By James Raia
Sometimes it’s best not to mess with the best. But Toyota has taken its top-selling, mid-size Tacoma and made it more appealing.
The Tacoma debuted in the United States in 1995, and it’s among the most enduring pickup trucks available. For 2021, and joining six other Toyota cars, vans and trucks, the Tacoma is available in a Nightshade Edition.
It’s an edgy look that features a lot of black – alloy wheels, front lower grille, rear spoiler, outside mirrors, door handles, side rocker panels and shark-fin antenna. There’s a single exhaust with dual black diffusers, black emblem and black badges.
Available in two- and four-wheel drive variants including a spacious Double Cab body style, the new Tacoma features a 3.5-liter V6 with 278 horsepower. It has a towing capacity of 6,800 pounds and a payload limit of 1,685 pounds.
Gas mileage averages vary with Tacoma’s configuration. It ranges from 19 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway in the two-wheel-drive automatic, to 17/20 mpg in the four-wheel-drive Double Cab with a manual transmission.
Except for 2020 because of delayed production and lack of consumer interest during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tacoma sales have increased yearly since 2011. The Nightshade trim is limited to 5,000 trucks in 2021 models, as is the Tundra. The starting MSRP for the Tacoma Nightshade trim is $41,980.
The upscale edition’s keen styling extends throughout the truck, including the manufacturer’s Entune 3.0 touchscreen infotainment system. Highlights also include a power sunroof, heated front seats, an 8-inch touchscreen display with Dynamic Navigation and a JBL premium sound system. There’s also the Toyota Safety Sense™ P (TSS-P). It bundles adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning.
Toyota Tacoma: Daily driver, off-road rugged
As the country’s top-selling midsize truck for the past 15 years, the Tacoma’s popularity is easy to understand. As a daily use vehicle, it’s comfortable yet rugged. A year ago, the Tacoma was first equipped with a power-adjusted front seat with 10-way lumbar support beginning in TRD Sport trims.
For family use, the Double Cab is the best choice among 33 available configurations. Its roomy back bench seat has plenty of legroom and is comfortable for three passengers.
As a work vehicle, the TRD off-road model features a locking rear differential, hill start assist control, active traction control and crawl control. They’re all quality assist features, ideal for confident driving in off-road and rock-crawling driving situations.
The Tacoma hasn’t had a complete redesign since 2015. But upgrades in recent years have kept it at the forefront.
Besides its redesigned grille and a new taillight design last year, the Nightshade Edition is as fresh as any competitor. The TRD Sport has a few other keen accessories including a 120-volt power outlet in the bed and a Qi wireless charging system tucked in the top center of the console. Latches, tie-downs and the removable extra-duty bedliner all add to the truck’s appeal.
If there’s a downside, the Nightshade Edition’s exterior and interior contrast. The black accents and primary exterior paint combination attract plenty of attention. The interior leans toward functionality; it’s not an aggressive power statement.
It’s a minor squabble. The Tacoma is as versatile and appealing as any midsize truck. It’s a chameleon, adaptable to what’s presented on- or off-road. It drives with a swagger when needed. It’s equally worthy as a city dweller, albeit with a rough ride.
Without the Nightshade Edition, the Tacoma stands out among its peers. With its bold, limited-edition trim, Toyota has taken its stalwart truck and made it better.
James Raia, a syndicated columnist in Sacramento, California, publishes a free weekly automotive podcast and electronic newsletter. Sign-ups are available on his website, www.theweeklydriver.com. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.