NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Traditional compact pickups are growing into mid-size models -- and they're also growing up, mimicking the comfy cabs and plush feel of the latest full-size trucks.
With refinement at a premium, it's no surprise to find that Toyota has a near-genetic advantage, even against a tough slate of entries from Dodge, Nissan and GM. Like the others, the Toyota has bulked up, adding a roomier Double Cab version with five seats and full-size rear doors.
Its edge is its elusive Toyota-truck feel: The Tacoma remains the most carlike and the best built. Unlike some rivals, Toyota has kept a base four-cylinder, 164-horsepower model for budget- and fuel-conscious buyers. And the optional 245-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 borrowed from the Toyota 4Runner is a killer, outpowering even the fine Dodge Dakota's base V-8.
The cabin holds another class edge with upscale materials and impeccable fit and finish.
Safety is addressed with standard anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, stopping aids typically found on luxury vehicles.
Available hill-start and hill-descent controls keep the truck from rolling backward on inclines and, as with the Land Rover, let you safely descend steep hills without touching the gas or brakes.
Other thoughtful touches: A cargo bed made from a no-scratch composite replaces the usual cheap plastic liner, and cargo tie-downs slide along tracks in the bed for easy repositioning.
Toyota may have struggled to crack the big pickup market. But when it comes to small-scale pickups, the Tacoma finds the top spot with no struggle at all.