'05 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner - 2005 Sport Truck of the Year
Sports Car Levels of Grip and Handling Balance, Striking Street Presence, Roomy Interior Give Toyota Tacoma X-Runner the Title of 2005 Sport Truck Of the Year

The '05 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner is our Sport Truck of the Year. It was a seriously close competition this year, with the X-Runner barely edging out the Dodge SRT-10 Quad Cab. But win it did. And as with all the past-winning sport trucks of this competition, the designers and engineers deserve credit for building, what, in our opinion, has the performance and style that elevate a mere street truck into a sport truck. They did a great job for their boss Yuichiro Obu, chief engineer for the '05 Tacoma and a self- professed gearhead.

In scoring the competition, we were surprised that the new Taco' actually had the highest score in exterior style. Generally speaking, Toyota trucks aren't known for their exterior stylishness. In fact, the company has a reputation for conservative, bland styling on its light trucks. They're popular more for their reliability and durability, and enthusiasts put a lot of time and effort into customizing the truck's street presence. As such, we weren't surprised it scored high in fit and finish, which have long been Toyota's strong suit.

In addition to the hip-styling and sporting layout of the dash and IP, the X-Runner drew admiring comments from our testers on the smart use of space in the now-roomy cabin. In particular, we liked the fact that the console includes three integrated cupholders, two that can accommodate super-sized drinks for long-haul sport trucking, and added liquid storage in the form of dual bottle holders in driver- and passenger-side doors, and the tumble-flat rear seats with underseat storage in the rear compartment are efficient, clever, and convenient. Our judgment is that the interior generates an exciting performance atmosphere equal to the raw performance of the truck, as well an ergonomically sound driving position, to take full advantage of all the capabilities.

We're happy to report that the new Tacoma has a good look about it, especially with the X-runner's added styling panels and slightly lowered ride height. The nose and hoodscoop give it an aggressive attitude and, to our way of thinking, should respond to traditional bolt-on styling mods as well as more involved massaging.

Our crew also liked the profile of the new truck as well as the truck's rear styling. About the only negative comments regarded the rolling stock appearance in the wheelwell. The 255/45R18 Bridgestone Potenzas on alloy wheels are certainly on the aggressive side, and appropriately sized for the visual mass of the truck, but the overly large gap from the fender lip to the tire tread is a visual distraction. One of the key elements capability-wise of the new Taco' that drew applause from our testing staff is the composite inner cargo bed. It's lighter and stronger than a sheetmetal cargo bed, so it provides performance, ride-quality, and fuel-mileage benefits. It's also quieter than shee metal and is available with a variety of accessories, ranging from a 400-watt, 115-VAC three-pronged grounded outlet to locking storage boxes to bed dividers to bike racks.

The X-Runner's cockpit scored very high with us. It didn't get the top score, but for Toyota to receive the second-highest score for its interior shows just how much effort the company is putting into targeting its core market. Its instrument panel (IP) with the speedo, tach, and main gauge set recessed into a stacked arrangement of three pods sets a sporty tone for the interior. The X-Runner's center console flows with a sporting sense of design into an almost Titan/F-150-esque control panel. The control panel puts the audio and heating and ventilation controls front and center for easy manipulation by both the driver and passenger. That's better for the passenger than the driver, chiefly because the driver is provided audio and other controls on the steering wheel.

Motivating the X-Runner is a "revised" 4.0L VVT-i DOHC V-6, producing 245 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque. That's a significant improvement compared with the 190hp 3.4L V-6 found in the '04 model. The new engine features Toyota's throttle-by-wire system, which it calls Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence (ETCS-i), that's designed to improve performance and fuel economy. We didn't bother checking on the fuel economy, since our group of test drivers had the throttle blade cracked wide open at every possible opportunity. Though, from one staffers' recollection, the X-Runner required noticeably fewer trips to the fuel pump compared with the runner-up, while delivering almost the acceleration rates of the V-10 powerhouse.

That said, the performance of the X-Runner's power team is extraordinary. Not in terms of raw force, but in the precision of its application and generation. The VVT-i system gives the 4.0L a wonderful-to-drive wide powerband. It's got good low end, not as brutal as the SRT-10, but solid and useable. Combined with the close ratio and gear choices, with the six-speed manual offered, no matter what driving condition you found yourself in, you could get the right leverage to make the X-Runner scream. Passing was a breeze. Off the line, it was way too much fun, though hard on the clutch -- and talk about a top-speed runner! It'll do better than a buck-twenty at the top of Fifth gear, though we ran out of test track before we reached terminal velocity. We'll have to get one back and explore its limits more in depth. In the meantime, know that the X-Runner posted corrected 0-60 mph times of 6.9 seconds with a quarter-mile e.t. of 14.9 seconds at 93 mph. That's quick and exciting driving, but not the quickest of the bunch. But it was quick enough in combination with the truck's other capabilities to move it into the lead.

Handling and Braking
The suspension tuning of the X-Runner is the most significant aspect of this truck. It's designed to handle like a sport car with its tuned 1-inch-lowered suspension and 255/45R18 Bridgestone Potenza tires wrapped around 18-inch alloy wheels. The exclusive X-Runner suspension features special reinforcing frame crossmembers (X-Runner, get it?), and incorporates firmer and shorter springs and specially tuned Bilstein gas shock absorbers that are mounted outboard of the framerails' pick-up points for increased stability. It also gets a rear stabilizer bar with firmer bushings and specially tuned steering response, says Toyota.

The result is an X-Runner with serious cornering and agility that, in combination with the truck's respectable straight-line acceleration, managed to edge past, if just barely, the SRT-10 Quad Cab. The SRT-10 is a hard-nosed competitor and it didn't give an inch. The X-Runner had to take all the ground it gained by solid performance in the tests that favored it. And the handling and braking test is where this machine shined.

The X-Runner blistered the slalom, with a best speed of 63.67 mph. (That, by the way, breaks the record by a little more than 1 mph for this test set last year by the SRT-10 Ram.) In terms of cold-stop braking, it posted a best of the competition at 119.8 feet. Not only that, but the brakes were almost totally fade-resistant, with the average distance in the fade test a mere 123 feet. Credit has to go to the big-brake option on the X-Runner and the finely tuned suspension. When this truck hit the binders, there is very little nose dive; it just rotates slightly and grabs ground.

The advantage of such a balanced and poised suspension became abundantly clear in the real-world driving portion because you can brake deep into turns, ease off the brakes, and get back on the throttle without upsetting the truck. It's razor-sharp and responsive -- an absolute joy to drive hard. And, in summary, given the incredible handling envelope, the added energy in the styling, and the exciting acceleration figures, we're not surprised to find the Toyota X-Runner reigning supreme in '05 as our pick for Sport Truck of the Year.

Performance specs:
Acceleration 0-60: 6.9 sec
Quarter-mile elapsed time: 14.92 @ 93.10
Braking 60-0: 116.56 ft
Brake fade 60-0: 121.02 ft
600-ft slalom: 63.67 mph

Sport Truck of the Year Score:
Acceleration/towing: 271 of 300 possible
Ride and handling: 268.125 of 300 possible
Ergonomics/style/build quality: 304.5 of 400 possible
Total: 843.625 of 1,000 possible

Smooth-shifting close-ratio six-speed manual
Wide powerband and exciting acceleration
Amazing cornering grip, supple but firm suspension, incredible braking

Ground effects too pronounced; could lower ride height a bit
Fender lip-to-tire gap too large
Clutch pedal too close to floor board for comfortable operation

For '05, Toyota brings an all-new Tacoma pickup truck line to market. The new midsize is larger, more maneuverable, more powerful, and more fuel-efficient than '04 Tacos. While the new Tacoma comes in a dizzying array of configurations, leading the Tacoma line in performance and style is the X-Runner model. This sport truck blends great truck design with sports car performance, mostly by virtue of its new 245hp V-6 engine backed by a six-speed manual and a specially tuned chassis.

Toyota is touting "documented industry-leading quality, dependability, and reliability" as the top reasons customers have chosen the Tacoma. And the company further asserts that the new-generation Tacoma will build on that foundation with its attractive design, greater performance and capability, and improved passenger room and comfort.

To which we say, Talk is cheap. We're putting the pedal to the metal on this one and it better not break.

'05 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner
Base price:$23,110
Price as tested:N/A
Vehicle type:midsize Access Cab pickup
Construction:body-on fully boxed, all-steel (F-Alpha frame, based on the Nissan Titan), rear drive
Engine:4.0L DOHC EFI V-6, 24-valve aluminum block with aluminum alloy head with VVT-I; 3,956 cc; CR: 10.0:1
Horsepower:245 hp @ 5,200 rpm
Torque:282 lb-ft @ 3,800 rpm
Fuel:91 octane unleaded
Transmission:six-speed manual overdrive
Suspension:F: coil spring independent double-wishbone with gas-filled shock absorbers; front stabilizer bar diameter: 1.18 in; R: leaf-spring rigid suspension; rear stabilizer bar diameter: 0.98 in (X-Runner only)
Steering:power-assisted rack-and-pinion. ratio: 17.4:1; lock to lock: 3.43 turns
Wheel:18-inch alloy
Tire F/R:P255/45R18
Brakes:power-assisted disc/drum four-wheel antilock braking system (ABS) with brake assist (BA) and electronic braking distribution (EBD); F: 12.56-in disc. R: 10-inch drum
Wheelbase (in):127.2
Length/width/height (in):208.1/74.0/65.2
Track (in):F: 62.2 R: 62.2
Turning circle (curb to curb):42 ft
Curb weight (lbs):est: 3,690
Tow rating (lbs):3,500
EPA city/hwy/combined mpg:16/21/N/A
Fuel-tank capacity/range:21 gal/N/A