1969-2006 Toyota Hi-Lux, Compact Pickup, and Tacoma

by David Zatz
See the 2020-21 Toyota Tacoma

The first HiLux was sold only within Japan, powered by a 76 hp (57 kW), 1.5 liter 2R four-cylinder engine. Ironically, this famed Toyota, to be known the world over, was actually engineered and produced by Japanese truckmaker Hino—and was based on Hino’s Briska pickup, which was based on the Hino Contessa sedan, which was, in its turn, closely based on a Renault. Thus, the rough-and-tough Japanese HiLux pickup started out with a little Renault car.

champion racing truck

Toyota already made pickups; indeed, the larger Stout had been on sale in the United States since 1964. The new “HiLux”  was “High” or “Lux” compared to the stripped-down Stout, as well as compared with the Briska, but otherwise it too was quite basic, as was normal for pickups of that day. The design was simple enough, with wishbone-style coil springs up front and leaf springs supporting a beam axle in back; the tiny engine put power to the rear wheels only, via a four-speed manual transmission.

For its 1969 launch in North America, the Hilux was given a new 1.9 liter Toyota 3R engine pushing out 85 hp (63 kW); buyers in other parts of the world would have to stick with the 1.5 engine until 1971, when a 1.6 liter engine was added. Toyota (or Hino) also added a long wheelbase version of the HiLux in mid-1969, but it didn’t make it to the US until the second generation.

North American buyers got two engine upgrades in rapid succession: 1970 brought a 1.9 liter 8R, with an overhead cam, pushing the little engine to a respectable 97 hp (72 kW). In 1972, buyers could also opt for a 2-liter 18R, also with a single overhead cam.

Second generation

The second generation (N20) Hilux debuted globally in 1972 as a 1973 model. Now North Americans could get the long-wheelbase/long-bed version; buyers around the world could get the 1.6 or 2.0 liter versions, while North Americans had a standard 2.0 engine.

A three-speed automatic transmission and five-speed manual transmission were added to the options list (globally); the new Hilux was much larger, with more standard equipment. However, the Hilux name was phased out in the United States; it was now the “Toyota Truck.” 

Toyota 20R engine

For 1975, the North American engine was expanded again, to 2.2 liters (the 20R), and a five-speed manual transmission became available, replacing the four-speed.

1975 toyota SR5 pickup

In 1975, the SR-5 Sport Truck brought a five speed manual transmission; sales exceeded Toyota’s expectations, with 2,610 units sold from January through April 1975. Around 85% of Toyota standard-bed pickups bought the five-speed, which was unique to Toyota (that is, the SR5 was the only mini-pickup in America to have a five-speed overdrive transmission). Features on this truck included soft-vinyl high-back bucket seats, AM radio, carpet, tinted glass, body stripes, radial tires, power disc front brakes, and the new 20R 2.2 liter engine.

1976 toyota trucks

In 1976, the name Hi-Lux was dropped in the US, and it became the “compact truck” or “pickup” until the Tacoma appeared. The 1976 line was diverse enough for Toyota to claim they had the biggest selection of small pickups of all manufacturers in the United States. Power front disc brakes were standard, and two over-seven-foot-long beds were available along with standard beds. The Long Bed SR-5 Sport Truck included a five-speed overdrive manual transmission.

Third generation: 1979

The 1979 Hilux (Truck) finally boasted an optional 4x4 system, based on that of the Land Cruiser and using a front leaf-spring, live-axle suspension with a gear-driven transfer case (RF1A), with a low range. That low range could actually be replicated, bringing a much lower gear ratio. The four wheel drive version started out in January 1979 and was dropped in July 1983 (to return on the next generation).

The body was simpler than in the past; the outer dimensions hadn’t grown much, but the front and rear track were both wider, and the company bucked the global trend and switched rear-drive models from front coil springs to front torsion bars.

In 1979, the spartan interior was given much more in the way of comfort; a four wheel drive model was also brought out (it had a four-speed manual rather than the usual five-speed). Engine choices changed again in 1981, with the 2.4 liter 22R engine and a new 2.2 liter diesel.

A deal with Winnebago, Wilverine, and Trailblazer brought Hilux 4x4-based RVs.

1983 snap-shot

In 1983, Toyota bragged about a “hefty 1,400 lb payload, a roomy cab, and ... the convenience of a wide bench seat that is equipped with three sets of seat belts and easily accommodates three adults.” They had the largest (though not the most powerful) standard engine in their class (small two-wheel-drive trucks); buyers could opt for Diesel Deluxe and Diesel Sport options. Diesel Deluxe had a long bed, while Diesel Sport had the SR5 package. In a jab at GM’s poorly done gasoline-to-diesel conversion engine, they noted the Toyota mill was “built from step one to be diesel-tough — not just a modified gasoline engine.”

On the heavier side, Toyota pointed to a 3/4 ton truck that can carry 1,800 pounds, and to an available camper chassis-cab and commercial chassis cab, which also came in various grades. SR5 Sport Trucks and camper-grade chassis cabs had reclining bucket seats; SR5 Sport Trucks also had full floor carpeting and a noise-blocking carpeted back panel across the back of the cab.

Fourteen models were available in 1983, most with a four or five speed manual transmission. The five-speed overdrive manual was standard on all Deluxe and SR5 Sport models. The 2.4 liter gasoline engine gained fuel injection and a resulting power and driveability boost.

The half-ton Deluxe and Long Bed SR5 Sport could get a new four speed automatic with overdrive, which was quite rare at a time when almost every automatic was limited to three speeds. The main advantage of the four-speed was a much wider gear range—the fourth gear was overdrive, while three-speeds usually had a 1:1 ratio in third. Overdrive helped by reducing engine noise and wear, and increasing gas mileage, by keeping the engine at lower speeds on the highway and rural roads.

All rear drive models used a front suspension with double control arms, torsion bar, and sway bar (omitted on diesels); the rear suspension was a conventional live axle on leaf springs, with a softer ride on SR5. Four wheel drive models used a live axle on leaf springs in front and back, with a front stabilizer bar. All models had power assisted front and rear brakes, with discs up front (ventilated on cab/chassis) and drum in back.

Differential ratio was 4.1:1 on four wheel drive models and chassis cabs; 3.417:1 on standard and long bed pickups; 3.909:1 on diesels, and 3.727:1 on all others. Cruise control, previously available only on the rear-drive SR5 five-speed models, was now optional on the Long Bed SR5 with the automatic transmission.

A large array of options included cloth seats (4x2 Deluxe and SR5), AM/FM/MPX electronic receiver and moonroof (SR5 only), sliding rear window and side vent windows (all but Standard grade and Chassis Cabs), and 205/70R14 tires on six-inch-wide wheels with power steering (4x2 SR5). Black package options were available on SR5, including the FM receiver, sliding rear and side vent windows, tilt wheel, power steering, black paint, and chrome front bumper. The 4x2 also got the aforementioned big tires and wheels with cloth seats; the 4x4 included radials, chrome wheels, and chrome grille.

Across the board, 1983 trucks were given a new rear appearance, with the Toyota logo on the tailgate changed in color to match the striples on monotone SR5 trucks, and with the lower body color on two-toned SR5s.

Models included the standard bed, long bed deluxe diesel, SR5 sport, long bed, long bed deluxe, SR5 long bed deluxe, long bed SR5 sport diesel, 3/4 ton, commercial cab/chassis, and camper cab/chassis. The diesel engine was not available with the long bed.

1983 Std.
Long Bed
Wheelbase 101.8 110.2 102.2/110.6
Length 171.1 186.2 171.1/186.2
Weight 2530 lb 2580 lb 2,975 - 3,065
GVWR 4,250 - 5,300 lb 4,600 lb
Height 58.1 - 58.9 65.9
Gas tank 13.5 gal 16.0 gal 16.0 gal

(Cab-chassis, RWD: 174”  length, 4,650 lb GVWR, 59.6”  height)

As for power:

US Specification GasolineDiesel
Size2366 cc 2188 cc
Bore and Stroke 3.62 x 3.50 3.54 x 3.39
Compression Ratio 9.0:121.5:1
Horsepower100 @ 4,800*59 @ 4,200
Torque93 @ 2,800 93 @ 2,800

* Horsepower - California: 96 horsepower.

Other specs for rear drive include width (63.4 inches), tread (53.1 inches), legroom (40.4 inches), headroom (38 inches), cargo load (1,400 except 1,800 lb on 3/4 tons; includes two passengers, cargo, and equipment). For four wheel drive, width (66.5 inches), tread (max 55.9 inches), legroom (40.4 inches), headroom (38 inches), and cargo load (1,400 including two passengers, cargo, and equipment).

The late Mojave trim, sold only in the United States (okay, also in Thailand, as the Super Star) and with production limited to 3,500, had a high $8,308 list price; it included bucket seats, chrome bumpers, and the 2.4 liter four-cylinder, and had Toyota logos removed from both the tailgate and grille.

The story continues

A shift-on-the-fly four wheel drive system, allowing front hubs to be locked from within the truck, appeared in 1984, on the fifth generation. Across the board, this generation had more comfort changes, an Xtracab with storage space behind the seats, and turbocharged versions of both the gas and diesel engine; the diesels would be dropped in 1988. The turbocharger was fairly low-pressure; in 1987, it boosted power from 116 to just 135 horsepower at 4,800 rpm.

champion racing truck

1984 also brought had an independent front suspension (a double-wishbone, torsion-bar type) which helped ride and cornering, and made a V6 version possible - but it did not appear until 1988, with the sixth generation. The V6 let the compact truck tow 3,500 pounds.

1987 toyota trucks

In 1985, a four-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission became available. In 1987, Toyota found that its owners were the most loyal (based on Ward’s reports) and most satisfied (based on J.D. Power). At that time, a wide variety of options were available, with standard and long beds, Standard, Deluxe, and SR5 trim levels, regular and XtraCab, and the 1-ton truck, with the highest payload capacity of any compact or midsized pickup - 2,655 pounds. Towing capacity on all trucks was 3,500 pounds when properly equipped; the one-ton could tow 5,000 pounds when properly equipped. 4x4 versions were also sold, again with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.

1987 Standard 1-Ton
GCWR Up to 6,500 lb Up to 8,500 lb
Towing Up to 3,500 lb Up to 5,000 lb
Payload n/a Up to 2,655 lb
Engine Spec Gasoline Gas Turbo
Size 2366 cc 2366 cc
Bore x Stroke 3.62 x 3.50 3.54 x 3.39
Horsepower 116 135 @ 4,800

In 1988, the XtraCab and Deluxe Long Bed trucks boasted an 86.4 inch cargo length, and could carry the biggest payload in their class, a full 1,640 pounds. A heavy duty Cab/Chassis was still available, based on the one-ton truck with a 2,655 pound payload; it could tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped, though with a 116 horsepower 2.4 liter engine, it must have been interesting to drive with that load (116 horsepower was, at the time, considered fairly potent in a compact pickup.)

inside the toyota xtracab truck

While the compact truck sold moderately well, it never approached the sales of the Chevy S-10 or Ford Ranger. In 1995, Toyota hoped to change that with a new model designed and built in the United States — at the NUMMI plant in California which also makes Corollas, and is known for both employee involvement and high quality. The term Tacoma comes from an Indian word for Mount Rainier and was chosen for the image it evokes.


The Tacoma was exclusively designed for and built in North America, bigger and more refined than the Hi-Lux, which was still sold throughout the rest of the world; the two models were not just versions of the same truck. The Hilux Surf, incidentally, was the Japanese name for the 4Runner.

The Tacoma had the high performance engines Americans liked, including a 142 horse four with 160 lb-ft of torqueand a 150 horsepower 2.7 liter four with 177 lb-ft of torque. The optional 3.4 liter V6 pumped out 190 hp and a truck-like 220 lb-ft of torque. The new suspension used a coil spring double-wishbone configuration. Suspension travel on the four wheel drive models increased from by nearly two inches to 7.7 inches for better comfort and off-road performance. The old leaf rear suspension was kept with minor changes. Two years after its launch, that is in 1987, Tacoma four wheel drive models gained a locking rear differential for better off-road capability, and bucket seats on non-SR5 level Xtracabs.

Toyota Tacoma pickup truck - 2005

In 1999, a Tacoma PreRunner was introduced, mimicking the four wheel drive model but with two wheel drive. The StepSide appeared in 2000, the four-door DoubleCab and S-Runner in 2001. The term “prerunner” is used in off-road rallies to describe a truck that “pre-runs” the course - the racing truck itself is not used to prevent undue wear. Prerunners are often modified two wheel drive models to save money.

The 2000 model year also saw the addition of the Tacoma StepSide, a sporty stepside package that added a youthful alternative to the Tacoma lineup. Stability control and traction control became standard on four wheel drive and PreRunners in 2004.

2005 Toyota Tacoma TRD V6 test drive report

The Tacoma was an unquestionable success, partly because it was aimed at the US market, and partly because it had an enviable quality record. For example, from January to April 2005, the Toyota sold over 49,000 Tacomas, while the newly redesigned Chevrolet Colorado, the next best-selling small/medium pickup, only sold 45,000 copies. The Ranger and Dakota both had less than 40,000 sales, and the newly redesigned Nissan Frontier only had 24,000 sales over those four months. Given the statistics below, the Tacoma's success is not surprising.

tacoma pickup truck car reviews

A 2005 redesign resulted in much more power to the engines, so that the V6 could do 0-60 in around 7.5 seconds - very quick, and it's not just a "sprint queen," but has good torque while at speed and without downshifting. Here's a quick comparison chart (keeping in mind that the Dakota was designed with gradability under load as a priority, though that really doesn’t matter to those who don’t tow up long or steep hills):

2005 Specs Toyota
Max Towing 6,500 lb 7,000 lb
Transmission 5-speed (four)
6-speed (V6)
Six speed
Std Engine 164 hp four 210 hp V6
Opt Engine 245-hp V6 230-hp V8*
0-60 (top engine) 7.5 seconds 8.7 seconds
Gas mileage 16-21 city
20-27 highway
14-16 city
18-21 highway
Curb weight 4,045 4,275
*290 hp, 295 lb-ft as of 2008

Some Toyota Tacoma pickup repairs

Some owners have found water on the carpet in front; the problem is usually caused by a small leak in the lower part of the cowl seam. It can be fixed using standard seam sealer, or the dealer can take care of it under warranty (in about 2 hours).

Some 2004-2005 models may have a sulfur smell during stop and go driving or hard acceleration; the dealer can fix this during the warranty period by replacing the catalytic converter and upgrading the computer.

side view - 2005 Toyota Tacoma

A popping noise on the 2004 or 2005 JBL audio system could be the amplifier staying on even though the ignition is off; it could kill your battery over time. The dealer can replace the amplifier if it happens to you. (It was fixed as a running change in the 2005 model year.)

When replacing the rotor of a 1994 Toyota pickup, jec444 ran into trouble when he was supposed to remove the grease cap, cotter pin, and nut after taking off the front wheel and caliper. The instructions say to check the disc runout using a dial indicator at that point. Helpful fleet manager “way2old,” wrote:

The grease cap should pry off. Carefully pry with screwdriver or use a pair of channel lock pliers and worh it slowly back and forth until it comes out. You just tap the grease cap back in place to replace it. Make sure you do not forget to clean and repack the bearings and install new grease seals on the rear of rotor.

Run out is the amount of movement from top to bottom of rotor as you spin it. It is measured from a perpendicular imaginary line to see if the rotor is running in a true pattern or if one part is not as true as another.

A number of older Tacomas have been “upgraded” with Supra engines; the inline six is rather big for the engine bay, and mating the transmission to the differential is difficult, requiring fabrication and adjustments, but it definitely adds power. Proceed at your own risk as with any upgrades/repairs.

2005 Toyota Tacoma review

Also see 2020 and newer Tacomas • T100Tundra

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