c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

TESTED:

2013 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner

WHAT IS IT?

The sole remaining sport compact pickup truck optimized for street, as opposed to off-road, performance.

HOW MUCH?

$27,590 base, $28,075 as tested with TRD performance air filter ($90), bed mat ($119) wheel locks ($81) and carpet floor mats and door sill protector ($195).

WHAT MAKES IT RUN?

Four-liter V-6, 6-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive.

IS IT THIRSTY?

Rated at 16 mpg city and 21 highway, the X-Runnerís fuel economy is more in line with that of a full-size truck.

Iím a big fan of little trucks. Ever since Michael J. Fox scored a sweet 4-wheel-drive Toyota SR5 in ďBack to the Future,Ē Iíve harbored a vague longing to own a pint-size pickup. Youíd think thereíd be plenty of people like Marty McFly and me, who prize wieldy dimensions and donít need a bed that could serve as a dry dock for a nuclear submarine.

Unfortunately, times are tough for sub-heavyweight haulers. The Ram Dakota expired after 2011, the Ford Ranger is finished and the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon are on hiatus. That leaves the Tacoma, the Nissan Frontier and ó for real freethinkers ó the Honda Ridgeline.

The dilemma is that small trucks are no longer terribly small, in some cases overlapping full-size trucks in fuel economy, size and price. So why not just buy a full-size truck? The dearth of nongigantic pickups seems to answer that question.

Well, hereís one argument for the compact pickup: the Tacoma X-Runner. Where else are you going to find a vehicle that can reach 60 mph in less than seven seconds, corner in excess of 0.9 lateral G and tow 3,300 pounds? Thereís also a 6-speed manual gearbox and Toyota Racing Developmentís tempting menu of goodies.

The X-Runner drives like a restomod, one of those vintage muscle cars that has been fitted with a modern suspension and powertrain. Since it is a truck, the chassis has more in common with a 1978 Camaro than with contemporary performance cars: Check out the solid rear axle with leaf springs and drum brakes.

The V-6 makes 236 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and reaches its redline a few hundred rpm later. The shift throws are so long that going from second gear to third makes you feel like Doug Flutie launching a Hail Mary.

Yet the thing has a screwed-down cohesiveness that translates to deceptive speed. As I took the X-Runner down a 20-mile stretch of snaky country road, I frequently glanced at the speedometer to find myself moving far quicker than anticipated. Corners that would challenge performance cars were serenely dispatched, the big engineís 266 pound-feet of torque enabling rapid progress without fuss.

While the X-Runner includes a lowered, sport-tuned suspension (itís the only Tacoma with a rear stabilizer bar), Iíd say its unlikely cornering abilities are mostly attributable to the 255/45/18 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires. The RE050A is a high-performance summer tire, a version of which was original equipment on the Ferrari Enzo supercar. So the next time you pull alongside an Enzo at a stoplight, you can chat about all the things your vehicles have in common, such as the tires.

While the V-6 is certainly punchy enough, it would really justify its hood scoop with the addition of the dealer-installed TRD supercharger kit ($4,500), which raises output to 304 horsepower and 332 pound-feet. The full factory warranty is retained as long as a Toyota dealer does the work. That would be a lively Tacoma.

The day after I pressed the X-Runner into sports-car duty, I remembered it was a truck and used it to haul a load of brush, a gas can and a pressure washer. I didnít tow 3,300 pounds, but I could have.

For about $28,000, the X-Runner combines an odd bundle of attributes. I donít want to get too far into sycophantic hyperbole, but in terms of mission and ability itís rather like a modern El Camino SS.

Alas, the X-Runner is being canceled. The good news is that youíll be able to get a 2014 Tacoma with a 6-speed manual and a V-6, but it will be a 4-wheel-drive model. Marty McFly, at least, would approve.