Amazing clearance on the 2016 Tacoma make high-performance off-roading easier. Photo: Toyota.

Amazing clearance on the 2016 Tacoma makes high-performance off-roading easier. Photo: Courtesy of Toyota

If Google made a self-driving car for racing the Baja 1,000, it would be a lot like the 2016 Toyota Tacoma. Multiple driving modes available in the six-speed automatic version enable the Tacoma to take over acceleration in extreme situations like steep ascents, descents and off-camber crawling; drivers just steer. Get the truck stuck deep in the sand? No problem — this traction-control tech helps the vehicle get itself un-stuck in about 60 seconds.

Similar to Jeeps and Land Rovers, which have different settings for different terrain, the Tacoma also has sub-settings ranging from zero to five depending on the severity of the conditions.

Even if you have no aspirations to race in an insane off-road event, changes in just about everything between the front and rear bumpers of the Tacoma — including the bumpers themselves — ensure that whether you're driving to work or heading out for an epic weekend off the grid, piloting the 2016 Tacoma will be more fun than riding shotgun in a Google car.

All but ubiquitous, 50 percent of all mid-size pickups sold in the U.S. are Tacomas. Durability is one of the reasons they're so popular — and the primary reason they maintain their value: the truck recently won top honors from Kelley Blue Book for resale value.

We tested the 2016 Tacoma during a long weekend near, surprise, surprise, Tacoma, Washington, cruising through Seattle as well as an off-road course that included steep inclines and descents, a circuit of closed roads (all the better to get sideways), off-camber crawling and, lastly, enough sand to bury the wheels so we could see the truck unbury itself.

Got sand? New tech from Toyota helps get you unburied. And you don't even have to touch the gas. Photo: Toyota.

Got sand? New tech from Toyota helps get you unburied. And you don’t even have to touch the gas. Photo: Courtesy of Toyota

The 2016 Tacoma marks the ninth generation of the popular pickup and was a long time coming — it's the first major overhaul of the line since 2005 — and includes wholesale upgrades to the transmission, engine, cabin and drivetrain. Prices range from $23,300 to $37,820.

New Tacomas will be available starting Sept. 10 in five models: SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road and Limited — one more TRD option than last year.

The new body is more aerodynamic thanks to the new design that was informed by more than 120 hours of wind-tunnel testing. An integrated spoiler helps reduce drag by 12 percent and is one of the reasons gas efficiency has increased in all models.

Thanks to the new double-glass windshield, cabin noise is close to nil, even during highway cruising.

The approach angle is best in class, so if you're climbing something super steep, or going down something super steep, you won't scrape the nose or tail. Want to capture the footage of your driving antics? An integrated GoPro mount comes stock.

2016 Tacomas come stock with GoPro mounts. Photo: Toyota.

2016 Tacomas come stock with GoPro mounts. Photo: Courtesy of Toyota

Fender bender? The new design also comes with a three-piece bumper, making replacing it even cheaper — just switch out the damaged panel.

Because nothing ruins a weekend like stolen gear, a burly tri-folding locking cover is also available. Inside the truck bed, there's also a spot for a fork-mount bike rack as well as an optional 120V/400W power plug.

The Tacoma's new engine includes tech from Toyota's hybrid motors and is, finally, more efficient; the most common complaint about past Tacomas is mediocre fuel economy. Under the hood, the new 3.5 liter V-6 is smaller than last year's engine, which was a 4.0 liter. But the 2016 cranks out 42 more horsepower for 278hp and is more efficient: 19 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.

Tacomas are rated to tow 3,500 pounds. Want more? Add the optional V6 Tow Prep Package and you can tow up to 6,800 pounds. And sway control is standard.

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