Toyota Tundra aims for America's heart
Double Cab SR5 capable of light hauling or family chauffeuring.

Maybe you've seen it.

You're driving down some narrow two-lane road and resting in a yard, a tree sprouting through its cab, is a pickup truck slowly yielding to the elements. Years from now, you might actually see a Toyota, laid to rest, return to the earth from which it sprang.

But seriously, it just could happen.

Sure, Ford and GM each sell 10 times as many large pickup trucks as Toyota. Of the 2.3 million pickups sold in 2003, only 60,000 were Tundras. It's hard to believe that the Tundra will become America's truck. But I'm sure people said that about the Camry when it was introduced in the mid '80s.

Step-by-step, Toyota is working its way into the heartland. It started with the T-100, which morphed into the Tundra. When Toyota entered the Tundra in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, the vehicle was raised a notch.

Now, Toyota has taken another step with the introduction of the Tundra Double Cab. It's quite a nice pickup, despite what domestic diehards might say against the Tundra.

Their objections might be:

"How could you think of buying a foreign-made pickup truck?"

The Toyota Tundra is built in Princeton, Ind. This compares to the Chevrolet Silverado, which is built in Ontario, Canada. "But the domestic pickups have higher towing ratings."

That's true. Toyota's maximum towing rating is a mere 6,500 pounds, versus 8,500 pounds for the Chevy Silverado and 9,500 pounds for the Ford F-150. But 76 percent of pickups purchased are light-duty, half-ton models. Most see light, suburban duty. And while you might tow a trailer on occasion, you will drive to work, school or the home improvement store. For this sort of mundane work, the Toyota excels. If you need to tow, look at the domestic's heavy-duty pickups. Otherwise, the Toyota is one to consider seriously.

Toyota equips the Tundra with its smooth ''iForce'' double-overhead-cam V-8 rated at 240 horsepower and 315 foot-pounds of torque. While this rating is lower than its domestic competition, the Tundra never feels winded. Power delivery is very refined.

A four-speed automatic transmission is standard, as is a two-wheel or four-wheel-drive. The four-wheel-drive test model proved to be easy to maneuver, feeling less cumbersome than some domestic competitors.

Ride quality was good as well, with the vehicle never feeling overtly truck-like.

The Tundra is refined impressively in both ride and handling. Part of that is due to the Tundra Double Cab's long wheelbase, which is greater than that of other Tundras.

"But these new full-sized Japanese pickups don't offer the variety of style available in domestic brands."

That's true, but that's changing.

While Toyota only offers half-ton pickups, variety is growing, inc luding three cab styles (Regular, Access Cab and the new Double Cab), bed styles (Regular and Step Side), two engines (3.4-liter V-6 and 4.7-liter i-Force V-8), 4x2 and 4x4 drivetrains, two transmissions (five-speed manual and four-speed automatic) and three model grades (Standard, SR5 and Limited.)

"But the new Ford F-150 really shines when it comes to interior comfort."

Absolutely. For sheer style, the F-150 takes the prize. But the Toyota comes in a strong second, with interior quality that others are hard-pressed to match. The seats are covered in a quality cloth and fit and finish are excellent. All controls are easy to understand and operate. The only down side is that, typical of many Toyota trucks, the seating position is too low. It feels as though you're sitting on the floor. The SR5-trim test vehicle didn't have a way to raise seat height.

On the plus side, rear seat room is better than its competition, with a rear seat DVD entertainment system and wireless headphones available as an option.

"But these new Double Cabs have small beds, limiting hauling ability."

That's true of any of the newer double cabs on the market, which are designed to haul the family as often as it might haul mulch from the garden center. Toyota makes up for this by designing the bed deeper than its competition, measuring at 20.7 inches. "Okay, so it matches the competition, surpassing it even. But what's special about it?"

The incredible build quality and quiet refinement add to the little touches. The most special? How about a sliding, power, rear window, which rolls down, opening up the entire cabin? It's a first for full-sized pickups and a nice touch.

"This sound like it could be expensive."

No more so than any other half-tonner.

The SR5 test vehicle starts at $28,975. Including an off-road package, all-weather package, towing package and some minor items, the bottom line is a reasonable $32,105.

Does this sound like a vehicle that could quietly take America's heartland?

Most definitely.