Four-wheel drive pickups have a definite big-boned style, and useful ground clearance. On the negative side, they cost more to buy, operate, and insure than two-wheel drive trucks. And most spend little time in four-wheel drive, even on dirt roads and fire trails. More than a few 4x4s never get dirty at all.
In celebration of legendary off-road racer Ivan "Iron Man" Stewart's triumphs in a two-wheel drive Toyota race truck, and to create a new niche in the compact pickup field, Toyota introduced the Tacoma PreRunner in the middle of the 1998 model year. It offered 4x4 looks, power, and ground clearance at a lower price. Basically a 4x4 Tacoma SR5 without the transfer case and front axle assembly, it was developed for people who like the style of a 4x4 but not the premiums in purchase price and insurance, and for current 4x4 owners who have discovered that they used four-wheel drive less than they had thought they would when they bought their trucks. Originally offered in Xtracab form only, a regular cab version is available for 1999.
The PreRunner was developed with input from Toyota Motorsports and "The Iron Man." It has plenty of ground clearance, with 10.8 inches standard and 12 inches with the optional Toyota Racing Development (TRD) off-road package. Both regular and Xtracab models are available with a 150-horsepower 2.7-liter 4- cylinder engine. The Xtracab model can also be had with a 190-horse 3.4-liter V6. These are the same engines as found in the 4x4 Tacoma models. A 4-speed automatic is the only transmission. V6-powered PreRunners can be outfitted with an on-demand locking differential to aid in low-speed offroad use.
I first sampled a PreRunner at the press introduction last Spring, when I had the opportunity to play in the mud at the Hollister Hills off-road park near Monterey, California. I was surprised by the PreRunner's off-road ability. It could do almost anything a 4x4 could, and the locking differential certainly helped when the going got tough. More recently I had a PreRunner at home. It's a conveniently-sized truck for everyday use, and as civilized as expected from a Toyota. A nickname like "Iron Man" is not necessary to appreciate it.
APPEARANCE: The PreRunner looks like a 4x4 pickup. Huge tires, a foot of ground clearance, and the resultant high stance can do that. The PreRunner is built in Toyota's Fremont, California plant from the same body and chassis as the 4x4 Tacoma, and so shares the 4x4's gently-rounded but muscular looks. The only way to tell a PreRunner from a 4x4 Tacoma, other than getting dirty underneath, is by the blacked-out badging on the tailgate and the small "Toyota Motorsports" plaque at the rear of the cab.
COMFORT: The PreRunner Xtracab is outfitted with the same high- quality synthetic materials as a Corolla or Camry. It is roomy and comfortable for two, with good, manually-adjustable bucket seats. The rear area will hold two more small people, but, typically for an extended-cab compact pickup, is best used for cargo. Control and instrument panel layout is good, with the most-used controls within easy sight and reach. Both climate control and AM/FM/cassette stereo systems work simply and well. The PreRunner 's interior has plenty of convenient open and covered storage spaces, and two power outlets at the front of the center console. Despite the height, access is surprisingly easy as the front seat cushions are just the right height for all but the shortest people to just slide right in. Convenient grab handles make access even easier.
SAFETY: The 1999 has dual front airbags with passenger-side cutoff, side-impact door beams, and available 4-wheel antilock brakes.
ROADABILITY: There's no hiding the fact that the PreRunner is a pickup. Its tall stance magnifies any body motion in cornering, and relatively stiff springs give a firm ride over bumpy surfaces. A high center of gravity means that it does not corner like a sports car. But that comes with the off-road-capable truck territory, and the PreRunner is a very good truck. On the road, it is quiet and civilized. Off of the road, the PreRunner can do almost anything that a 4x4 can, thanks in part to the available locking differential and great ground clearance.
PERFORMANCE: The V6 used in the PreRunner is Toyota's twincam 3.4-liter. It has a maximum of 190 horsepower and 220 lb. ft. of torque, and is matched to a four-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission. As expected of a Toyota engine, it is extremely strong at low engine speeds, which makes it work very well in city traffic or on off-road trails. The transmission shifts more aggressively than that of a car, but does its job quickly and smoothly. Because the PreRunner is lighter than the Tacoma 4x4 V6, it is noticeably quicker in acceleration.
CONCLUSIONS: With the Tacoma PreRunner, Toyota has an answer for people who like 4x4 pickup looks but don't need the four-wheel drive.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 18,538 Price As Tested $ 21,167 Engine Type dual overhead cam 24-valve V6 Engine Size 3.4 liters / 206 cu. in. Horsepower 190 @ 4800 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 220 @ 3600 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 121.9 in. / 202.3 in. Curb Weight 3280 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.3 Fuel Capacity 18.0 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular gasoline (87 octane) Tires 31x10.50 R15 LT Goodyear Wrangler GSA Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock optional Suspension, front/rear independent double with coil springs / solid axle with leaf springs Ground Clearance 12 in. with TRD offroad package Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 23 / 20 0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.1 sec Towing Capacity 5,000 lbs. OPTIONS AND CHARGES 4-wheel antilock brakes $ 590 Bucket seats and center console $ 75 Power windows and door locks $ 470 Carpet floor mats $ 75 Bedliner $ 299 Tilt Steering wheel $ 235 TRD offroad package - includes: black overfenders, alloy wheels, 31-inch tires, tachometer, rear differential lock, graphics $ 1,590 Extra Value Package Discount -($ 1,125) Destination Charge $ 420