The full-sized T100 was not Toyota’s first high-capacity truck; a 3/4 ton truck had been sold before. In 1983, it was rated as having a capacity of 1,800 lb, and was also sold in unfinished camper and commercial cab/chassis form, and with a diesel option. A one-ton model came later (at least by 1985, when it had the 22RE engine), and in 1987 the one-ton Toyota truck had a 2,655 pound payload and could tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped, though with a 116 horsepower 2.4 liter engine, it must have been interesting to drive with that load.
The Toyota T100 pickup trucks
The Toyota T100 was Toyota's first serious try at the torrid United States full-sized pickup truck market. Toyota was probably expecting better results, given their success in pickups for Asia and Europe, and America's odd love affair with big, low-mileage trucks - the three best selling vehicles in America are nearly always all pickups. However, Toyota's share was so small that only the most optimistic of Toyota's press release writers could consider the T100 to be a success. That would change rather dramatically with the second generation Tundra.
The first T100, introduced in 1993, had a single engine, a 150 horsepower V6, and only came in a regular cab - with two trim levels, both available with two or four wheel drive. A small storage box was behind the seats, and the SR5 had a built in toolbox. Oddly, antilock brakes (rear only) were standard across the board. A four-speed automatic and five-speed manual transmission was available for each engine - the four speed unusual in 1993 when introduced.
1994 brought a driver's side airbag and steel door beams, along with a 2.7 liter, four cylinder engine that produced 150 horsepower, just like the V6 (only for two wheel drive models). Given its superior gas mileage and similar power and torque, the four was an improvement over the six. A "One Ton" model was also added along with a DX model. The One Ton would be discontinued a scant two years later, in 1996.
Not until the next year, 1995, did Toyota add an extended cab, called the Xtracab, providing another 22 inches of length, along with forward-facing jump seats that could hold three people for a brief time (or two people for a long time; the middle person had very little height due to the transmission hump). Each seat had a seat belt. The V6 was newly enlarged and reached 190 horsepower. The next new feature was fairly minor, bucket seats and 16 inch wheels, added in 1997; there were no changes in 1998, the T100's final year.
The 1997 Toyota T100’s 190 horsepower V-6 engine was peppy when revved, but did not have much low-end torque, especially compared with the Dodge Ram; peak torque is good on paper at 220 lb-ft. When pushed, the transmission readily downshifted and the engine surged forward to the redline with an encouraging whine. At highway speeds, transmission action was frequent, but the transmission was gentle. We averaged 16 mpg in mostly highway driving, on par with competitors' similar trucks. (The Dakota's V6 produced less power, but had more available torque at lower engine speeds. Most people, however, opted for the Dakota's 220 horsepower 5.2 liter V8 - much to the detriment of America's overall fuel use) It is worth noting that we used the automatic transmission; the manual would provide better acceleration and power.
There was a great deal of wind noise, and the windshield caught an unusual number of bugs, due to poor aerodynamics and a far-too-upright windshield. The wind noise helped to cover up the engine and road noise. Visibility was excellent, though. The horn was much easier to use than on the domestics, and the headlights were far better focused, so they seemed much more powerful while being kinder to other vehicles.
The instrument panel was clear, but there was a confusing array of stalks; the cruise control was very convenient but the wiper/washer was hidden by the steering wheel. There were two small areas for coins. The sunglass tray would have been handy, except that on acceleration the contents tended to fall out onto the floor. The cup-holders, likewise, would be handier if the contents were not allowed to tilt and spill (directly into the cassette player) so readily.
The base four-seater has a bench front seat, split 2/3 of the way across; though it tilts forward on the driver’s side, it does not slide unless you use the regular front/back control. Access to the rear is difficult from the driver’s side, easy from the passenger side. A small center cushion in front had a compartment too small to hold a CD.
It was moderately easy to get into the bed; the gate was held on with a metal latch assembly, which inspired more confidence than cables, even if it isn't any stronger.
The T-100’s ride was pleasant; it managed to convey the impression that the roads had no sudden breaks, potholes, or jagged edges, absorbing sudden pavement changes very well without giving a luxury-cruiser lack of road feel. The non-truck-like feel, though, only contributed to the impression that the Toyota would not hold its own with its bigger American brethren. On the other hand, the four wheel drive model tended to be rather stiff and choppy, with body lean on turns.
One nice thing about the T100 is its high safety ratings - four stars for the driver, five for the passenger (NHTSA).
The Toyota T100 was not badly designed, but it probably should have been sold against the Dodge Dakota rather than the bigger rigs. A big-engine option would have helped - even a small diesel with lots of torque would have been useful in providing it with some credibility among the pickup crowd (Dodge reputedly sold more gas pickups because of the Cummins turbodiesel than any other factor, in the pre-1993 days). The price could be far too high, depending on options - considerably higher than the more comfortable, bigger, and more powerful trucks from the Detroiters. Sometimes there's a premium for quality, but big trucks are an area where Detroit has frankly done quite well, and lack of reliability has not been a major issue for most full-size pickup buyers. It was no surprise to us, after driving the T100, Dodge Ram, Ford F-150, and Chevy 1500, that the T100 was dropped in favor of the more Americanized Tundra.
History of the T100 full-size pickup truck
In the United States, the two best-selling vehicles are both big pickups; and all of the Big Three's sales leaders are full-sized pickup trucks. Toyota is not run by incompetents; in 1993, with its reputation secure and domestic protectionism no longer a factor, Toyota started carving out a niche for itself with the T100.
The T100 should probably not have been sold as a full-size, though by Japanese standards, that's what it was - come to think of it, it would have been considered such in the 1960s, too. It was the only "full sized" pickup with a four-cylinder engine; and its top engine was a V6, producing power at higher revolutions than the ancient V8s of Chevy and Dodge, without providing much of a gas mileage benefit. Like its competitors, it had three-across seating, a bed large enough to hold a four-foot by eight-foot sheet of plywood flat on the floor, and, less common, the ability to handle two-tier loading. While it gained some media awards, sales never challenged the American automakers.
Only one year after its introduction (with just a single engine, the V6), the T100 gained an optional four-speed automatic on four wheel drive models, and a four-cylinder engine on the entry level.
Only one year later, the 190 horsepower 3.4 V6 was added, with 220 lb-ft of torque, similar in specs to the base V8s in the F-150 and C1500. It also gained an Xtracab option with a 22 inch deeper cab, providing an additional 21.4 cubic feet of storage or passenger space. The Xtracab included a 60/40 split bench front seat, forward-facing rear jump seats, and a "walk-in" mechanism that automatically slides the seat cushion forward when the seatback is released. The T100 had dual cupholders, change compartments, coat hooks, and integrated storage areas, in keeping with other modern trucks. The T100 could now tow up to 5,200 pounds, with some models offering up to 2,450 pounds of payload.