Ford, along with GM and Dodge, dominate the full-size American pickup truck market. But, you know, Toyota has managed to carve out a comfortable foothold for itself with the refined and reliable Tundra, and Toyota is not stopping there. For 2003, Tundra buyers get a new look and a new StepSide access cab. Should the Big Three be worried?
Like an up-and-coming actor, the 2003 Toyota Tundra StepSide Access Cab increasingly looks to have the talent, drive and equipment to be a big star in its field. Add to this new, sportier Tundra the announcement of the crewcab-like Tundra DoubleCab, and Toyota’s plans for a second Tundra assembly plant in Texas, and it’s clear that Toyota has ending the domestic dominance of full-size pickups clearly in their viewfinder. So, the Tundra StepSide is only the first part of a script that starts with a more aggressive new grille, a face that we’ll describe as ruggedly handsome in either SR5 or Limited trim. But our words aren’t as kind to the new StepSide bed’s sporty styling. In trying to separate the look from Ford’s F-150 Flareside, the round, sweeping fenders, and prominent taillights have a spongy, melted look.
But, the StepSide bed does mean business with 76.5-inches of length, 49.3-inches of width, and 19-inches of depth. So a big load of mulch or several sheets of plywood won’t be a cargo problem. The expected steps in the bed sides allow easy access, but did flex a bit under a large adult’s weight. But the StepSide box is supported by a rugged box-section frame, with a 128.3- inch wheelbase, upon which also rides Toyota’s popular and roomy Access Cab.
The Access Cab, which equips 90-percent of all Tundras sold, is an extended design, with four clam-shell style doors, and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat. Access front and rear is certainly easy, but backseat leg room is not sufficient for long distances. Fortunately, the rear seat also folds up for extra cargo space.
There’s plenty of space up front, of course, along with a well organized dash and comfy seats. A split bench is standard on the SR5 with these supportive bucket seats an option. They face large, clear analog gauges and big, efficient stereo controls at the top of the center stack. A CD player is standard with upgrades adding a cassette player and in-dash CD changer. Idiot-proof rotary heat and ventilation controls sit just below, next to a passenger-side airbag cut-off switch. The interior of the Tundra is attractive, tidy, useful, and where this truck stands out the most.
Motivation for our 4X4 Tundra StepSide Access Cab is provided by Toyota’s ultra- smooth 4.7-liter dual-overhead-cam I-Force V8. Standard with four-wheel drive, it puts out 240 horsepower and an impressive 315 pound-feet of torque. A 3.4-liter 190-horsepower, 220 pound- feet of torque V-6 is standard in the 4X2 StepSide. The only transmission for Tundra StepSide is a 4-speed automatic, that we found to provide a shift quality that would be at home in a Lexus. Matched with the V-8, 0 to 60 is dispatched in a seamless 8.0 seconds flat. Our test truck’s Touch Select 4-wheel-drive system allows a choice of either high or low range with the flick of a switch. With 11.2-inches of ground clearance, our Tundra performed flawlessly during this year’s Mid-Atlantic snows.
Total payload for our SR5 4X4 with V8 engine and 4-speed automatic transmission is 1,110 pounds. Towing capacity is 6,900 pounds. Those numbers fall far short of the domestics but still are sufficient for most personal use and light duty industrial buyers. Handling in even the roughest conditions is sure-footed and predictable. The power rack- and-pinion steering delivers plenty of information about what the wheels are doing. And unlike the rock hard Toyota 4x4s of years ago, the suspension delivers a very refined ride. This is a 4- wheel-drive pickup that we wouldn’t mind driving every day, and in everyday driving, should deliver a pickup-reasonable 16 miles-per-gallon. EPA estimates are 14 city/17 highway.
Prices for the Tundra StepSide Access Cab start at $24,585 for the 2-wheel-drive SR5 model. Go the V-8 4-wheel-drive route with your SR5, and the starting price rises to $27,915. Go for the more upscale Limited model, and 2-wheel-drives cost $28,215. While the top-end Limited 4X4 goes for $31,555.
The 2003 Toyota Tundra StepSide Access Cab is as capable as any pickup built by America’s Big Three and adds a distinctive, sporty look, as well. Of course, if you don’t like the StepSide styling, you can opt for an Access Cab with a standard 6 , foot bed, and get the same room and capabilities. Either way, the Toyota Tundra is one potent pickup. That’s why we picked the original Tundra as our 2001 Drivers’ Choice Best Pickup of the Year. It’s a truck that increasingly should make the designers and marketing teams at Ford, GM and Dodge very, very worried.
Engine: 4.7-Liter Dohc I-force V8
Torque: 315 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.0 Seconds
EPA Mileage: 14 MPG City 17 MPG Highway
Motorweek's Mileage Loop: 16 MPG Mixed City/highway