For the last several years Toyota has been happily selling their Tacoma pickups to a loyal group of buyers, but the market got hotter this year with the new GM mid-size trucks in the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

While it had been time to freshen up the second generation Toyota Tacoma which has been with us virtually unchanged since 2004, it now needed to get even better, more modern, and yes more fuel efficient. In short, more competitive.

So the 2016 Toyota Tacoma, now considered the third-generation is not an all-new truck but a significantly updated one with new exterior styling touches, an all-new interior, new powertrain offerings, and a boat load of new features.

In the styling department, the new Tacoma gets a fresh face which sports different grill designs for its various trim grades which start with the base SR, then SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road and the top-line Limited.

Up front it gets projector beam headlights with LED daytime running lights on upper trims, new bumper and hood, new fenders and a flexible front air dam which is designed to help fuel economy without hurting off-road approach angles.

Down the side, the cab remains familiar in styling though it received a lot of structural beefing up with high-strength steels. It got a lot of new sound deadening and acoustic glass, all of which which makes the Tacoma both safer and quieter than it used to be.

Out back the bed sides are 1-inch taller with new wheel-arches and a soft-opening lockable tailgate with an integrated spoiler and stamped TACOMA lettering. There’s also a new three piece bumper design that features the trailer wire connector moved up into the center.

The Tacoma remains available in both Access Cab and full four-door Double Cab. Two wheel bases are offered with Double Cab, affording both a five and a six-foot bed. A standard cab short wheelbase model is not available.

While the exterior carries over some things familiar, the interior is all-new. A completely redesigned dash, door panels, and console bring a fresh look as well as a host of new available technologies, provisions for connectivity, and luxury.

A standard 6.1-inch display audio system features Toyota’s popular Entune suite of apps, Bluetooth and wired connectivity, a backup camera, and six speakers. From there options include higher end systems with navigation, JBL audio and expanded Entune functionality.

A new instrument cluster features an available TFT display on upper trims as well as push button start. Trims vary widely from each trim grade with accent colors on the dash and door panels, colored stitching, and dash bezel trims.

From behind the wheel our first impression is that it feels more modern, the materials of a much higher quality, and it simply looks more expensive inside than the last generation. The cabin offers up good storage, and there’s a perfect place for your phone on the console.

Cloth seating in various patterns and colors come on SR through the TRD, with leather seats standard on the Limited models. And what is standard across the lineup is a new GoPro Camera mount on the inside of the windshield.

That mount might be a small item, but makes shooting video of your exploits that much easier. And since we’re here, lets talk about off-road capability with the TRD Off-Road trim grade. While the frame and chassis is largely carryover from the second generation, there are a lot of things new.

Suspension got a re-tune across the lineup to be more refined and compliant, that means less harsh. A new E-Lock differential and part-time transfer case is added to beef up durability, and the big news for TRD Off-Road fans is the new crawl control.

The system lets you set a preferred speed on the instrument cluster, then it manages ABS, traction control, transmission, and accelerator to control the truck up or down hills, over rocks and obstacles, and through slippery situations without your foot on the brake or accelerator. All you do is steer.

Of course you can stop it all with your foot on the brake or use the accelerator if needed. While some off-roaders might laugh, the system works exceptionally well though it takes a little practice to learn to trust it in sticky situations.

In our day of driving we drove the Tacoma TRD down steep loose soil hills, trusting it to keep our speed at bay. There was the steep climb up the double-drop and lots of rock crawling in what they called the Devil’s Boneyard.

This area really showed the value of the crawl control, since over rough and bouncy terrain controlling the accelerator or brakes can sometimes be hard because you’re getting bucked and bounced around. Here the computer isn’t distracted by the throws of physics.

And as we saw in a stuck-in-sand demonstration, the computer has the patience and control to get it unstuck where we might be a bit more impatient and hasty in trying to do so. Bottom line, it’s another tool in your box.

The chassis for 2016 has been beefed up with more high-strength steels, though it still isn’t fully boxed. Lower front control arms are more stout and the Tacoma retains its hydraulic power steering this year which many prefer over an electric rack.

On the highway, the stronger steels in the frame, in the body structure and the increased sound deadening have significantly improved the overall noise, vibration, and harshness factor over the 2015 model. It feels more expensive, of a higher quality, and that is what’s needed in today’s market.

Power this year comes from two engines, the baseline being a slightly tweaked version of the 2.7 liter four-cylinder that’s been here for a while. It has a slightly higher compression ratio now but power is identical at 159 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque.

It’s available with a new six-speed automatic transmission for all, and a five-speed manual in 4×4 models only. Fuel economy can be as high as 19 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined according to the EPA for two-wheel drive Access Cab with automatic.

The big news is the new 3.5 liter V6 which replaces the old 4.0 liter engine. It has 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, which is up 42 horsepower from the old 4.0 liter V6 even though it’s smaller.

And while some might say its just a re-tuned Camry motor, it just simply isn’t. If anything it’s derived from the more robust Lexus variant with its dual mode D4S fuel-injection which has both port and direct injectors which can be used either or both depending on conditions.

The engine is tuned for torque and engineered with different components and materials than the passenger car engine to handle the work of truck duty and last. You can have it now with the new six-speed automatic for all and a six-speed manual in four-wheel drive trucks.

On the highway, around town and off-road I found this new engine to be a lot more responsive than the old 4.0 liter not to mention far more refined and less noisy. With the new six-speed transmission you get what you ask for when you put the hammer down.

Fuel economy is also expected to return better performance here. The EPA rates the Toyota Tacoma as high as 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined with the new V6 in the two-wheel drive automatic.

Towing weight has been increased with the new 3.5 to as much as 6,800 pounds too. While we didn’t get to test the 2016 Toyota Tacoma for fuel economy, we don’t doubt the new V6 will sip fuel a bit less than the old one, in part to its additional transmission gears.

Pricing for the 2016 Toyota Tacoma starts at $23,300 for four-cylinder two-wheel drive Access Cab model up to $37,820 for a 4×4 Limited. Add your options to that and you can get just over $40,000. While a TRD-Pro isn’t available yet, Toyota gave us a wink and a nod when we asked if one is coming.