Originally published August 17, 2015

Toyota’s truck division is largely a tale of two very different destinies. First, there’s the Tundra, the brand’s full-size option that for a brief shining moment seemed poised for relevancy amongst the domestic workhorses that dominate the Canadian pickup market, only to fizzle and fade, a victim of the indifference of its corporate masters and product planners who’d judged the experiment a failure.

Then there’s the Toyota Tacoma, a mid-size model that has successfully stomped the life out of not one, but three of its Detroit-sourced competitors – the Ford Ranger, the Chevrolet Colorado, and the GMC Canyon – and currently has a death grip on the title of most popular pickup in its segment. In fact, the Tacoma has been such a gold mine for Toyota that the factory the company built in San Antonio, Texas, that was intended to produce the hundreds of thousands of Tundras no one ended up wanting has seen a significant share of its assembly line repurposed to build the smaller vehicle.

Like a ‘90s action movie star, however, GM’s mid-size trucks have proven hard to kill, and after using the 2015 model year to stage a successful comeback, Toyota was forced to wipe the dust off the Tacoma’s 10-year development cycle and reconsider the details of its auto-pilot pickup strategy. The end result: the Tacoma has been sent to boot camp and come back tan, buff, and at least a little more polished than it was the year before.

When In Washington…

I’ve had the chance to drive the Tahoe in Tahoe, the Yukon in the Yukon, and now the 2016 Toyota Tacoma in Tacoma, Washington, a region of the Pacific Northwest that, in tandem with Seattle, offers gorgeous mountain vistas and the kind of rugged terrain Toyota intended to evoke when they chose it as the inspiration for its pickup namesake. It’s perfect terrain for finding the limits of a truck’s drivetrain and chassis, and the trails that criss-cross the region easily lend themselves to the kind of off-road testing Toyota was eager for me to experience from behind the wheel of the new Tacoma.

Sharpened Smile

It’s not difficult to pick the 2016 Tacoma out of a crowd, as the truck’s refreshed styling distances itself from the rounded curves of its predecessor, instead offering the kind of sharp angles, oversized front grille, and scalloped sides that have become the new visual shorthand for aggression and power (and which also satisfy the upcoming set of stricter pedestrian safety regulations). It’s a decidedly ‘bro truck’ direction for Toyota to take, and one that will play well in fraternity house driveways and anywhere a Monster Energy Drink sticker gets you a discount on parking.

Marty McFly, truck bro? Test Drive: 2015 Toyota Tacoma TRD

Inside the Toyota Tacoma’s revised cabin the year-to-year difference isn’t quite as striking. SR and SR5 models featured improved fabrics and plastics as compared to the previous generation truck, and the TRD Sport and TRD Off-Road models also offer nicer digs than what one would have expected to find in 2015. It’s diminishing returns when you reach all the way to the range-topping Limited trim, however: the model offers leather upholstery and the largest, best-featured version of Toyota’s Entune infotainment interface (along with a JBL-sourced stereo), but nothing approaching the same level of decadent luxury that can be found in its full-size siblings, making it difficult to justify its higher pricing.

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