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Comparing Each Tacoma Generation, Which is Best?

Comparing Each Tacoma Generation, Which is Best?

We recently had the opportunity to have all 4 Generations of the Toyota Tacoma together for a comparison test to see how each of the previous generations stack up to the all new 2024 Tacoma. We compared their on road performance, off road capabilities, and how much aftermarket support is available for each model to see if the all new Tacoma lives up to the hype.

Quick Comparison 

1st Gen (@TRD_Timmy)

During our comparison we had many different years and trim levels of the Tacoma with us, starting with John's 2002 1st Gen Tacoma TRD Off-Road with over 200,000 miles on the clock. John has had this truck for 5 years and it has come a long way from being a stock Tacoma pick up truck. This Tacoma is sitting on 295/70/17 Nitto Recon Grapplers with a 2 inch lift and now has full CBI bumpers with lighting coming from Baja Designs.

2nd Gen (@TacomaJordan)

Our 2nd Gen entry is a 2014 Tacoma TRD Off-Road with a 2" lift and 285/75/16 Nitto Ridgegrapplers. This also happens to be my own Tacoma and I have loved every day of owning it. I've built my truck to be the perfect daily driver overland rig by not adding a ton of weight and keeping everything very light. I have full Diode Dynamics lighting on this build as well as a Rigid Armor hitch spare tire swing out for easy access of my spare tire if I ever need it. This truck also has the 4.0L V6 which in my opinion is the best engine ever made for these trucks.

3rd Gen (@TacomaCarson)

The 3rd Gen Tacoma might be the most popular of these trucks. Powered by a slightly smaller engine than the 2nd Gen Tacoma, the 3.5L V6 is still very reliable and produces more power than the previous generation. The 3rd Gen we brought out for this comparison is the Tacoma Lifestyle flagship build, which is a 2016 TRD Pro sitting on 285/70/17 tires and has been built specifically for overlanding. This truck is on stage 7 Icon suspension and has full armor from CBI including bumpers, skid plates, and rock sliders.

4th Gen (@TacomaColby)

The 4th Gen Tacoma is the newest and most controversial. Going away from the V6, the new Tacoma adopts an all new turbocharged 2.4L I4 which is the smallest engine we've seen in the Tacoma since the 1st generations 4 cylinder option. Although it is small it can still produce all the power you need for your build as it is also the most powerful engine ever put in the Tacoma. This truck uses all of that power to turn 35x12.5 Yokohama Geolandars, which really perfect the look of this Tacoma. Diode Dynamics light bars and pod lights are also fitted on this truck as well as Nomad Sahara wheels to make it one of the best looking 4th Gen Tacomas on the road.

On Road

As we drove down to Central Utah we all got the chance to see how each of these Tacomas performed on the road. Very quickly we realized the 2024 Tacoma is the most comfortable of all the trucks to drive on the road with. The three previous generations of Tacoma are great vehicles but they have a few things that hold them back compared to the all new 4th Gen. 

First are the engine and transmission. The engines in these trucks are known for being very reliable low stress motors which is great for a truck that you expect to reach 200,000 miles with. With that reliability you also get an engine that struggles on power, especially when loaded down and struggles to get the truck uphill on any incline. Now that last part isn't 100% the engines fault and part of the blame falls on the transmission as well.

Tacoma transmissions have notoriously been known to gear hunt on inclines, have sluggish shifting, and do not have as many gears as newer trucks. All of these issues were very apparent on our three hour road trip where we encounter many inclines that challenged the early three generation trucks in different ways. These issues can also become more noticeable when adding a larger tire size which we all had done to our Tacomas.

None of these issues were apparent on the 4th Gen Tacoma. The engine, although small, makes all the power and torque you need to get the truck moving quickly even with larger 35" tires and the new 8 speed transmission is a massive improvement from the all 6 speed. I would even go as far as saying that the 8 speed transmission is the biggest improvement to the Tacoma for the 4th Generation. Having the two extra gears means the truck isn't constantly jumping between gears on any incline and can stay in the perfect power range at all times. 

After driving each truck on the road it was clear to us that the 4th Gen Tacoma would be the best to daily drive on the streets or long road trips. Even with the larger tires and added weight from armor, the engine and transmission were able to drive the truck around with ease. The interior also makes this truck much more livable with a completely redesigned interior, large infotainment system, and a customizable gauge cluster. The improved fuel economy is also a welcome improvement although it is not much better than the 3rd Gen Tacoma.



After three hours of driving we finally made it to our destination, a dry lake bed in Central Utah with plenty of space for us to test the capabilities of these trucks. A small trail on the outer edge of this lake bed would show us how well each of these trucks handled rock gardens, steep inclines and declines, soft sand, and wheel articulation.

Our first test was a rocky hill with many large rocks and a steep accent. The first three generations of Tacoma performed similarly, each easily navigating the rocks on their way up the hill. One area where each of the early Tacomas shine is visibility. This is especially true for the 1st and 2nd generation trucks. You can easily see where the edges of the truck are at all times which makes it easy to navigate the large rocks. Although the 4th Gen Tacoma is a similar size to the 3rd Gen, you don't get the same visibility and it became quite hard to see over the hood of the truck especially when going up hill.

The new Tacoma does get a point for low end torque over the first three Tacomas. When driving up the hill it was very easy to control the truck and you get all the power you need very low in the RPM range. This is something I felt like was missing when I drove my 2nd Gen Tacoma up this trail and each of the other Tacoma owners agreed that the low end torque was something the 4th Gen did very well.

As we descended the trail the 4th Gen Tacoma did get more enjoyable as you could now see what was ahead of you on the road. It was however, still harder to place the truck around obstacles than the other Tacomas and I still felt somewhat uncomfortable driving what felt like a bigger truck off road. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Gen trucks do give you some driving aids when it comes to driving down steep hills. All are equipped with downhill assist control which controls the braking in the truck to bring it down a steep hill in a controlled way. Now we didn't necessarily need this function on the hill but it would be very helpful on a steep decent where keeping traction is very important.

Each truck performed similarly in the soft stuff but 3rd and 4th Gen Tacomas do come a multi-terrain select which gives you more traction control options based on what situation you need them. This is something you do not get in the first two Tacoma generations although the 2nd Gen does come with an advanced traction control system (A-Trac).

After each of these tests it was hard to pick one truck that did better than the others. None really stood out above the rest but the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Gen trucks did make it easier to off road with due to their visibility and size compared to the 4th Gen. The 4th Gen Tacoma still did exceptionally well and the low end torque was something we missed getting back into our older Tacomas.

Aftermarket Support

When it comes to aftermarket support the 3rd Gen Tacoma is the king. Aftermarket products for the Tacoma really took off with the release of the 3rd Gen. It doesn't matter what you are looking for you can find many different options for suspension, bumpers, rock sliders, skid plates, and roof racks for the 3rd Gen Tacoma. This is something that is becoming harder and harder to find for the 1st and 2nd Gen trucks with only a select few aftermarket suppliers for these trucks. The 4th Gen Tacoma has also received a ton of aftermarket support within the first few months of them being on the road but this support is dwarfed by the amount of options for 3rd Gen Tacoma owners. 

Final Thoughts 

After driving each of these Tacomas for a few days in the Utah desert we all came to an odd conclusion. When asked which one we would want to take home we all ended up choosing our own trucks. That's not to say that we didn't like driving the other trucks, they were all great! What it really came down to was we had each put time and effort into making our trucks perfect for what we wanted to do. We had each done so much to our Tacomas and loved the way they drove so much that we couldn't justify switching to a different generation.

I think it really spoke to how Toyota goes about making these trucks. They really do put time and effort into making sure these trucks will last over 200,000 miles of abuse both on road and off road and with the new Tacoma they listened to what enthusiasts wanted out of the new truck. This means the new Tacoma can fit bigger tires easier than ever before and they have made it easy to add modifications like roof racks and sliders. 

The Tacoma is one of the best vehicles ever made and no matter what generation you drive or choose to buy, you can know you are getting a great platform for any of your off road or overland adventures. After driving each generation of the Tacoma I was happy to see the improvement Toyota has made each time they refresh the truck and I'm excited to see what the community can do with this new platform over the years.

If you have a Tacoma and want to shop anything you see on these builds, make sure to head over to Tacoma Lifestyle to build out your rig today. If you want to see more of this comparison, head over to our YouTube channel to see what we all thought after driving the new 4th Gen Tacoma! 


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