The more sober among you will recall late last year I took a road trip up and down the U.S. I spent three weeks pounding tarmac to the tune of 5,000 miles. What vehicle did I choose for this adventure? It was my traveling companion’s first visit, and she has mobility issues. Our itinerary was stacked like a pile of cheap pancakes so being in a road armchair was important. If you think a Suburban or Expedition sounds perfect, I thought so too. Except there were none available to rent (pardon me, I thought I was visiting AMERICA) so I had to settle for the next best thing. Ok, seven-eights of the next best thing: I got a Tundra.
As you all know, I drive a Range Rover. Living in London when I was young and beautiful I captained a 1979 Thunderbird for a bit. Large vehicles don’t scare me, but there were occasions in that Tundra when I could have really used those one of little guys in a high visibility vest and a table tennis bat in each hand, especially around downtown Miami (ok yes, I KNOW that was stupid but it was where our trip began and ended ok? Anyway most of the time in Miami it sat in an expensive parking lot). If you don’t need all that bed space and you’re not pulling a Space Shuttle on the regular, something a bit more parkable might be appropriate.
Hiluxes and Heart Attacks
For the non cowboy hat wearers among us, there’s the Tacoma. It was born in 1995 as a replacement for the snappily named Toyota Pickup, which was a Hilux tweaked for the US market. From there the two nameplates diverged and continued; Tacoma for the US and Hilux for the rest of the world, something I’m sure continues to give the Toyota product planning and accounting departments a heart attack every time they’re reminded about it.
The first generation Taco was about as generic as it was possible to get, an inoffensive pick up-shaped vanilla flavored dessert that was going to offend absolutely nobody. Which was entirely the point. They had already learned this trick with the first Lexus – aim for the creamy bland middle and cover as many people as possible. The slightly squared up second gen punched up the grill size a little, broadened the shoulders and upped the chunkiness a touch, but your horses were still not going to bolt in the opposite direction at the sight of the thing.
The Great Pick Up Truck Embutchification Wave affected the styling of all trucks across all the OEMs. Smooth normcore utility was out. You were nowhere if your truck didn’t look like it could wear a coat of olive drab and stand loading into the back of a Boeing C-17 Globemaster. The third gen Taco, arriving in 2015, couldn’t quite escape this effect, gaining a protruding trapezoidal grille that sat much higher up the front fascia, shallow headlights that resembled Oakley wrap-arounds and a stockier, stouter look characterized by deep light catchers on the body side and an overall bluffer, rougher demeanor. Still, it was from the worst transgressor in the segment.
Drawing With Triangles
I spent a lot of time in that Tundra, and my thoughts were the designers only reluctantly put down their triangles when it came to the wheels. Almost every line on the thing was horizontal, vertical or a chamfer between the two. It was like that EVERYWHERE, inside and out. My first thoughts upon seeing the new fourth gen Taco then, are alignment. They’ve gone to great lengths to make it look like its bigger sibling.
What Toyota has done is take that third gen Tundra theme and given it a sequel. But on the smaller truck it fits a lot more successfully. Why is that? Because the Taco sits relatively higher on its wheels but the overall profile is lower so there aren’t drawing room curtains of bodywork falling towards the tarmac. There’s much less sheet metal above the arches so it doesn’t look like it’s sagging towards the ground like the Tundra does. The proportions of the Tacoma are just so much better.
A Truck That Looks Like Lemmy
The wheel arch surfaces make more sense here. You have the extended arches, then a vertical surface, then a softer surface heading towards the belt line. So the corner of the headlight has a nice big area to blend into, unlike on the Tundra where the same area is four separate surfaces all colliding together. The Taco body side tucks under which makes it feel softer and less rigid than the Tundra, which can feel quite contrived in the way it tries to make everything work. The trapezoidal grill just works better by dint of being smaller than the grill on the Tundra, which can suffer from looking a bit Lemmy-from-Motorhead in some trim and color combinations. I like the way the grille bar on the versions that have one lines up with the negative space that holds the lit elements in the headlights. The way the bumper surface gently rolls under to meet the lower front lip of the wheel arch opening is well done, but doesn’t entirely stop the Tacoma having an air of cyber-bulldog underbite about it though.
Moving around to the party end, it’s still chamfers agogo horizontally, but the surfaces are thankfully clean apart from a surprisingly subtle name stamp – worth noting though that the TRD Pro gets its own skin. You can afford to do this on higher end versions – in some ways you need this extra level of differentiation to justify the higher price. It all makes sense – there’s no lines to nowhere and what profile shape there is, is dictated by the shape of the tail light lenses (are those champagne corks I hear in the Torchinsky basement?) I’ve said it before, but you have to be careful on smaller (relatively speaking here) vehicles because you don’t have as much canvas to work on.
Kicking A Lexus Down A Fire Escape
When visual identities for brands amounted to light graphics, grill shapes and not much else, this wasn’t such a problem. Now things like surface treatments, day light openings, feature lines, UI/UX graphics and a whole load of other shit is expected to pitch in, and it can be a design minefield. Example: the Lexus L-Finesse language works on precisely one car – the LC500 – not un-coincidentally the one it was designed for. Every other Lexus looks like they’ve kicked down a NYC fire escape.
It almost feels like the design introduced on the Tundra works better on the Tacoma because the Toyota designers have had to make it work better. Some of their work was done for them simply by having a more amenable proportion to work on. Smaller trucks generally have a better wheel to body ratio (ah big wheels, that takes me back), and have a much better stance. But because they have less sheet metal to piss about with than they did with the Tundra, they’ve have to tidy it up, smooth things off. There’s still a lot going on visually, but that’s the way of the world now – we live in a noisy, bustling society.
It Has the Same Interior As A Defender
One of the things that drove me loopy about the Tundra interior was the shape of the main air vents – a sort of lopsided drunken square. They looked shit. Here they’re a rectangle on the end of the instrument panel upper turned through ninety degrees. Much less gimmicky and makes sense thematically, and it gives a sense of structural rigidity right across the car, exactly the same as that powder coated beam does across the front of a Defender interior. Below that there’s a trim piece that changes finish depending on the trim level and the turbo-off-road-nutter-bastard ones have a retro style Toyota logo (replicated on the grill bar). All it takes is a few parts you can offer in different colors or materials and you’ve altered the ambience of the whole interior. It all looks chunkily consistent, tactile with lots to play with and useful, and although we can’t tell the quality of the materials, we know it’ll all be screwed together fantastically well.
My overall thoughts about that Tundra was that it felt like a bigger Camry with shittier gas mileage (it really was bad). And I get that’s exactly what’s made the Tacoma so ubiquitous as the mid-size truck of choice. The dependability. The unfussiness. The reliability. Now Toyota have introduced a bit of flair into the equation, let’s hope they haven’t lost the sheer bloody Toyota-ness that made them so popular in the first place.
Great review. Curious to see what the next-gen 4Runner looks like.
Taking a step back – do you see a path forward combining safety requirements with great design that results in stellar outward visibility?
“The more sober among you”
Who do you take me for @DubblewhopperNdubbletrubble?
I like to think SOMEONE around here is sober.
I had dinner with Jason and it was champers and caviar all the way.
Ugh, that chin spoiler! I LOLed for Embutchification.
Surely the Torchinskys aren’t champagne drinkers.
Best not to ask – just smile politely and pretend to take a sip when handed a flute of amber liquid, especially if it smells distinctly like the battery acid leaking out of the ChangLi.
The Tacoma up to this point always made me think the cab hard points are very old and the windshield interchanges back to 1997 if not 1989. The new one carries over a lot of styling cues but at least the hard points are new.
I get the same impression from the Chevy Blazer and new Trax about the common design cues working better on the smaller car.
AUHH MAN Somebody left their Ipad perched on the dash, and the photographer thought it belonged there.
At least there are plenty of hard controls. The Tundra was the same, even though it only had the rental spec smaller screen. Once I set up CarPlay I hardly touched it.
Dang, Yous guys are good. I was just about to post What, Too old man yells at cloud for ya?
“Still, it was from the worst transgressor in the segment.” — should read “far from”, presumably.
Yes it should! Piece was originally written last minute before the embargo in a bit of a rush.
me thinks the current angular concept Toyota is running on their entire line is harkening back the the era of oriental truck weirdness. Combine too many concepts colliding. front, side, etc…..
Time for more clean and simple somewhere on their products.
It’s definitely ‘aggressive American truck’ seen through an Oriental/Gundam lens, but the Tacoma pulls it off better than the Tundra which is trying too hard.
The 4th Gen Tacoma is closer to the size of a 3rd Gen Tundra than it is to a 3rd Gen Tacoma as well.
Car design has moved from the VentsOnVents era to ChunksOnChunks.
The cars should all do the truffle shuffle if they’re going to make Chunk the main focus.
Wow, the Lemmy link should come with a warning. Heck, I knew what to expect and still jumped!
jump scares are all part of the service.
I knew a guy who toured with Motorhead and one of his jobs was to dismantle VHS tapes to fetch the amphetamines smuggled within.
Torch just puts cheap trucker speed in the coffee here to keep productivity levels up.
Let’s set the record straight about what makes truckers keep on going down the road – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSzeiIEi_oQ