The Toyota Tacoma Through the Years

looking at the toyota tacoma through the years

Generations of Tacoma Greatness

Toyota Motor Corporation is a Japanese multinational automobile manufacturer with more than 300,000 employees worldwide. They are currently the 10th largest corporation in the world by sales revenue. They have garnered this claim to fame by continually producing some of the highest quality cars and trucks that are known around the globe. 

One of their best-known models, that has spanned three decades and received countless accolades, is the Toyota Tacoma. What makes the Toyota Tacoma one of the world’s favorite trucks, though? As with any story worth telling, the answer isn’t simple. So let’s take a moment to go back in time and take a look at the Tacoma through the years.

toyota tacoma through the years

Taking a Look at the Toyota Tacoma Through The Years

Part of the reason why we still love driving the beautiful Tacoma is that it’s come so far aesthetically. While the Tacoma has always been a great truck, it’s the leading innovations that give the truck its staying power. 

The First Generation Tacoma: 1995-2004

The first generation of the Toyota Tacoma was introduced in March of 1995. It was billed as a replacement for the Toyota Hilux. The Hilux had its focus set on rugged, off-road driving and hauling capacity. 

The Tacoma came along to replace it as a truck that more squarely focused on the driver experience. They gave top priority to comfort, handling, and safety. And people quickly gravitated to the new compact pickup. 

the first tacoma designs

The First Tacoma Designs

The initial designs for the first generation Tacomas began several years earlier, in 1989. They developed the design at Calty Design Research in California from 1990 to 1992. Additionally, they made many proposals for the exterior design, but eventually, they settled on designer Kevin Hunter’s model in 1991. They froze production of the final form in 1992. They filed the patents for this first model in Japan in April of 1993. The United States followed in October of 1993. This first issue of the Tacoma released in 1995 had three engine options:

  • 2.4 L four-cylinder with 142 hp and 160 lb-ft of torque
  • 2.7 L four-cylinder with 150 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque
  • 3.4 L V6 with 190 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque

The first two-wheel-drive (2WD) models were available with the 2.4L or 3.4L engine with both automatic and manual transmissions. Four-wheel drive and PreRunner Tacomas were available in 2.7L or 3.4L options.

PreRunner and Double Cab models were only available with automatic transmissions in this first generation. Regular cab and Xtracab 4WD were available in both automatic and manual options.

These options continued to expand as time went on. In 1998 we saw the first TRD Off-Road package. This package was great because it was the first to feature locking rear differentials. However, it was limited only to PreRunner and 4WD models equipped with the V6 engine.

Getting the Tacoma a Much-Needed Facelift

There were also some minor changes in design and features in this first generation. And there were changes to headlights, from recessed to flushed in October of 1996. Additionally, there were also two “facelift” campaigns. The first was in 1997, and the second in 2000. These facelifts included updated grills and tailgate badges, and emblems for cosmetics.

Mechanical upgrades also came along with the switch to distributorless ignitions in 1996. We also saw longer rear leaf springs in 1997 for better handling. They introduced Passenger-side airbags in 1997. Most of the 4×4 models saw Toyota’s Automatic Differential Disconnect system become a standard feature after 2000.

More improvements came along as new sub-models were designed as well. October 2000 saw the birth of the four-door crew cab, officially titled the “Double Cab Model.” We also had the S-Runner trim package introduced this same year, which included the 3.4-liter V6 engine.

toyota tacoma through the years

Tacoma Complaints and Recalls

While these models were very popular, one complaint from consumers was the length of the bed. The extended cab’s bed reached 6ft in length, and the crew cab had a bed length of only 5’5”. However, this was a flaw that was shared by many competitors. 

Another flaw was more severe, though. In 2008 Toyota announced a 15-year, unlimited-mileage warranty for the 1995-2000 model years. Specifically, it was a corrosion warranty. This was announced because a lack of rustproofing had caused frame corrosion issues on more than 800,000 models. 

A further recall was announced in 2012 for 150,000 Tacoma mid-sized pickups produced from 2001 to 2004. This recall was for the spare tire, which was susceptible to falling off, especially in colder U.S. states.

The Second Generation Tacomas: 2005-2015

toyota tacoma through the years

Like the first generation, designs for the second generation came long before any trucks hit the pavement. Development began in 2000 under chief engineer Chikuo Kubota. Initial designs were by Shigeya Hattori and Hideo Karikomi, winners of an international design competition in 2001. The final design was frozen for production in 2002. 

The second generation was introduced at the Chicago Auto Show in 2004. The new and improved Toyota boasted a bigger, more powerful design, with more options than ever, including an upgrade to a mid-sized truck. There were eighteen configurations to choose from, with three cab options, four transmission options, two engines, and two bed-lengths. 

New Options

the toyota tacoma through the years
  • Cabs: regular cab, access cab, double cab
  • Transmission: 4-speed automatic, 5-speed automatic, 5-speed manual, 6-speed manual
  • Beds: 6’ “long bed” and the 5’ “short bed”
  • Engines: 4.0-liter 1GR-FE V6, 2.7-liter 2TR-FE 4-cylinder

One of the most notable improvements of Toyota Tacoma through the years was the Tacoma’s 4.0-liter 1GR-FE V6. It provided a tow-rating of 6,500 pounds and a payload capacity of 1,650 pounds. It also boasted a whopping 236 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. 

The smaller 2.7-liter 2TR-FE 4-cylinder alternative came in the less expensive models. It’s rated with 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft torque.

This is also where we see the X-Runner make its first appearance to replace the S-Runner trim from the previous generation. It came sporting a tougher engine, bigger wheels, and a better suspension package.

One of the best introductions came with the TRD Sport packages. Those introductions were the Down-Hill Assist Control (DAC), and Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC). DAC automatically applied the brakes during descent, and HAC prevented the truck from rolling backward on hills.

Second-Generation Facelifts

2009 saw some cosmetic upgrades for several models. These upgrades included LED taillamps and smoked headlamp trim for the TRD Offroad and the TRD Sport truck models. This is also the point when auxiliary audio systems became a standard feature. Access and double cab trucks also came with ceiling-mounted speakers and an available backup monitor. 

2012 saw more improvements, including a newly styled front bumper, headlights, grille, hood, and a new interior antenna for the satellite radio. The 2013 models came with touch-screen audio systems.

Third Generation Toyota Tacoma: 2016-Present

the toyota tacoma through the years of 2016 to the present

The current generation of Tacomas is considered mid-sized pickups. They feature many of the trims that we’ve come to know and love over the years. Of course, they come to us with some really great improvements and updated features.

Part of this update includes the more aggressive look provided by the larger grille, projector-beam headlamps, and an air dam on the hood. Other improvements Toyota offers with this new generation include a newly improved frame, made more rigid with harder steel, yet still lighter than previous models. The end result is a tougher truck with better gas mileage. 

Additional improvements have been made to the suspension system, rear differentials, and rear axle. This improves the truck’s handling while maintaining off-road capability. We also saw some rethinking for the truck’s interior. The new Tacoma features touchscreen displays, leather options instead of plastic, and an all-new instrument panel.

the 2019 toyota tacoma sure is pretty lookin!

This newest generation features 6 individual trims:

  • Base SR
  • Mid-Level SR5
  • TRD Offroad
  • The TRD Sport
  • TRD Pro
  • Limited

Each of these trims is available in Access Cab and Double Cab configurations with the additional option of long or short bed sizes. The continued improvement of the Tacoma is beloved by drivers, as their sales figures increase year after year. Northwest Motorsport loves it too!

Getting the Perfect Truck

In reality, there’s no such thing as a perfect truck. That’s why the Tacoma has three generations, countless upgrades, and more where that came from! What there is in reality, however, are really great trucks, the Tacoma included. That’s why we took you on this trip down memory lane. To see exactly where one of our favorite trucks came from. If you made it this far into our history of the Tacoma, you’re a fan, too. If you’ve got one of the older generations, why not take a look at our inventory and think about that upgrade? We know we’ve got a bow big enough somewhere, you just have to find the tree!