A huge SEMA surprise from Toyota this year came in the form of a revived Tacoma X-Runner. The original Tacoma X-Runner debuted in 2005 as a hot rod variant of the popular pickup. At the time, Toyota admitted to a rather shocking performance benchmark — the Nissan 350Z. Now there’s a new Z and a new Tacoma in town.
The Tacoma X-Runner debuted during a time when Toyota was hell bent on eradicating every fun car it had. The Supra was dead, the Celica and MR2 followed, and on the Lexus side even the SC300/400 had been replaced with the boaty SC430. It was up to Toyota’s US-market engineers to inject some semblance of performance into a lineup stripped of excitement.
Appallingly, Toyota’s only remaining platform with any semblance of sportiness was the 2WD Tacoma. From that basic front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout Toyota went HAM, stiffening the frame with an X-brace that became the X-Runner’s namesake, along with additional chassis-tightening supports.
Toyota also overhauled the suspension, dropping the ride height (0.5 inches in front, 1.0 at the rear) with a double-wishbone suspension, Bilstein shocks, and stiffer springs. Connecting everything to the road was a rear sway bar sport alloys wrapped in 255/45-ZR18 Bridgestone Potenza RE050As that, as the New York Times pointed out, were the same tires that came on a Ferrari Enzo.
It was rare for Toyota to so pointedly name a rival, but came right out and declared that they were trying to target the Nissan 350Z. Car and Driver recorded the 2003 Nissan 350Z’s at 0.88. Toyota said the X-Runner could pull 0.9 lateral g. Sure, the difference could be a measurement error, but one was a truck.
Toyota also mated the X-Runner’s standard 4.0-liter 1GR V6 to a close-ratio 6-speed manual with power exiting through a limited-slip diff and a lower final drive ratio down from 3.73:1 to 3.15:1. The resulting 0-60 time clocked in at just 7.0 seconds.
Aha, but a 350Z took only 5.4 seconds to get to 60, you might say. The X-Runner countered with an optional TRD supercharger that upped output to 304 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque and was fully covered under Toyota’s warranty if installed at a dealer (a big brake kit could also be optioned). The supercharger cut the 0-60 time to 6.0 seconds, within spitting distance of the Z. And the Tacoma could still tow 3,500 pounds or carry 875 in the bed.
The Tacoma X-Runner survived for an extraordinarily long time on the market, considering how niche it is. Sales lasted until 2013 on the mainland US, but extended to 2014 in Canada, and 2015 in the Tacoma capital of the world, Hawaii.
Arriving nearly two decades after the introduction of the original X-Runner, the SEMA concept is very interesting indeed. “There were lots of street trucks in the early 2000s and they all faded,” said Adam Rabinowitz, chief designer at Toyota’s Calty studio. “This was a curiosity check to see if there is any market for street trucks at all, or if the market has entirely shifted to what we see today—tough, rugged, lifted vehicles.”
The concept is powered by a 3.4-liter twin-turbo V6 making 421 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque. That’s a good bump over the 400 horses and 350 lb-ft of the standard Z, but bests even the Z NISMO‘s 420 horsepower and 384 lb-ft. And lest you think this is some pie-in-the-sky concept tune, Toyota says this exact modification will be available as a TRD Performance Package option on next year’s Tundra (no word on the Tacoma yet).
Speaking of Tundras, the concept employs a Tundra solid axle with 4.30:1 final drive ratio and electronic locking diff, as well as the Tundra’s larger 13.9-inch front brakes. The upper and lower control arms at all four corners were modified to match the new hardware’s increased track and altered suspension geometry. Toyota says the frame has been strengthened as well, but didn’t provide details.
The whole truck was sprayed in Speedway Blue, the exclusive color to the original X-Runner. Additional visual flare comes in the form of a custom side exhaust, vents that actually help cool the brakes, and a functional hood scoop. Of course, since this is a one-off concept there’s no way to know if the Tacoma beat the new Z’s 0.93 g of lateral acceleration or how close it’ll come to the Z’s 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds.
Back in the day Nissan never deigned to give Toyota an official response. Today, the Z is (miraculously) still in production. Toyota no longer needs performance models to round out its portfolio, but it would be absolutely bonkers yet also fantastic to see a modern Tacoma X-Runner reignite the challenge to the Z.
Images courtesy of Toyota.