1996 Toyota Tacoma


1999 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner

This 1999 review is representative of model years 1995 to 2004.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 7.5
  • Sporty looks for a 2WD truck.
  • Tacoma's durability record.
  • Pricing.
  • Bouncy, truck-like ride.
  • Xtracab's uncomfortable rear seating.
  • Even with racing "roots," only transmission is automatic.

A perfectly good, though rather uninspiring, Toyota compact pickup gets a makeover and is reborn the Tacoma PreRunner. Based on the rugged style of desert racing trucks, the PreRunner looks like a 4X4 but it's only a 4X2. Best of all, this sporty-looking truck is priced thousands of dollars less than a comparable 4X4, and you get better fuel economy and lower insurance rates, too.

Ivan "The Ironman" Stewart helped develop the Toyota Tacoma PreRunner, and it shows. A Toyota race truck driver and winner of the Baja 500 and 1000 desert off-road races, Stewart was invaluable as Toyota engineers sought to put the same pizzazz in the ol', rather plain Tacoma compact pickup.

Introduced in 1995, the Tacoma hadn't changed much—until the PreRunner was added in the middle of the 1998 model year. Now, the PreRunner is known as the trailblazer in a new truck segment—compact pickups that have the sporty look of 4X4s but carry more affordable 4X2 price tags.

Quickly copied
In late December 1998, Mazda introduced the Troy Lee Edition B3000 Cab Plus 4X2, saying it has a “no-prisoners look” and ground clearance of a 4-wheel-drive truck. Sound familiar?

A few months later, Nissan North America Inc. added the Frontier Desert Runner, another 4X2 compact truck styled to look like a 4X4.

What's in a name?
It's no coincidence that both Toyota and Nissan use "runner" in their truck names. The vehicles stem from desert races like Stewart's, where drivers pre-run the grueling courses beforehand to familiarize themselves with the layout. They don't use their 4-wheel-drive race trucks for this slower-speed, pre-running exercise. They use modified 2-wheel-drive trucks that sit high above the ground and ride on large tires.

Truckish ride
The 1999 PreRunner test truck with optional sport suspension was every bit a truck in its ride, with considerable bounce over road bumps. With the truck bed empty, riders even bob up and down at times, depending on the pavement you're on.

Off-road, the PreRunner surprises its occupants. With only rear-wheel drive, the tester kept up with 4-wheel-drive sport utes on rutted trails and grassy fields, and given a good head of steam, the PreRunner even scaled a tall mound of loose stones. The truck wasn't quite as graceful about it as the tenaciously clambering 4-wheel-drive SUVs, but it accomplished the same exercise, nonetheless.

All the while, the truck's stiff off-road ride conveyed a certain, above-it-all, rugged attitude that seemed comforting.

Lighter weight than a 4X4
The PreRunner Xtracab tester, weighing 3,280 pounds, felt relatively lightweight during the maneuvers. Note that a Tacoma with similar equipment and expensive, 4-wheel-drive mechanicals would be at least 175 pounds heavier. It would cost more to buy and would be more costly to insure, according to estimates by automotive researcher IntelliChoice. But both regular Tacomas and PreRunners offer 6-foot-long truck beds and maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds.

Tacoma an early standout Toyota couldn't have picked a better truck on which to base the sporty look. In 1996 and 1997, automotive researcher J.D. Power and Associates named the Tacoma the top compact pickup in initial quality, following a survey of owners who had their trucks for three months. But in 1998, it lost out in the initial quality study to the Dodge Dakota.

V6 provides tire-squealing power
The test PreRunner had the uplevel 3.4-liter double overhead cam 24-valve V6, which provided enough power to easily squeal the tires in parking lots. Horsepower is 190 at 4800 revolutions per minute, better than the 170 at 4800 from the Desert Runner's 3.3-liter single overhead cam V6.

The Toyota's torque was higher, too, at 220 lb-ft at 3600 rpm. The Desert Runner has 200 at 2800 rpm. But the only transmission offered in the racing-inspired PreRunner, oddly, is a 4-speed automatic.

Approximately 400-mile range
Note you get better fuel economy—by a couple miles a gallon in city and highway driving—in the 2-wheel-drive PreRunner than what you'd get in a 4-wheel-drive Tacoma. The PreRunner with V6 is estimated at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.

The base engine for the PreRunner is a 2.7-liter double overhead cam 16-valve 150-horsepower four cylinder that's rated at 18 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway.

Simple, car-like interior
Wind noise is minimal as you ride in the PreRunner. With the windows closed, the interior is relatively quiet, save for a bit of engine hum.

The interior is more akin to what you find in a car. Controls and gauges are laid out in a simple, no-nonsense style and everything is easy to reach. There's little flourish or flair here, however—no wood or shiny silver touches.

Watch the entry and exit on this truck. The PreRunner sits higher above the road than a normal 2-wheel-drive truck would.

Cramped, awkward rear seating
Front seats are accommodating and unfussy. But the two jump seats in the back of the Xtracab leave a lot to be desired. Legroom back there is just 27.2 inches, maximum, so adults aren't likely to enjoy riding there for long.

I was conscious that as I rode back there I didn't have a head restraint. My head rested on the back window. And I had to sit upright, since the back cushion was a straight pad attached to the back of the cab.

Getting in and out of the back also wasn't easy. The front passenger seat did move forward to allow more entry room, but the Tacoma PreRunner doesn't come in a 3- or 4-door model. The competing Mazda's B-Series compact truck offers a 4-door model.

Pricing details
For the 1999 model year, Toyota expanded the PreRunner line with a regular cab model that comes only with the base 4-cylinder engine. This new model helped push the entry PreRunner pricing down to the $15,200 range.

But if you really want more than just a sporty look, you can get an Xtracab model and add the optional Toyota Racing Development package. It includes sport suspension, differential locks and eye-catching tires with white raised letters. The TRD package, as it's called, isn't offered on regular cab PreRunners.


Search local listings

powered by:

Recently Viewed Cars

View favorites
BB01 - 9/22/2014 1:27:58 PM