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When Toyota's T100 pickup was introduced to the automotive press a couple years back, the reaction was like a parody of that part in Wild West movies where the good guys sense that something's wrong. You know the line: "It's quiet. Maybe too quiet."
The script didn't need much alteration for the T100: "It's nice. Maybe too nice."
Which was an oblique way of saying that the T100, conceived to challenge the all-American realm of full-size pickups, was short on power.
With a 3.0-liter V6 as its biggest engine, the T100 simply didn't match the muscle of the U.S. trucks.
Toyota shopped around Big Three truck operations hoping to buy an American V8 for the T100. But the answer was "no sale". And Toyota didn't want to compromise its Lexus line by adapting the Lexus V8 for use in a truck.
Nevertheless, Toyota has found more power for its big truck for 1995. By substituting a new 3.4-liter, DOHC 24-valve V6 for the previous 3.0-liter SOHC version, Toyota gives the T100 a 25 percent increase in horsepower and, more important in a truck, 22 percent more torque.
The net is a powertrain that gives the T100 parity versus the base engines of its competitors. It's still a nice truck. But nice no longer equates with anemic.
The T100's changes for 1995 are all functional; its appearance is unaltered. Styling is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the macho swagger of the Dodge Ram. The T100's smooth lines are strongly reminiscent of Toyota's smaller Compact Truck and accurately reflect this truck's character. It's a vehicle that's capable of a fair amount of work and a better-than-average level of comfort when employed for all-around driving.
Available in two trim levels - base and DX - the T100 model count for '95 is nine, the variations based primarily on powertrain options. Included under this heading are two transmissions (5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic), two engines (a 2.7-liter, DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder rated at the 150 hp and 177 pound-feet of torque is the base engine), and the choice of 2- or 4-wheel drive.
The 4WD system is Toyota's easy-to-use 4Wheel Demand setup that can be engaged at speeds up to 50 mph. As with other 4WD systems, it diminishes payload and tow ratings.
Our test truck was a DX model with the new V6 engine, 2WD and 4-speed automatic, a combination that just might be the most desirable in terms of performance, driveability and price.
Toyota characterizes the T100 as an intermediate-size truck, perhaps to avoid comparisons with V8-powered domestic trucks. However, its dimensions fall within the range of American full-size pickups and it meets that prime full-size determiner: There's enough room between the rear wheel wells for a sheet of 4 ft. x 8 ft. building material.
The cargo box is 8 ft. long, and there's no short-bed option. However, the T100's box does have one useful distinction. The tailgate is easily removable - no tools necessary - to accommodate longer chunks of cargo, such as a sofa.
One other - a big one - is its overall quality. Our test truck was free of flaws inside and out, and its exterior finish was smoothly consistent.
Toyota sets high quality standards with all its vehicles, and this truck is no exception. In 1994, its J.D. Power and associates ratings for Initial Quality and Customer Satisfaction topped the charts.
Like the Dodge Ram, our T100 had a roomy standard cab, wide enough for three on the bench seat with plenty of legroom for the driver and right-side passenger. The center seating position contends for space with the transmission and driveshaft tunnel.
If you want the kind of extra space that goes with an extended-cab model, though, you'll have to shop elsewhere. This popular variation isn't in the T100 inventory.
Although it was a little short on interior storage for bulky possessions, our T100 did have some nice touches for small object storage including coin holders that come in handy for drivers who have tollways as part of their daily regimen.
It also included cupholders that pop out of the top of the dashboard. Unfortunately, when they're out they interfere with the climate controls.
The T100's adjustable upper seat belt anchors are another nice touch, and belts at all three seating positions automatically retract and lock, providing extra security during sudden stops.
Like most of its competitors, the T100 is equipped with a driver's airbag as well as side-impact door beams. Rear-wheel anti-lock braking (ABS) is standard.
Overall, we found the T100's cab a comfortable place to be. The bench seat is firm but nicely padded and includes a fold-down center console/armrest for use when the center seat is empty. Air conditioning and an excellent 3-speaker AM/FM stereo with cassette player, both extra-cost options, made the driving experience more pleasant.
About the only false note inside our test truck was its cheap-looking vinyl headliner and sun visors; they seemed out of step wit the T100's overall quality.
Increased power is the T100ls big story for '95 and it was apparent the first time we tramped on our test truck's gas pedal. The '95 T100 V6 surges forward with more authority than the '94, and it does so with the same smooth, quiet efficiency.
More power equals better acceleration, better passing performance and a bigger appetite for hard work. Our test truck's maximum payload rating - 1540 lb. - was about the same as last year, and its towing capabilities were increased by 200 lb.
However, load ratings have more to do with spring rates and the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) than with power. The lighter 4-cylinder version of the T100, for example, has higher payload ratings than the V6. So although its ratings are similar to '94, the '95 T100 V6 can handle these loads more easily.
On the other hand, even with its marked improvement in power, the T100 V6 is still only on a par with the basic engines of its competitors. When there's really heavy work to do, Ford, Dodge, Chevy and GMC all offer optional V8 engines with lots more muscle.
Where the T100 does excel is in ride comfort and handling. We liked the direct feel of our test truck's power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering, and its suspension did a very good job ironing out lumps and bumps.
Although high ground clearance limits the T100's response during quick maneuvers, it's still more athletic than most trucks in this class - more like driving a car, which seems to have been the engineering priority.
The car-like feeling is enhanced by a quiet interior. The engine is smooth and all but inaudible at ordinary operating speeds.
Enhanced power certainly adds to the T100's range of capabilities and puts it on an equal footing with base trucks from the Big Three. It'll do a better job of hauling loads and towing than the original T100, although we think performance will be pretty deliberate if what you're towing weighs more than 3500 lb.
Thanks to the new relationship between the dollar and the Japanese yen, the T100 is pricey compared with its Big Three competition. Even though this has an impact on its perceived dollar value, the equation changes somewhat if you factor in top-notch Toyota quality.
With its stronger V6 engine, the T100 becomes more desirable as an all-purpose vehicle. So if your agenda calls for general all-around driving with hauling as an occasional chore, the T100 merits a test drive.