Driving Impressions

By February 26, 2002

Whether four-wheel-drive or two-wheel-drive, the Tundra rides as quietly as a luxury sedan; it’s certainly the quietest pickup we’ve ever driven. There’s very little wind or road noise in the cabin. And the ride quality is extremely smooth.

The V8 engine provides excellent acceleration in the 45-mph range. It allowed our four-wheel-drive Tundra to pass slower drivers with no drama on winding Hawaiian roads, and a two-wheel-drive model to dash through Virginia with a full load of furniture.

Toyota’s V8 is a marvel of balance. It is silky smooth, quick, and extremely responsive. At the same time, it isn’t overly sensitive to the throttle at tip-in, so it doesn’t lurch off the line. It also sounds great. Stand behind the Tundra when it is started, revved, or even idling, and you’re treated to a classic V8 burble that’s pleasant to American ears. Yet, it’s super quiet when sitting inside the truck or standing in front of it.

V8 engines with twin cams and four valves per cylinder are usually associated with imported luxury sports sedans. Toyota perfected this design in its Land Cruiser and Lexus luxury vehicles. With distributorless ignition and other state-of-the-art features, the 4.7-liter V8 produces nearly 200 foot-pounds of torque at as little as 2000 rpm. It’s the first V8 in the segment to qualify as a low-emission vehicle, or LEV, by government standards.

The automatic transmission is smooth and responsive, communicating well with the engine, and always choosing the appropriate gear.

Starting from a dead stop, a two-wheel-drive Tundra Limited easily accelerated up a long steep grade while pulling a 3,000-pound trailer. This rig was stable going around sweeping turns, braking from high speeds on steep downhill sections and bouncing over a rough, lava-covered dirt road. There was none of the up and down motions some trucks exhibit when their front suspensions aren’t up to balancing weight on the rear tongue. Transmission and engine oil coolers are standard.

Ride quality is excellent. On rough pavement and bumpy dirt roads, the Tundra’s suspension really shines. It damps out unwanted vibration and harshness and controls the movement of the wheels precisely, keeping the tires in contact with the road surface for excellent grip and handling. Bouncing up a steep mountain trail, barely a path, on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Tundra 4WD’s suspension performed amazingly well. Bounding over harsh dips and humps, the suspension offered impressive travel and damping performance.

Both the two- and four-wheel-drive models offer exceptional handling. The 2WD SR5 I drove through Virginia was incredibly responsive. Everything about it felt exceptionally tight. It was easy to control the 4WD version over rough terrain at a fast clip up a steep Hawaiian mountain trail. The suspension never bottomed on the bump stops in spite of my efforts to beat it up.

While bouncing over moguls, we noticed that neither the cowl nor the front hood shook. The Tundra’s chassis is highly rigid with boxed front frame rails. Toyota also claims this truck offers a class-leading ground clearance, and that everything underneath is tucked above the frame rails.

The brakes felt great to us, even when pulling a trailer, and Toyota claims the Tundra can stop quicker than the domestic pickups.

Toyota off-road-racing legend Ivan “Ironman” Stewart helped Toyota Racing Development tune the optional TRD suspension. Using Bilstein shocks and special progressive-rate springs, this suspension is designed for performance in extreme off-road conditions; it reportedly rides better on rough road surfaces.