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.
2000 Toyota Tundra
The arrival of Tundra marks the first time an automaker headquartered outside the United States has dared to compete with the full-size pickups of entrenched domestic brands. To do so, Toyota's designers had to bone up on strengths and weaknesses of this uniquely American vehicle with its typically big cabin, high ground clearance, superior hauling and towing capacity, and big-time V-8 power requirements.
It meant producing a vehicle virtually alien to the Japanese mind set — something really big. It also required the development of an eight-cylinder engine, which was two more cylinders than any Toyota car or truck engine had ever carried.
The consequent vehicle produced from a 31-month gestation imprints Toyota's signature of quality on a full-size pickup truck, then establishes new benchmarks for performance, passenger comfort and engine emissions. Simply stated, Tundra accelerates faster and stops quicker, stands taller, rides smoother and is built better than any other full-size truck on the market.
Within Toyota's truck line, Tundra takes the place of the discontinued T-100 midsize model. Like other full-size trucks, Tundra mutates into a variety of configurations, with two-door regular-cab and four-door extended-cab designs, short and long box lengths, rear- and four-wheel drive, six- and eight-cylinder engines, five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions, and trim choices in three series — Tundra, SR5 and deluxe Limited.
Despite all of the possible combinations for engine and cab size and traction mode and trim, 90 percent of Tundras rolling out of the Indiana plant will carry the new V-8 engine, and more than 90 percent will sport the four-door extended-cab design, which Toyota labels Access Cab.
The new V-8 engine — called iForce, with the "i" noting an intelligent application — is the heart of Tundra. With double overhead-cam design for an iron block with aluminum alloy heads, the 4.7-liter V-8 produces 245 hp at 4800 rpm and as much as 315 foot-pounds of torque at 3400 rpm. It has exceptional low-end torque and can handle a 1-ton payload and up to 7,200 pounds in towing capacity.
2000 Toyota Tundra
It also zips to action — running from 0-60 mph in less than eight seconds. And it's the first V-8 truck engine certified as a Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV).
Tundra's base V-6 engine, displacing 3.4 liters, also has a twin-cam design, with output that reaches 190 hp. Either a manual five-speed or automatic four-speed shifter can be had with the V-6, but the V-8 has the automatic exclusively.
Easy Access Cab
Configurations begin at the base Tundra with V-6 engine, rear-wheel driveline and regular-size cab design, but the upgraded SR5 trim is also available. The four-door Access Cab uses either two- or four-wheel traction mode, V-6 or V-8 engine and SR5 or Limited trim.
Tundra's two-door regular-length cab gets the 8-foot box in back with locking tailgate, and an interior outfitted with front seating as either a bench split 60/40 with fold-down center console or twin contoured buckets with power for driver's seat and a multilevel console between the chairs.
The four-door Access Cab has a 6.5-foot box, wide rear doors and a rear bench for three with 60/40 split and fold-down center armrest. A secret storage compartment is tucked below the rear seat cushion, but when not needed for riders, the back bench folds up to handle cargo.
Tundra's four-wheel-drive mechanism provides automatic shifting for the V-8 through an electronic transfer case with shift-on-the-fly feature. A dash button switches front differential and transfer case settings between two-wheel rear-drive and four-wheel high and low modes. Ground clearance for Tundra measures to 10.4 inches for a base 4x2 unit or up to 11.6 inches for the Limited V-8 4x4.
An optional off-road package from TRD — Toyota Racing Development — for the four-door Access Cab adds high-pressure Bilstein monotube gas-charged shocks with off-road suspension tuning, plus all-terrain tires mounted to alloy wheels, over-fenders and fog lamps, contoured mudguards at all posts and special TRD badges.
A convenience package brings power to windows and door locks, cruise control, power for twin exterior mirrors in chrome, a sliding rear window with privacy glass, and dual-function sun visors with vanity mirrors. The Limited offers optional captain's chairs trimmed in leather with accents of simulated wood.
We'll know soon enough if Toyota can tread on the same ground as Dodge, Ford, and Chevrolet on the sales front. Under the skin and over the road, there's no question that Toyota's gotten it right on the second try.
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