In 2000, Toyota finally stepped up to the plate and introduced a fullsize pickup equipped with a V-8. Since then the Tundra has been a strong seller and Toyota hopes to take an even bigger chunk out of the sales of the Big Three's pickups. So does the Tundra have what it takes to compete against the big boys? That is the question we sought to answer when the Tundra showed up to do battle in our 2002 Pickup Truck of the Year slugfest.
Underneath the hood of our Tundra rested the 4.7L V-8 that is the only V-8 Toyota has to offer. Small in displacement, the V-8 puts out 245 horsepower and 315 lb-ft of torque. While this wasn't any more than the other engines, the 4.7L is the only powerplant that really feels like a V-8. With instant throttle response, especially in the initial part of its throttle-pedal's travel, the Tundra's engine will push you back in the seat. This was a characteristic that none of the other V-8s in our test possessed and was most appreciated by our judges. All of them voted that the Tundra's engine was their favorite. Helping the engine out was the Tundra's excellent four-speed automatic transmission, which provides instant downshifts when the throttle is mashed.
More praise was lavished on the Toyota's interior. The dash is pleasing to the eye, is well laid out, and its full complement of gauges conveys all the necessary information to the driver. Most found its leather front seats to be comfortable, with plenty of adjustability, but noted that they lacked lateral support. The rear seats were too small for any of our adult testers and deemed appropriate only for cargo.
Out on the highway, the Toyota was a pleasant place to spend time. The interior was quiet, the ride was plush, with plenty of passing power on tap. When the pavement turned twisty, the Tundra's precise steering and strong brakes helped it carve through the canyons.
Unfortunately, things weren't as peachy off-road. The Tundra's front suspension is extremely soft and this made it the slowest by far in our high-speed dirt section. This was because the front suspension easily would blow through its travel when it encountered even small bumps. On low-speed, low-range trails, however, the Tundra's soft front suspension wasn't as much of an issue. It was able to absorb bumps without tossing around the passengers. Most judges did notice, however, that the instant throttle response of the V-8, and also the Tundra's touchy brakes, could make it somewhat difficult to drive in very technical sections. Out on the dunes, the Tundra was fun, as the power of the V-8 let it romp through the sand without difficulty.
The Tundra is a great pickup. With its car-like ride, handling, and real V-8 power, it won many of our judges over. However, it's not a perfect pickup and its few flaws kept it out of First place. Just barely, though.
That overachiever of an engine. At 61.02 cubic inches per liter, the Tundra's 4.7 liters work out to about 287 cubic inches. Friends, that's small. But somehow this engine powers the Tundra strongly and smoothly.
The suspension tuning that makes the Tundra so comfortable on the highway works very poorly indeed off in the dirt, especially on high-speed roads. It's just too soft, and at the very least, needs much firmer shocks.
Check it out if...
Most of your driving is on-pavement.
Avoid it if...
If you expect to do serious 'wheeling.
25 Words or Less
Best engine, best highway manners. Best size, too. Not everybody liked this truck's seats, but I liked 'em just fine.
I loved the feel of the 4.7L V-8. It makes the Tundra a pleasure to drive.
Awesome engine, great build-quality, way too soft front shocks. This is the truck I would buy. Then I'd change out the front shocks.
The Tundra's front suspension was painfully soft off-pavement, but it was still the most fun to drive overall.