Toyota, like the other Japanese automakers, has always built trucks. But until the full-size Tundra hit the market last year, never a big lunker comparable to a Ford F-Series, Chevy Silverado or Dodge Ram. The compact sized-Tacoma and the former midsize T100 are perfectly decent trucks, but they can't compete with the domestic big guns, all of which offer mighty V-8 engines and thus towing/payload capability that a Tacoma or T100 can't match.
It's weird, when you think about it. After making their nut in the small-car market, Toyota (and Nissan, Honda, etc.) quickly expanded operations to challenge Ford, GM and Chrysler on all other fronts — even to the point of launching their own luxury car divisions. But full-size trucks? The Big Three have had this market entirely (and quite profitably) to themselves.
The Tundra changed all that; it was the first full-sized Japanese truck to be offered in the U.S. market when it launched in 2000, and like its domestic-built competition, comes in short- and long-bed models, can be ordered with an extended cab, with or without four-wheel-drive and offers V-8 power as an option.
Stacking the odds
So how does it stack up against the best-selling Ford F-truck, the Ram 1500 and Chevy Silverado?
Let's begin with a comparison of price ranges. The Tundra starts out with a definite edge. Last year’s prices began at $15,605 for the base 2WD regular cab model with the V-6 engine and run to $29,065 for a loaded V-8 Access Cab with part-time 4x4.
Of the competing Big Three models, only the Dodge Ram 1500 undercuts the Tundra in price — and just barely ($15,555 for the base 2WD "work" model). Both the Ford F-series and the Chevy Silverado are noticeably more expensive in base configurations ($17,245 for the F-150 regular cab 2WD with the 4.2-liter V-6; $16,045 for the base 2WD Silverado with the 200-hp 4.3-liter "Vortec" V-6).
2002 Toyota Tundra
On price, Tundra wins. Now let's check some important truck factoids:
Suitably equipped, a Tundra can tow up to 7100 pounds (V-8 models with optional towing package; 5000 lb otherwise). Payload capacity is 2000 lb. The standard engine is a 3.4-liter V-6 rated at 190 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. The optional engine is a four-cam V-8 displacing 4.7 liters and rated 245 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque. (This is the same basic engine as used in the Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX470 SUVs.)
Ford's F-150, meanwhile, comes standard with a 205-hp V-6 (250 lb-ft of torque) and can ordered with one of two optional eight-cylinder gas engines: a 231-hp 4.6-liter V-8 or a 260-hp, 5.4-liter V-8. The standard V-6 engine in the F-150 is no slouch, however — it's rated at up to 8600 lb towing capacity vs. the Tundra V-6's 5200-lb rating.
America's best-selling large truck thus out-muscles the Tundra, with a base engine that is substantially more torquey and superior overall towing and payload capacity. The Ford also has stronger optional engines — and is available in a baker's dozen different body (regular cab, crew cab and super cab) and bed configurations (styleside or flareside, short or long) while the Tundra's variations are limited to regular and extended (Access) cab, with either a short or long bed.
But the real gut-punch comes from the over-achieving Chevy Silverado, which is arguably the best large truck on the market as of mid-2001. This brawny bruiser features a standard 200-hp, 4.3-liter V-6 belting out 260 lb-ft of torque, or 40 more lb-ft than Tundra's base V-6. But that's just for openers. There are three optional V-8s based on the Corvette's LS1/350-hp mill available, ranging in size and output from 4.8 liters and 270-hp/285 lb-ft of torque all the way up to a 300-hp, 6.0-liter stomper that is, bar none, the baddest light truck gas V-8 engine you can buy from any manufacturer in a half-ton truck. Even the Silverado's "next best" engine — a 5.3-liter V-8 — offers a rousing 285 hp, or nearly 40 more than the Tundra's top gun. The Silverado' ultimate towing capacity is a equally impressive at 11,000 pounds; max payload is 3334 lb — equivalent to the weight of a fully-loaded midsize sedan.
2002 Toyota Tundra
Dodge's 2001 Ram 1500 is, meanwhile, closest to the Tundra in terms of powertrains and capacities. (The new 2002 Ram will be discussed on TCC soon.) The standard engine is a 3.9-liter V-6 offering a puny 175 hp, or 15 hp less than the Tundra's standard V-6. It is a weak sister and decidely inferior to the Tundra's entirely decent 3.4-liter V-6.
Optional in the Ram 1500 are two much stronger gasoline V-8s. The first displaces 5.2 liters and gives 230 hp/300 lb-ft of torque; the second, coming in at 5.9 liters, chuffs out 245 hp — exactly as much as the Tundra's optional V-8 — and 335 lb-ft of torque, ten less than the Tundra's V-8. (There's an optional Cummins turbodiesel with a six speed that makes 505 lb-ft of torque, but this engine also costs about $5000 extra, too.)
Talking to the numbers
The numbers tell us that if your needs require the ability to tow very heavy loads (e.g., anything substantially more than about 7000 lb), you should probably shop Ford or Chevy. You will pay more, of course, but these trucks have power and towing/payload capability to spare when properly equipped — and are better suited to hardcore/commercial/heavy-duty tasks that might tax the Tundra, even with its optional V-8 and towing package.
However, the Tundra is superior to the crude and clunky Ram 1500 and probably is a better choice given the better track record of Toyota products over the long haul in the durability/reliability departments. The Kenworth-inspired appearance of the Ram is way cool, but five years down the road, looks will be less important than whether the transfer case is grinding or the transmission is slipping.
The Toyota has one more card to play as well — refinement. Drive a Tundra around for a week and you will be startled by how easy it is to drive, how very carlike it is in its steering, ride and handling. It feels much less like a full-sized truck than the Ford or even the Chevy (and especially the Dodge, which is the roughest and "truckiest" of the bunch). It's not hard to imagine you're behind the wheel of a Camry or Avalon. This is a very pleasant truck that feels exceptionally tight and well-thought out. It also looks good on the outside, arguably superior in this department to the weird-looking, "melted brick" countenance of the F-truck, though admittedly not as eye-catching as the manly Dodge Ram. (The Silverado is, again, the pick of the litter; it is traditionally handsome without being rednecky.)
2002 Toyota Tundra
Overall, the Tundra is an excellent first try and a good truck, period. It should do well enough to justify further development of its powertrains and chassis to make them the equal or better of equivalent Fords and Chevys.
Newly optional is a Toyota Racing Development (TRD) off-road package for 4x4 models that is great for those who lick to rooster-tail in the mud, or scrabble up mountain paths; otherwise, the Tundra will carry over into the 2002 mostly unchanged.
Of course, Ford and Chevy have been building trucks for more than 75 years. Give Toyota another year or three and let's see what happens.
Base price range: $15,605-$29,065
Engine: 3.4-liter V-6, 190 hp; 4.7-liter V-8, 245 hp
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic; rear-wheel drive or part-time four-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 128.3 in
Length: 217.5 in
Width: 75.2 in
Height: 70.5 in
Curb weight: 3795 lb (V-6 2WD w/manual); 4644 lb (V-8 4WD w/auto)
EPA (cty/hwy): 16/20 mpg (V-6 w/manual); 16/19 mpg (V-6 w/auto); 14/17 (V-8 w/auto)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags
Major standard features: V-6 engine, five-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive, front bench seats, 16x7-inch wheels with 245/70R-16 tires and full-size spare
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles