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1996 Toyota T100

Say there, Cam McRae, would you please pass me another hunk of

that fricassee de corbeau?

That's "corbeau" as in "crow", as in "eat crow".

Why? Because I actually enjoyed driving a pickup truck.

Normally, I hate pickups. A 2500 kilo two-seater that gets

eight miles to the gallon, has no place to put a brief case out

of the rain, gets lousy traction in bad weather, and rides and

handles, well, like a truck? What could possibly be the

attraction? Especially to make these things the best-selling

vehicles on the planet?

Oh, I've tried pickups before. And had all my prejudices

reinforced. Actually, they're postjudices, since I came to my

conclusions after trying them, not before.

I hadn't planned to drive the T100, Toyota's answer to the

full-size pickup. It's a long story:

I had just returned a test-drive car to another carmaker and

had forgotten the keys to the Hornet, so I had to SlimJim my

way in, but because the ignition switch lock doesn't work I was

able to drive it even though the walkaround showed that the

right rear tire looked a little soft but I figured it'd last

until I got home except it didn't agree and went down around

Meadowvale Rd. but there was no way I was going to stop on that

narrow shoulder of the 401 so I limped to Markham Rd. where I

parked on the express lane shoulder then made the half-hour walk

to Toyota's headquarters thankful it wasn't any colder since I

didn't have a winter coat and doubly thankful that Toyota's PR

man, F. David Stone, had this pickup I could borrow to drive to

Birchmount Collision whose proprietor Wayne Hosaki loaned me

Rodney, one of his employees, plus a jack, a spare and some

tools because the Hornet didn't have any of the above and even

if it did I couldn't have got at them since I didn't have the

keys to the trunk, remember, and we rescued the car but I

decided to let it sit at Toyota for a few days to make sure the

spare held air so I drove the truck for a week.

I told you it was a long story.

This particular unit had just about every option box on the

order form checked off. It was the Xtra-cab/regular-box body

style, which brings with it a pair of fold-up benches in the

back with a total of three seatbelts, the outboard two being of

the three-point variety. Not the most capacious or comfortable

of seats, perhaps, but they easily surpass the

beats-walking-home-in-the-rain criterion.

And, you can easily store a brief case back there. So much for

one of my usual pickup beefs.

Indeed, when the seats are folded there's over 21 cubic feet

of cargo space, larger than any passenger car's. It's not that

easy to get to, even though the front passenger seat slides

forward when the backrest is tilted up. I wonder how long it'll

be before Toyota adds a third door to the T100, like both GM's

and Ford's new pickups.

The interior of the T100 looked like it came from a Toyota

sedan. Apart from the drum-shaped minor gauges, I'm certain I've

seen most of the switches and controls before. It was as well

finished and carefully assembled as you'd expect from a Toyota.

A driver's side air bag is standard.

The front seat is weird. Toyota says it will "carry three

people in comfort". Ah, no. The passenger occupies a normal

bucket seat. But the driver's throne has a small addition

grafted onto the inboard side, which forms a half-depth cushion

for a third passenger. The extended seat back incorporates a

fold-down armrest, the lid of which hinges upward to reveal a

cubby bin.

This middle seat probably does not pass the

beats-walking-home-in-the-rain test. There really is nowhere to put your

legs, and in the four-wheel drive model, you must also deal with

the transfer case shift lever. Ouch.

It would be marginally more useful if the middle seat were

attached to the passenger's bucket. Then the driver's seating

position — and everyone's safety — would not have to be

compromised by the desires of any third front-seat rider.

My test truck was a four wheel drive, with shift-on-the-fly

capability — cross off my badweather traction concern. My week

with the truck coincided with some serious snowfall — what week

this winter has not? I even used the T100 to pack down the snow

in the backyard in a failed attempt to create a skating rink,

putting the low range of the two-speed transfer case to use.

We compost, recycle, reuse and reduce around here. But every

few months, we need to take a load to the dump. I'm also in the

process of cleaning out the office — anybody want to buy some

12-year-old automotive press kits? — so the timing of the T100's

arrival was perfect. (The attendant at the dump remembered my

last visit, with the huge Dodge Ram pickup.) The plastic bed

liner in my T100, a $500 accessory, was appreciated on the dump

run. You should appreciate that Wheels does not do

scratch-and-sniff.

So I must confess that pickups have some practicality in our

modern lifestyle.

Those who expect pickups to have large and lazy V8 engines

will question the four-cam-shaft, 24-valve 3.4 litre V6 in the

T100. That's three and eight more and about two (litres, that

is) less respectively than you need, right? But the 190

horsepower and 220 poundfeet of torque compare favorably with

other standard pickup power plants, and the T100 gets down the

road just fine. Towing capacity is 2268 kg (the trucker's

standard equivalent to 5,000 pounds) so there's no complaint

there.

The engine is noisier than you might expect a modern

multicam V6 to be, but truckers won't mind. They better not mind the

fuel consumption either. Transport Canada numbers of 14.1 litres

per 100 km in the city and 11.4 on the highway cycle will make

them feel right at home since they aren't a whole lot better

than many domestic full-size trucks.

The five-speed manual transmission is a bit stiff, but feels

very strong. The clutch grips well but abruptly; some left-foot

finesse is needed to drive this thing smoothly. Frankly, if I

were to buy a truck — ooooh, what did I say? what did I SAY? –

I'd choose the four-speed automatic. You're supposed to be

working here, not having fun.

Any pickup must be stiffly sprung to handle its maximum load,

which means ride is invariably jouncy when unladen. Still, the

T100 does a surprisingly good job at isolating harshness over

small road irregularities, even with the optional chunky

Goodyear Wrangler mud-and-snow truck tires.

The T100's handling varies from Queen Mary understeer in

four-wheel drive to whoops(!) tailout oversteer in two-wheel mode

on snowy pavement. The variable-assist recirculating ball

steering needs a fair amount of quick-handed steering wheel

spinning to keep up, but it's up to the task.

The most serious handling issue is a large turning circle,

which makes the T100 less nimble in parking lots or my driveway

than I expected. The bad weather highlighted the advantages of

the optional anti-lock brakes, which function also in four-wheel

drive mode.

So the T100 covered off many of my objections to pickups. It

has a useful passenger cabin, good interior storage, ride and

handling which, if not up to passenger car standards are at

least acceptable given that it can haul more stuff to the dump

than your average passenger car.

Fuel economy is still a problem, as is the list price. My

tester totalled a whopping $35,262, and that didn't include such

niceties as power windows, locks and mirrors or air

conditioning, which you would expect on a car costing this much.

So, Cam, I may not be a complete convert. For people who need

the sort of abilities the T100 does well and who have that kind

of money I'd probably still recommend something like a Subaru

Outback for day-to-day use with a pick-up rental once every six

months for the dump run.

But at least, I can finally see where you're coming from with

this pickup thing.

Oh, may I have the other drumstick?

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