The August sales figures are in, and if you build pickups, the news is still grim: Toyota's truck sales were down more than 17 percent compared with August 2007, reflecting a dismal year for every company that builds pickups.
This is not to say the need for pickups has declined, and last weekend I got that reminder when a friend called: He lives in a flood-prone area, and his garage was about to go under. We hooked up a trailer to this week's test vehicle, a Toyota Tundra, and filled the truck bed and the trailer with -- well, whatever he had in all those cardboard boxes.
There's a reason -- millions of reasons, actually -- why trucks have long been so popular, but those reasons have been eclipsed by a single huge one: Gasoline prices. This four-wheel-drive Tundra, with Toyota's biggest truck engine, a 5.7-liter, 381-horsepower V-8, is EPA-rated at 13 mpg city driving, 17 mpg highway.
The 3,000-pound trailer we hauled barely got the Tundra's attention -- it can tow more than 10,000 pounds. Drop the four-wheel-drive system into the low-range gearing, and you can pretty much go anyplace the big 20-inch tires can get a little traction.
But filling up that 26.4-gallon fuel tank -- yeah, that hurts. No argument.
That's pretty much the only knock against this Tundra, aside from the list price, and we'll get to that in a moment. The Tundra is, of course, Toyota's biggest truck, redesigned last year to take on the full-sized pickups from Ford, General Motors and Dodge. Toyota remains convinced they can sell 200,000 Tundras this year, and maybe they can, but it will be at substantially discounted prices.
The test Tundra is about as nice as a truck can get: A Crewmax Limited, it had a roomy rear seat, and even with a shortish 66.7-inch bed, the truck felt enormous. At 228.7 inches in length, it is, but you can get a Tundra that's 247.6 inches long, and that one should include a ground crew to help you dock it.
The engine, thirsty as it may be, is superb and would be at home in any sports car. The same goes for the six-speed automatic transmission, which is very nicely matched to the V-8's power characteristics. The ride and handling is on par with any pickup, though weighing in at more than 5,700 pounds, there's no masking that heft on winding roads.
Inside, the Limited is loaded with leather upholstery, an excellent JBL sound system and power everything. Safety equipment includes stability control, traction control, side and side curtain air bags and automatic brakeforce distribution. Options included a navigation system, running boards, premium wheels, a bedliner and a few other features that raised the $42,070 base price to a sobering $46,196. Of course, Toyota dealers -- like everyone else selling full-sized trucks -- are willing to negotiate. A lot.
You can tap into the vast majority of the Tundra Crewmax Limited's utility with a lesser, and less expensive, version of the pickup, but after a long day of moving -- well, whatever was in all those cardboard boxes -- I can't deny how nice all those premium features were. High gas prices don't make me appreciate pickups any less -- they just make it harder to afford one.
Sentinel Automotive Editor
Steven Cole Smithcan be reached at email@example.com, or through his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/gasgauge.