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The Toyota T100 created a big buzz in 1993 when it was introduced as the first full-size import pickup to be sold in the United States. The biggest knock on this otherwise fine first try was its rather anemic 3.0-liter V6 engine, while all of the domestic products had V8 engine options and therefore much greater hauling capacities.
Since the earliest days of its life, the T100 has been rumored to be getting that elusive V8 engine, but that won't materialize until sometime in 1998. However, the performance of the T100s have been improved through the use of a new, larger and more sophisticated 3.4-liter double overhead cam V6 that makes a great deal more power and torque than the original 3.0-liter.
Toyota has been building small pickups for decades, and they have always displayed what we think of as typical Toyota quality, durability and value. Although the T100 is much larger than the compact Toyota pickup, now known as the Tacoma, it still has all of the basic goodness that the Toyota name implies. The T100 has been awarded J.D. Power's Best Full-Size Pickup trophy for its initial quality in three of the past four model years.
The list of new equipment for 1997 is minimal: a larger alloy wheel and tire package, a new optional sport seat package for the SR5 XtraCab, and wider distribution of standard equipment and option packages across the T100 line. Also, there are two new colors.
What you see when you approach a T100 like our tester is a pretty generic full-size pickup truck, with a conservative face, cab design and minimum of decoration. This truck was being designed before the current Dodge Ram and Ford F-Series made their big market splashes, so Toyota went with a very conservative approach just as the market was changing toward chrome-grilled macho trucks. So the design is a little behind its U.S. competition, but if you want a conservative truck that may last a decade or more, it's still a good bet.
What you will also see is painstaking construction quality, inside and out. Toyota takes pickup door fit and panel match as seriously as the same fitments on Lexus luxury cars, which obviously pays off down the line. Everywhere you look on the T100 there are quality materials, quality workmanship, and excellent, if subdued, design.
Our test truck was the top-of-the-line SR5 XtraCab 4x4 (from $24,778, including destination), which comes with the best level of standard equipment, but Toyota also offers three lesser series as well as standard-cab models and two-wheel drive. The model array is almost as wide as those of the American Big Three, minus V8 or diesel power and big-time work ratings.
But the T100 V6 has almost everything else. It is rated to carry a 2150-pound payload in 2WD V6 editions, and tow up to 5200 pounds. It has all the traditional pickup truck equipment, including an easily removable tailgate, two-tier cargo storage, an array of tie-down hooks in the bed, and a set of stake pockets in the bed as well, where customers can add aftermarket wooden stakes to retain taller loads.
But as you'd expect of a Toyota, it isn't so businesslike as to avoid creature comforts. The option lists include all the popular pickup power-operated accessories like seats, windows, mirrors and locks, as well as several very good sound systems.
The SR5 package adds a ton of equipment to the truck, including chrome wheel arch moldings, chrome grille, chrome front bumper and door handles, a sliding rear window, privacy glass, tilt steering wheel, full instrumentation, an AM/FM/cassette sound system with four speakers, map lights and a passenger-side lighted vanity mirror.
The only things conspicuously absent are a passenger-side airbag, which we'll see on 1998 models, and a third door for extended cab models, something that's been very popular for Ford and General Motors trucks.
The Toyota conservatism extends to the interior of the XtraCab SR5 4x4 as well. The instrument panel has everything you need, laid out properly, but while the tach and speedometer are large and conventional, the minor instruments are sliding-bar gauges that went out in the '70s in American passenger cars.
We found the interior of the T100 to be just as roomy as any of the other extended-cab pickups on the market, and the 60/40 split front seats were comfortable, with plenty of front-rear manual adjustment (power seats are available). Interior materials in our test truck were high quality and have the look of high durability, as well, although we found the color combinations a bit on the dull side.
The rear seat area was well done, with a one-touch lever on the passenger side that would slide the front passenger seat up so that groceries could be loaded into the rear floor area. The rear seats, which split for even more cargo convenience, are hinged off the back wall, and are a great deal more comfortable than most. There's a storage compartment built into the floor under each seat as well, and the rear compartment is fully trimmed out.
Our test truck had the optional tonneau cover, and we're not sure whether we liked it or not. The black, semi-rigid cover, with a hefty vinyl covering supported by underbows, looked great and was extremely well made and taut. But it's attached to the truck bed rail by a complicated system of six aluminum clamps that will be hard to reach whenever the owner wants to use the cargo bed.
The T100 powertrain array has been expanded, as we said. Now, instead of taking the 3.0-liter V6 or else, the T100 has a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 150 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, but it is offered only in the budget-priced Standard truck, with the 3.4-liter V6--190 hp, 220 lb.-ft. of torque--standard in all other models. The 2.7-liter engine is the only four-cylinder offered in a full-size pickup, an installation made in 1994 to reduce the T100's basic purchase price, and its power doesn't stack up all that well against the basic engines in its Big Three rivals.
The V6 is also short of the V6 power and torque of a Ford or Chevy pickup for real work, but on the street, with only passengers to carry, it was just fine, quiet, smooth and eager to perform, even with an automatic. And don't forget, Toyota also makes some of the world's best manual gearboxes; we mention this because a manual may be a better deal with this engine, since it makes the most of the available power.
The T100 suspension, with leaf springs at the rear end and torsion-bar setup at the front, offers plenty of travel and shock absorption for a street truck, a smooth ride, and a minimum of wallowing about.
While the steering is nice and light in the 2WD mode, when the 4WD system was engaged the front tires seemed to get bound up at relatively shallow wheel angles, forcing a lot of extra maneuvers in parking lots.
The 4WD system is a simple on-demand setup with a separate shifter for transfer case engagement and shift-on-the-fly capability up to 50 mph. Like most pickup truck systems, it's designed for occasional use, rather than full-time.
This is a really nice street truck, capable of lots of recreational travel duties including light towing and family hauling. The cabin, especially the portion aft of the front seats, seems quite large and comfortable for kids and cargo use. Toyota's materials and workmanship are first rate throughout.
The powertrain is typically Toyota, with good performance and the promise of excellent long-term durability and few visits to the shop for things other than routine maintenance.
Our reservations have to do with power and price. You still can't get a V8 engine, and more importantly, at $29,822, our loaded SR5 4x4 XtraCab was at least $3000 more than a comparable American truck, due to the vagaries of the yen and the dollar. Regardless of price, you get top quality with the Toyota T100.