Toyota has a history of building solid, dependable trucks. Its four-wheel-drive vehicles have always been standouts for tough duty, with rugged suspensions, rigid bodies and powerful engines. The 1998 Tacoma builds on that tradition--particularly when it's equipped with the V6 engine.
These trucks don't come cheap, particularly top-of-the-line models. Our top-of-the-line Tacoma 4x4 Xtracab V6 Limited, for example, retails for $24,448. It comes loaded with convenience features, but air conditioning adds $985, an automatic transmission costs $900, and antilock brakes tack on another $590. This sum brings top-drawer off-road performance, many years of reliable service and every luxury feature available.
More modest models are available for those who want a serious work truck without such a serious investment. Two-wheel-drive models fitted with 4-cylinder engines start at $12,958 and are highly capable work trucks.
Regardless of model, expect to get a high-quality truck that offers good resale value on the other end.
All Tacoma pickups come with a six-foot bed fitted with four inner tie-down points. Two cabs are available. The Xtracab rides on a wheelbase that is 18.6 inches longer with a correspondingly longer body than a standard cab model. Xtracabs offer better ride quality and more room inside, but less maneuverability in tight parking lots and narrow trails.
Buyers of the base model get a two-wheel-drive regular cab pickup powered by a 2.4-liter engine that gets 28 mpg on the highway. Opting for the $835 value edition plus package adds air conditioning, power steering, chrome bumpers, a radio and floor mats; the resulting $13,793 Tacoma will haul up to 1684 pounds of stuff, pull a 3500-pound trailer and provide reliable transportation for many years. An Xtracab body adds about $2,170.
Four-wheel-drive models come standard with a more powerful 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine. The 4X4 regular cab with a five-speed manual can haul up to 1,914 pounds of cargo--more than any other Tacoma. But fuel economy drops to 23 mpg on the highway and the towing capacity remains at 3500 pounds.
Those who take long trips, pull trailers or go off road will find the optional V6 smoother, quieter, more powerful and more refined than the four-cylinder engines. A V6 Tacoma with four-wheel drive makes an excellent support vehicle at a Jeep Jamboree. A V6 Tacoma with two-wheel drive and an automatic is a good tow vehicle that's easy to get in and out of and doesn't spill quite as much coffee on the way to work.
The 3.4-liter V6 produces 220 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. That's enough power to pull a 5000-pound trailer, yet it still gets 23 mpg on the highway. Maximum payload is 1859 pounds in a 4WD regular cab with five-speed manual. Automatic transmissions and, in particular, extended cabs reduce payload, but not towing capacities.
All three engines burn 87 octane unleaded and all are available with either the standard five-speed manual or the four-speed electronically controlled automatic.
A choice of four-wheel-drive systems is available. Serious off-roaders prefer manual locking front hubs, which means you must climb out and go to the front wheels to engage them. A $230 shift-on-the-fly system permits shifting to and from four-wheel drive at speeds below 50 mph. A push-button switch for four-wheel drive is a $130 option. A control lever is used to shift into low-range. A $325 locking rear differential provides additional traction at low speeds in mud, snow and sand.
The suspension on all models is independent double wishbones with coil springs up front and a live axle and leaf springs in back. 4X4 models benefit from gas-filled shocks.
Inspired by its success in desert racing, a special TRD Off-Road package developed by Toyota Racing Development is available on 4X4 Xtracab models. It comes with front and rear Bilstein shock absorbers, locking rear differential, increased-rate front and rear springs, modified rear camber, larger stabilizer bar, big 31x10.5R15 white-lettered Goodyear tires, overfenders (color-keyed on Limited models) and a special off-road graphics package.
All Tacomas can be further customized with a new package that includes color-keyed front bumper and valance. A color-keyed grille is included with two-wheel-drive trucks.
Toyota has shifted the trim level designations a bit for 1998. This year's Limited grade replaces the former SR5, while the SR5 package replaces last year's LX. All models feature new tailgate and C-pillar badging.
The regular cab seats two in comfort. Xtracab models add a 60/40 split front bench seat and rear jump seats with a special restraint system designed for children. Xtracabs can carry four people in relative comfort, but the primary practical benefit of the extended cab is to provide security and shelter for smaller items. It also adds another inch of front legroom. The Xtracab comes with tilt-out quarter windows and a folding table with cup holders.
If we weren't expecting to bounce, slog or bound very often, though, we'd think about ordering one of the two-wheel-drive models. The four-wheel-drive truck feels a little out of its element around town with a relatively choppy ride quality. Like almost any pickup, a load in the bed improves the ride quality and handling balance considerably.
Also like most pickups, the performance and ride of a Tacoma will vary considerably from model to model. The four-cylinder engine provides adequate acceleration and the five-speed gearbox shifts well. The basic 2.4-liter engine isn't as smooth as the 2.7-liter engine in the 4X4 models.
Smoother still is the V6 that was fitted to our Limited. It provides lots of power and worked well with the automatic transmission.
Regardless of equipment, these are high-quality trucks that will provide years of reliable service. The more work an owner can shovel at them, the more they pay off with first-class truck performance. And even though the pricing tends toward premium, you can expect a better return when it's time to trade or sell.
The Tacoma 4X4 doesn't ride like a luxury car, nor does it handle or accelerate like a sports car. It's designed to haul stuff and to be driven off the pavement. If you're considering a vehicle that will see all-purpose use, and the Toyota Tacoma seems appealing, keep in mind that you will become a truck driver. Of course, folks who love trucks wouldn't have it any other way.