New Car/Review

The Toyota Tundra, Toyota gets serious with a serious truck.

by Larry Weitzman

Peterbuilt and Kenworth do not have a monopoly on trucks. Although Toyota has been making some of the best small trucks for years with a reputation for quality and reliability that is second to none, they have not yet tread on the hallowed ground of the domestic full-size V-8 pickup. As of June 1 that has become history.

Enter the new V-8 Tundra. Tundra is the name for the frozen, nearly treeless wasteland in Siberia and the northern arctic latitudes of this continent. The new Tundra is anything but cold. This truck is so hot it could turn the arctic into the Sahara. As a 4X4 it could conquer either.

This new unit is not the first bigger truck for Toyota. The T100 was introduced in 1993 as a full size pickup, but it was just slightly smaller than the competition and the biggest powerplant was a 3.0L V-6. Performance was slightly anemic. In 1995 the V-6 was bumped up to 3.4L and a 190 hp. But even with the significantly improved performance, it was still over a foot shorter than the competition and maybe too little too late. Even though it was a great truck, it just didn't fit the bill as a "cowboy Cadillac" and sales were dismal.

The Tundra replaces the T100. It's new in all respects. It's bigger, infinitely more powerful and can do the job of a real half ton pick (the payload of my test vehicle was nearly a ton). Is this the new "cowboy Lexus"?

The body is all new and very American. It is built in a brand new factory in Princeton, Indiana. It too is a domestic. In comparison to the previous T100, the new Tundra has a 7 inch longer wheelbase at 128.3 inches and an overall length increase of 8 inches to 217.5 inches. Width remains identical at 75.2 inches.

The overall design has been compared to the Ford F150, but there are major sheet metal differences. The front end is very pronounced with an upright, massive look and gorgeous headlights that flow into the fenders split by a large open grill with a centered Toyota logo dividing a single chrome bar. The sides have subtle fender blisters that serve as wheel flares and the wheel wells are somewhat squared creating a nimble, aggressive look. The design works as this is one good looking truck.

But the best part is in the mechanicals. The standard engine is still the 3.4L V-6, but the engine of choice will be the new i-Force Lexus derived DOHC V-8. Right out of the LX470 which owes its heritage to the original LS 400, this new engine produces 15 more hp than the LX470 with an output of 245 hp at the same 4,800 rpm. Torque is 315 lbs.-ft at 3,400 rpm (down 5 lbs-ft from the LX470). The engine makes copious amounts of power from idle to redline of 5,400 rpm, but by 2,500 rpm this baby starts pulling like a freight train.

Performance is Lexus silky smooth with the feel and audible qualities that will make a V-8 lover swoon. Get into the throttle and you will hear melodious sounds that are reserved for high revving V-8 sporting sedans and sports cars. It's that good as this truck gets down the road in a hurry. This Tundra 4X4 averaged only 8.39 seconds running 0-60 with two runs at 8.03 and 8.05 seconds. Toyota claims the 7.87 seconds for the V-8 4X2 which corresponds perfectly with my times for the 4X4 I tested. 4X4's generally run a half a second or so slower than a 4X2 because of the extra 250 pounds of weight which is located mostly over the front end which reduces weight transfer to the rear during acceleration.

Passing acceleration was very strong with 50-70 mph taking only 4.53 seconds and uphill 50-70 acceleration averaging a very fast 6.90 seconds. This truck is quicker than a greased weasel (I wonder how fast Bill Clinton is all greased up?). It would even be quicker if the rev limiter was moved up from 5,600 rpm to a full 6 grand. I keep forgetting that this is not a race car but a truck.

The only transmission that is connected to the V-8 is an electronically controlled 4 speed auto that shifts very positive when under load (sometimes too positive) and smoother under normal conditions. This unit doesn't come with the fuzzy logic that the Lexus has upon which this tranny is based. A five speed manual is available with the V-6.

Expect about 15-17 mpg in El Dorado County driving the V-8 4X4. The EPA rates the Tundra V-8 4X4 at 14/17 mpg city/highway, but during my test period the Tundra averaged an even 15 mpg with a great percentage of the time spent with the right foot buried in the deep carpet. With a 26.4 gallon fuel tank, range should extend an easy 400 miles on the road.

Working is what a truck does best and this Toyota can do some heavy lifting. It's rated to tow up to 7,200 pounds and from the performance numbers the Tundra puts up and its torquey feel, that would be a lead pipe cinch. For those who value the bed, a factory bedliner is an option for $299. It protects the bed rails and looks great. The bed itself has the same interior length and width as other full sizers, but it is shallower by about three inches.

Toyota claims the Tundra has the most rigid frame in the 1/2 ton market segment. The frame rails are made from a continuous piece of steel rolled lip C channel with eight cross members. The suspension is conventional truck with coil spring, double wishbone and low pressure nitrogen gas shocks up front and live axle with leaf springs and staggered low pressure nitrogen gas shocks abaft. A front stabilizer bar is standard. Even with a curb weight of 4,321 pounds and a ground clearance of 11.4 inches, the Tundra acquits itself remarkably well in the twisties. This truck consumed Green Valley Road for lunch and them came back and devoured Latrobe Road for dinner. It has its limits and even with some understeer, the benign handling lets this thing do corners at maximum legal speeds with ease.

On Ponderosa Road, the ride was firm and maybe even a little jigglely at times, but never harsh or punishing. The bigger the bumps the better the Tundra liked it as well as the passengers. It was very well controlled. On the highway, the Tundra becomes quiet, refined and supple. No tar strips, expansion joints or porpoising. There are no rattles or unwanted noises, including wind and road. The engine is a very distant but very pleasant murmur, turning only 2,200 rpm at a serine 70 mph.

Braking is done by front ventilated discs and rear drums. They seem to work well and provide plenty of stopping power with excellent pedal feel. Toyota says that rear discs are subject to scoring and warping in truck duty, but the front binders have four piston calipers, a first in trucks. Antilocks are an optional $630 (spend the money) but are bundled with daytime running lights. Go figure that one out.

Toyota did their homework on the inside, too. I haven't been a fan of their truck seats in the past, but that all changes in the Tundra. They are well designed, great looking and sublimely comfortable. And this was the standard SR5 set up. The fronts seats (60/40) have easy manual adjustments for distant and recline. Tilt wheel was standard. The dash has a fully instrumented pod with a large speedo and tach integrated to the left. The four ancillary gauges are grouped in pairs left and right. The tranny gear indicator is different. It's located to the right of the speedo and wraps a quarter of the way around it. When I first got in, I really had to look for the tranny gear indicator.

A second pod is located in the center of the dash containing the excellent stereo which comes with a cassette. The CD upgrade costs only $100 and worth every penny. Simple to use. rotary AC controls are located underneath with push button switch for the compressor. There is a trick cupholder beneath the AC as well as two cupholders in the large pull down armrest which has enough storage space for doubling as a Bekins warehouse.

There is plenty of room for three abreast seating, but the shoulder and hip room is still about three inches narrower than the competition. Behind the seats is a surprising amount of storage space for brief cases or sporting gear. There is some hard plastic on the doors and the dash is hard finished, but the overall feel is one of quality with maximum utility.

There are two airbags, one switchable, seat belt pretensioners, side impact door beams and two auxiliary power outlets plus a lighter.

Pricing is very competitive. My test rig which was an SR5 regular cab V-8 4X4 stickered for $22,710 plus destination of $420. The gorgeous sunfire red pearl beauty came with only five options, a convenience pack which includes power windows, locks, fancy sunvisors and lighting for $1,060 and a must; 16X7 styled steel wheels with huge 265/70 with wheel moldings, $220 and a bargain, CD player for $100, a Toyota bedliner for $299 and monogrammed carpeted floor mats for $63 for a total of $24,872.

I would add only three more items, antilock brakes for $630, cast alloys with the same tires for an additional $380 over the steel wheels and a tow hitch receiver for $379. The total would add $1,389 for a total of $26,261, a real value in today's hot truck market.

Sales have been understandably very hot and Tundra's are selling like pellet stoves in a hard freeze. First year production is pegged at 100,000 units, but the truck is selling at the rate of 650 units per day according to latest sales figures. Thompson's Toyota always has one in stock for testing and trucks are coming in. This Tundra is worth a test drive, just agree to give it back, but do not hesitate if the one you want is available. Inventories should remain on the skinny side for sometime to come.

SPECIFICATIONS 

Price $14,995 (V-6, 4X2 Reg Cab Base) to about $31,000 for a loaded Limited V-8 Access Cab

Engines
DOHC, 24 valve V-6 190 hp @ 4,800 rpm 220 lbs-ft torque @ 3,600 rpm
DOHC, 32 valve V-8 245 hp @ 4,800 rpm 315 lbs-ft torque @ 3,400 rpm
Transmission 5 speed manual (V-6 only) 4  speed electronically controlled automatic

Transfer case Two speed part time, with electronic engagement 

Configuration
Front longitudinal engine rear wheel drive and four wheel drive

Dimensions
Wheelbase                              128.3  inches
Length                                 217.5  inches
Width                                  75.2   inches
Height                                 71.1   inches
Weight                                 4,321  pounds
Ground Clearance                       11.2   inches
Turning Circle                           44.3   feet
Steering turns lock to lock             3.4    turns
GVWR                                   6,200  pounds
Tow Capacity                           7,200  pounds
Fuel Capacity                         26.4   gallons

PERFORMANCE

0-60 8.39   seconds
50-70 4.53   seconds
50-70 uphill 6.90   seconds
Top Speed Without a governor, in excess of 110 mph, but who cares unless your racing in NASCAR

Fuel Economy
EPA 14/17 mpg city/highway, 
My estimate is 15-17 mpg in El Dorado County, 17 plus mpg on the highway at legal speeds

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