Toyota's Tundra is a unique player in the fullsize truck segment. To begin, calling the Tundra a fullsize truck depends on your definition of the word fullsize. Generally speaking, the Tundra is slightly smaller than traditional (read: American) fullsize trucks. That's not intended as a put-down, but rather it's an observation of many drivers after they have their first stint behind the wheel of the Tundra. Another unique aspect of the Tundra is its engine. Again, going against the grain, the Tundra's double-overhead-cam V-8 engine pumps out plenty of torque and horsepower, but it hits its stride at a higher rpm than traditional pushrod truck engines. Are these aspects of the Tundra's personality relevant to today's off-road enthusiasts? Perhaps. It depends on what you're looking for in a truck and what type of 'wheeling you enjoy.
Previous owners of Toyota trucks will find much to like about the '03 4WD Tundra, while open-minded, die-hard fans of big, pushrod-engine-powered American trucks may just have to rethink their brand loyalties because the new Tundra is a standout in every way.
V-8 power:All-Alloy Design, DOHC, Midrange MuscleToyota's 4.7L (285 ci) V-8 powerplant is based on the Lexus engine of the same capacity, and the Lexus heritage is evident. The Tundra's V-8 is a strong and willing performer; what it lacks in bottom-end power it more than makes up once the tachometer needle swings past 2,500 rpm. For enthusiasts wanting to rein in the Tundra's fairly expensive purchase price, there's the base engine, a 3.4L (207 ci) OHCV-6 with 190 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque.
Our Tundra's V-8 ran smoothly at any rpm, and it delivered approximately 14.5 mpg around town and on two-lane country roads, while highway driving returned a solid 18 mpg. Both figures were impressive given the Tundra's 4,160-pound curb weight (full of fluids), and the V-8's willingness to rev, which tempted every test driver's throttle foot. The multipoint EFI also plays an important factor in the Tundra's towing and cargo-hauling ability: Our 4WD Tundra was rated to haul 1,110 pounds and was equipped to tow 7,100 pounds.
The Tundra Interior: Functional, with Exceptional Fit and FinishTraditional Toyota qualities abound inside the Tundra's cockpit. Fit and finish is excellent, although, like most trucks on the market, plastic is evident on the dash, center console, and door panels, and it's seemingly out of place with the rest of the Tundra's interior appointments. The Tundra's front seats are multi-adjustable, cloth-covered, and comfortable, but are a slightly tight fit for oversized bodies. The rear seat of our Tundra Access Cab was suitable only for those small of stature; the seatback is way upright, and the padding of the rear seat is firm with a capital F. The rear doors open wide to access the rear seat, which is at its best when folded down and used for cargo storage.
The Tundra's dash layout is unique with ergonomic shapes, and it offers up a clean, simple, and well-organized design. The center console is large, and there are equally large map pockets conveniently located. There's a tilt-column for the steering wheel, and the upscale AM/FM/CD sound system on our test truck was powerful, had useable equalizer controls, and produced a clean sound at reasonable listening levels. Of special note is the Tundra's switchgear. The power window controls, the door lock switches, the control stalks on the steering column, and the various climate control switches are all first rate, operating with a functional, but not heavy, feel. During on-road driving, the Tundra's interior was exceptionally quiet, a testament to the Toyota's well-screwed-together construction. Off-road, there's road noise and you can hear the suspension working, but the Tundra's cabin remains tight and rattle-free.
Chassis and Suspension: Sophisticated, Yet RuggedOne segment of the Tundra that follows conventional thinking is the frame, which is a traditional ladder-style with multiple crossmembers and a front box section to provide additional support for the weight of the engine and transmission. Also traditional is the Tundra's rear suspension, which uses longitudinal leaf spring packs tying into a solid axle. Bilstein gas-charged monotube dampers control the rear suspension. What is untraditional is the Tundra's front suspension, which is based on a true unequal-length, dual A-arm layout suspended by coil springs that incorporate Bilstein monotube dampers.
Tundra Style:Cleanly TraditionalThe Tundra's basic exterior is nicely shaped, and our Limited model was equipped with fender flares, uprated wheels and tires, and a monochrome treatment for the front end and the rear bumper. The overall look is precisely what you would expect from Toyota: clean, traditional, and stylish, especially the front sheetmetal, with its large slats covering the grille opening and the distinctive appearance of the headlights. Our test truck was covered in a deep metallic green (Imperial Jade Mica), and the paint quality was excellent, as was the fit and alignment of the body panels. Overall, the Tundra's exterior rates near the top of the scale in terms of style, fit, and finish according to our test team.
Driving Impressions: The Feel Of PrecisionIf you like a driving experience that is smooth, quiet, responsive, and clearly shouts quality, then the Tundra is your kind of ride. The suspension is well damped on-road, there's little road noise, tire noise, or wind noise transferred to the cabin, and the truck just feels solid. The steering is slightly over-boosted just off-center and has a light on-center feel that takes getting used to; some testers felt the steering could use some weighting, especially at speed, but that may be nothing more than personal preference. Off-road, the Tundra's excellent on-road-biased tuning limits its abilities. The front suspension in particular is soft, and any obstacles must be tackled with reduced speed should the frontend completely bottom out. Moderate speeds are OK with the Tundra; it's simply not sprung for speed. The steering feel, however, is excellent during off-road maneuvers, where the feeling of excessive power assist disappears, and steering accuracy is impressive. The combination of a two-speed transfer case and our test truck's optional limited-slip rear differential made driving through moderately deep mud, snow, and sand a no-hassle experience, although the Tundra's relatively low ride height means that deep stuff will be tough to conquer, and some obstacles will high-center the frame. Overall, the Tundra is setup for the street more than the trail, but that's nothing that can't be fixed with a trip to the aftermarket.
The Tundra's engine is a joy to drive on- and off-road. The Lexus-based twin-cammer's camshaft profile, intake and exhaust tuning, and overall setup deliver gobs of midrange punch, which requires an aggressive attitude when driving to get the most out of the engine. Fortunately, the all-aluminum V-8 is willing to rev; its quiet, sophisticated, low-rpm demeanor gives way to an impressive performance growl once the revs begin to climb, and the Tundra changes from mild to powerful. Once in its powerband, the Tundra engine is one of the most responsive truck engines available.
Epilogue: Another Winner for ToyotaIf you're familiar with Toyota trucks, then it's likely you'll see a lot of greatness in the '03 Tundra 4WD. If you're not familiar with the Tundra, you may be surprised at its prowess in regards to power, handling, and build-quality. A fully equipped Tundra like out test truck certainly isn't the least expensive truck on the market, but Toyota's well-known reliability and resale value are worth considering. Compared to big, traditional American 4x4s with their torquey pushrod engines and true fullsize stature, the Tundra is decidedly different. If you're looking for a sophisticated chassis and powertrain allied with a body and interior that exhibit build quality second to none, then the Toyota Tundra may just be the ideal off-road machine for you
By the Numbers:Tundra 4WD Access Cab Performance DataAcceleration:0-60 mph, 8.57 seconds
Braking:60-0 mph, 145 feet
Passing acceleration45-60 mph, 3.30 seconds
Quarter mile acceleration:16.40 seconds
|Vehicle ||'03 Toyota Tundra 4WD Access Cab |
|Engine type/ |
|horsepower/torque ||4.7L DOHC V-8/240 hp at 4,800 rpm/ |
315 lb-ft at 3,400 rpm
|Fuel tank capacity ||26.4 gallons |
|Estimated fuel economy ||15 city; 19 highway |
|Transmission ||Four-speed automatic |
|Transfer case ||Two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly |
|Wheelbase ||128.3 inches |
|Turning radius ||44.9 feet |
|Warranty ||Three years/36,000 miles (comprehensive); |
five years/60,000 miles powertrain; five
years/unlimited miles corrosion protection