2005 Toyota Tundra

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2003 Toyota Tundra

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2000 to 2006.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Toyota makes the exterior styling of its Tundra pickup truck bolder for the 2003 model year. But this quality truck pales a bit when compared with bigger, bolder trucks like the Dodge Ram.
Pros:
  • Smooth V8 power
  • Toyota quality reputation
  • Maneuverable size
Cons:
  • Not quite as big as Ford, Chevy, Dodge trucks
  • Small rear access doors
  • Lacks styling pizzazz of some competitors

Toyota updated the styling of its Tundra pickup truck for 2003. Thank goodness.

Though only in the U.S. market for just over three years, the capable and award-winning Tundra has lost a bit of ground, looks-wise, to competitors.

It's not that the Tundra, which has received accolades as a "best buy" and as the best full-size truck in initial quality, is unattractive. It just hasn't been as expressive and forceful-looking in comparison to newer full-size pickups such as the Chevrolet Silverado and Cadillac Escalade EXT and the redesigned Dodge Ram.

Indeed, these three trucks topped the Tundra in automotive researcher J.D. Power and Associates' annual APEAL (Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout) study in calendar 2002. In the two preceding years, the Tundra had led Power's APEAL list in the full-size truck segment, becoming the first non-domestic-branded truck to do so.

Also in calendar 2002, Tundra sales declined 8.7 percent from the previous calendar year.

Updates for 2003
Changes to the Tundra for the 2003 model year include a larger grille that's meant, in Toyota's words, to give a "tough new look." But it's still not as expressive a front end as, say, the Ram's.

Also for the first time, Toyota offers a sporty, StepSide look for the Tundra pickup bed. It's on Tundras with Access Cabs only, meaning those models with two regular front doors and two smaller side doors that provide access to the rear seats.

But Toyota still doesn't offer a full-blown cab with four full-size, front-hinged doors such as those found on the Ford F-Series SuperCrew and even the Nissan Frontier Crew Cab.

Still, Toyota officials acknowledge that nearly 90 percent of Tundras sold are Access Cab models, which mirrors a continuing consumer trend that all automakers are seeing for roomier passenger compartments on trucks.

Checking the dimensions
On looks alone, the Tundra appears to be one big truck—until you compare it with the domestic-branded, full-size trucks or Nissan's upcoming 2004 Titan full-size truck.

For example, total vehicle length is 217.5 inches, which made it easier for me to find a suitable parking spot in the city for the test Tundra with Access Cab.

But big-truck buffs will note the 2003 Ford-150 Super Cab is 225.5 inches long and the 2003 Chevrolet Silverado Extended Cab is 227.6 inches long. And Nissan officials promise the Titan King Cab will be 224.2 inches long when it debuts at year-end 2003.

As a result, rear-seat legroom in the Tundra Access Cab is 28.6 inches vs. 32.2 inches in the F-150 Super Cab and 33.7 inches in the Silverado Extended Cab, according to manufacturer-provided specs of the trucks already on the market.

Shoulder room in the Tundra is less than in the two competitors, too. But rear-seat headroom of 38.3 inches is competitive.

High-riding truck
In the front seats, of the test Access Cab, I sunk in a bit on what felt like sturdy foam, and the wide center console could be raised to provide a seat for a third front-seat rider.

But the middle rider in the back seat of the Tundra doesn't have a head restraint or shoulder belt and has to contend with the back end of the center console area.

Still, side windows are large, adding to the great visibility that the high-riding Tundra affords passengers.

It's a big climb up to get inside. I appreciated the fixed, assist handles at all the doors.

Sophisticated V8
The 240-horsepower 4.7-liter i-Force V8 in the test truck was mated to a four-speed automatic transmission and worked as quickly and smoothly in delivering power to the wheels as a V8 does in a sedan.

I found myself enjoying the pleasant, confident, powerful V8 sounds in the Tundra, and I overtook vehicles on the highway with relative ease. Peak torque is 315 lb-ft at 3400 rpm.

But note competitors have more powerful engines. For example, the light-duty, 2003 Dodge Ram can be had with a 245-horsepower 5.9-liter Magnum V8 that provides 335 lb-ft of torque. Ford announced that its 2004 F-Series would be available with a 300-horsepower 5.4-liter V8 with 365 lb-ft of torque.

And Nissan's Titan is due to arrive with a 5.6-liter V8 with more than 300 horsepower and 375 lb-ft of torque.

Fuel economy, as you'd expect, isn't the best in this class. The test Tundra's rated fuel economy is 19 miles a gallon on the freeway and just 15 mpg in city traffic.

The base engine for the Tundra is a 190-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 capable of 220 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm.

Ride can be bouncy
The test two-wheel-drive Tundra included the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) sport suspension package with its sport-tuned suspension and Tokico shock absorbers.

The ride with an empty pickup bed was quite bouncy on pavement and off-road. But I never doubted the Tundra would get me over hills and down rutted paths.

Wind noise was noticeable at highway speeds, but the upgraded AM/FM stereo delivered strong, clear tunes.

One final point not to be missed: A 2001 Tundra Access Cab received a "good" overall crash test rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's 40-mile-an-hour, 40 percent offset, frontal crash test.

This is higher than the ratings for the Ram, Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra — all from the 2001 model year.

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BB06 - 7/29/2014 6:24:07 PM