There are plenty of people who will argue that a “real” work truck needs to be a full-size model. Plenty of others get pretty heated about the merits of domestic brands like Ford and Chevy. I get all of that, but I think it pays to expand one’s thoughts about what makes a real workhorse of a truck, and the kinds of features found in a pickup that allow it to go beyond the predictable, and work harder than you might expect. For example, I’d argue that the 2023 Toyota Tacoma makes a perfectly satisfactory and capable workhorse of a truck that can handle a lot more than you might think.
Now please, good townspeople, put down your torches and pitchforks and hear me out, or keep holding them and hear me out—whatever makes you happy. The Tacoma has a lot to offer: two different engines, two transmission options, and different configurations for the cab size and bed length. On top of all of this, you’ll find a truck that can deliver impressive towing and payload capability, more than you probably expect from this sort of midsize pickup. Combine all of that with great trim levels that allow for incredible off-road capability, and you have yourself a truck that’s ready to go anywhere and do anything.
Exhibit A: Two Engine Options
First things first: these engines aren’t going to blow your mind. But I’d remind you that we’re talking about a midsize pickup here, not a full-size or heavy-duty model. With that in mind, the Tacoma starts with a 2.7L 4-cylinder engine that delivers 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. For such a small and lightweight truck, that’s plenty of power to get you where you need to go, and to make driving the Tacoma surprisingly enjoyable.
If you need greater performance, then you’re covered by the available 3.5L V6 engine that delivers a respectable 278 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque. I’ll admit that this is a much better choice if you’re looking for a workhorse of a truck, and it’s definitely what I’d choose. The power of the basic engine is just fine, however, and will work for a lot of people looking for something that drives well. But if you prefer a truck that feels powerful, there’s no denying that the V6 is the way to go. This just makes my point that it’s got the muscle to be a work truck.
Exhibit B: Two Transmission Options
The two engines are great, but there’s a clear argument to be made that the V6 is the better choice when you compare them to each other. With the two transmissions available on the Toyota Tacoma, however, there is no clear winner. It’s simply a matter of personal preference in what you like in a truck. You can choose between a six-speed automatic transmission, which is pretty typical for a midsize truck like this, or a six-speed manual transmission. It’s remarkable to me that saying a truck has a manual transmission available is something noteworthy, but here we are and it is.
Personally, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I see the merits of both automatic and manual transmissions, but I’m always a proponent of choices and options. The fact that you can pick either transmission for the Tacoma is an absolute win in my book, because you can get the kind of driving experience you really want. With manual transmissions becoming such a rarity these days, I love seeing one here and it’s the perfect choice if you like having that kind of control in your work truck. Just keep in mind that in order to get the manual, you have to get the V6 engine—another reason why it’s the better choice.
Exhibit C: Different Configurations to Meet Your Needs
Speaking of choices and options, I also believe a good workhorse of a pickup needs to be able to perfectly meet your needs, which is what customization is all about. There are two different sizes available for both the cab and the bed, with different configurations available to create three different combinations for the Tacoma. It’s worth noting that some trims will let you choose from all three, while others might only have one or two options.
There is an Access Cab available, with seating for up to four people and a smaller seating area in the rear, or a Double Cab that gives you seating for up to five people and better rear legroom and headroom. Both cabs have the same amount of space up front, so as the driver you’ll be comfortable no matter what. It really comes down to how much room you need for rear-seat passengers or stuff. You can choose between either a five-foot bed or a six-foot bed, which impacts your total cargo space and the length of items that can fit into the bed. The Access Cab is only available with the six-foot bed, while you can find models with the Double Cab and either bed length.
Exhibit D: Impressive Towing and Payload
We’re talking about a work truck here, so obviously we need to look at the kind of capabilities the Toyota Tacoma has for handling what you need to get done. Most people I know who want a workhorse of a pickup need to do some towing, and they want to be able to comfortably load up the bed with stuff they need to take with them. Towing and payload capacities on the Tacoma will depend on a wide range of options, of course, like the engine you choose and the configuration you go with.
That being said, with its 4-cylinder engine, the Tacoma can handle up to 3,500 lbs of towing capacity or up to 1,685 lbs of maximum payload. While that might not compete with a full-size truck, it’s plenty of capability for a wide range of uses. The available V6 engine really elevates things, however, with up to 6,800 lbs of maximum towing or up to 1,525 lbs of payload capacity. If you know you need to haul 7,000 lbs or more weight behind your truck, the Tacoma won’t work for you. Otherwise, it’s a fantastic option, and clearly comes through as a workhorse that can handle a trailer, camper, or other items that you need to tow.
Exhibit E: Bold Off-Road Capability
This might seem a little strange, but off-road capability is important for many people when it comes to a great workhorse. You need a truck that can get you where you need to go, which can often include traversing dirt and gravel roads, getting to remote locations, and dealing with bad weather. The Tacoma TRD Off-Road model includes 4WDemand part-time Four-Wheel Drive with an automatic limited-slip differential, 9.4 inches of ground clearance, and a 32-degree approach angle.
Add the TRD Off-Road tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks, and you’ve got something that’s ready to take you anywhere. Every Tacoma model comes with skid plates to protect the engine and front suspension, which is perfect for navigating a gravel road or getting through a job site without worrying about damaging the underside of your truck. These kinds of details are easy to overlook, but they help you get the most from a truck day-in and day-out.
What Does a Workhorse Mean to You?
Each of us can probably define what we expect from a workhorse of a truck in different ways, though I imagine there are some key details we’d agree upon. Having a powerful engine, different options for the transmission and configuration, and the muscle to haul a fair amount of weight behind you are all key elements in a great work truck. I’d say I’ve clearly demonstrated that the Tacoma comes through in all of these areas. The fact that it does so while also starting at less than $28,000 simply takes things to the next level. The Toyota Tacoma might not be for everyone, but it’s clear to me that it’s a better workhorse than many people realize.