Thank you for signing up and posting here. Thanks to the rise of social media our forum isn't as active as it once was a decade ago but we have a solid group of knowledgeable and experienced members, many of whom, despite being Toyota lovers at heart, have a lot of experience with non-Toyotas as well.
A bit of history that may appeal to you is that our company founder's first love was building and racing small block Chevy's (from a teenager) and became both a self-taught machinist (of 6 yrs) and ran his own general auto repair shop (for 11 yrs) prior to going full time with Rock Crawling. Other than bringing Rock Crawling to the masses, he is famous for being one of the first prominent off-roaders to have an on-board welder (early 90s) and for carrying a wide range of recovery parts out on the trail. Due to his extensive automotive background, he has done innumerable trail repairs to Chevy/Ford small blocks, Buick 6cyls, and of course AMC engines of all types, diagnosed starting and idling issues with Holly/Weber/Edelbrock carbs, fixed BorgWarner/Dana/etc t/cases, and even carries small parts to fix old mechanical clutch and front drum brake systems... all from some unimposing humble guy who wheels a little red four-banger Toyota pickup. For these reasons Marlin is highly respected in the Jeep industry, despite being an avid wheeler solely of Toyota trucks (since 1983).
This is to express that while we are certainly biased for you to get a Toyota, many of us have a broad experience with and above else respect
for all makes and models so long as we can get out of town and enjoy the beautiful outdoors!!
Because this is primarily a Toyota Rock Crawling forum, in terms of Tacoma feedback we're on the more extreme side of things. For example, you would get a lot more feedback from TacomaWorld.com however they'd likely recommend a dozen brands of ditch light mounts, the latest in wheel fashion, and how to install LED dome lights. Those are all nice but very few would be able to hold a conversation with a 20+ year veteran of the Jeep community let alone be at an actual camp fire with one. Moreover, I'd argue only 1st generation Tacoma's (1995-2004) are thus far established in our industry for the serious off-roader.
To that end, we have plenty of members running 1st gen Tacomas with solid axle swaps (as well as it's sister platform, the 1996-2003 3rd gen 4Runner). The nice thing about the 1st gen Taco is that they are still a "mini truck" and are lightweight, relatively simple, and easy to work on. Starting in 2005 with the 2nd gen, these off-roading benefits went out the window and it's only been downhill since as the new 3rd gen is only heavier and larger still, now longer and taller than an original "full-size" Tundra. For these reasons most people here and in the Rock Crawling world stick to the older 1979-95 mini trucks because they require so much less work to turn into a highly formidable off-roader.
To answer your origin of manufacture question, search around for operational PDFs such as this one, http://www.toyota.com/usa/operations/docs/OperationsMap_2016_DigitalV101.pdf
, which says Tacoma engines have been built in Alabama since 2005 and that the transmission and t/cases are built in North Carolina and West Virgina (I've always thought they were still built in Japan by Aisin
). It's not surprising to see more and more of the Tacoma built State-side because it's the most American-made truck in the USA (random source
, random supplier infographic
As for off-road reliability of the drive train, there is hope for the 3rd gen Tacoma. When you say "without doing upgrades" are you also referring to keeping the original factory tire size and type (All Terrain)?
Because you are a long time Jeep addict, we can already taste your disgust for the Toyota IFS. Please, don't be ashamed; We detest them too!
Overseas Toyota 4WD trucks still receive Sold Front Axles to this day
yet since 1986 (minitrucks) and 1999 (Land Cruiser) it's been nothing but IFS here in the States.
What's worse is these modern non-USA Toyotas run linked suspensions front and rear (rear 3-link, front radius arm) which ride nicer than any Toyota factory leaf spring setup I've ever been in. So I guess it's not only Soccer Moms to blame...
There are some variances, but in general there are three types of the mid-size Toyota IFS:Toyota IFS Type I: Minitruck IFS (1986-88 2nd & 1989-95 3rd gen 4WD mini trucks) (1986-89 1st & 1990-95 2nd gen 4Runners)
These use small CV joints and are suspended by torsion bars. Compared to the rest, they do have two nice features which are (1) standard manual locking hubs, and (2) reliable gearbox type steering (so long as you beefen up the idler arm). As for the front diff, it uses a standard rotation 7.5" R&P. By standard rotation we mean it's a gear set designed for the standard rotational direction of a rear axle, that is flipped around and inserted in the front. Like the 8" F&R Solid Axle differentials of yesteryear, when used in the front, the torque passes from the pinion to the ring gear on the rear (convex) face of each tooth rather than the front (concave). This not only causes increased deflectional forces but also a reduced contact surface area.
Needless to say this is the weakest/worst design of all Toyota 4WD IFS and should be avoided at all costs. The torsion bar design results in a lot of creaks, chatter, and associated noise during articulation and must be embarrassing for those that use it. Moreover, as this is under the most narrow of all truck bodies that use IFS, the control arms are the shortest which means they have the least amount of articulation with the least amount of rider comfort whilst simultaneously suffering from the highest amount of progressive alignment change per angle of travel. The only wise choice is to ditch this IFS all together and swap in the venerable 1979-85 front solid axle, which has a tremendous aftermarket support with an extensive list of time-proven and competition Rock Crawling components.Toyota IFS Type II: 1st gen Tacoma IFS (1995-04 1st gen Tacoma) (1996-02 3rd gen 4Runner)
These use slightly larger & stronger CV joints and Toyota dropped the torsion bar design (thank goodness) and switched to a coil-over-strut assembly. While these CVs are stronger, they still leave a lot to be desired. Like the above, Toyota did offer manual locking hubs however this was optional for only a few years and therefore is uncommon. For steering, Toyota switched to a rack-and-pinion design, placing the rack behind the axle which nullifies buckling forces to its inner tie rods (ITR) resulting in very good ITR reliability in the rocks. The rack and it's mounts are, however, pretty wimpy but the truck isn't too much heavier, so... toss-up. As for the front differential, the same size 7.5" dia was carried over however this time it not only uses a stronger and proper reverse rotation and high pinion design, but it also features assembly by way of clamshell, which places the differential bolts perpendicular to the pinion meaning bolt tensile load is added to the overall structural strength, targeting and reduceing pinion deflection. These two factors alone make this the first respected IFS differential and the R&P is surprisingly reliable. And while we're on the subject, because this is the first pickup designed for the American market, the fuel door and tank were moved to the left-hand side for driver convenience which meant the exhaust had to be flipped to the right-hand side which meant the front driveline (and differential) had to be flipped to the left-hand side. As such, for the first time in USA Toyota 4WD pickup truck history, it uses a transfer case with a left-hand front output.
This IFS does enjoy some aftermarket support for mixed desert and Rock Crawling use, but it still suffers from weak axles and steering racks. Because of this it never fully caught on for Rock Crawling so there is some aftermarket support for solid axle swap kits (SAS). The bummer however is that because the venerable 1979-85 front solid axle can no longer be used due to the driveline being on the wrong side, a SAS now requires the use of some non-Toyota & ugly Dana front end (
) so the majority of these are custom-built SAS setups. We only see but a fraction of these trucks SAS'd compared to their pre-96 counterparts.Toyota IFS Type III: 120-platform Land Cruiser Prado (2003+ 4Runner) (2003+ Lexus GX470) (2005+ Tacoma) (2006+ FJ Cruiser)
Finally, with the 4th gen 4Runner, Toyota got serious and drastically up'd the IFS game, and 16 yrs later it is still
the same overall design being used. There are some variances between the lot, but all of these late-model applications borrow from the overseas Land Cruiser Prado platform, benefiting from m-u-c-h larger CVs and axle shafts, slightly larger steering rack with more robust mounts, beefier control arms with wider attachment points/larger bushings/stronger ball joints/larger alignment hardware, stronger knuckles with larger spindles and wheelbearings, larger and (more beneficially) longer coilover assemblies, larger brakes, a stronger subframe assembly, and to date the strongest IFS differential ever featured in a "mid-size" Toyota vehicle that is adopted from the much heavier 100-series Land Cruiser with a larger 8.0" dia R&P gear size, desired reverse rotation & high pinion, desired clamshell, but also now with the thickest ring gear of them all for an even greater resistance to pinion gear deflection. This front 8" IFS diff is even stronger than an FJ80 Land Cruiser front 8" high pinion solid axle diff (which is a very popular upgrade in the pre-96 Rock Crawling world), and is so strong that gear manufacture Nitro Gear & Axle has yet to warranty a single 8" IFS 4.88:1 or 5.29:1 version of these.
Therefore, if you are pushed into or otherwise forced to run a Toyota IFS, this is the Toyota IFS you want to run. Thanks to it's design, there is a massive aftermarket support with all sorts of upgrades, from longer control arms to full Chromoly axles using actual Dana 60 components. I'm serious(!!) and with 100% lifetime guarantee for use with up to 40" tires (ask me how I know
There are some downsides however: One an annoyance for the daily-driver, and the other a design flaw for the off-roader.
The annoyance for the daily-driver is that there is no longer an option for a locking hub. Every truck with this IFS type has a drive flange (spool) hub. Of course this means you can casually place your Mocha Frappuccino into one of your twenty-five cup holders and engage 4WD on the fly, but let's be serious: Given the choice no one here cares about this. Fuel mileage suffers and any tear to your CV boots result in a nasty super-tacky and difficult to clean molybdenum (Moly/CV) grease nightmare. I've been here on multiple occasions and with a brand new truck. It really, really sucks. I had to use a strong solvent with a short coarse bristled brush just to clean my inner tire sidewalls. There is an individual prototyping a locking hub conversion by fitting the smaller 1st gen Tacoma axle parts into the much larger Land Cruiser-type suspension, which, unless you never intend to go off-road with larger than factory tires, simply blows my mind as to why anyone would spend a moments notice with this. Horrible idea for the off-roader and if he ever produces a kit, combined with these heavier and more powerful late-model vehicles, those puny CVs are going to grande faster than your backup camera can turn on.
The design flaw for the off-roader is the fact that this IFS places the steering rack in front of the axle, which, in a forward gear, expose the ITRs to buckling forces. Perhaps Toyota did this for an improved crash rating. Maybe by placing larger & sturdy items near the front of the crumple zone (steering rack) with a steering design stronger against frontal impacts (as this exposes the ITRs to tensile strength, the preferred property), increases the duration during collision before alignment becomes Toe Out and reduces cabin space in serious impacts. An additional suspect is that the ITR tapers to its most narrow cross-section at it's center where the buckling forces are at the highest. From a manufacturing standpoint, there is no reason for this and it takes longer to produce as more material must be machined. Yet, if you look at the Ford Raptor, a heavier and more powerful truck specifically intended for off-road use, it has this same feature and in fact is only 1mm larger in diameter. So clearly there is a reason for this. Maybe manufactures were spending too much time and money replacing racks from people who cliped curbs or fire hydrants, and instead designed the weakness to simply swap out pretzeled ITRs. But on the trail this is unfortunately the #1 weaklink of the late-model Toyota IFS as these ITR cannot even sustain Rock Crawling with 35" tires.
To summarize, if you are only going to run up to 33s, then I think you'll find the stock drivetrain reliability of any 2003+ Toyota or Lexus with this type IFS to be sufficient. If you are looking to get quite serious
off-road, then we (Marlin Crawler) have a number of innovative suspension, steering, and body armor upgrades in the works that enable this type IFS to be reliable with up to 40" tires.
Of course no matter what route you take, we have been manufacturing Dual Case setups for 1995+ Toyota trucks and SUVs since 2001, known as the Marlin Crawler TacoBox
, which is a 4-speed transfer case offering drastically improved low range gearing compared to a Jeep Rubicon: 1.00:1, 2.57:1, 4.70:1, and 12.08:1. All ratios are selectable independent of one another and enables 2WD Low Range, and you could even stack a third Marlin Crawler rendering an 8-speed Triple Case setup, 1.00:1, 2.28:1, 2.57:1, 4.70:1, 5.86:1, 10.72:1, 12.08:1, 27.54:1, which is what I have in my 2016 TRD Sport Tacoma. The cool thing here is that the TacoBox is based on Marlin's 1994 Dual Case design which uses many OEM/genuine Toyota parts. More info: https://www.marlincrawler.com/tacobox
edit: Added TacoBox info