EXPERT REVIEW

The Morning Call and Mcall.com's view

For the vast majority of people who use their pick-up trucks as commuting vehicles, testing its ability off-road is a waste of time. The true test comes around town. What feels agile off-road can become ponderous on-road.

American automakers have been making their trucks much more civilized, even in the full-sized category. After a couple of half-hearted attempts at matching GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler, Toyota tackles the big three on their own turf with the new Tundra full-sized pick-up truck.

Built at a new plant in Indiana, Toyota offers its biggie truck as a two-door, regular cab with an eight-foot-bed or a four-door extended cab with 6-foot bed. Two- or four-wheel-drive is available in base, SR5 or Limited trim levels.

There’s a 3.4 liter 190-horsepower double-overhead-cam V-6, but skip it if your budget allows. If you really want to have fun crossing the tundra in your Tundra, go for the 4.7-liter 32-valve double-overhead-cam V-8. Dubbed the “i-Force” by Toyota, this engine first saw duty in the Land Cruiser last year. The numbers: 245 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque. Payload ranges from 4,900 with the two-wheel-drive V-6 to 7,200 pounds with the V-8 extended cab.

This engine comes on stronger than a congressman at re-election. Power is strong and smooth, even though its no stump-puller off the line. There’s gobs of power as speed builds, but it’s not noisy. Toyota’s V-8s are powerful, but well-mannered. Th cab is silent. There’s no wind or road noise, just a bit of tire noise. In fact, it’s quieter than many luxury cars I’ve driven — quite a remarkable achievement.

This power is fed through a well-mannered chassis. The back end stays planted pretty well in two-wheel mode with little back-end hop until you really start to push it. There’s also little bobbing over dips with bumps well-absorbed. Engaging the four-wheel-drive ups the grip, but the handling feels about the same. Usually, there’s a heaviness felt with all wheels engaged. The system disengaged with a clunk, making the vehicle hesitate momentarily.

The Tundra not only hauls…, it hauls payloads as well, being able to tow trailers up to 7,200 pounds. The bed comes in one basic length. Opting for the extended cab shortens the bed, because there is no longer bed available. The bed also seems to be not as deep as those of its competitors.

Between the car-like feel of the handling and the ample power, this pick-up can easily be a family’s second car. The interior only reinforces this impression.

When Toyota was designing this vehicle, they took a long look at the Ford F-150. At one point, they were thinking of calling it the T-150 until Ford objected. The Ford influence can be seen on the dash, where a large circular area houses the climate controls and audio system.

The climate controls are three simple rotary dials, simple and easy to operate. The audio system is located above them, a good thing since most people adjust the radio mor e than the climate control anyway. The radio had decent sound, with buttons that were large enough to operate without having to look away. It had some trouble pulling in more distant stations, but overall seemed quite good.

The front bucket seats were comfy and supportive with armrests that could be stowed out of the way. A bench seat is standard.

The rear of the cab is tight by full-size standards. The seats are bolt upright and leg room is scarce unless the front seats are moved forward. Thoughtfully, Toyota provides head rests and drink holders. The rear doors can be opened only after the front ones are, typical of the class. Not so typical is the exterior door handles. Most automakers locate them in the door jambs.

The interior of the test vehicle was positively luxurious, with classy materials throughout.

Obviously, Toyota has struck a chord here. This truck is the fastest selling vehicle in Toyota’s history, easily explainable when considering its power and refin ement.

Also consider the price. Prices start at $14,995 for a base V-6 five-speed 4×2. The base regular cab 4×4 V-8 goes for $21,095. The test vehicle, an extended cab 4×4 V-8 base price is $24,200, not much for a four-wheel-drive V-8 powered Toyota and quite a bit less than a Land Cruiser.

>> 2000 Toyota Tundra

Vehicle type: Full-size pickup
Engines: 3-4-liter DOHC V-6 or 4.7 liter DOHC V-8
Transmission: 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual
Wheelbase: 128.3 “
Length: 217.5″
Base price, base model: $14,995
Base price, test model: $24,200
EPA rating: 15 city, 19 highway
Fuel type: premium >>

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