- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

Toyota springs off the 2001 starting block with another "Runner." This one is a bit different from its trailblazing "4" and "pre" siblings. It has an S prefix that specializes in smooth-pavement sprinting.
Tacoma S-Runner V-6 is a two-wheel-drive, Xtracab compact pickup bred with young drivers in mind. While it's a youthful truck, S-Runner's looks and performance are potent enough to make a parent and teen-ager spar over the keys.
S-Runner's exterior, cloaked in a choice of black sand pearl or radiant red, is seductive but not overdone. A monocolor paint theme gives the pickup an air of mystery a custom look distinguishing it from other Tacomas. Its bumpers, outside mirrors, exterior door handles, fender flares, lower front valance and grille match the body color.
A toothy grille sends the most powerful design signal. Summoning visions of a late-1940s to early 1950s grinning Buick grille, S-Runner's more subdued vertical-bar treatment is cool and contemporary. Teaming up with the grille to accelerate a macho image are a new-design raised hood and multireflector headlamps. Larger "jeweled" taillamps and color-keyed "TOYOTA" and "S-RUNNER V6" tailgate badging are standout rear-end features.
Pushing bad-boy appeal to a higher level is the availability of a Toyota Racing Development body kit. This $1,599 dealer-installed option includes aggressive-shaped front lower valance and side rocker panels. Already dropped an inch lower than other two-wheel-drive Tacomas, the TRD-enhanced S-Runner injects a stronger dose of street-rod potion.
Contributing to its show-and-go presence are 16-by-6.5-inch, five-spoke, aluminum-alloy wheels wrapped by P235/55R-16 Bridgestone Potenza tires. A more delicate contrast to the tester's black skin is optional thin, silver pinstriping encircling the upper body. Another flash of brightness comes with a chrome-tipped exhaust peeking beneath the valance.
S-Runner's tuned exhaust unleashes a pleasing growl especially when the standard 3.4-liter V-6 gets extra coaxing from a heavy foot. This gutsy six churns out 190 horsepower at 4,800 rpm and 220 foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 rpm. Paired with a five-speed manual shifter, the V-6 wastes no time convincing a driver it has zip. The start is confident and second-gear boost can be signaled by a squeal of rubber. Estimated 0-60-mph acceleration is 7.2 seconds.
Adding handling balance to this power is a sports-tuned suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars, increased-rate springs and Tokico gas shocks. This suspension creates a firmer ride and reduces body roll. Coupled with tighter, more responsive steering, S-Runner deals with tight turns more efficiently than a standard Tacoma.
A downside to the taut suspension and low-profile tires is a sacrifice in ride quality. Cruising along smooth pavement, all is good. It's when dips and bumps are encountered that passengers get a mild taste of what pioneers endured in their wooden-wheeled wagons.
Front buckets provide good insulation from road vibrations and have aggressive side bolstering to help keep occupants more firmly planted in their seats during aggressive driving. Front-folding (vs. common side-folding) rear seat backs work well for small bodies and easily fold back to clear a loading surface for groceries, luggage or pets. A passenger-side, fold-out table with cup holders is another nice rear-compartment touch.
A $2,000 interior sport package, automatically tacked to the base price, pushes S-Runner amenities above flat and functional with air conditioning; power windows and door locks; sliding rear window with privacy glass; digital clock; and six-speaker, AM-FM-cassette-CD stereo sound system. The center floor console is a practical setup, featuring dual fixed cup holders and double storage. A large console-armrest flips back, exposing a "cubby" carved into the surface below.
Front-seat passengers benefit from height-adjustable safety belts with pretensioners and force limiters that control body action for optimum crash protection. Dual frontal air bags are standard, and a passenger-side on-off switch allows deactivation when a child seat is on board.
The S-Runner tester accomplishes the mission of offering both crisp performance and custom-pickup looks for a low $19,900 drive-away price. The only change I would make is opting for the StepSide bed a critical element needed to induce a strong case of street-rod fever.
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