Ann Arbor - Our founder and editor emeritus, David E. Davis, Jr., had a new idea for the Toyota Tundra pickup truck we added to our Four Seasons test fleet in late 1999. He would send it to northern Michigan for use as a real live workhorse at Red's Bog, his idyllic retreat on the west side of the state. His ranch foreman, Jerry Keie, would have charge of Toyota's big new truck and keep notes from a real working man's perspective.
Only, Jerry didn't find the Tundra quite as useful as the Ford F-150 that already served Red's Bog. He was afraid to get dirt on its cloth upholstery, and at the lumberyard, he found that the Tundra's box wasn't long enough or deep enough to hold the same amount of scaffolding he could carry in the Ford. Every time he had real work to perform, he'd park the Tundra and take the F-150. So we fetched it home and put it back into the lily-livered hands of the sissy writers at Automobile Magazine.
The story could end right here: Toyota Truck Can't Handle Hard Labor!
Only, most of the people who buy big trucks can't handle it, either, and, for them, the Toyota Tundra just may be the best truck out there. Here's why:
* The interior gauges, instruments, and trim are Camry-quality.
* The V-8 engine and four-speed automatic transmission are the class of the field in terms of refinement.
* We spent a measly $722 for 30,000 miles of scheduled maintenance, which would take an average American nearly three years to rack up. That's $240 per year. Chump change.
* There was no unscheduled maintenance performed. None. It never, ever broke. (We bought a trailer hitch; we fixed a gouge from flying debris; we replaced a gas cap we lost.)
Let's return to the joy that filled our hearts when the Tundra came home to roost. Everyone needs a pickup. If you need friends, buy a pickup. Design director Darin Johnson used it to haul "a full load of kitchen cabinets" for his big re-modeling. Former online editor Megan McCann noted that a "nineteenth-century settee fit right in." A Kubota tractor with blade and front-end loader was trailered from Jennings home to Jennings cabin. A banzai four-day run to Arizona and back (4000 miles) relocated my brother and his belongings, including his Harley-Davidson. Boats were pulled on double-axle trailers "with ease and on cruise control," noted one sportsman, and "very well uphill from the boat barn," noted another. That last guy also noted how well the Tundra's shift-on-the-fly (dash-mounted 2wd-to-4wd switch) four-wheel drive worked when he forgot the boat plug while launching and ended up beating a hasty retreat out of the drink, hauling trailer, boat, and a bilge full of lake water.
One winter noter commended the Tundra's ability to "zip through drifts and a standing foot of snow with ease" in four-wheel drive.
It might not be the biggest engine in its class, but, as more than one tester noted, nothing can touch the relaxed demeanor and refinement of the Tundra's 4.7-liter DOHC V-8. It's a proven performer that began life in the Land Cruiser and is also now shared with the just-released, full-size Sequoia SUV. After 17,000 miles, a reluctance to fire up without a couple of extra crankings was noted. As much as we loved the engine, we weren't quite as fond of the cruise control, which shut itself off when you slowed to 35 or 40 mph. You'd then have to go through the process of resetting it once you got back up to speed. Annoying.