just the Toyota Truck preceded the Toyota Tacoma, the first true Toyota Tacoma pickup truck released in 1995. Over the next decade, this Toyota pickup truck took the North American pickup truck market by storm.

Here was a small pickup truck with more refined handling and comfort. Over the next decade, Toyota focused on improvements. But rather than putting overloaded effort into exterior style, the Japanese car company improved in more technical areas.

The first Toyota Tacoma generation

a red 2001 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck in the first Toyota Tacoma generation.
first generation Toyota Tacoma | Toyota

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The first generation of the Toyota Tacoma ran from 1995 – 2004. After its 1995 model year debut, the first Toyota Tacoma generation quickly attracted buyers to a budding North American compact pickup market. Then, there were additional models added to the lineup. In the 1990s, we saw the introduction of the Toyota Tacoma PreRunner, the Xtracab, and the Xtracab TRD.

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That first generation of the Toyota Tacoma boasted daytime running lights and ABS by the beginning of the turn of the 2000s. Plus, the Tacoma now came equipped with vehicle stability control and traction control. Toyota baked in more safety, too, by adding passenger-side airbags.

Second generation Tacoma

The second generation ran from 2005 to 2015, according to the Toyota Tacoma Wikipedia page. This new model underwent a complete reworking in terms of style, technology, and components in general. Of course, it remained the beloved Toyota Tacoma pickup truck.

a 2009 model from the second Toyota Tacoma generation driving on a mountain road.
2009 Toyota Tacoma | Toyota USA

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In fact, this new compact pickup truck received massive praise from critics––including the Truck of the Year title from MotorTrend in 2005. MotorTrend gave that award to the Tacoma X-Runner, a model with a 4.0-liter engine and a 6-speed manual transmission.

In 2009, some major cosmetic changes finally came about. We saw a new grille design and an updated body style for the Taco. In fact, we can see that at this point Toyota was probably already forward thinking into the next generation.

Third generation Taco

The third Toyota Tacoma generation came about in the 2016 model year. Due to the fact that Taco generations run so long, we are still in the third generation. In fact, we don’t really expect to see another one until at least 2024. That said, we still see updates.

2021 Toyota Tacoma | Toyota USA

For example, we got the updated 2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro for the new model year. Plus, there’s now a new trail edition Taco. More recently, Toyota debuted a factory TRD lift kit. This truck get called dated, old school, and even worse things. But we know and love it for its simplicity. The third Toyota Tacoma generation keeps the beating heart of its ancestors pumping with intense capability for off-roading.

It’s one of the best vehicles on the North American pickup truck market if you don’t need to haul or tow a super heavy load. According to Cars.com, it’s been the sales leader among compact pickup truck options since 2008. This is a reliable truck that loves to romp around in the wilderness. Many Taco fans are folks that live for their next adventure in the wilderness––giving way to the current Taco’s brand slogan: “Built for the Endless Weekend.”