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2005 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab 4×4: MD First Drive

The author gets dirty in a 2005 Tacoma

From the deserts of Baja to the parking lot of your local motocross track, everyone knows that dirt bikes and trucks go together like peanut butter and jelly. Unless you own a dual-sport bike, or can afford a trailer and an SUV to tow it, you’re going to need a truck if you want to go off-road riding. Rising gas prices, combined with the rising price of a new full-size pickup, are moving the spotlight to the category which has traditionally been called “mini-trucks”, although these days the trucks are more like a “mid-size”.

These mid-size trucks, usually equipped with small 4- or 6-cylinder engines, get better mileage and are cheaper to purchase. They also provide enough room for two riders, their bikes, and equipment. If you travel to your favorite riding area by yourself or with only one friend, a full-size truck is overkill, and a big waste of gas. However, if you are planning to carry three full-size bikes in a truck this size, it will require some experimentation with geometry, despite the fact that this year’s Tacoma has a larger bed than last year’s model. Two full-size bikes with a mini will fit with no problem, however.

We had the opportunity to drive Toyota’s latest entry into this hotly-contested category, the all-new 2005 Tacoma, at a press event in the parking lot of the Long Beach motorcycle show early last month. This wasn’t much of a “test”, but the nature of the short course I drove did reveal some distinct first impressions. The trucks we drove were the “Access Cab” version, which features 2 rear-hinged doors which access the backseat. Since the test trucks were 4×4 models equipped with the optional TRD Off-Road package, Toyota decided to let us drive them around a challenging (or at least it looked that way at first glance) off-road course they had constructed specifically for this event.

2005 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab 4x4

The first thing I noticed about the new Tacoma was its looks. Completely restyled from its rather conservative predecessor, the 2005 Tacoma seems to follow the almost cartoonishly over-muscled styling of many other new trucks. Although I think the bulged fenders and buffed-up front end look a little out of proportion on the standard two-wheel drive models, they fit well on the 4×4, as the larger tires fill up those big wheelwells, while the higher stance turns the overall styling from bubbly to aggressive.

The TRD off-road package is designed to enhance the capabilities of the truck over difficult terrain, as well as add protection for certain vulnerable areas. The package includes a specially tuned suspension featuring Bilstein shocks, a locking rear differential to help in low-traction conditions, skidplates for the engine and fuel tank, sportier front seats, and a few other small enhancements.

Getting in the truck, you immediately notice that the fit and finish of the interior is definitely superior to that of previous Toyota models. The dash is an interesting if slightly overdone design, and the TRD seats are comfortable and have good lumbar support for those long drives home from the track or trails. The controls are easy to comprehend and operate, although it took me a minute to figure out how to set the four-wheel drive system and locking rear differential. The front seat is surprisingly roomy, much more spacious than the previous-generation Tacoma. The backseat on the Access Cab version is not much of a seat, however. After taking a ride around the course in one of the folding jumpseats back there, I can tell you that a full-size adult will not enjoy spending any length of time in the back. With the rear seats folded, however, there is plenty of room for gearbags and any other items you might want to transport inside the truck. If you need to haul passengers in the back seat, consider the crew-cab model.

Tacoma Access Cab Interior

Driving the Tacoma around the short off-road course, I was immediately impressed with the solid feel of the interior and the chassis. Previous Tacomas that I have driven have often seemed like the chassis was flexing and the interior pieces were loosening as they passed over rough terrain, but I experienced none of that with this new Tacoma. Even in a section of the course which featured a staggered series of small bumps, almost like whoops, but arranged so that each side of the truck hit the bumps at a different time, the Tacoma felt rock-solid. In fact, I suspect that Toyota built this section specifically to show off the rigidity of its new chassis.

Unfortunately this small, tight course didn’t present much opportunity to evaluate the new, 245hp V6 motor. Trying to get a feel for the power, I floored the truck down a short straightaway in the middle of the course. Although admittedly not much basis for evaluation, the motor moved the truck forward with enough authority that I had occasion to test the brake system a little more heavily than I had expected. The brakes also performed well, easily hauling the truck down to a safe speed as I entered a rough section of the track.

The rest of the course consisted of a nice little hillclimb, followed by a steep descent, and a pit about 15 feet long filled with mud about 3 feet deep. The Tacoma took these obstacles in stride, and at no point did I feel like I was challenging its off-road capabilities. In fact, I got out of the truck wishing I had driven it harder, even though I went faster the first time around the course than I would have considered going in any truck I had driven previously.

This being my first time at a Toyota press event, however, I decided to leave the hard driving to Ivan Stewart. Yes, that Ivan Stewart, 17-time Baja winner and a long-standing Toyota associate. I got a chance to take a ride around the course with Ivan in the Tacoma, and of course he navigated the obstacles about twice as quickly as I had, all while talking calmly to me and a fellow passenger, glancing out the windshield as if on a Sunday drive on the highway.

After driving the truck and riding along with Ivan, I can definitely state that if you buy a 2005 Tacoma 4×4 with the TRD off-road package, you won’t be left wanting in terms of off-road capability. Beyond that, however, the truck has a lot of features that would be of interest to motorcycle enthusiasts. How about a standard power outlet, just like the ones in your walls, built right into the side of the truck. Use it for an air compressor, a fan, or even one of those cool helmet-dry stands that dry out your helmet liner between motos.

All 2005 Tacomas also come with a tough, composite bed which Toyota claims will hold up to the use and abuse a truck bed typically receives better than the traditional metal bed. The bed also features a cool tie-down system, using a set of rails all the way around the bed, which allow you to configure additional tie-down points wherever you want to supplement the traditional hooks in each front corner.

With prices ranging all the way from $13,415 to past $24,000, you can configure a 2005 Tacoma just the way you want. Traditional cab, Access cab and Crew cab each are available with different motor/trim combinations. If you are in the market for a new truck, you should go down to your local dealership and test-drive a new Tacoma. I think you’ll be as impressed as I was.

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