For a vehicle segment in which models often go a full decade without a major redesign, there's a lot happening today in the world of pickups. And this year's Truck of the Year competition is a showcase for several of those hot new trends.
Truck buyers looking for musclecarlike performance will find it in the new breed of high-potency pickups. And one of the most fun-to-drive models is the Ford F-150 SVT Lightning, sporting a 5.4-liter/360-horsepower supercharged SOHC V-8 that blisters the pavement enroute to a 5.4-second 0-60-mph time. It's a truck that has new Mustang GTs fighting to keep up.
But if you're looking for a real work truck, instead of a speed demon, the new passenger-friendly extended-cab models are becoming more inviting, with vastly improved roominess and easier passenger access. Excellent examples of this welcome trend are the new Dodge Dakota Quad Cab, featuring room for six real grownups and the Nissan Frontier Crew Cab, with its four full-size doors and enough passenger space to feel like an open-bed SUV.
Meanwhile, Toyota's entry into the full-size pickup class remains one of the most closely watched moves in the segment, and with the all-new V-8-packin', ultrarefined, made-in-the-U.S. Tundra blazing the way, it's a challenge to be taken seriously.
Four groundbreaking new trucks. Yet, only one can win. Let's get to it.
How do we go about deciding the most significant truck of the 2000 model year?
Very carefully. Years ago, in fact, it was easier to evaluate pickups when they were simply utilitarian work vehicles. Back then it was just a question of whether or not they hauled the load and didn't fall apart while doing so. Nobody expected carlike ergonomics, liveability, ride comfort, handling, roominess, or (certainly) performance. Now, a pickup must be all things to all owners: amiable everyday commuter, high-profile sport vehicle, comfortable cruiser, fun-to-drive plaything, and reliable toy-hauler for an active lifestyle.
The range of testing thus needs to reflect the broad range of a pickup's uses. Each truck in our competition was first put through our full battery of instrumented track testing: acceleration, emergency braking, at-the-limit handling, and ultimate cornering grip. Even in a pickup, it's important to know just where the vehicle's limits are. Then we drove them where their owners will typically drive them-through city traffic, on the open highway, up and down mountains, and into building supply centers to load them full. But we also drove the 4x4s in places where their owners might have second thoughts-through deep streams, over craggy rocks, in and out of soft, sandy streambeds, and through lots of slippery mud.
When we weren't driving, we were checking out the fit and finish, the features, the controls' ease of operation-all the things that help give a modern truck that highly sought carlike driving experience. And, of course, we looked at value; just what do you get for your hard-earned bucks? We discussed pros and cons, strengths and weakness, things that worked, and things that didn't. We judged them against their class competition and how well they do the specific jobs for which they were built. But in the end, only one truck could be named Motor Trend's 2000 Truck of the Year. Who's the winner? Turn the page to find out.
The notion that only the domestic "Big Three" can build a proper full-size pickup has finally been eclipsed. In making good in on its longstanding promise to directly challenge U.S. producers of full-size V-8 pickups, Toyota has delivered an exceptional new offering: the 2000 Tundra. On sale since last June, this bold upstart has sent shockwaves through the industry-and handily rolled off with our Truck of the Year award, as well. Although first full-year sales volumes are projected only at about 100,000 units, its mere presence ensures that the Ford/Chevy/Dodge big-pickup game (total volume over 2 million units) will never be the same.
Taking on these huge sellers (the Ford F-150 is perennially the largest-selling vehicle in America) required Toyota to marshal all its U.S.-based resources. That process yielded not only one superb truck, but a top-notch network of suppliers and a brand-new $1.2 billion assembly facility in Princeton, Indiana. To better accommodate the record numbers of people now choosing pickups as primary personal-use vehicles, the broad-based Tundra lineup includes regular and Access Cab configurations; base, SR5, and Limited trim levels; two- and four-wheel drive; and a choice of V-6 or V-8 engines. Factor in a host of buyer-specific options-from primo sound systems to a TRD-spec off-road package-and you've got the makings of one outstanding pickup. Priced from just under $15,000 for a base regular cab to around $30,000 for a fully loaded 4WD Access Cab Limited, the new Tundra delivers a wide range of choices, as well as a dose of solid value.
Our editors found that the Tundra blends the best people-pampering attributes of a passenger car with the rough-and-ready capabilities of a true work truck. It definitely has talents well beyond those of the previous T100 truck, Toyota's initial foray into the larger-than-compact pickup realm. Although with a 128.3-inch wheelbase, 75.2-inch width (79.3 on limited mod- els) and 217.5-inch length, the Tundra does still give up a smidgen to its full-size counterparts from Chevy, Dodge, and Ford a bit in terms of pure size. But one payback for that modest tradeoff comes in greater maneuverability in traffic and easier parking.
Clean, contemporary sheetmetal gives the Tundra both a tidy aerodynamic profile and a substantial visual presence. That sleek skin conceals myriad sound-attenuation tweaks-including acoustic foam in the A-pillars and doors, generous quantities of sound deadener on the firewall and floor, and rubber-isolated cab mounts, all of which help minimize extraneous noise and vibration. The Tundra's inner sanctum also displays a host of typical Toyota design cues, most prominent being highly legible analog gauges, user-friendly ergonomic detailing, and the kind of fit and finish you'd expect in a Camry.
Whether trimmed in standard cloth or optional leather, there's a quality feel throughout this people-oriented pickup. Even the base model boasts three 12V power points, an AM/FM/cassette sound system, and full carpeting. On the safety front, the Tundra also comes with dual airbags, three-point belts at all outboard seating locations, front belt pretensioners and force limiters, plus side impact beams in the doors.
Regular cab Tundras carry either a bench seat with fold-down center armrest or captain's chairs with a central covered storage bin, while Access Cab variants add a three-across 60/40 split-folding rear bench. A possible downside for those looking to carry six big workmen: The Tundra isn't a full-size crew cab. However, it'll handle full-size adults with room to spare up front and medium-scale kids in the rear quarters.
The Tundra's no slouch when it comes to toting cargo, either. All standard cabs have an 8-foot bed, while Access Cabs get a 6.5-foot box. Both bays are 61.2 inches wide and span 49.3 inches between the wheelwells. Another nifty feature (for theft prevention) is a lockable tailgate that also can be easily removed to facilitate hauling longer payloads.