KOHALA COAST, Hawaii — High on the slopes of Mauna Kea, a towering volcano that dominates typography on the big island of Hawaii, a steep trail composed of silky pumice and chunky lava rock traces up the hill through tree-studded pastures on a working cattle ranch.
To reach the high ground requires a husky vehicle equipped not only with a tall chassis and traction applied to all wheels, but also the strength of Hercules to move a heavy machine up that slippery path.
For this chore no eensy-weensy compact pickup will suffice. You need a full-size truck with muscles bulging. That's where Toyota's new Tundra pickup goes to work.
So push a dash button to switch into low range of four-wheel-drive, rack the shift lever down to bottom gear, then ease on throttle and hitch the power of 245 horses from a new dual-cam V-8 engine. But first, get a grip with nubby all-terrain tires that bite into the loose pumice and send it flying rearward as we move steadily up the slope, bumping over bits of lava and bucking over undulating humps of the challenging route.
The Tundra claws its way to the top of the trail, along the way demonstrating a dramatic vertical articulation of each front wheel, thanks to an independent wishbone suspension that enables it to climb over outback obstacles as easily as it glides over smooth pavement.
Ain't that American?
With its high stance, torque-heavy V-8 engine and a 4x4 traction system capable of tackling off-road rough stuff, Tundra quickly confirms it has all of the necessary ingredients to run with the big dogs of American trucking.
It does so now, following a $1.2 billion investment for a new manufacturing facility pitched in the heart of America's Corn Belt at Gibson County, Indiana. The truck, bearing a model-year 2000 badge and rigged with either a V-6 or V-8 engine and rear- or four-wheel drive, reaches market this spring. Toyota will build 100,000 trucks each year at the new plant, along with a projected 50,000 units for a future full-size sport-utility wagon derived from the Tundra.