As the eighth best-selling car/truck in the US in 2023, it is no secret that people love their Tacomas. While there haven’t been any true flops in the Tacoma lineup over the years, there are definitely some models years that are better than others. The best model years for Toyota Tacoma trucks include 2007-2015 (2nd Gen) and 2019-2023 (3rd Gen) models. The worst years for Toyota Tacoma trucks include 2005 and 2015-2016 models.
As a bit of a Toyota fanboy myself, I have quite a big soft spot for the Tacoma. For what it’s worth, America has quite a few winners when it comes to the midsize truck category, but the longevity and quality that I have experienced with my Toyotas have made me a lifelong fan. While there are a few good Japanese trucks on the market currently, the Tacoma sits firmly on top of the pile, where it has existed since its release in 1995.
Over the Tacoma’s 28-year build cycle, it has been through four generational revisions, has transformed from a compact pickup to a mid-size one, and has picked up a slew of performance-related upgrades in addition to many technical improvements over the years. However, newer doesn’t always mean better, and that is arguably the case for the Tacoma too. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the best and worst years for Toyota Tacoma trucks, looking at the differences between generations and comparing them head to head.
Best and Worst Years for Toyota Tacoma Trucks – Generations
Since the Toyota Tacoma’s release in 1995, there have been four different generations of the truck. That is important to factor into your decision-making process – if you are planning on purchasing a Tacoma – due to the fact that newer generation Tacomas come with far more advanced technology, more powerful engine options, better off-road capabilities, and better interior features.
Ultimately, the best and worst years for Toyota Tacoma trucks are entirely subjective. While some people might want the additional amenities that newer trucks provide, others prefer a more stripped-back truck that can get the job done with little fuss.
First Generation Toyota Tacoma (1995-2004)
The first generation Toyota Tacoma stands out in the pack as the true odd one out. When Toyota introduced the Tacoma in 1995, it was heavily based on the Japanese-only Toyota Hilux compact pickup. However, some significant modifications were made to the truck’s suspension, drivetrain components, and interior to make the Tacoma more capable, better handling, and comfortable for the American market.
As a result of being built on a small Japanese compact truck chassis, the first-generation Tacoma is tiny when compared to later Tacoma models. Side by side with a second-generation Tacoma, the first-gen has a 6-inch shorter wheelbase and is 18 inches shorter in total. However, despite the difference in length, the first gen Tacoma has a nearly identical bed length to the second-gen (74.5” vs 74.6”). With that being said, the second gen’s bed is a bit wider, allowing for additional hauling capabilities.
The first generation Toyota Tacoma was offered in a number of trim options with some significant differences between them. It is important to know that the first-generation Tacoma came in both 2WD and 4WD configurations. Variants included Regular Cab, Xtracab, and Double Cab body styles, in addition to a 2WD PreRunner variant in 1998. Xtracab and Double Cab variants exchanged bed space for additional interior space.
Initially, the Tacoma was offered with three engine options including a 2.4L inline-4, 2.7L inline-4, and a 3.4L V6. The smallest 2.4L inline-4 produced 142 horsepower ans was only available in 2WD models. The larger 152 horsepower 2.7L inline-4 and 190 horsepower 3.4L V6 were reserved for 4WD models only. However, later 2WD PreRunner models could also be ordered with the V6.
Second Generation Toyota Tacoma (2004-2015)
The second generation Toyota Tacoma established the larger mid-size truck formula that the Taco is known for today. In totality, the second generation Tacoma is larger, more technologically dense, more luxurious, and more powerful than the earlier generation.
Due to the success of the first-gen Tacoma, the second-gen was offered in a dizzying number of configurations. The goal was to cover the needs of a number of different markets. In total, the 2004-2015 Tacoma was offered in 18 different configurations with three different cab options. It was also available with two engine options, and four transmission choices.
Like the first gen, the second generation Tacoma came with three different cab arrangements. Those included Regular Cab, Access Cab, and Double Cab options. The Access Cab added small rear seats and larger doors to the existing cab. The Double Cab served as the new “Crew Cab” option, with an additional set of doors and extra rear seat room. Like the prior generation, the second-gen Tacoma came in both 2WD and 4WD variants.
Power was delivered by two different highly celebrated engine options, including a 2.7L inline-4 cylinder and a 4.0L V6. The 2.7L 2TR-FE engine is loved by many for its reliability, stellar fuel economy, ample power, and torque. Those qualities aren’t unique to the inline-4 either. The 4.0L 1GR-FE is also a fantastic engine and better for those who are planning on towing due to the V6’s extra 100 lb-ft of torque compared to the smaller engine.
The second-gen Tacoma is also much safer than the first-gen. 2009+ models received traction and stability control, as well as antilock brakes and brake assist as standard. Other optional extras included a rear locking differential and a limited-slip differential depending on the trim.
Third Generation Toyota Tacoma (2015-2023)
While the third-generation Tacoma looks significantly different than the generation that preceded it, the second and third-gen (at least early third-gen models) are very similar to each other under their skin. With that being said, they are dramatically different in terms of interior comfort and technology.
Unlike the previous generation, the third generation Tacoma was only offered in two different body styles. Those included Access Cab, and Double Cab options, dropping the Regular Cab option completely. The Access Cab variant only came with the 73.7” bed. The Double Cab was offered with either the 60.5” or 73.7” bed.
While similar to the second-generation Tacoma in most notable ways, Toyota did make some changes to the third gen’s overall driving characteristics and rigidity. Changes were made to the third gen’s frame, introducing more high-strength steel for added rigidity. It also received revised suspension components, improved rear axles, and a better rear differential for more predictable road manners on and off road.
Changes were also made to the engines offered in the third-gen. The 2TR-FE inline-4 was actually slightly downrated from the previous generation from 164 to 159 horsepower. However, it still remained a favorite for those looking to save on gas. The V6 offering was switched to the newer 3.5L 2GR-FKS. The newer engine provided a healthy bump in horsepower from the previous 4.0L but sacrificed a bit of reliability.
The overall interior amenities in the third-gen are significantly better than either of the generations before. In addition to a central touchscreen, Apple Car Play, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa capabilities are all standard. In addition to the tech, the third-gen feels like more premium product than the previous generations overall.
Fourth Generation Toyota Tacoma (2023+)
As of 2023, the latest and greatest Toyota Tacoma generation has finally been released to the public. While it is still too early to truly go into driver testimonials and overall opinions, we do know what the fourth-generation Tacoma has to offer, both mechanically and technologically.
Despite being built on the larger full-size Tundra chassis, the 4th gen Tacoma is identical in length to the previous generation. The new TNGA-F platform – that the Tacoma shares with a number of other large Toyota vehicles – uses a combo of high-strength steel and aluminum to keep rigidity at a maximum and weight to a minimum.
As with the previous generation, the 4th gen Tacoma is available in two different body styles. Those include the Xtracab (extended cab) variant and the Double Cab (crew cab) variant. In total, there are eight trim levels available for the 2024 Tacoma. Two of those are new off-road-focused models including the Trailhunter and TRD PreRunner.
One of the biggest changes to the Tacoma formula is the 4th gen’s introduction of a new 4-cylinder powerplant. The base engine is a 2.4L turbocharged I4 that puts out 228-278 horsepower. For higher trim models, that same 2.4L I4 is infused with parallel hybrid technology. The gas engine is paired with a 288V battery bringing power figures up to 326 horsepower.
There’s no question that the 4th gen Tacoma is leaps and bounds ahead of the previous generations in terms of interior technology and fit and finish. The 4th gen comes with either a 7.0” digital gauge cluster or a 12.3” digital dash. All of the connectivity apps that you’d expect come standard, including both Apple Car Play and Android Auto. For a truck with a $30,000 MSRP, the interior is extremely upscale and nice to the touch.
Best and Worst Years for Toyota Tacoma Trucks
As you can see, the lineup of Toyota Tacoma generational and trim options is pretty extensive. Over the four generations that have been released over the past 28 years, each has its own strong suits and shortcomings when compared head to head with the others. It would be a lie to say that naming the best and worst years for Toyota Tacoma trucks is objective. However, there are a few metrics that we used to put this list together.
Ultimately, Toyota Tacomas are known for a few things. Reliability is an expectation considering it is one of Toyota’s key principles. Truck capabilities, including offroad ability, hauling, and towing are obviously important, given that the Tacoma is…well…a truck. While luxury and modern amenities might not be at the forefront of people’s minds, it is still an important aspect to cover concerning overall comfort. Luckily, all of those attributes are pretty measurable. Overall, we have a few concrete pieces of evidence to back us up.
Best Years for the Toyota Tacoma
The best years for the Toyota Tacoma are 2007-2015 (2nd Gen) and 2019-2023 (3rd Gen). As you might have already guessed, there truly aren’t any bad years for the Toyota Tacoma as every model year and generation is built to last and retains fantastic reliability and practicality. With that being said, 2nd-Gen and 3rd-Gen Tacomas are especially celebrated. That is due primarily to the fact that they have more standard features and updated interior tech when compared to early models.
2004 was the first year that the Tacoma formula that we know today took shape. While the first-gen Tacoma was a good truck overall, its small form factor limited its capabilities. The second-generation Tacoma introduced a larger form factor, making it a more practical and capable vehicle. The 2nd gen Tacoma also came with two of the most reliable engines that Toyota has ever made. The 2TR-FE inline-4 and 1GR-FE inline-6 are some of the best engines that Toyota has ever offered. For that reason, it is extremely uncommon to have any serious powertrain issues with a 2nd gen Taco.
The third-generation Tacoma is celebrated for many of the same reasons as the 2nd gen. In many ways, the third-gen is just a heavily refreshed and updated version of the previous generation. Like its predecessor, the 3rd gen Tacoma came with the option of two incredibly strong powerplants in the form of the 2TR-FE and 2GR-FKS. The real selling point of the third-gen is its updated interior. It is full of modern tech including features like wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto.
Worst Years for the Toyota Tacoma
To keep it blunt, there aren’t any truly bad years for the Toyota Tacoma. Regardless of the generation and year, all Tacomas are better built, more reliable, and more capable than most other trucks on the road. However, there are a couple of model years that are slightly more troublesome than others.
You’ll notice that we excluded the first couple of years of both the second and third-generation Tacoma from our best years list. That is due to the fact that there are typically some teething problems to work out at the beginning of a generational cycle. That is also true for the Tacoma. That goes for both 2005 and 2015-2016 model year Tacomas.
Early second-generation 4.0L V6-equipped Tacoma models produced before December of 2005 were prone to serious head gasket issues. The issues were even more pronounced if the engine was allowed to overheat. That isn’t an issue unique to the Tacoma. However, many 2005 Tacoma owners began experiencing head gasket failure early in the truck’s lifecycle. Toyota realized that it was an issue with the 1GR at the end of 2005. To resolve the issue, Toyota quietly swapped the head gasket to a revised design at the end of 2005.
Later gen 2.5 and early 3rd gen Tacomas also had a couple of issues that brought them down a peg compared to some other model years. 2011+ Tacomas feature a secondary air injection system that injects cold atmospheric air into the exhaust to dilute exhaust particles in order to achieve better emissions results. A design flaw with the pump responsible for delivering the air causes debris to get sucked into the system. That led to other issues down the line. Unfortunately, the pump is an expensive part, typically costing around $1,500 to replace.
Best and Worst Years for Toyota Tacoma Trucks Summary
The Toyota Tacoma didn’t become one of the world’s best-selling trucks overnight. Since 1995, the Tacoma name has garnered a ton of popular support. Its reputation for reliability, dependability, and on and off-road capabilities make it one of the best-selling trucks in the US. While there aren’t any truly bad Toyota Tacoma model years, there are some that stand out as particularly special.
Late second-generation Tacomas (particularly 2007-2015 models) are the most celebrated. That is due to the fact that second-gen Tacomas had arguably the best engine options – in terms of both reliability and performance – and featured enough modern tech to make the driving experience comfortable. Third-generation models are also fantastic in almost every way, adding even more modern amenities to the mix.
While the Toyota Tacoma is unquestionably one of the best trucks to have been produced by Japan, there are a couple of model years that might best be avoided. Early second-generation Tacomas, mainly 2005 models, were known to experience severe head gasket issues. Luckily, Toyota resolved the issue by the time that 2006 models hit the road. Secondary air pump issues plagued early third-generation Tacoma models, which isn’t necessarily a reason to avoid buying one. Just be aware that an expensive fix will likely be on the horizon at some point.