• TRD versions of Toyota’s popular midsize truck still offer a 6-speed manual
  • Unlike rivals, stick-shift variants come well-equipped and include active safety features
  • Manual transmission V6 Tacoma models start at $35,265

 

If you want to buy a new truck with a manual transmission, your options are limited. First off, know that it will have to be a midsize pickup. Full-size trucks like the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram 1500 abandoned stick shift transmissions years ago, though the Ram does still offer a manual in 2018 models of its Heavy Duty lineup. For most buyers, that leaves smaller pickups as the main alternative if you still want three pedals in your pickup.

New pickups available with a manual transmission are the Chevrolet Colorado and its GMC twin the Canyon, the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. (The forthcoming 2019 Ford Ranger will only be available with a 10-speed automatic).

The problem for buyers who prefer manual transmissions in their truck is that many of them are base models mostly stripped of options, and only tied to a less-powerful 4-cylinder engine. The Nissan Frontier does stand out in this group with a manual option for V6 models, but this truck’s platform is among the oldest on the road, and it lacks the kind of fresh tech and advanced safety and driver-assistance features found in rivals.

Tacoma offers well-equipped manuals

So, if you’re among the niche group of buyers who prefer a manual transmission truck and want that truck well-equipped with all the latest features, there is hope. It’s in the Toyota Tacoma.

Toyota has long offered manual transmissions in the Tacoma, but these days is taking an opposite approach from that of its rivals. Instead of relegating its manual transmission to base truck status, it stands out for being available on higher trims. In fact, starting in 2018, Toyota stopped offering a manual transmission on its base Tacoma with the 2.7-liter 4-cylinder.

For 2019, the Toyota Tacoma manual transmission is available in TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, and TRD Pro models with a V6 and 4-wheel drive. In addition to the ability to opt for a 6-speed manual instead of the standard 6-speed automatic in these models, you can choose between the roomy, 5-passenger Double Cab or the tighter 4-passenger Access Cab configurations. That cab/bed combos are another way in which the Tacoma stands out from the Nissan Frontier -- the only other midsize pickup to offer a V6/manual transmission combination (the Nissan does, however, offer the V6/manual combo in both 4x4 and 4x2 configurations).

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Safety and tech galore

The other way in which the manual transmission Tacoma stands out is in its features set. Starting with safety, it comes with Toyota Safety Sense P. This impressive system bundles pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure alert with sway warning, and radar-based adaptive cruise control.

In addition to these active safety and driver-assistance features, the Tacoma TRD Sport comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, composite bed with 120-volt power outlet (5-foot bed for Double Cab models, 6-foot bed for Access Cab), hood scoop, and Qi-compatible wireless phone charger. Also included is an infotainment system that bundles a 7-inch high-res touchscreen, premium audio system with AM/FM/CD/HD Radio, navigation with traffic info, and three USB ports. This version of the Tacoma can be further spruced up with premium amenities like dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, leather interior, blind-spot monitoring and rear parking sensors.

TRD Off-Road models with the manual add more off-highway-specific features like active traction control and electronically locking rear differential, while the range-topping TRD Pro versions add even more off-road-oriented hardware like skid plates and the newly available Fox shocks.

Exceeding expectations

All of this would be moot if a manual transmission Tacoma didn’t meet driving expectations. Thankfully, that’s not the case. In fact, it exceeds them.

The Tacoma’s 6-speed manual gearbox is a joy to use. Shifts are surprisingly crisp, the clutch pedal strikes the right balance between light and heavy, and takeup is easy. This is a simple manual transmission to drive, and I wager you could even learn easily on it. The V6’s 278 horsepower/265 lb-ft of torque is strong enough to initiate starts without need to even step on the gas pedal and has enough grunt for smooth second-gear rolling starts. My only minor qualms are the up-and-to-the-left reverse that takes some muscle to initiate, and a bit of a reach for 5th and 6th gears.

The Tacoma’s part-time 4WD system is equally easy to use. With its electronically controlled transfer case, all it takes is a twist of a dial to move from rear-wheel drive to four-wheel drive, be it high- or low-range.

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A manual saves money

Because you’ll have to opt for a V6 Tacoma TRD trim with 4-wheel drive to get a manual transmission, that does mean a higher price tag, but it’s still less than an equivalent Tacoma with an automatic transmission, and the savings grow as you climb trims. For example, a 2019 Tacoma TRD Sport Access Cab with the manual gearbox starts at $35,265, about $1,300 less than an automatic version. A Tacoma TRD Off-Road, only available in Double Cab form if you opt for the manual with this grade, begins just under $36,000, compared to over $37,500 for a similar automatic model. At the top end, a 2019 Tacoma TRD Pro with manual transmission starts around $43,700, whereas that same model with the automatic retails around $46,400.

As more and more automakers say adios to manual transmissions and all the control and they offer, it’s refreshing to see Toyota sticking with them. If you’re in the market for a new truck and want it to be well-equipped and a manual, the Tacoma looks like the best choice out there.

Learn more about the 2019 Toyota Tacoma

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