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For Tundra, third time’s the charm

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The Japanese, being baseball fanatics, surely must understand the sport-derived phrase, “three strikes and you’re out.”

Toyota, Japan’s (and recently the world’s) largest automaker, took that admonition to heart with the third try to compete with American entries in the full-size pickup truck segment.

The first attempt, the undersized and underpowered T-100 debuting for the 1993 model year, barely made a dent in the domestic truck market. It reached its sales peak in 1996, when slightly more than 40,000 vehicles were sold. Compare that to General Motors’ pickup sales during that period (roughly 700,000 a year), while Ford sales approached 850,000 and Dodge sales surged to 400,000 with the introduction of the new Ram in 1994.

2011 Toyota Tundra Double Cab SR5 4×4
VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door, five-passenger, full-size pickup truck
BASE PRICE: $30,715
PRICE AS TESTED: $36,358 (incl. delivery fees)
POWERTRAIN: 5.7-liter, DOHC V-8; 381 horsepower; 401 lb.-ft. torque; six-speed automatic transmission; four-wheel drive
WHEELBASE/LENGTH: 145.7″/228.7″
CURB WEIGHT: 5,460 pounds
EPA FUEL RATING: 13 mpg city/17 highway (regular grade)

Although solid and reliable, the T100 was criticized mostly for not offering a V-8 engine option.

Toyota then took another American homily to heart: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” So in 2000, the Tundra was launched.

Fully redesigned, improvements were many, including greater size, more power, and a more up-to-date and comfortable cabin. Finally, there was a V-8 option and later a four-door, Double Cab model.

Sales rose to the 100,000 range.

The third generation and current Tundra was released in 2007, truly full-sized and fully powered – and ready rumble.

Our tester, a Double Cab 4×4, proved fully capable of competing with its 5.7-liter twin-cam V-8. This is a gem of an engine, pouring out gobs of power with unusual smoothness. The six-speed automatic transmission delivers barely perceptible shifts.

The big truck rides serenely on the highway, and around town dispatches all but the sharpest jolts. Through corners the Tundra betrays its size and weight, but is generally well-behaved.

The huge cabin features very comfortable seats, but the dash and gauges are looking a bit dated and utilitarian. Fit and finish is unimpeachable.

So Toyota finally got it right, but they’ll never catch the Americans. We’ve been at this a lot longer.

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