2003 Toyota Tundra
2003 Toyota Tundra Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Finesse triumphs over brawn.
The Toyota Tundra is a full-size pickup, but it's more agile and more refined than the domestic trucks. The Tundra is not 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 standard of quality. So you get unsurpassed durability and reliability.
The Tundra is one of the 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 7,100-pound trailer or haul 1,800 pounds in its eight-foot bed.
For 2003, a new step-side model joins the lineup. Combine its sporty look with the new Sport Suspension Package, and you have a full-size truck that even a driving enthusiast could (almost) love. Toyota launched the Tundra as a 2000 model and there have been only minor changes since.
Toyota 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. Three trim levels are available: base, SR5, and Limited. New for 2003 is the choice of a full-width or step-side box.
Two engines are available: a sophisticated double-overhead-cam, 32-valve 4.7-liter V8, and a 3.4-liter double-overhead-cam V6. The V8 produces 240 horsepower and 315 foot-pounds of torque. All V8 models come with a four-speed automatic transmission. The V6 is rated 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 4x4s start at the SR5 level, which comes 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 long list of standard equipment includes ABS, daytime running lights, an in-dash CD changer, keyless entry, and an anti-theft system. New for 2003 are steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a power sliding rear window.
A new Sport Suspension Package for 2WD V8 models features Tokico shocks, springs tuned for handling, a rear stabilizer bar, and a limited-slip differential. Graphite-tone 17-inch alloy wheels wear P265/65R17 tires.
The step-side box adds style, but in traditional Toyota fashion it's more svelte and subtle than overtly macho. The step-side is available only on V8-powered Access Cabs, in two or four-wheel drive and with SR5 or Limited trim.
The Tundra is an attractive pickup, made bolder for 2003 by a larger grille opening that extends down into the bumper. Heavy-looking chrome grille bars faintly suggest the 1947 GMC design, a model now popular with collectors.
But Tundra's styling is still bland compared to the boldly retro Dodge Ram and the windswept Ford F-150. Instead, the Tundra shares a family resemblance with the compact Toyota Tacoma. Curving lines give both Toyota trucks a sporty appearance, while bulging fenders look ready to go off road.
Access 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 (and rightly so, as modern locks and body structure have eliminated the danger of such a door flying open in the wind). 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 this isn't a big problem. Handles for the rear doors are conveniently located on the outside, whereas most domestic pickups with extended cabs hide the handles inside the door jams. Still, the Tundra's handle design isn't the most comfortable to use.
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.
The Tundra 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 new center console with four cup holders, dual map pockets and covered storage is shared with the Toyota Sequoia SUV. Our truck also 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 seat area.
An advanced seatbelt system with pre-tensioners 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 its extended cab as do the Ford, Dodge, Chevrolet and GMC pickups. Plus, the Toyota's rear seatback is vertical, forcing the occupants 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.
The Tundra rides as quietly as a luxury sedan, whether it's a four-wheel-drive or two-wheel-drive. This is 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 our 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 an ultra low-emission vehicle, or ULEV, by U.S. 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 were 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. It was easy to control over the rough terrain. Bounding over harsh dips and humps, the suspension offered impressive travel and damping. The suspension never bottomed on the bump stops in spite of my efforts to beat it up.
Both the two- and four-wheel-drive models offer exceptional handling as well, even with the standard suspension. The 2WD SR5 I drove through Virginia was incredibly responsive. Everything about it felt exceptionally tight.
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 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.
The new Sport Suspension Package promises better handling on paved roads. And for those who prefer fast travel off-road, Toyota offers the TRD Off-Road Package, developed with Toyota off-road-racing legend Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart. Using Bilstein shocks and special progressive-rate springs, this suspension is designed for performance in extreme off-road conditions; and it reportedly rides better on rough road surfaces than the standard suspension.
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 full-size pickup trucks.
Regular Cab V6 4x2 ($15,605); Access Cab SR5 V6 4x2 ($20,895); Access Cab SR5 V8 4x4 ($26,305); 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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