Did you know you can still get a manual transmission in a pickup truck? There are a handful of trucks in 2018, mostly midsize, that still have an optional 3rd pedal. But Toyota is unique. Unlike competitors, Toyota doesn’t force you into the base trim level if you want to row your own. We spent a week with the 2018 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road, a truck we’ve tested before, to see just how much impact a transmission choice can make.
In our Winter 2016 test of the TRD Off-Road, we found that, “the 6-speed automatic was the letdown of this truck, it sapped any fun that you could have…” and that, “shifting manually fixed the problem completely, but most people won’t want to be bothered.” Well, we’re not most people and we jumped at the chance to test a manual-equipped Tacoma. For 2018, the 5-speed manual has been retired on four-cylinder models, but the 6-speed manual remains an option with select trims. Opting for the manual transmission eliminates the multi-terrain select system, which is standard on other TRD Off-Roads. Our tester does, however, have a clutch start-cancel switch which lets you start the truck without depressing the clutch pedal as long as the truck is in neutral.
What else has changed in the last two years? Not much. The same 278hp 3.5L V6 powers the truck. The same Bilstein shocks and all-terrain tires handle the rough stuff with ease. Our truck did, however, feature an inferno red interior dash trim that broke up monotone interior with a welcome splash of color. There’s also a new front grille for 2018. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The Tacoma’s shift lever sits high above the center console. Changing gear requires a long but defined throw. It’s a motion that evokes the memory of driving an old four-on-the-floor pickup. The clutch pedal has very little weight or feel. It’s not spongy, but there’s no sense of the bite point through your left foot. Stalling won’t ever be an issue, though. First gear is designed to help tow 6,400 lbs from a standstill, which means dropping the clutch with no throttle input will whisk an unencumbered Tacoma away at a brisk walking pace. Run the V6 up past 3500 RPM and the variable valve timing adjusts and the engine perks up. There’s a considerable bit of extra high-end oomph to be had for those inclined to venture up towards the 6000 PRM redline. Don’t get us wrong, this is still no sports car, but the added engagement of participating in the process is a novelty that didn’t seem to wear off.
It’s interesting to see how much difference a gearbox can make. For those willing to be the minority, the 6MT Tacoma is a better experience. With full autonomy over gear selection, you’ll find yourself in the right gear more often than not. And when you don’t, the time it takes to find the right gear is completely your responsibility. There’s no more power available, nor is the engine any more responsive. But the extra control subconsciously makes it feel that way. For us, that’s exactly what the Tacoma needed.
|2018 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road 4×4 Double Cab
|TRD Premium Off Road Package||$1,920|
|All-Weather Floor Liner||$228|
|Paint Protection Film||$395|
|As Tested MSRP||$38,913|