Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: 1998 Toyota T100 pickup truck

From 1993 to 1998, the Toyota T100 was this Japanese automaker's answer to the venerable full-sized Ford F-150.  Trying to get into the large truck market is a tricky business and on some levels the T100 was a failure, but it did lead to the more successful Tundra model line.  When I had the chance to buy my co-workers T-100 pickup, I took thought that this aged and high mileage beast would live up to the name of Toyota dependability.  I was also looking for a 4X4 vehicle that would let me travel in the northern reaches of Michigan and also serve as a parts hauler for my next project car.

The Truck:
This vehicle doesn't have the width of a F150 or Silverado, but is nearly as long.  The size is more Dakota-like  Bed length with the tailgate up is roughly six feet in length..  The overall look is timeless and much more classic truck-like than the popular heavy slab-sided designs of today.  Underneath, you can see a large pumpkin, the full-frame, a heavy duty transfer case, and a number of other industrial-looking parts.  The 4X4 model I own is quite tall and stands higher than most stock modern SUVs and even many trucks.  This large amount of ground clearance gives the T100 a macho appearance like it can scale the deepest of ditches or highest of hills.  To my eyes it looks even more capable than Jeeps when conquering the great outdoors.  The low sales numbers also mean you won't see many T100s on the road, which is a good thing if you like to stand out from the crowd of F150s and Ram trucks.

My very first truck was a 1984 Nissan King Cab that was actually owned by my parents.  The interior of the T100 is primitive just like that 80s piece of machinery or even my later 1995 Nissan.  There are no extras here and only the most basic of gauges and accessories are here: stereo, power windows, cigarette lighter, ashtray, center armrest & cubby, climate controls, tach, speedometer, gas, alternator voltage, oil pressure, and temperature.  Indicator lights on the dashboard turn on when the 4X4 transfer case is (manually) engaged or the Cruise Control is turned on.

There is no Bluetooth, heated seats, leather, electronic/automatic climate controls, backup camera, navigation, or any other gadgets that will break with time.  This is actually a good thing in my book since simplicity will reduce expensive repair bills, increasing the longevity of this truck.

The cloth front split bench seat is comfortable enough for short hops but isn't exactly the best for long distance driving.  The forward facing back jump seat is for children or small adults only.  I've never had the misfortune of actually sitting back in the extended cab, but it certainly doesn't look comfortable.  Very basic blue cloth covers the floor.

Starting with a 150hp 3.0L and eventually moving to a 190hp 3.4L DOHC engine, the T100 could never compete against the Big 3 in the big engine power wars.  But still, at least with the 3.4L engine and the short factory gears, off-the-line performance isn't bad at all.  It has a very strong stump-pulling feel which starts to run out of steam once you hit highway speeds where you will be hard pressed to keep up with most modern 4-cylinder engines.  But hey, this is a truck, not a sports car, so I'm not expecting to win many street battles with this thing.  The V8 Tundra, which my co-worker bought, is a powerhouse in comparison.

The Ride:
This is not a luxury car so the overall feel tends to the harsh side.  Roads here are a combination of potholes, cracks, and poor resurfacing jobs.  You can feel everyone of them, but it's no worse than my older Volvo with low profile performance tires.  The jiggly ride does improve on the highway where the better road surface and increased speed helps.  And oddly enough, over really rough dirt roads, the suspension really soaks up the punishment, leading to less shaking and bobbing than your average passenger car.

Road noise at low to moderate speeds is only somewhat intrusive, while at higher highway speeds one has to raise your voice while talking or dial up the stereo a few more notches.  As expected, opening the vent windows of the extended cab only makes matters worse.

Around Town:
Any SUVs I've driven, or even the Honda Element, has a tippy feeling when cornering too hard.  In comparison the T100 feels positively athletic.  I don't know how the engineers at Toyota did it, but handling is quite good without much body roll or the feeling that you're about to tip over.  Yes, it's not a SCAA cone dodging compact, but  it's easy to steer with excellent road feedback.  With the low gears, keeping up with traffic is no hassle, though when accelerating at lower speeds the transmission is constantly slipping in and out of (the defeatable) overdrive.

At approximately 70 mph, the truck is spinning 2500rpm-ish, which, along with the high boxy shape and 4.10 gears gives what should be some fairly rotten mileage.  But on a trip to Ann Arbor and back, I pulled just over 21mpg which is a testament to the efficiency of the 3.4L engine.  Sure, this isn't anywhere close to a modern 6-speed passenger vehicle or electric hybrid, but it's still pretty good for a high truck with minimal aerodynamics and large tires.  It's certainly better than my old V8 powered SUVs and trucks.  Passing power is available when needed, but not much, so it helps to choose your moments carefully.

Dirt Roads:
I haven't had the chance to try out the 4X4 on the slippery wintry roads of Michigan, but up north, heading into my parent's nearly hidden home in the woods, the T100 has no problems traversing the rough terrrain.  4X4 hi/lo is easily engaged through the transfer case lever inside the cab.  Traction and pull is amazing, giving maximum grip over rough dirt and loose sand.  You would be hard pressed - with the right tires - to get stuck in this truck.

In my mental list of favorite vehicles, the T100 scores much higher than you would expect, taking a spot in my top five.  Sure I've owned faster and more expensive cars and SUVs, but there is a special feeling when driving this Toyota truck.  Perhaps its the high ground clearance, spartan interior, and 4X4 but the T100 just feels capable and tough like nothing short of a nuclear war could stop you from reaching your travel destination.  It's a truck through and through and promises nothing more than helping you get the work done, without bells and whistles, or complaint. 

Worst: 14.5mpg of mostly city driving
Best: 21.2 of highway driving
Average: 17-18mpg
Current Miles: 204k

With this kind of mileage, the large 24 gallon fuel capacity comes in handy.

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