- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Toyota created a minor stir — as is its habit — with the introduction of its original Tundra, billed as being close to a half-ton truck competitor. While the Tundra is popular enough, its modest size and capacities relegated it to almost-ran status among buyers of full-size trucks, although those seeking a smaller truck embraced its qualities with enthusiasm.

All that has changed with the introduction of the all-new 2007 Tundra. Toyota is now a full-time, big-time competitor among the other sellers of full-size half-ton pickups. Ford, GM and Dodge are going to be watching this one pretty closely.

What makes the new Tundra such an exciting vehicle? It starts with a 5.7-liter V-8 rated at 381 horsepower and 401 foot-pounds of torque, and that’s a healthy, torquey, muscular engine by anyone’s standards. Back the engine with a new, high-tech six-speed automatic with two top-end overdrive gears; wrap the powertrain in a new, full-size truck body available in multiple configurations with space for full-size adults; give the rig a stunning 10,800-pound maximum tow rating (2WD regular cab) and you have a rig that stands head-to-head with the best that other domestic builders can provide.

Built in factories in Indiana and Texas, with prime components such as the engine, transmission and axles coming from elsewhere in the U.S., the Tundra is truly a domestic truck. Its design and engineering also took place at Toyota facilities in the United States.

The new Tundra is larger than its elder sibling in every dimension. Its new chassis features boxed rails up front and formed C-channels in back.

Leaf springs support a standard solid rear axle, and coil springs work with double A-arm independent front suspension up front. Four-wheel power disc brakes with ABS and Electronic Brake-Force Distribution and Brake Assist are standard. Buyers can choose from three cab styles including a massive CrewMax four-door version, three wheelbases, three bed lengths, including a full 8-foot model, three trim levels, and three engines with both 2WD and 4WD variations. In short, there’s a Tundra for every need.

At the bottom end of the power spectrum there’s the 4.0-liter V-6, a holdover from the current Tundra model, as is the optional but enhanced 4.7-liter V-8. The new 5.7-liter IForce V-8 includes an aluminum block, four-valve aluminum heads, variable valve timing and variable-length intake runners. The net result is a responsive, economical, powerful engine that’s targeted to meet ULEVII emission standards.

A modern but eye-pleasing dashboard, devoid of excess clutter or gadgets, creates a trucklike interior air that’s also easy to live with as a family commuter. The controls are clearly designed for easy use and won’t call for an engineering degree for full operation. The optional GPS navigation system includes a rear camera for safety, a feature that coincidentally makes for easier solo trailer hookup because the hitch ball is visible on screen.

While the seats are firm, they’re well shaped and seem contoured to fit the average driver. Legroom, both up front and out back in the CrewMax four-door, is plentiful even for tall occupants.

Our first drive with the new Tundra was brief but eye-opening. When we took on the towing segment, we included a trailer that weighed approximately 6,000 pounds. While that was just over half of the truck’s tow rating, it was enough payload to give us a solid idea about the truck’s capabilities.

Although the truck was lightly loaded, it wasn’t hard to tell it was fully in command of the load, with capacity to spare. The lashup accelerated quickly and reached road speed in good time. Once on the road, a further stab at the gas resulted in an immediate lurch forward and a sprint up to passing speed with seemingly little engine effort.

It’s good to feel the powertrain delivers all it needs to, with extra ponies to spare.

Lane-changes and rapid corners feel solid and stable. The trailer doesn’t push the truck around, which is important for enjoying a journey with a sizable RV trailer in tow. Likewise, the truck’s brakes felt well matched to the load demands.

Standard rack-and-pinion steering provides the kind of precision road feel and directional control that drivers expect from contemporary vehicles. Through it all, the Tundra remains quiet inside, so occupants can still converse with ease, enjoy the superb sound system or just enjoy the scenery in peace.

Our first look seems to indicate that Toyota has hit a home run with its new Tundra. Buyers now have four serious choices when shopping for a full-size half-ton pickup, and Toyota’ product is right up there with the best of them.

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