Adventure vehicles abound around Bozeman, and like streamflows, these envy-inducing gear-haulers reach their peak in spring. Loaded down with every imaginable item of outdoor equipment—bikes, skis, paddleboards, driftboats, et al—they conjure pulse-raising images of multisport excursions near and far. And though a single rig once ruled the roads around Bozeman—the Subaru Outback—other outfits have risen to the fore, challenging the Suby’s longstanding supremacy. Namely, the Toyota Tacoma. But can this relative newcomer unseat such an established icon of all-season off-road adventure? Let’s find out.
What Outback owner hasn’t walked across a parking lot and opened the door to someone else’s car? Oops—just don’t steal the weed in the console or disturb the sage bundle on the dash. Tacomas come in more colors, and have undergone more design variations over the years, so you’re less likely to climb into the wrong truck and get chomped—or, more likely, licked—by the wrong black lab.
Thirty-year-old Subys and Toyotas can be found in every parking lot and trailhead in southwest Montana. Rolling over 300,000 miles on the odometer is a celebrated rite of passage for owners of both (unless you’re a moneyed New Bozeman driver, and lease a soulless new rig every year or two). Do your passengers a favor, though, and invest in some industrial-strength air-freshener—three decades’ worth of sweat, woodsmoke and fish slime is not “broken in,” it’s assault with a deadly weapon.
Throw three or four dogs in the back of an Outback after a moist spring hike up Bear Canyon, and by the time you get home, your interior will look (and smell) like a Louisiana bayou. That’s what truck beds were made for—plus, dogs love slobbering into the wind.
Trailheads, ski areas, and fishing access sites are busier than ever, and parking can be a problem. Which makes the svelte Outback your best friend. The Tacoma has fallen victim to the bigger-is-better mentality that plagues so much of American culture, and this increased mass makes for a hefty footprint—not to mention crappy MPG. The Outback gets decent gas mileage without sacrificing performance or function.
Older Toyotas were amazing utility vehicles; they got job done and didn’t worry about frills or trendy accessories. New Tacomas come stock with GoPro mounts on the windshield—we shit you not. The only thing douchier would be a Tinder feed in the console. Tacomas can also attract drivers who are compensating. A lift kit with highway tires? Where, exactly, do you plan to use that snorkel? When was the last time you needed 10-million-candlepower off-road lights? Outbacks, on the other hand, exude a wholesomeness to them that will never die, regardless of how fancy they may get on the inside. At the end of the day, they’ll always remind us of hockey moms and golden retrievers, both of which are, well, nice.
When it comes to spending the night in your rig, a Tacoma outfitted with a topper and sleeping platform is all you need—with room for all your gear under the bed. Subarus offer a smoother ride, especially on road-trips, and they’ll haul most anything short of a trendy tiny home. But with the extra space and higher clearance, the Tacoma’s gonna get you more places, with more gear.
One’s a pickup, the other’s a wagon—not a fair comparison when it comes to fuel efficiency. But Subaru’s environmental initiatives are well-documented and go far beyond MPG; they’ve supported the outdoor industry and have taken strides to make their factories less wasteful. Toyota advertises trucks mudbogging, motocross riders and dune-buggies tearing up the desert Mad Max-style, and mountain bikers rutting up muddy trails. It may just be marketing, but it’s sending the wrong message.
Well, this one’s too close to call. Each vehicle has its merits, which makes sense; Bozeman’s discerning outdoor community demands quality and versatility, and both rigs possess these virtues in spades.