Many years ago, Toyota enjoyed huge success with small pickup trucks. But, in order to grow to the mammoth presence in the American market that they have today, the company needed to expand and go head-to-head against our biggest sellers-full-size pickups.
Toyota's first try, the T-100, wasn't quite as big as the offerings from Ford, Chevy, GMC, and Dodge. Ford got a little irritated at the T-100 name, saying it was too much like F150. Buyers liked the quality, but stayed away. Then the Tundra arrived, to save the day, with a big and tough sounding name. While some trucks' names convey the great southwest, Toyota's entry celebrates a freezing, treeless Arctic plain.
In any case, the Tundra you can buy at your local Toyota store is fully competitive now, even against Nissan's aptly named Titan. The Tundra's 140.5-inch wheelbase stretches longer than that of the Ford F150 Super Crew. Take that, Ford!
And, like any good pickup truck, the Tundra comes in a variety of configurations and levels, and there's plenty of optional equipment. It's even built in America's heartland, at a plant in Princeton, Indiana.
Hardworking people in the building and commercial trades may be tempted by the Regular cab for hauling and towing on a budget. Families will be more attracted to the Access Cab, which has a usable back seat. However, the rear door is hinged in the back, so you have to open the front door to access the back seat. The Double Cab is huge, on a longer wheelbase, but the four doors are independent and legroom is generous. The Double Cab is also three inches taller and four inches wider than the other two models, so it is a grand presence on the highway.
There are three levels of equipment, starting with the Standard grade, which, when matched up with the Regular cab, serves as the entry point to Tundra ownership. The other two levels are the SR5 or, when loaded up with more luxuries, the Limited series. My test truck, in Timberland Mica paint, was an SR5 level Access Cab model.
Wait-there are more things to choose. What do you plan to do with your Tundra? That will help you decide between the standard 4.0-liter V6 or the optional 4.7-liter V8. Both engines run on regular gas, but the V8 gives you 271 horsepower-35 more than the V6, and 47 lb.-ft. more torque. That could make a difference to some buyers. Both engines use Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i) to get plenty of torque at low and midrange rpm levels. Electronic throttle control helps the big truck to haul well.
Toyota claims mileage of 15 city, 18 highway for my Tundra. That's probably a little optimistic, but certainly not atypical. A two-wheel drive Tundra with a V6 and the automatic transmission earns 18 city, 22 highway--a bit better.
The V6 is available with a six-speed manual transmission in some models, but if you opt for the eight-cylinder powerplant, you can only have the five-speed automatic.
There's more to think about-do you want four-wheel-drive or just two? The SR5 and Limited offer that choice. If you do elect to have all-wheel traction, it's very simple to engage. Just push the little knob on the lower left of the dash console to choose between 2WD/4HI on one side and 4LO on the other.
The Tundra's not only big enough now, it's strong enough, too. You can carry up to 2,025 pounds of payload, and tow up to 7,100 pounds. My tester, with its V8 Tow Package, was rated at 6,900 pounds.
So what's this all going to cost you? At $16,710, you could drive home the simplest and most basic Tundra. My 4x4 Access Cab SR5 with a V8 started at $28,395, but with the options of front captain's chairs, tow package, nice bedliner, chrome exhaust tip, chrome tube steps, security system and mats, it came to $30,750.
Fuel is still expensive, so some shoppers are holding off on big trucks right now. The smaller Tacoma can help truck buyers looking for a smaller Toyota truck. But if you've got a hankering for a big one, the Toyota Tundra can do the job just like the homegrown brands. A new Tundra is coming soon to make life even more uncomfortable for the competition.