For decades, the booming market for full-size pickup trucks has been the exclusive domain of American brands. Japanese companies were hesitant to infringe on a market that they considered so critical to our national pride. But now Toyota has decided to slay that sacred cow, and the weapon is this new Tundra full-size pickup. But can even Toyota’s legendary quality and design prowess win over buyers in this most American of automotive segments?
To do so, it will have to offer everything that American buyers expect in a full-size pickup, and then some! To start with, the Indiana-built Toyota Tundra must be a true full-size machine. Not a mid-sizer like Toyota’s previous “big” pickup, the T100. And the Tundra is almost a full-size pickup. We drove several 4-wheel-drive SR5 and limited grade test vehicles, with Toyota’s 4-door Access Cab, at the Tundra’s national press introduction in beautiful Kona, Hawaii, and later on the mainland.
Those machines measured 217.5-inches long, with a 128.3-inch wheelbase. Both a good deal longer than the T100. But Tundra width and height are almost identical to the T100’s. Parked next to a full-size domestic, a Tundra clearly lacks presence, though buyers coming out of compact pickups will be impressed with its generous dimensions.
Helping that is its chunky big truck styling that’s led by an aggressive grille and plenty of available chrome and over 11-inches of ground clearance in 4-wheel-drive models. That’s the best in the full-size pickup class.
In the power competition, the Tundra offers the prerequisite V8 engine. Only this optional power plant is borrowed from the land cruiser. It’s the only twin-cam, 32 valve engine in its class. At 4.7-liters, it puts out a very competitive 245 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque.
The standard engine is the same 3.4-liter dual-overhead-cam V6 found in the compact Tacoma pickup and 4-Runner sport-utility vehicle. It delivers 190 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices include a 4-speed automatic, which is standard with the V8. The standard V6 transmission is a 5-speed manual.
With the V8 and automatic, the 4,518-pound Tundra sprinted to 60 miles-per-hour in a very quick 8.0-seconds flat. There was none of the big truck grunt of most V8 pickups. Just a seamless rush of power from the bottom to the top of the rev band.
The rigid frame rides on an independent double-wishbone suspension, with coil springs and gas shocks up front, even on 4x4 models, while the rear is a live-axle leaf-spring design for heavy cargo loads. This combination, plus plenty of feedback from the power rack-and-pinion steering, gives the Tundra quicker, more precise handling than its larger domestic competitors. The trade-off is the narrower track, 66.2-inches up front and 64.9-inches in the rear, that gives it a more top-heavy feel in tight turns. The ride, however, puts all big domestics to shame. In fact, it felt closer to a luxury sport-ute than a hard-working pickup.
But the Tundra can work. The access cab comes with a 6.5-foot cargo box, while the regular cab has an 8-foot box. Both measure 49.3 inches between the wheel wells, and are stamped for 2-tier loading, and have tie downs and stake holes. All boxes are Ford-style bolted to the frame.
Payload capacity for our 4-wheel-drive V8 Access Cab tester is 1,532 pounds, with towing capacity at 7,100 pounds. All of which is stopped by large front disc and rear drum brakes. Unlike all domestics, rear ABS is not standard. But Toyota does offer a 4-wheel anti-lock system as an option.
V8 4-wheel drive is accomplished by the use of a Toyota shift-on-the-fly system with ADD, or automatic disconnecting differential. It uses an electric motor to smoothly engage the front differential. You simply touch a button on the dash for either 4-high or 4-low, and hit the trail! Hawaii’s sometimes gnarly dirt roads were no match for the Tundra’s powerful V8 and class-leading ground clearance.
But many pickups are used solely as on-road, personal use family vehicles, and those buyers demand comfort, room, and convenience. The Tundra interior actually has more front leg room than a Ford F-150, but Tundra trails the F-150 in shoulder room.
Like competitors, the Access Cab’s folding rear seat lacks adult-scale leg room, but is easily reached through rear doors that open wider, and offers the only exterior rear door handles in the pickup class, though you still have to open the front doors first.
The dash is the most car-like of any pickup. In fact, it wouldn’t look out of place in a Toyota Camry sedan. And the firm, supportive seats are very sedan-like as well. Both a split-folding front bench, which is a little narrow for three adults, and dual bucket seats are available. They face large, clear analog gauges and big, efficient stereo controls at the top of the center dash. While idiot-proof rotary heat and ventilation controls sit just below next to a passenger-side air bag cut-off switch.
The price for this much Toyota pickup covers a very wide range. It starts at $15,415 for a 4x2 V6 standard cab model with a manual gearbox. The version that Toyota expects to sell best, a 4x2 V8-powered SR5 Access Cab, for the personal use buyer, starts at $22,670. While the top-of-the-line 4-wheel-drive Limited-grade machine, with the V8 and Access Cab, costs $28,250.
We doubt, however, that even this fine effort will convince the most serious American truck fans to abandon their domestic loyalties. But owners of compact import pickups, that have longed for a “real” truck of their own, will absolutely love it and make Toyota’s new Tundra a genuine force in the American full-size pickup market.
Engine: 4.7 Liter Dohc 32-valve V-8
Torque: 315 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8 Seconds