People talk about the Toyota Tacoma in much the same way they talk about fabled war heroes and legendary family descendants. Look into the community and you'll see dozens of tales of Tacomas performing Herculean feats and surviving impossible situations.
As a result, the Tacoma has enjoyed a reputation for being un-killable, immensely capable and incredibly reliable. When Toyota offered us a TRD Off-Road model to test, we set out to see if that reputation is enough to make it a solid buy in 2018.
It's certainly good at conveying an image. If you buy a Tacoma because it's sturdy, simple and strong, you'll be happy with the looks. Blunted like a sledgehammer at the front and sporting meaty off-road wheels and tires, the TRD Off-Road model's chunky exterior betrays its intentions.
Toyota also offers a nice array of flat, simple colors that go well with the off-road mission. Our tester's Quicksand color works well, looking particularly good when splashed with mud. Mechanically, the Tacoma sticks with a tried-and-true 3.5-liter V6 making 278 horsepower, with a six-speed automatic swapping cogs.
The truck maintains a purity of purpose inside, with thick controls and tough plastics. It's not the most luxurious or serene place to be, but the simplicity makes it easy to use and easy to clean.
The Tacoma can't be fully understood on pavement, so I road-tripped to Haspin Acres, Indiana, to get some mud on the tires. It had rained the night before, turning the entire park into something of a swamp, but the Tacoma grasped and clawed through the muck without much drama.
I didn't try particularly difficult trails since I ended up stuck after doing a test-run in a friend's Jeep. The Tacoma costs $40,617 and was on loan to me, so I didn't want to return it scratched and gashed.
I stuck with easier trails, which the Tacoma cruised over as if they were interstates. With a low-range gearbox, locking diffs and smart technology like crawl control — think cruise control for low-grip situations — the Tacoma always felt confident and sure-footed. At the very least, it's a great platform to start your dream off-roader build.
If you don't drive off-road, the Tacoma isn't the most refined choice in the segment. Competitors from Chevy, GMC and Honda put more emphasis on road driving and it shows. Those trucks also lose some of the tough-guy off-road credo that the Tacoma brings, so it's a trade-off.
The "Taco," while nicer than previous generations, can still be noisy and bouncy on the highway. It's not uncomfortable and not loud enough to be annoying, but it certainly doesn't trick you into thinking you're in a car.
And as usual, I must bemoan Toyota's dated and disappointing infotainment solution. Its tired design is worsened by the sluggishness of the system as a whole. The Tacoma still lives in an age before the Toyota allowed Apple's convenient CarPlay technology into its systems, too.
There's almost no penalty for getting a new Tacoma. Usually, swift depreciation means that new-car buyers would be better off buying a used vehicle and immediately getting mugged. Not so in the Tacoma, where used vehicle prices hover feverishly close to sticker prices.
Start with a TRD Off-Road model. Double cab is a must if you want your friends to ride along and opt for the short bed unless you're hauling big loads. The automatic transmission makes more sense in an off-road-focused truck, too. The total so far is $36,115.
Add $3,505 for the "Premium Package with options" which brings leather, a premium audio system, a sunroof, blind spot monitoring, parking sensors and more. The total, as-equipped, is $39,620.
For that, you get a truck that'll likely outlast you, your kids and civilization as a whole. It's also great for off-road driving, good to look at and doesn't depreciate in value rapidly.
The only notable downsides are a jostling ride, vague handling and some noisiness. If you're of the belief that you should expect these things in a truck, than you'll be more than happy with a Tacoma.
Driving Experience: 2
Price as tested: $40,617