2002 Toyota Tundra Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Bigger isn't always better.
Sometimes you want more than muscle. You want style, sophistication. You want power, handling. You want peace and quiet. If these are things you want in a pickup, then you might consider Toyota's full-size Tundra.
The Tundra may not be as big and brawny as the Ford F-150, Dodge Ram, Chevrolet Silverado, or GMC Sierra, but it's easier to drive, lighter on its feet, and brilliantly quick and responsive. It's also built to Toyota's high quality standards. So you get unsurpassed quality, durability, and reliability.
The Tundra is the one of smoothest, quietest, and most refined pickups we've ever driven. Its 4.7-liter V8 engine is truly exceptional, with more than enough power to run with the big dogs. The V8 Tundra can tow a 7,200-pound trailer or haul nearly 2000 pounds in its eight-foot bed.
For 2002, an optional limited-slip differential is available for better traction in slippery conditions. Launched in model-year 2000, Tundra is still a relatively new model. Changes for 2001 and 2002 have been minor.
Tundra is available as a two-door regular cab or four-door Access Cab. Two- and four-wheel drive versions are offered, employing similar suspensions and bed heights. And three trim levels are available: base, SR5, and Limited.
The Tundra offers two engines: a sophisticated double-overhead-cam, 32-valve 4.7-liter V8, and a 3.4-liter double-overhead-cam V6. The V8 produces 245 horsepower and 315 foot-pounds of torque. All V8 models come with a four-speed automatic transmission. The standard V6 is rated at 190 horsepower and 220 foot-pounds of torque. It comes with a choice of four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission
Prices vary widely, starting at $15,605 for a regular-cab base model with rear-wheel drive, a V6 engine and five-speed manual transmission. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a V8-powered Limited four-wheel drive Access Cab lists for $30,060.
Base models are pretty plain, and come only with the regular cab and two-wheel drive. Bumpers are painted, and even air conditioning is a $985 option.
Access Cabs and 4x4 versions start at the SR5 level, with air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/cassette stereo, tilt steering, tachometer, chrome bumpers, styled wheels, and other trim upgrades.
Limited models are available only with the V8, and only with the Access Cab. The Limited's already long list of standard equipment has been upgraded for 2002 to include ABS, daytime running lights, an in-dash CD changer, keyless entry, and an anti-theft system.
The Tundra is an attractive pickup. But its styling is bland compared to the boldly retro Dodge Ram and the windswept Ford F-150. Tundra does share a family resemblance with the compact Toyota Tacoma. Curving lines give both Toyotas a sporty look, while bulging fenders look ready to go off-road.
Access Cab extended-cab models have four doors. The short rear doors are hinged at the rear and open opposite the front doors. We called these suicide doors in the old days, a label manufacturers avoid. The Access Cab's doors will bang into one another if you close the front door before closing the rear door. Fortunately, the inside of the rear door is padded, so it isn't a big problem. Handles for the rear doors are conveniently located on the outside of the doors, whereas most domestic pickups with extended cabs hind the handles inside the door jams. Still, the Tundra's handle design isn't the most comfortable.
The pickup bed measures 8 feet with the regular cab, but only 6-feet, 3-inches with the Access Cab. That's a few inches inches shorter than the short bed of a Ford F-150 or Chevrolet Silverado. Toyota's bed is also a little shallower than Ford's bed.
This is a comfortable truck with a friendly interior. The 60/40 split-bench cloth seats are welcoming and supportive. Accessory switches are concentrated in the center cluster for easy operation. Instruments are straightforward, with a big tachometer on all but base models. A center console box comes with storage space and a pair of good, deep cup holders. The latch on the center console on our truck wouldn't stay latched, however, so the lid would flop open whenever the console was flipped up. Our truck came with double sun visors with extenders.
Climbing in is easy, though the two-wheel-drive model seems to sit higher off the ground than other two-wheel-drive pickups. But that means that even the two-wheel-drive Tundra feels tall in the saddle, giving the driver a commanding view over shorter vehicles. Toyota claims the Tundra provides more front legroom than any of the domestic pickups, including the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. Overall, however, the domestic trucks offer more usable room in the front seats.
An advanced seatbelt system with pretensioners and force limiters adds to safety, along with dual front airbags and side-impact beams. The passenger-side airbag can be switched off with the key when babies or children occupy the front passenger seat.
Access Cab models add interior storage space and the ability to carry two more passengers. If those passengers are adults, however, the rear seat is mostly a short-term affair. The Tundra does not have nearly as much space in the rear compartment of the extended cab as the Chevrolet, GMC, Ford and Dodge pickups. Plus, the Toyota's rear seatback is vertical, causing the occupant to sit bolt upright, which is uncomfortable for traveling any farther than the neighborhood restaurant.
A far better use for the extended cab is carrying dry cleaning, groceries, briefcases, outdoor gear, or anything else that should be shielded from the elements. Unfortunately, the rear seat itself takes up a fair amount of room. The seat bottom on the split bench can be flipped up, but the seat doesn't fold completely out of the way, nor can it be easily removed. Some of the domestic pickups are set up better for this.
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.
Toyota's full-size pickup can compete with the best of the domestic trucks. It's smooth and quiet. It offers lots of power for passing or towing. And it comes with a suspension that handles both winding roads and moonscapes brilliantly.
All of this, wrapped up with Toyota's renowned quality, durability and reliability, make the Tundra an excellent choice among pickup trucks.
Regular Cab V6 4x2 ($15,605); Access Cab SR5 V6 4x2 ($20,895); Regular Cab SR5 V8 4x4 ($23,405); Access Cab Limited V8 4x2 ($26,720); Access Cab Limited V8 4x4 ($30,060).
Options As Tested
four-wheel ABS ($345), includes daytime running lights; Convenience package ($690) includes power windows/locks/mirrors, lighting package, sliding rear window with privacy glass, driver and passenger sun visors with vanity mirrors; deluxe cassette/CD with six speakers ($290); all-weather guard package ($70) includes heavy-duty battery, starter and heater; 16x7-inch alloy wheels with P265/70R16 tires, mudguards, black overfenders ($750); bed liner ($299).
SR5 Access Cab 4x2 V8 ($22,975).
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