by Mitch McCullough
A smooth, powerful full-sized pickup.
Base Price $15,415
As Tested $26,005
Based on a drive over lava-strewn terrain and undulating highways, Toyota's new Tundra has the size and power to compete with the Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. It is the first full-sized pickup truck ever sold by an import-brand automaker.
The Toyota Tundra offers an optional double overhead-cam V8 engine that gives it more than enough power to compete with the big dogs. The Tundra accelerates quicker than base V8 versions of the Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra -- even when a trailer is attached. This new Toyota pickup can tow a 7,200-pound trailer or haul more than 2,000 pounds in its 8-foot bed. It offers excellent handling on the highway and over rough terrain. It sports a comfortable cab and delivers a quiet ride.
In a field of great full-sized, half-ton pickup trucks, the Toyota Tundra is among the best.
The Tundra replaces Toyota's T100, an intermediate, Dodge Dakota-sized truck available only with a V6. Though it was a high-quality, durable truck, the T100 failed to attract large numbers of American pickup buyers who wanted a V8 engine and a roomier cab. Out with the T100, in with the Tundra.
The Tundra offers two engines, but Toyota expects that nearly 95 percent of its buyers will opt for the V8. The 4.7-liter engine will be the first double overhead-cam, 32-valve V8 engine offered for a full-size pickup truck. Lifted from the Toyota Land Cruiser, this V8 produces 245 horsepower and 315 foot-pounds of torque. All V8 models come with 4-speed automatic transmissions.
The standard engine is a 3.4-liter double overhead-cam V6 rated at 190 horsepower and 220 foot-pounds of torque. It comes with a choice of 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission.
Built at Toyota's brand-new assembly plant in Indiana, the Tundra is available as a two-door regular cab or four-door Access Cab. Two- and four-wheel drive versions are available, which employ similar suspensions and bed heights.
Though attractive, Tundra's styling is bland when compared with the stylish Dodge Ram and Ford F-150 trucks. It shares that Toyota look with the Tacoma compact- and T100 intermediate-sized pickups. Curving lines give it a sporty look, while bulging fenders make it appear ready to go off road.
Access Cab extended cab models come with four doors. The rear doors open in the opposite direction -- they called these suicide doors in the old days. These doors will crash into one another if you close the front door before closing the rear door. Fortunately, the inside of the rear door is padded, so it isn't a big problem.
The pickup bed measures 8 feet on the regular cab; it's 6-foot, three-inches long on the Access Cab, which is about 2 inches shorter than the bed of a Ford F-150. Toyota's bed is also a little shallower than Ford's.
The Inside Story
This is a comfortable truck with a friendly interior. Control switches are concentrated in the center cluster for easy operation. Instruments are straightforward with a big tachometer that's optional. A center console box comes with optional captain's chairs that provides storage space and cupholders. Climbing in is easy.
The Tundra offers more front legroom than any of the domestic pickups. Overall, however, the domestic trucks offer more room in the front seats. An advanced seatbelt system with pretensioners and force limiters adds safety to dual front airbags and side-impact beams. The passenger-side airbag can be switched off with the key when babies or children are aboard.
Access Cab models add interior storage space and the ability to carry two more passengers. In terms of carrying passengers, the rear seat is mostly a short-term affair, however. First, the Tundra does not offer nearly as much space in the rear half of the extended cab as the Chevy, GMC, Ford and Dodge pickups. Second, the rear seatback is vertical, causing the occupant to sit bolt upright, which is uncomfortable for traveling any farther than the neighborhood restaurant. A far better use for the extended cab is to use it for carrying dry cleaning, groceries or briefcases.
Ride & Drive
The four-wheel-drive Tundra seems as quiet as a luxury sedan. The engine is smooth and quiet and there's little wind noise or road noise.
The V8 engine provides excellent acceleration performance in the 45-mph range. It allowed us to pass Hawaii's slower drivers on winding two-lane roads with no drama.
Toyota's V8 is a marvel of balance. Not only is it smooth and powerful, but it sounds great. Stand behind this pickup when it is started, revved, or even idling, and you're treated to a classic V8 burble that's pleasant to American ears. Yet, it's super quiet when sitting in the truck.
V8 engines with twin cams and four valves per cylinder are usually associated with imported luxury sports sedans. Toyota perfected this design in its Land Cruiser SUV and Lexus luxury cars. With distributorless ignition and other state-of-the-art features, it produces nearly 200 foot-pounds of torque starting at just 2000 rpm. It will be the first V8 in the segment to qualify as a low-emission vehicle, or LEV, by the government.
We loaded 300 pounds of fertilizer into a two-axle horse trailer and pulled it up a steep grade with a two-wheel-drive Tundra Limited model. Starting from a dead stop, the Tundra easily accelerated up a long hill with the 3,000-pound trailer. This rig was stable going around sweeping turns, braking from high speeds on steep downhill sections and bouncing over a rough lava-covered dirt road. There was none of the porpoising some trucks exhibit when their front suspensions aren't up to balancing weight on the rear tongue. We could have easily pulled that trailer to Montana -- except for the logistical problems of getting off of Hawaii. Transmission and engine oil coolers are standard.
Ride quality is, for the most part, excellent. Hawaii's Big Island highways are fairly new and the pavement is in excellent condition, but they are not perfectly smooth because they were laid down on a bed of rough lava. The Tundra's suspension transmitted some of this unevenness to the occupants. This roughness was subtle, however, and a light load in the bed would probably eliminate it completely.
On rough pavement and bumpy dirt roads, the Tundra's suspension really shined. It damped out unwanted vibration and harshness and controlled the movement of the wheels precisely, keeping the tires in contact with the road surface for excellent grip and handling. We bounced up a steep mountain trail -- barely a path -- into an area that looked like Southeast Asia, where the Tundra's suspension performed amazingly well. Bounding over harsh dips and humps, the suspension offered impressive travel and damping performance. It was easy to control the truck over this rough terrain in spite of our rapid pace up the steep mountain trail. The suspension never bottomed on the bump stops in spite of our efforts to beat it up.
Toyota off-road racing legend Ivan "Ironman" Stewart helped Toyota Racing Development tune a TRD model with Bilstein shocks and special progressive-rate springs. Its suspension is designed for performance in extreme off-road conditions and reportedly rides better on rough road surfaces.
The brakes felt great to us and Toyota claims the Tundra can stop quicker than the domestic pickups.
While bouncing over the moguls, we noticed that neither the cowl nor the front hood shook. The Tundra's chassis is highly rigid with boxed front frame rails. Toyota also claims this truck offers a class-leading ground clearance and everything underneath is tucked above the frame rails.
A limited-slip rear differential is not available, so the inside rear wheel will scramble for traction when you accelerate around a tight gravel corner.
Toyota now offers a full-sized pickup that can compete with the domestic trucks. It's smooth and quiet. It offers lots of power for passing or towing. And it comes with a suspension that handles winding roads and moonscapes brilliantly.
All of this, wrapped up with Toyota's renowned quality, durability and reliability, make the Tundra an excellent choice among pickup trucks.
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