$7,394 - $19,059

2012 Toyota Tacoma Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 Toyota Tacoma was new.


Performance: 7.8

Impressive on-road handling and capable off-road abilities help the Tacoma earn good reviews for its performance, and reviewers say it’s probably the best-driving compact truck. Reviewers especially love the X-Runner trim’s sporty driving dynamics. Most recommend that buyers with towing or hauling to do choose the V6 engine, though the four-cylinder gets better fuel economy. Off-road enthusiasts should find plenty to like about the Tacoma as well, but multiple test drivers warn about the Tacoma’s soft, weak-feeling brakes.

  • "For better or worse, the … Toyota Tacoma drives like a proper pickup truck. It delivers a reasonably comfortable ride on the streets and, properly equipped, tackles off-road terrain without drama.” -- Edmunds
  • "Still, we couldn't escape the feeling that the Tacoma would be happier hauling or towing something or negotiating rocks in a river rather than running errands in suburbia.” -- Kelley Blue Book.
  • "Good steering, but soft brake feel and weak performance are disappointing. Jiggly ride and an equally jiggly structure.” -- Car and Driver

Acceleration and Power

The 2012 Tacoma comes standard with a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque to the ground. It offers an optional 4.0-liter V6 engine that’s significantly more powerful, with 236 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. The four-cylinder is available with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic, while the V6 comes either with a five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission.

According to the EPA, two-wheel drive Tacomas with the four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission can get up to 21/25 mpg city/highway, though most other models get approximately 17/21 mpg city/highway. Four-wheel drive V6 Tacomas with a standard transmission get the worst fuel economy, rated at 15/19 mpg city/highway. To see the EPA ratings of the particular model of Tacoma you’re considering, check out the 2012 Toyota Tacoma specs.

If you don’t do a lot of heavy hauling or towing, and are looking for a budget-friendly option, reviewers say the four-cylinder engine will do the trick, but most recommend the V6 engine to any buyer who may want to do some spirited driving. Test drivers are impressed by the smooth-shifting automatic transmissions and responsive manuals.

  • "V6 versions feel strong in most situations. The manual transmission is surprisingly responsive for a pickup. The automatic transmission shifts smoothly and downshifts quickly for passing.” -- Consumer Guide
  •  +"It takes only the slightest push on the Tacoma's gas pedal to bring the V6 to life.” -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "Drivers who don't plan on heavy hauling, towing or aggressive accelerating will likely find their needs met by the four-cylinder engine.” -- Edmunds
  • "Cruddy V-6 fuel economy.” -- Car and Driver

Handling and Braking

Test drivers say the Tacoma has sporty handling, but its weak-feeling brakes make it lose points. Like any off-road-tailored pickup, the optional TRD off-road suspension worsens the truck’s on-road driving dynamics. Reviewers rave about the sporty X-Runner though. One test driver even compares the Tacoma X-Runner’s handling with that of a sporty small car, which is high praise for a compact pickup that hasn’t been redesigned since 2005. However, even base models handle better than most in the class.

  • "Among models made available for testing, X-Runner has almost sporty-car moves, with little body lean in fast corners and strong brakes. PreRunners and 4WD Tacomas exhibit comparatively more body lean and less braking prowess, but are easily on par with class rivals.” -- Consumer Guide
  • "As trucks go, it's a handler.” -- Car and Driver
  • "We noticed the Tacoma drove well on smooth-surfaced freeways, but it felt rather bulky and clumsy in the tighter confines of city driving. Get the Tacoma out in the open, however, and the driving experience greatly improves.” -- Kelley Blue Book
  • “But while the brakes performed admirably on the track, the brake pedal felt spongy and required a bit more effort than we felt comfortable with, a reminder that this is a pickup and not a car, as truckmakers are wary of quick response in a heavily loaded vehicle.” -- Edmunds
  • "Great off-road suspension can be rough on uneven pavement.” -- Cars.com

Towing and Hauling

When properly configured, the Toyota Tacoma can tow up to 6,500 pounds and haul a maximum payload of 1,535 pounds. Base models can tow a maximum of 3,500 pounds and haul up to 1,450 pounds.


The 2012 Toyota Tacoma comes standard with two-wheel drive, but part-time four-wheel drive with an automatic limited-slip differential is an available option. Active traction control, or traction control that’s specially designed for off-road use, is available as part of the TRD off-road package.

The Toyota Tacoma offers a TRD off-road package that test drivers say make it a competitive entry in its field. This package adds an off-road suspension, skid plates, hill ascent and descent control, an electronically-locking rear differential and sporty bucket seats. T|X and T|X Pro models offer even more off-road capability, with trail-rated BFGoodrich tires and other features.

  • “(The TRD) package works well, and it also gives the Tacoma some visual credibility against full-size pickups.” -- Edmunds
  • "Spirited off-road capabilities.” -- Cars.com

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