The first Toyota Tundra pickup was so smooth and sophisticated that driving one was almost like driving a Lexus. The challenge facing the entirely new 2008 Tundra is to prove that it has the tough towing and hauling power that pickup customers need.

The new truck has grown over its predecessor by 10 in. in length, 4 in. in width and 5 in. in height. Its frame is 6 in. wider and is built of a thicker gauge steel, fully boxed under the cab, with a reinforced, rolled-lip C channel for the mid-frame and a tough C channel at the rear.

The Tundra comes in three cab versions: the regular cab for $22,290, the Double Cab, which used to be the extended cab, for $24,715, and the Crew Max, the largest, full four-door, for $27,685. The standard bed length is 78.7 in., with an available long bed at 97.6 in. The overall length of the Double Cab is almost 20 in. longer than that of the regular cab model, measuring 228.7 in. in overall length for the normal bed and 247.6 in. for the long bed. All together, 31 different configurations of cabs and beds are possible.

Made in America

Because it was smaller than the traditional big pickups from the Ford-Chevrolet-Dodge domestic triumvirate, the first Tundra did miss with a solid segment of the marketplace, including farmers, who require the biggest and most rugged trucks available.

Large pickups, just like large vehicles in any segment, are rare in Japan, where laws and the natural laws of congestion, dictate smaller vehicles. But Toyota's pride was stung by criticism that it couldn't build a truck that was big enough and rugged enough to do the heavy lifting of the U.S. half-ton pickups.

So Toyota set out to build the ultimate pickup — designed, engineered, and built in America, for Americans. Toyota questioned pickup buyers all across the United States before the more aggressive, macho style was drawn at Toyota's Calty Design Center in Newport Beach, CA. The new truck was engineered at the company's TTC facility in Ann Arbor, MI. Then the company built an entirely new plant in San Antonio, TX, to team with the existing facility in Evansville, IN, for building the new Tundra.

Don Esmund, senior vice president of Toyota's U.S. arm, says, “We're aiming at delivering what customers want, more than benchmarking any competitor.”

What's inside

Toyota built a new, high-tech, 5.7-liter iForce V8 engine at its Alabama facility and a six-speed automatic transmission at its production facility in North Carolina. The strong, year-old, 4.0-liter V6 from the Tacoma mid-size truck and various SUVs is standard, with 236 hp and 266 ft.-lbs. of torque. The 4.7-liter V8 upgrade now produces 271 hp and 313 ft.-lbs. of torque. The 5.7 is the heavyweight, with 381 hp and 401 ft.-lbs. of torque.

Toyota engineers equipped the dual-overhead-camshaft 5.7 with Dual VVTi — a computerized system governing independent camshaft variance to adjust timing and overlap on both intake and exhaust valves for optimum fuel efficiency and lowest emissions. A butterfly valve controls and varies fuel flow to the intake manifold. The fuel-air mixture goes to the short runners for low-end torque or to the long runners for high-revving horsepower, depending on demand.

The four-wheel disc brakes are ventilated 13.9 in. front and 13.6 in. rear, with four-piston opposed fixed calipers, which don't have to shift to make contact. Toyota's five-point Star Brake system includes antilock, electronic brake distribution, stability control, traction control and brake assist for full brake force when you hit the pedal hard. When trying to start or go in deep snow, mud or gravel, traction control can be a hindrance, so A-Trac lets the traction-control system permit some wheel spin, when ordered by the push of a button.

The new six-speed automatic transmission is coupled with the 5.7, supplanting the five-speed still used on the 4.6 or 4.0 engines. The five-speed's rear differential has been enlarged from 8.7 to 9.5 in. and measures 10.5 in. with the six-speed. The 4-wd transfer case has six pinions instead of four, with a planetary gear-reduction switch that allows electronic control of 2-wd, 4-wd high, and 4-wheel low, without a center differential. The Tundra can be switched from 2-wd to 4-wd high while driving, but it must be stopped to engage 4-wd low. The front differential has an automatic disconnect.

The optional towing package starts with a receiver hitch built in as a hydroformed cross-member of the frame. The package comes with an upgraded cooling system, which includes a water-cooled oil cooler. The tow-haul mode on the transmission alters the gear ratios to aid towing power. With high-tech drive-by-wire electronic throttle control, all of those alterations feel smooth and normal.

Cab and bed

The regular cab has considerable storage space behind the seats. The Double Cab also has storage under the rear seats, which have flip-up cushions to allow storage of large items. It also has adjustable tiedown anchors in the bed.

Unlike some U.S. pickups, the Tundra does not have a full-opening rear door on its extended-cab model. Instead the Tundra offers a front-hinged rear door on its Double Cab. Although the door is slightly smaller than the rear-hinged doors, it provides two benefits. First, the pillar offers increased structural integrity to the cab. Second, the front doors don't need to be open to use the rear doors.

The rear doors on the Tundra open a wide, 80° for easy access. Outer mirrors are extendable for when you haul wide loads. The tailgate is damped, so it comes down softly when you pull the latch. Turning radius has been reduced from one of the poorest to one of the best in the industry. Front double wishbone suspension is the costliest and also the best for precise and stable cornering.

The passenger bucket folds flat with a built-in tray that serves as a computer desk. Rear seat backs adjust to recline 10° in the Double Cab, and recline or fold down in the Crew Max. The handles on all the doors, inside and out, are designed to be operated without removing heavy work gloves. Front, side and side-curtain air bags are standard, and the stability system has a roll-sensing system that shuts off deployment of passenger air bags when no passenger is on board.

A tire-pressure monitor on a dash display reads signals from tiny radio transmitters built into the tire valves. The front console with bucket seats is large enough for a hanging file system. A Generation 5 navigation system is available. A front and rear sonar-powered parking aid uses blinking lights and a beeper to let you know when you've maneuvered too close to an object.

The JBL audio system has Bluetooth built in for hands-free cell phone use. There is a CD changer as well as audio mini-jacks for iPod or other MP3 players.

A rear video system displays objects behind the truck when you engage reverse, and the camera system is wide-angle to allow one-man trailer hitching.

High expectations

Esmund explains that, because the normal-size half-ton pickups represent two-thirds of the segment, the Tundra comes only as a half-ton truck. And despite the assumption of strong brand loyalty as a tradition, 250,000 large-pickup buyers change brands every year.

“We project a stable market, and we're looking at doubling our sales, from just over 100,000 to 200,000 a year,” Esmund says. “We anticipate 40% of the buyers will be replacing a current full-size truck, another 40% will be new to the full-size segment, and 15% will be new truck buyers. There are not a lot of substitutes for large pickups.”

For more information, call Toyota Motor Sales at 800/468-6968, visit www.toyota.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 123.

who have always sought tough, rugged, dependable, over-achieving pickups will accept a vehicle that accomplishes all those objectives — and still pampers occupants like the Lexus of pickup trucks.