Toyota Tacoma Generation History

Toyota Tacoma Generation History

Last Updated March 15, 2022 | Andrew Boyle

The Toyota Hilux, Toyota's third pickup, began production back in 1968 and immediately became a huge success. The Hilux is still produced and sold in most of the world and remains one of the most universally popular pickups. Most of the Hilux's popularity can be traced back to its durability and reliability. The Hilux is not known for its comfort features though, and it became clear that Toyota would need something else to compete with the abundant pickup options available in the United States.

Thus, the Toyota Tacoma was born. The Tacoma was designed to be more comfortable, and safety and handling were prioritized while still preserving the reliability people had come to expect from Toyota pickups.

Though the Tacoma has never been as popular in the United States as the F-150 or Silverado, the Toyota Tacoma has become well-known as a durable and reliable mid-size pickup.

The Tacoma name officially began in 1995 with the first generation of Tacoma pickups. Since then, there have been two other generations of this truck, and various intergenerational upgrades as well. Here is the list of Tacoma generations, what changed, and how to identify each body style.

Tacoma History

Tacoma is the Coast Salish Peoples' name for Mount Rainier. The precise etymology for the word Tacoma is much disputed but most likely means "snow-covered mountain." Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington and is known for its rock climbing, mountaineering, skiing, and camping opportunities.

We may never know why the name Tacoma was selected for Toyota's pickup, but it ended up being appropriate. Though the design for the Tacoma was selected in 1991, it stayed frozen until 1995 when it was thawed out and finally produced. Pretty much immediately, it became clear that the Tacoma was hot.

Classic Toyota Pickup Truck

First Gen Toyota Tacoma 1995-2004

Regardless, the Tacoma was intended to be a complete revamp of the Hilux. The idea was to improve the overall ride quality while maintaining the capability. The Hilux was much more of a purely utilitarian truck, so the first-gen Tacoma was a more comfortable (and safe) truck. This means that the Tacoma was given several important things that the Hilux lacked. These included airbags and anti-lock brakes.

Gen One Toyota Tacoma

Overall, the look of the 1st gen Tacoma is certainly a bit aged. It doesn’t look bad, but it seems a bit grumpy. There were various design iterations of the first-gen Tacoma, but the thing that does unify them visually is the headlights. The headlight of this body style is generally more rectangular (although the post-2000 models have a more angled appearance) and the amber turn signal is clearly visible on the outside of the main headlight.

The specific designations for the 1st gen Tacomas were N140, N150, N150, N170, and N190. Each of these respective versions of the Tacoma could either come with a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual transmission. Below are the various engine options that came with the first-gen Toyota Tacoma.

The first generation of Tacoma could be had in eighteen different configurations when you take into account the bed options. In terms of beds, it was available with either a 6’ or a 5 ’5” bed.

One thing to note: 1st gen of Tacomas was particularly prone to heavy rusting. If you don’t live on the West Coast or a dry climate state, then you should thoroughly inspect whatever first gen Tacoma you are considering purchasing. Toyota initially offered a buyback of 1995-2000 model year Tacomas, and then later offered an unlimited corrosion warranty across all first-gen pickups.

First Gen Toyota Tacoma Engines
Engine Horsepower Torque
2.4L Four-cylinder 142 hp 160 lb-ft
2.7L Four-cylinder 150 hp 177 lb-ft
3.4L V6 190 hp 220 lb-ft

Second Gen Toyota Tacoma 2005-2015

In 2005, the second generation of the Toyota Tacoma was unveiled. The differences here are more minor, but there is a big visual leap between this generation and the previous. The basic trapezoidal grille style remains, but a more complicated and modern style headlight was used.

2005 Toyota Tacoma

The short bed for the 2nd gen Tacomas was shortened by 5 inches from 5’5” to 5 feet flat. There were three cab options for the second gen Tacoma, a regular cab, an access cab, and a double cab. The designations for second-gen Toyota Tacomas are N220, N240, N250, N260, and N270.

In 2009, there was a minor design change to the Tacoma. The grille went under even more edits and the taillamps were replaced with LEDs. Moreover, the 2009 Tacoma added a 3.5mm aux jack straight from the factory, and that’s pretty huge.

On the second generation, there was also a shuffle of a Tacoma special trim. The S-Runner, which was originally launched on the first gen Tacoma, became the X-Runner during the Tacoma’s second generation. Both of these trims are meant to be performance-oriented, but not in the off-roading sense (like the TRD-Pro). The X-Runner came with the 4.0-liter V6 and a 6-speed manual. It was also lowered two inches and it comes with the X-brace suspension package.

That being said, the second gen Tacos were the first to be sold with the options of the famous TRD trim levels. TRD (which stands for Toyota Racing Development) equipped Tacomas are quite capable off-roading vehicles.

The biggest change for 2nd gen Toyota Tacomas was their overall increase in available power. The 2.7-liter 2TR engine saw a little bump in power on the second generation (150hp to 159 hp and 177 lb-ft to 180 lb-ft), and the 4.0L V6 was introduced, making more power than any previous engine. There were a few more transmission options on the second body style of Tacoma. There were 4 and 5-speed automatics, plus a 5 and 6-speed manual. Additionally, the second gen Toyota Tacoma can tow up to a maximum of 6,500 lbs.

Second Gen Toyota Tacoma Engines
Engine Horsepower Torque
2.7L 2TR-FE I4 159 hp 180 lb-ft
4.0L GR-FE V6 236 hp 266 lb-ft

Third Gen Toyota Tacoma 2016-Present

Starting in 2016, the third generation of Tacoma (which goes by the designation of N300) has the most distinct look yet. The third-gen Tacoma has taken big leaps in terms of design and looks like a thoroughly modern truck. It looks different than many of the other trucks in its class (especially the Gladiator). Instead of trying to seem brutish and tough, it has a sleek, almost sci-fi design, with narrower and wider headlights and many tight contours and bulges.

2016 Toyota Tacoma

Besides the rather significant aesthetic changes to the third-gen Tacoma, there are a few overall changes. First off, the regular cab option is not offered any more on this generation. Second, the interior saw big improvements with this generation. Keeping in line with the original gameplan of the Tacoma (make it more comfortable), the third generation Tacoma scrapped all of the cheap-feeling materials on the inside and replaced them with softer non-plastic alternatives. Additionally, the option for a leather interior was added.

In terms of engine performance, there is a slight bump on the third generation Tacomas. The torque is rated at a single lb-ft lower than the previous generation, but that’s slight enough to not really matter. That’s completely overshadowed by the bump from 236 hp on the second gens to 278 hp.

A 5-speed manual transmission was offered on the 2016 and 2017 Tacomas, and later versions come with the options for a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic. With the tow package equipped, the 3rd gen Tacoma can tow up to 6,800 lbs.

The TRD off-road trims come equipped with the crawl control function on 3rd gen Tacomas as well. This tool has become rather famous online, with many videos showing its ability to get a buried Tacoma out of the sand without a winch or another vehicle. The quickest way to describe this function is that it’s cruise control for off-road scenarios.

Third Gen Toyota Tacoma Engines
Engine Horsepower Torque
2.7L 2TR-FE I4 161 hp 181 lb-ft
3.5L GR-FKS V6 278 hp 265 lb-ft
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Sources: Motortrend

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Toyota Tacoma Generation History

The Tacoma has been around since 1995, and since then, it has changed a lot. See how the Tacoma has evolved over time, and how to spot the differences between first, second and third-generation Toyota Tacomas.