Toyota usually doesn't make mistakes when it comes to designing and selling cars and trucks. Witness the success of the Toyota Camry. Since its redesign in 1997, the Camry has been the best-selling car in America. Toyota has also done amazingly well with the Corolla. Did you know that the Corolla is the second most popular nameplate in automotive history, ranking behind the much-loved Volkswagen Beetle as the most purchased car in the world? Yep, Toyota knows a few things about the car business.
Even Toyota can flounder, though, as shown by the dismal performance of their first entrant in the full-size truck market. Introduced in 1993, the T100 came to battle the Ford F150, Chevrolet C/K1500, GMC C/K1500 and Dodge Ram 1500, trucks that account for a bazillion sales annually. Upon introduction, the T100 was offered only as a regular cab without different bed lengths. The T100 was also missing V8 power, a serious shortcoming in the eyes of power-hungry, load-towing truck buyers. During the six years that the T100 was on the market, Toyota managed to sell only 150,000 of them. The best sales year over the truck's life cycle resulted in a mere 37,000 T100 purchases. Ford sells more F-Series models than that in one month.
While the T100 continued to tank, Toyota engineers and designers began working on a better, more powerful truck that they thought would be more appealing to U.S. buyers. Early on, Toyota figured out that a V8 engine was vital to any full-size truck's sales success in this country. They also discovered that many pickup trucks are actually used for serious work and play, meaning that payload and towing capacities had to be increased. Lastly, Toyota realized that consumers expect certain things when they buy a Toyota: excellent build quality, class-leading reliability and well-designed interiors.
This month, Toyota introduced the all-new Tundra to automotive journalists in Hawaii. Dubbed "The Big Truck on the Big Island," the event underscored Toyota's desire to become a big player in the American truck market. By the looks of things, they are on their way.
The most important part of the Tundra's recipe rests under the hood. The new Toyota pickup has a lion's heart, thanks to the 4.7-liter, i-Force V8 engine that is found in all but the most basic Tundras. The Tundra's i-Force engine features a dual-overhead-cam design, a first for this segment, with a cast-iron block and aluminum alloy heads. Those taking a closer look might realize that this engine is the same one used in the Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX470 sport-utility vehicles, which is a derivative of the all-aluminum, 4.0-liter V8 first seen in the Lexus LS400. The i-Force motor is hooked to a smooth-shifting four-speed automatic that helps drivers put 245 horsepower and 315 foot-pounds of torque to the ground. Unfortunately, the impressive numbers mean that you will be making frequent stops at the gas pump--Toyota predicts that Tundra will get only 15 mpg in the city, 19 mpg on the highway. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) certifies the i-Force as a low-emission engine.
Base models of the Tundra are available with the 3.4-liter DOHC V6 that was offered last year in the T100. The V6 still makes 190 horsepower and 220 foot-pounds of torque, and can be mated to either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual. Don't think that buying the V6 will result in a significant reduction on your Chevron card statement; Toyota only anticipates that the V6 will offer only one-mpg savings compared to the V8.
Toyota offers the Tundra in regular and extended (Access) cab models. Interestingly, the regular cab truck is available solely as a longbed, while the Access cab truck is available only as a shortbed. This limited number of configurations allows Toyota to use the same wheelbase and suspension settings for all of the Tundras. While Edmund's recognizes the practicality of the design, we think that Toyota is going to alienate those drivers who are used to the high degree of customization available in domestic pickups. Toyota seems unconcerned, they expect that 90 percent of the Tundras sold will be Access cab models.
A quick look at the Tundra's interior assured us that Toyota had the "lifestyle" truck buyer in mind when executing the design and layout of the Tundra's cabin. Soft, high-quality plastic adorns the dashboard and door panels of all Tundras, giving the truck the same classy feeling as the inside of a Lexus ES300. The well-positioned radio and climate controls sit high in the Tundra's center stack for easy viewing and adjustment. The radio itself features large buttons and an easy-to-read display, while the climate controls have well-marked rotary knobs that turn with silky smoothness. Overall, we think that the thoughtful design of the interior makes the Tundra seems more like a high-profile sedan than full-size pickup.
Unfortunately, that spacious-sedan mystique disappeared once we climbed into the rear of the Access cab model we were evaluating. With the driver's seat adjusted for an average-size man, there is very little legroom for our six-foot tall editor. After spending 30 minutes riding back there, our editor realized that he had lost sensation in one of his legs and that his back was beginning to ache from the bolt-upright position of the seatback cushion. While the rear seat might be comfortable for kids or shorter-than-average adults, it is not suitable for a tall man or woman. Fortunately, getting in and out of the Access cab is easy for a person of any dimension, since all Access cab models have four doors. (Rear passengers get suicide-type, rear-hinged doors.)
Performance figures for the Tundra are impressive. V8-equipped Tundras have a 2,000-pound payload rating and can tow 5,000 pounds right out of the box. Buy the optional towing package, and the Tundra is capable of dragging 7,000 pounds of stuff wherever you need it to go.
Perhaps more impressive, however, are the Tundra's daily-driver attributes. Tests conducted by AMCI (an independent consulting group tasked with comparing the Toyota Tundra to similarly equipped domestic pickup trucks) showed that the Tundra is faster to 60 mph than the 4.6-liter-equipped Ford F150, 4.8-liter-equipped Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, and 5.2-liter-equipped Dodge Ram. When run against the competitions' larger optional engines, the i-Force Tundra proved to be as fast or faster than everything except the 5.4-liter Ford. AMCI's numbers list the Tundra 2WD's zero-to-60 mph times at 7.87 seconds. AMCI also verified Toyota's claim that the Tundra stops faster, in fewer feet, than the competition.
Our experience behind the wheel of a few Tundra pre-production models made these numbers seem believable. The Tundra has excellent low- and mid-range power, making hill climbing and rolling starts easy, and offers up plenty of grunt for highway passing. The steering is nicely weighted, with plenty of understeer dialed in to keep drivers from getting tail-happy in this torque-laden pickup. The brakes do provide good stopping distances, but seemed grabby and remained difficult to modulate after several hours of driving.
The regular suspension on the Tundra features a coil-spring, double-wishbone setup at the front and a solid axle, leaf-spring setup at the rear. This provides the Tundra with a smooth, predictable ride over most surfaces, but has a tendency to bottom out off road. An optional TRD package replaces the Tundra's low-pressure shocks with higher-pressure Bilstein shocks and revises the spring ratios to make them stiffer. The TRD package gives the Tundra a buckboard ride on some irregular road surfaces, but dramatically improves the truck's predictability off road.
We were impressed by the Tundra's on- and off-road manners, but were most surprised by the truck's vault-like quietude. Pickup truck cabs are not usually the place for quiet meditation, given all of the road, wind and engine noise that typically accompanies a ride in a pickup. The Tundra, however, was entirely different. The only noise in the Tundra is that which drivers and passengers make for themselves. It was almost unsettling to ride in a truck that quiet. Aren't trucks supposed to be loud, roaring contraptions that require passengers to shout to be heard? Apparently, Toyota thinks otherwise.
Toyota expects to build 60,000 Tundras this year, 100,000 next year. We think that this will lead to a serious problem in vehicle availability, because we believe the Tundra is going to be a hit. Toyota maintains that they are being cautious with this truck, perhaps remembering the hard lessons learned with the T100, but we think that their conservatism is unfounded. No, not everyone will like the Tundra. It does not have the configurability of a domestic truck, nor does it offer the highly detailed options that so many working Americans require to make their pickups work just so. Nevertheless, the fastest growing population of pickup truck owners is the personal-use buyer. Personal-use buyers don't care about axle ratios, engine heaters, camper packages, or towing mirrors, they care about towing a boat to the lake on weekends and looking cool during the weekly trip to the hardware store. Personal-use buyers like pickup trucks for the same reasons college kids like Miatas--for the image.
Toyota has finally put together a pickup truck with the power that American's crave in a friendly, Camry-like package. Will Americans buy it? We think they will. Those 400,000-plus people who buy Camrys each year might be interested in the Tundra when it's time to get a powerful new pickup truck.