To show off the all-new redesigned 2016 Tacoma midsize pickup, Toyota brought a bunch of automotive journalist-types to (where else?) Tacoma, WA! (see photos)

(Disclosure: Travel, accommodation, meals, and a pre-set driving route were provided to the author by the manufacturer.)

Sure, it's a bit corny, but the location (the entire west coast for that matter) does seem to support more than its fair share of Tacoma truck owners. In fact, the west coast, eco-friendly, off-road, outdoors-oriented lifestyle seems to define Tacoma buyers. It’s hardly surprising then that much of what is new on Tacoma is aimed at younger, active purchasers. These guys climb, run, mountain bike, hike, off-road, fish, snowmobile and ATV – and the Tacoma is a vehicle that accommodates this lifestyle.

What the Tacoma will not do is heavy towing, significant work tasks, carry crews or spend lots of hours in the cab in rugged field conditions. Those are things best left to other trucks. For Toyota, that’s okay. Knowing its market is also why (as you’ll see) Toyota changed what was necessary in this new Tacoma (like adding a permanent Go Pro mount to the inside windshield) – but left a lot of other features alone.

The first important change is a new engine option. Replacing the long-in-the-tooth 4L V6 is an all-new, 3.5L Atkinson cycle V6 equipped with Toyota’s D-4S technology, featuring both direct and port fuel injection. This engine is already in use in the Lexus line – however for Tacoma it's meant to relieve the poor fuel economy of the old 4L.

The engine develops a peak 278 horsepower and up to 265lb-ft of torque; numbers that are not unlike what the old engine produced, but power was never the problem there. The Atkinson cycle is what delivers that increased fuel performance (despite this engine information at the introduction actual numbers are still not available) but its use does drop power. To combat this, the D-4S tech switches from port fuel injection (Atkinson) back to direct injection (conventional) when the driver calls for power. This operation is seamless and effectively offers the best of both fuel consumption worlds. The accumulated fuel consumption readout during my drive (around 200 km) was an average of 11.5L/100 km.

What I felt on the mountain roads of the Pacific Northwest was ample power when called for. On the other hand, with its solid frame and stout suspension, the Tacoma continues to drive “heavy” and truck-like – which for many is exactly what they love about it.

While the 3.5L is new, the base engine on the Tacoma remains a 2.7L four-cylinder. This motor is as old as the truck is – but it works. It generates a peak 159hp, and up to 180lb-ft of torque.

A five-speed manual transmission continues to be offered with the four-cylinder; however for all other configurations two new transmissions debut. A six-speed manual and a new six-speed automatic Super ECT with lockup torque converter are coupled to the new 3.5L engine.

While pushing the truck uphill I found the new transmission works well with the new engine by often dropping two gears when acceleration is demanded. It’s quizzical at first, but then I figured, let the gears do their job and they do.

Trucks, unlike cars, don’t need a great deal of re-styling at each new generational leap. Frankly, truck buyers don’t like it. Because of this changing the tin on a new truck is one of the most finicky tasks for a designer. Not enough and the truck looks old – too much and you’ll lose the loyalists.

With the Tacoma, the designers re-worked both the front and rear of the truck with favourable results. While the wheelbase remains the same the body does stretch just a bit – much of which is found in increased cab space. The front end continues to take on the tough family resemblance it shares with the Tundra and the 4Runner. Wheels grow as do the pronounced wheel arches. Embossed sheet metal on the tailgate ensures no one will mistake your Tacoma for any other brand.

The interior on the Tacoma meanwhile is all new and it’s nice – finally. Toyota has taken heat in the past for its grey plastic interiors, but those are now gone. Colours, materials and soft surfaces are now found throughout the Tacoma cab which is so much nicer than the old one. Driving it also showed off something you can’t see – how quiet the new truck is.

In fact along with the new interior comes a new top trim level – the Limited. Toyota, like the Big Three, has discovered that luxury in pickups sell and they are obliging.

Found on the V6 Double-Cab 4x4, the Limited package adds a host of new features including: JBL Display Audio system with seven speakers, Navigation, advanced voice recognition, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front sport seats, premium leather seating, Smart Key System with Push Button Start, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert System, clearance and back-up sensors, Qi wireless charging system, power moonroof, unique exterior details, LED daytime running lights, front air dam, 17” alloy wheels, mirror integrated signal lamps, Class IV trailer hitch with 7-pin trailer wiring harness, chrome side step bars, and exterior chrome accents.

With its new powertrain, the tow limit on Tacoma has now been raised to 6,500 lb plus it will handle up to a max payload of 1,620 lb. And while both these numbers are important to truck buyers the fact is, for Tacoma buyers, the following features are probably more important.

Tacoma’s excellent off-road reputation takes a leap forward with the introduction of _Crawl Control_. This is a hands-off system that can be set to drive the truck in low-range from one to five km-h without any gas or brake input from the driver. Kinda-like ultra slow cruise control.

Crawl Control also controls power to each wheel independently using information from the ABS system to drive and brake individual wheels as needed to maintain traction and speed. The driver just has to steer. Frankly the system is remarkable. Because the computer runs each wheel separately a driver could not reproduce the results the truck can achieve.

To demonstrate the system's effectiveness, Toyota buried a Tacoma up to the axles in soft sand then with Crawl Control engaged in reverse it slowly dug itself out – one wheel at a time. This is the birth of a system that will be a future benchmark – count on it.

So, what hasn’t changed? Well, the Access Cab still has rear suicide doors – the Double Cab is as big as the truck gets – it still has rear drum brakes and basic leaf spring suspension (though modified). There is still no footwell and the seat is not height adjustable. Box lengths are either five or six foot – but not on every model. The truck gets heated mirrors but no heated steering wheel. Towing limit is up but there is no factory trailer brake controller offered.

This is where you can see the compromises that are made when building a new truck. The key though to knowing what to change and what to keep is knowing your customer and to that end I think Tacoma is just about on the money. For instance – for us Canadians consider that both engines come with a standard heavy-duty battery, starter, alternator and heater, plus a stainless steel exhaust system – for cold mornings and protection against the ravages of winter.

In true Toyota form though safety systems are also increased once again. The new Tacoma will now offer (standard) ABS, Brake Assist, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Vehicle Stability Control, Active Traction Control and Smart Stop Technology. These six active technologies that work together in the truck. Also Tacoma is now outfitted with (class-leading) eight airbags.

Tacoma production is set to begin in Texas soon and the new trucks should be at Canadian dealers by mid-October. As for pricing, Toyota has decided to hold off till mid-September to release those numbers. However, with the GM mid-size twins out there selling briskly you just know that Toyota will be pressed hard to price the Tacoma competitively.