Why Do Car Reviewers Hate the Toyota Tacoma?
What are reviewers missing on the best-selling mid-size truck?
Without a doubt, the best-selling mid-size truck for years has been the Toyota Tacoma. Seemingly much to the chagrin of car reviewers who flat out don’t care for it at all. What gives? How can a truck that continually outsells the competition get so much hate? It boils down to a big disconnect between automotive journalists and the buying public.
Hard-hitting Toyota Tacoma reviews
Before we get into the why, let’s first start with some samples from some well-known automotive outlets have to say about the Toyota Tacoma:
Car and Driver:
“Other Tacoma idiosyncrasies are part and parcel of the experience, including the V-6 engine’s grainy nature as well as the low seating position and the high floor—the latter two of which lend the cabin a feeling of tightness you won’t find in, say, a Chevrolet Colorado.
The six-speed automatic transmission suffers from dimwitted programming and excessively tall fifth and sixth gears. At highway speeds, the transmission will dramatically downshift from either overdrive ratio to fourth gear when the Tacoma detects even a whiff of an uphill grade or a request for even mild acceleration.
… Taco’s size, bulletproof reputation, and specific sort of crunch will need to touch a nerve in a very particular sort of buyer.”
“While full-sized pickup trucks increasingly adopt luxury trappings, compact trucks remain utilitarian workhorses. The Tacoma is a reliable but down-and-dirty example of function trumping form.
Simply put, the Tacoma is the perfect truck for landscapers and contractors.
And though the price nears that of discounted full-sized trucks, the compact Tacoma tenaciously holds its value. Hence, the Tacoma’s cult following. But make no mistake, the Tacoma drives like a primitive, agricultural-era relic.”
“In a First Drive review, we noted that the Tacoma continues to have excellent steering feel that snaps back to center quickly while improved interior refinement, a quieter cabin, and better build quality give a better sense of solidity on the road. The brake pedal, on the other hand, feels overly sensitive because it bites early. Ride quality off-road in lower trim levels like the SR5 isn’t as smooth as higher trim levels and gets bouncy on rough surfaces. TRD models have more tire noise on pavement compared to the SR5. The new 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic also proved to be a big step forward compared to the powertrain it replaces because the engine happily revs to its redline while the gearbox holds gears in manual mode without issue.
Key Competitors: Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Nissan Frontier, Used full-size truck”
Pretty sure none of these outlets are big Toyota Tacoma fans.
What are they missing on the Toyota Tacoma?
With these poor reviews contrasted by good sales, it is obvious something doesn’t add up. How can consumers love it and critics hate it? There are many reasons.
- Critics don’t understand mid-size trucks for the money. If you want a truck (and even that notion is questionable by many automotive journalists), why would you spend money on a mid-size when you can buy a full-size? Motor Trend’s listing of a “used full-size truck” as a key competitor really drives this point home. These reviewers don’t value the size, benefits of its size and the fact you can park it in your garage. The last point is rather humorous to many reviewers. I see the disbelief on their faces at the various events I drive with them at. This clearly doesn’t resonate with them, yet it does with the buying public.
- Another big factor they miss on is reliability. J.D. Power gets this and has awarded the Toyota Tacoma a continuous stream of reliability awards. Yet, auto reviewers dismiss this as an absurd reason. Car and Driver says Tacoma buyers who value reliability buyers are a “particular sort of buyer” alluding to them being a little “off” from the rest of the car buying public. Talk to Tacoma fans about reliability when your Italian sports car won’t turn over.
- The Toyota Tacoma sucks on a road track. This may seem bizarre, but many reviewers never leave the pavement and unconsciously compare the truck to a sports car. Make no mistake, car reviewers are first and foremost, by and large, car aficionados who would much rather be driving a sports car on a track than on the dirt. It is often humorous to read reviewers from “non-truck” reviewers as they talk about the infotainment system, how HUGE the cabin is and how “difficult” trucks are to drive.
- You can’t blame them. They just didn’t know getting their tennis shoes dirty was part of the job description.
- Another example of the car aficionado’s impact on car reviews is in what cars they own and drive. I can count the number who own trucks with my fingers. The ones who own eclectic European sports cars or Mazda Miata sports cars is mind blowing.
- Car reviewers don’t often think like buyers. For example, ask them what car they would buy and many car reviewers would list vehicles based on track performance, powerful powertrains, looks and luxury interiors. Ask any consumer and they want to know about dependability, capability and cargo space. Those variables return a much different vehicle.
The Honda Ridgeline effect
If you really want to understand why the Toyota Tacoma is constantly dumped on by critics, look no further than the 2017 Honda Ridgeline. Toyota Tacoma and die-hard truck guys quickly dismiss the Ridgeline for its lack of being, well, a truck. For the record, I’ve driven it extensively and it is indeed pretty unique in the marketplace.
Reviewers consistently point out it is ideal for what truck buyers “really use their trucks for.” They take the numerous needs of a truck buyer, disregard their actual usage and instead suggest every truck buyer is simply overbuying. What’s humorous about this is you never hear them discuss how much they “overbought” in a Porsche 911 review. If they consider truck buyers overbuying for their needs, what about those sports cars that sit in traffic jams?
What am I getting at? The love for the Ridgeline doesn’t match up with the marketplace at all. Since the start of the year, the Toyota Tacoma is outselling the Ridgeline 4-1. Yet, the accolades tell a different story:
“The Ridgeline is a no-brainer of a truck: unmatched in smoothness and comfort, and full of innovation well beyond its unibody construction,” Car and Driver.
“With the Ridgeline, Honda has evolved the concept of the pickup, creating a smart truck aimed squarely at the actual needs of most pickup buyers,” Consumer Reports.
Also, the Honda Ridgeline bested the Tacoma to be named the 2017 North American Truck of the Year.
The reality is as long as the Honda Ridgeline is on the market and the GM mid-sizes trucks have all of that technology and stuff, the Toyota Tacoma will never win an award among these outlets. However, it wins where it counts – sales. Consumers get it and organizations like the Texas Auto Writers Association which named it the 2017 Mid-Size Truck of Texas besting the Honda Ridgeline.
In the end, the next time you read a Toyota Tacoma review that begins with a discussion on the truck’s interior, tire-road noise or off-the-line speed, it is time to move on. The Tacoma hate is strong with that reviewer.