Toyota updated the styling of its Tundra pickup truck for 2003.
Though only in the U.S. market for some three years, the capable and award-winning Tundra may have lost a bit of ground, looks-wise, to competitors.
It's not that the Tundra -- which is a "best buy" from Consumer Digest magazine, a recommended buy of Consumer Reports and is cited as the best full-size truck in J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study -- is unattractive. Hardly.
It just hasn't been as expressive in its looks compared with newer full-size pickups, such as the Chevrolet Avalanche, Cadillac Escalade EXT and the redesigned Dodge Ram.
Changes to the Tundra for the 2003 model year include a larger grille that's meant, in Toyota's words, to give a "tough, new look." But it's still not as brutish a front end as, say, the Rams.
Also for the first time, Toyota offers a sporty, StepSide look for the Tundra pickup bed.
The StepSide is available only on Tundras with the Access Cab. The Access Cab features a regular-sized, front-hinged door and a smaller, rear-hinged door on each side of the cab and seating for five or six passengers.
Toyota still doesn't offer a full-blown cab with four front-hinged doors such as those found on the Ford F-Series SuperCrew and the smaller Nissan Frontier Crew Cab.
But Toyota does acknowledge that nearly 90 percent of Tundras sold are Access Cab models, which mirrors a continuing consumer trend toward multi-door/roomier-cab pickups that officials at other automakers are seeing.
The Tundra, which has a starting manufacturers suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $16,465 for a two-wheel-drive, V6-powered, regular cab model, is a bit smaller in some dimensions than domestic-branded full-size pickups.
For example, total vehicle length is 217.5 inches, which made finding a parking spot in the test Tundra with Access Cab relatively easy.
But big-truck buffs will note the 2003 Ford-150 Super Cab is 225.5 inches long and the 2003 Chevrolet Silverado Extended Cab is 227.6 inches long.
So perhaps it's no surprise that rear-seat legroom in the Tundra Access Cab is 28.6 inches versus 32.2 inches in the F-150 Super Cab and 33.7 inches in the Silverado Extended Cab, according to manufacturer-provided specs.
Shoulder room in the Tundra is less than in the two competitors, too. But rear-seat headroom of 38.3 inches is competitive.
Still, the Tundra remains an impressive truck with a quality reputation. Predicted reliability is much better than average, according to Consumer Reports.
Safety is worth noting, too. A 2001 Tundra Access Cab received the top "good" overall crash test rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's 40 mph, 40 percent offset, frontal crash test.
In the test Tundra Access Cab 2WD model, the front seats felt roomy. I sunk in on what felt like sturdy foam, and the wide center console could be raised to provide room for a third front-seat rider.
The back seats have OK legroom for outboard riders. Someone my size, 5-feet-4, in the back seat would find the knees cramped only if the front seats are all the way back on their tracks.
The middle rider in the back seat doesn't have a head restraint or shoulder belt, though, and has to contend with the back end of the center console area.
Still, side windows are large, adding to the great visibility that the high-riding Tundra affords passengers.
It was a big climb up to get inside. I appreciated the fixed, assist handles at all the Tundra doors.
The Tundra's V8 is wonderfully smooth and sophisticated, especially for a truck.
I enjoyed the pleasant, confident, powerful V8 sounds in the Tundra, and I never felt a lack of power.
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