Silky smooth, quick and responsive.
by Mitch McCullough
Base Price (MSRP) $15,605
As Tested (MSRP) $26,615
Toyota's full-size Tundra pickup truck has rewritten the rules when it comes to truck refinement. This truck is simply the smoothest, quietest, and most sophisticated truck we've ever driven. It's not quite as big and brawny as the Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, Chevrolet Silverado or GMC Sierra. But it's easy to drive, brilliantly quick and responsive, and it's built to the high-quality standards for which Toyota is famous.
The Tundra comes with a truly exceptional 4.7-liter V8 engine that gives it more than enough power to compete with the big dogs. The Tundra can tow a 7,200-pound trailer or haul more than 2000 pounds in its 8-foot bed.
Toyota first launched the Tundra as a 2000 model, and there are few changes for 2001. It remains among the best in a field of great full-size half-ton pickup trucks.
Built at Toyota's 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. Trim levels include base, SR5, and top-level Limited.
Prices start at $15,605 for a regular cab model with rear-wheel drive, a V6 engine and five-speed manual transmission. The V8-powered Limited four-wheel drive Access Cab lists for $29,065.
The Tundra offers two engines: a sophisticated double overhead-cam, 32-valve 4.7-liter V8, and a 3.4-liter double overhead-cam V6. The V8 produces 245 horsepower and 315 foot-pounds of torque. All V8 models come with 4-speed automatic transmissions.
The standard V6 is rated at 190 horsepower and 220 foot-pounds of torque. It comes with a choice of 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission.
Though attractive, Tundra's styling is bland when compared with the aging, but still stylish, Dodge Ram and the more modern looking Ford F-150 trucks. It shares a similar look with the Toyota Tacoma compact-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. Handles for the rear doors are conveniently located on the outside of the doors, rather than in the door jams, but the handle design isn't the most comfortable.
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.
This is a comfortable truck with a friendly interior. The 60/40 split-bench cloth seats are comfortable and supportive. 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 storage space and a pair of good cupholder wells. The latch on the center console on our truck wouldn't stay latched, however, so the lid would flop open whenever the console was flipped up. Ours came with double sun visors with extenders.
Climbing in is easy, though the two-wheel-drive model seems to sit higher off the ground than other two-wheel-drive pickups. Even the two-wheel-drive versions feel tall in the saddle, giving the driver a commanding view over shorter vehicles. Toyota claims the Tundra offers more front legroom than any of the domestic pickups, including the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra twins. Overall, however, the domestic trucks offer more room in the front seats. An advanced seatbelt system with pretensioners and force limiters add safety to dual front airbags and side-impact beams. The passenger-side airbag can be switched off with the key when babies or children occupy the front passenger seat.
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 Chevrolet, 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. Unfortunately, the rear seat itself takes up a fair amount of room. The seat bottom on the split-bench rear seat can be flipped up, but the seat doesn't fold completely out of the way, nor can it be easily removed.
Whether four-wheel-drive or two-wheel-drive, the Tundra seems as quiet as a luxury sedan; it's certainly the quietest pickup we've ever driven. There's very little wind- or road noise in the cabin. And the ride quality is extremely smooth.
The V8 engine provides excellent acceleration performance in the 45-mph range. It allowed us to pass slower drivers on winding two-lane roads on the Big Island in the four-wheel-drive Tacoma with no drama, and we quickly dashed down the state of Virginia with a full load of furniture in a two-wheel-drive model.
Toyota's V8 is a marvel of balance. It is silky smooth, quick, and extremely responsive. At the same time, the throttle isn't overly sensitive at tip-in, so it doesn't lurch off the line. This engine also 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 inside the truck or standing in front of it.
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 and Lexus luxury vehicles. With distributorless ignition and other state-of-the-art features, the 4.7-liter V8 produces nearly 200 foot-pounds of torque starting at just 2000 rpm. It's the first V8 in the segment to qualify as a low-emission vehicle, or LEV, by the government. The transmission is smooth and responsive, communicating well with the engine, and always choosing the appropriate gear.
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 up and down motions some trucks exhibit when their front suspensions aren't up to balancing weight on the rear tongue. Transmission and engine oil coolers are standard.
Ride quality is excellent. On rough pavement and bumpy dirt roads, the Tundra's suspension really shines. It damps out unwanted vibration and harshness and controls the movement of the wheels precisely, keeping the tires in contact with the road surface for excellent grip and handling.
Both the two- and four-wheel-drive models offer exceptional handling. The 2001 2WD SR5 I drove through Virginia was incredibly responsive. Everything about it felt exceptionally tight. I bounced up a steep mountain trail -- barely a path -- on the Big Island of Hawaii in a 4WD model, and 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 a rapid pace up the steep mountain trail. The suspension never bottomed on the bump stops in spite of my efforts to beat it up.
Toyota off-road racing legend Ivan "Ironman" Stewart helped Toyota Racing Development tune the optional TRD suspension. Using Bilstein shocks and special progressive-rate springs, this suspension is designed for performance in extreme off-road conditions; it 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 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 in a four-wheel-drive model, and you can get rear wheel spin when driving quickly around tight turns in two-wheel-drive models.
Toyota's full-size pickup can compete with the best of 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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