The Morning Call and's view

Why is it that Toyota has struggled to sell its T100 full-size pickup?

Good question — one that I thought deserved a closer look.

No doubt about it, this is a full-size pickup. Its wide flanks, subtly sculpted, aren’t as macho as some pickups, but still are distinctive and modern.

There are three trim levels. Standard grades get two-wheel drive and a 2.7-liter 16-valve double overhead cam four-cylinder engine. A standard cab and long bed ensure the 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood will fit on the bed floor.

Next up is a better-equipped T100 Xtracab, powered by a 3.4-liter DOHC 24-valve V6. Top dog is the tested SR5 model. This truck has the same engine as mid-level models, but indulges its drivers with a long list of little luxuries. A part-time four-wheel drive system is available on the top two trim levels and can be engaged below 50 mph. A five-speed manual or four-speed automatic are available on all models. The Xtracab models, though, can only be had with the short 4-by-6-foot bed. Combine that with the lack of a V8 option and lower payload capacities than domestic competitors and you end up with a pickup that doesn’t work as hard as it plays.

But with so many pickup buyers using them as car substitutes, that might not matter much.

Take a look at some of the equipment offered on the T100: Dual vanity mirrors, comfy front bucket seats, power windows and locks, AM/FM-cassette-CD audio system, storage console, tilt wheel, even cruise control.

A driver-side air bag is standard. The dash features complete instrumentation. The secondary gauges remind me of those from an early ’60s Chrysler. The plastics are finely grained, and the whole cabin is impeccably assembled in the Toyota tradition. It has all the comforts of a car and more.

Take the four-wheel drive system. While only a part-time system, it works quietly and unobtrusively, with little noise. The truck’s handling feels a bit heavier when it’sengaged, but not overly so. The light power steering has a quick ratio and, combined with an adeptly tuned suspension, it’s almost car-like. Thankfully, Toyota left enough truck feel dialed in. The tail will even hop over bumps, but only in aggressive maneuvers. Considering the SR5 with optional P265 tires has a 9.3-inch ground clearance, that’s quite a feat.

The stiff-build quality Toyota is famous for is here in spades. Hitting harsh bumps reveals no chassis flex, the steering wheel doesn’t tremble, nothing shakes or rattles. No bouncy suspension, either. This is something some domestic pickup buyers are used to. The fine bucket seats hold you in place. The fine stereo system has imaging so real, you’d swear the band was in the back seat.

When it comes to power trains, go for the V6. The four has only 150 horses and 177 foot-pounds of torque. Compare that to the six’s 190 horsepower and 220 foot-pounds of torque, and the six is the only way to move this big truck with any authority.

Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are optional, but well worth the $590 cost. They worked quickly and effectively, especially with an empty bed. The front disc/rear drum brakes have Toyota’s usual light pedal feel.

There’s some road noise at speed, but otherwise the cabin is relatively serene at highway velocity. Little wind, engine or drive train noise intrudes.

Certainly, there are trucks that work harder or go faster than the T100. But used the way a lot of pickups are today — as a substitute for a car — this is one competitive pickup with good acceleration and handling, four-wheel drive capability and Toyota’s excellent reputation for reliability.

With a price that competes strongly against Detroit’s Big Three, it’s hard to see why Toyota can’t sell all it can build. Maybe because, to the “I gotta have a V8” crowd, this truck will never be a real competitor until it gains two cylinders.

They don’t know what they’re missing.

1997 Toyota T100 SR5 Standard: 3.4-liter double overhead cam V6, four-speed electronic automatic transmission, part-time four-wheel drive, independent front suspension, rear leaf-spring suspension, power-assisted recirculating-ball steering, power-assisted front disc-rear drum brakes, P235/75R15 tires, driver-side air bag, six-foot cargo bed with two-tier loading and cargo tie-down hooks, mud guards, tow hooks, protective skid plates, dual outside mirrors, removable tailgate, tilt-out rear quarter windows, fabric bench seat with storage armrest, rear cloth jump seats, full carpeting, full instrumentation, tilt wheel, digital clock, AM/FM radio with four speakers, dual cupholders and coin holder, privacy glass, map lights, passenger vanity mirror, sliding rear window. Options: Premium cassette sound system with six speakers, sport seat package (front bucket seats with console box), four-wheel anti-lock brakes, P265/70R16 tires with aluminum wheels, Extra Value Package (power windows, power locks, power outer mirrors, CFC-free air conditioning, cruise control, carpeted floor mats, chrome rear bumper, body side molding), metallic paint, compact disc player, bed liner. Base price: $24,828 As tested: $28,539 EPA rating: 16 mpg city, 17 mpg highway Test mileage: 16 mpg

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