SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
Can a pickup be a sports vehicle, as in "sports car?" Toyota thinks so, and so has introduced the 2001 S-Runner to prove it. It's aimed at young, or young-at-heart, truck enthusiasts, and adds ground-effects styling and a special, street performance-oriented suspension to a Tacoma Xtracab two-wheel drive V6 compact pickup.
All 2001 Toyota Tacoma models have been restyled, with one, more aggressive look. The S-Runner is just one of several new Toyota pickup varieties. There is a new crew cab body style, called "Double Cab" by the company. It's offered on most models. In addition to regular two-wheel drive (4x2) and four-wheel drive (4x4) models, the 4x2 Prerunner, with 4x4 looks and clearance, continues, and is available with all cab styles. If that's not enough, the "StepSide" retro-look cargo bed is available. The 2001 Toyota Tacoma lineup looks like niche marketing at its finest, with something for everyone.
Sports cars are sports cars and trucks are trucks, but during my week with an S-Runner I found it to be closer to a sports car than most such trucks. It's plenty quick, and handles quite well for a pickup. While some sport trucks I've driven have been less than comfortable thanks to overly-harsh suspension tuning, the S-Runner is much better. It gets looks, and, if it's not quite a Celica GTS in speed and handling, it can tow 3500 lbs or haul almost 1400 lbs. Don't try that with a sports car!
APPEARANCE: The 2001 S-Runner builds on the new Tacoma look. It's more aggressive than the previous 4x4, and much more so than the old 4x2. An upside-down trapezoid grille with large vertical bars, flanked by two small faux air vents and large headlights, gives it presence. The hood is enhanced by a noticeable power bulge. While other models have chromed or body-colored grilles and bumper trim, the S-Runner features a monochrome paint scheme and a flat, air dam front bumper fascia and low side skirts. Low-profile tires mounted on five-spoke alloy wheels complete the sports look. It's offered in "Black Sand Pearl" or "Radiant Red." My test truck had the black peal color scheme, a subdued metallic black that, with the special bodywork, drew plenty of attention.
COMFORT: The S-Runner is a sporty mid-level Toyota on the inside, with bolstered sport bucket seats and black-on-white instruments. It's as practical as any Toyota pickup, with plenty of interior storage spaces, highlighted by a double console box. The cigarette lighter is joined by two power points, so a full complement of electronic devices may be used. Upholstery is grippy nylon, and the steering wheel is tilt-adjustable. The mirrors are manually- adjustable, but by means of levers from inside the cab. My test truck was equipped with the "Sports Package," a pricey but useful option group that includes power windows and door locks, an upgraded AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, sliding rear window, and air conditioning. Both the regular or StepSide beds are a useful 74 inches in length. The S-Runner is an extended-cab compact truck, and so is best thought of as a two-seater with extra interior storage space in the rear. There is a rear bench of sorts, but with a partial cushion and vertical, partial seatback, any occupants better be very small and short-term. Anyone needing to carry people more than cargo should look at Toyota's new four-door crew-cab "Double Cab" model.
SAFETY: The S-Runner, like all Toyota Tacomas, has dual airbags with a cut-off for the front passenger bag.
ROADABILITY: Unloaded pickups are often bouncy, and can have a harsh ride. Add a sport suspension and the ride can be even harsher. No such problem with the S-Runner. While it is firmer and bouncier than a modern car, at least unloaded, there is little harshness and minimal body roll thanks to its Tokico gas shocks with special low-velocity control valves. A one-inch lower ride height, courtesy the low-profile P235/55 R16 Bridgestone Potenza tires, also helps improve handling, but it's not so low as to cause clearance problems. The S-Runner is definitely a pickup with a pickup's forward weight distribution, but it handles very well for a truck. It's a big time grin machine.
PERFORMANCE: Toyota's 3.4-liter twin cam, 24-valve V6 is the only engine offered in the S-Runner, and is the perfect choice anyway. With 190 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque, the relatively light truck is Toyota's hot rod, and is in no way underpowered. The V6 feels like a torquey truck engine from a standing start, with plenty of low-rpm power. Yet, it's a sports car motor at higher revs, with a healthy surge around 4000 rpm. Acceleration from any speed is never a problem, and towing capacity is a useful 3500 lbs. Fittingly for a performance-oriented vehicle, the only transmission is a five-speed manual.
CONCLUSIONS: Toyota's new S-Runner combines sporty looks and performance with pickup practicality.
SPECIFICATIONS 2001 Toyota Tacoma S-Runner Base Price $ 17,905 Price As Tested $ 21,234 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 24-valve V6 Engine Size 3.4 liters / 206 cu. in. Horsepower 190 @ 4,800 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 220 @ 3,600 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 212.9 in. / 201.1 in. Curb Weight 3125 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 16.4 Fuel Capacity 15.8 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular, 87 octane Tires P235/55 R16 Bridgestone Potenza Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock optional Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone with coil springs / solid axle with leaf springs Ground Clearance 7.6 inches Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 22 / 19 0 to 60 mph 7.5 sec Towing capacity 3500 lbs OPTIONS AND CHARGES Anti-lock brakes $ 590 Tilt-up moonroof with sunshade $ 390 Sports package - includes: power windows and door locks, 6- speaker AM/FM/cassette/ CD stereo, air conditioning, digital clock, sliding rear window, privacy glass $ 2,000 Carpet floor mats $ 70 Bedliner $ 299