- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

When Toyota's rather lackluster attempt at a large truck, the T100, was phased out in 1999, it was replaced in 2000 with the Tundra.

Larger, better equipped and more powerful than the T100, Tundra is a more formidable adversary for the full-size pickups of the domestic manufacturers.

The T100 was really a compromise between Toyota's North American sales arm TMS and its desire to go toe to toe with the domestic big trucks, and the "Buy American" atmosphere of the late 1980s. Toyota quietly added content to the T100 and then two years ago took the leap forward with the V-8-equipped Tundra. Hardly anyone took offense.

Tundra is selling well, but it is still not on a par with the pickups from GM, Ford and Dodge. Tundra is not quite as large and doesn't offer the range of choices found in its competitors. That probably won't remain the case, evolution being what it is. However, for the present Tundra is sort of in its own niche in the full-size pickup segment.

Available in two- or four-wheel drive, Tundra can be fitted with either a regular or an Access (extended) four-door cab. The regular cab comes with an 8-foot bed, while the Access cab carries a 6-foot bed. Power is derived from either a 190-horsepower V-6 or a 245-horsepower V-8. Typically full-size pickups offer a range of ever more powerful V-8s, but Tundra has just one. The V-6 can be mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The V-8 relies on a four-speed automatic exclusively. Three trim levels (base, SR5 and Limited V-8) round out the major choices to be made at the negotiating table.

The test truck arrived as I was about to move into a new house. For the event, Toyota provided a Tundra SR5 4X2 Access cab V-8. Toyota had also thrown in the $955 TRD Off-Road package for good measure. Developed in conjunction with Toyota Racing Development, Tundra's TRD package includes progressive spring rates, Bilstien mono-tube high-pressure gas shocks with off-road tuned suspension, BF Goodrich all-terrain rubber, alloy wheels, front and rear mud guards, fog lamps, overfenders and custom badging. It's well worth the outlay of an extra grand.

One of the advantages of Tundra's less than full-size exterior dimensions is that it is decidedly more maneuverable than its domestic counterparts. It'll fit in a standard parking space at the home improvement store on the first try. It is also better suited to zipping in and out of heavy traffic. The steering response is decent, if a little vague on center. Thanks to the beefed up suspension, the TRD makes rapid lane changes and takes on curves with very little body roll. That's a real advantage when the cargo box is stacked with stuff.

The 4.7-liter i-Force (truck engines must have names i.e. Vortec and Triton) V-8 powering the Tundra is not as gritty as some competitors' V-8s, but holds up well against their lower-end eight-cylinders. It is smooth, powerful and relatively quiet. Equally well-engineered is the four-speed automatic. The two work extremely well together. Acceleration isn't neck-snapping. This is a pickup after all. Getting to 60 miles per hour from a standstill takes about nine seconds. Fuel economy is about average with an Environmental Protection Agency miles per gallon rating of 15 in the city and 18 on the open highway.

With the domestics building crew cabs with four front-hinged doors, the Tundra's rear-hinged back doors seem a bit behind the times. They open wide enough, though, to allow fairly easy entry and exit to the bench rear seat. The front seats are supportive and comfortable. The instrument panel is neatly arranged. The ventilation and audio-system controls are conveniently located higher up in the center of the dash. The fit and finish in my test Tundra TRD was very good.

Base price of the Tundra SR5 4X2 Access cab V-8 is $22,975. Standard features not already mentioned include dual front air bags with passenger side cutoff, 60-40 split fold-down rear bench seat, four-speaker AM-FM stereo-cassette, tilt steering wheel and cruise control. Anti-lock brakes added another $345, while a convenience package with remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, dual chrome outboard mirrors and sliding rear window tacked another $1,355 to the bottom line. Adding on the TRD package and $510 delivery charge brought the price as tested to $26,140.

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