The Goldilocks of Pickups: Why the First Generation Toyota Tundra Still Hits the Sweet Spot 20+ Years Later
No matter their age, Toyota’s pickups and SUVs always seem to have huge following. From their instantly recognizable pickups of the ‘80s to the modern classic that is the FJ Cruiser—they're in such high demand that if you want one you’ll likely have to pay a premium compared to other brands.
But if you are looking for a high-quality used pickup truck that’s just the right size and without a lot of the dreaded “Toyota Tax,” the first generation Tundra pickup of the early 2000s is a rig worth strong consideration.
The Tundra first debuted for the 2000 model year as a successor to the T100 of the ‘90s, which was Toyota’s first attempt at a larger pickup for the American market.
The T100 had trouble winning over traditional full-size pickup buyers due to its smaller size and its lack of a V8 engine option, so Toyota made sure to address both of these complaints when engineering the Tundra.
A Real "American" Pickup
Initially, this new, larger truck was going to be called the “Toyota T150” but given its similarities to the F-150 name Ford’s lawyers got involved and the name of the new truck was switched to the now familiar “Tundra.”
The Tundra was engineered specifically for the American market, and unlike the T100, it was built in America as well.
A V6 engine over carried over as the entry-level powerplant, but the big news was the addition of Toyota’s larger, more powerful 4.7-liter “i-Force” engine—the first V8 ever offered in a Toyota Pickup.
Also known as the 2UZ-FE, the Tundra’s V8 was used by other Toyota and Lexus models, including the Land Cruiser, LX470, GX470 and the Toyota Sequoia.
The V8 Tundra initially made 245hp and 315-pound feet of torque, and by the end of the run in 2006, horsepower had been bumped as high 282.
Refinement for Days
While these numbers weren’t able to outgun some of the heavier-duty American V8s or diesels, it was a substantial improvement, and the extra power came with a nice dose of refinement that helped set the Tundra apart.
The truck was received very well by the press and ultimately by buyers as well, even if it couldn’t match the domestic big three in sales figures. It also offered buyers more choices than ever, with three different cab styles, short and long beds—and even a rarely seen stepside option.
In 2007 the second generation Tundra debuted, and it went even larger—for the first time matching or exceeding the best-selling half-tons from GM, Ford and Dodge in both size and output.
But for those looking for a great used pickup that’s very reliable and more than capable for most everyday tasks, a used first-gen Tundra remains a great choice.
The Value Play
Depending on condition and mileage, a V8-powered example can be had anywhere from $5-6,000 on the bottom end to about $12,000 for a mint example, which is significantly cheaper than a used second gen Tundra.
And if you are looking to use a first-gen Tundra as an adventure rig, there’s a sizable aftermarket as well, with easy access to suspension and chassis upgrades, wheels and tires, plus bolt-on performance upgrades for the 2UZ-FE.
Combine all of that with a size that many would call just right, with genuine full-size capability in a footprint significantly smaller than modern half-tons, and it isn’t hard to recommend the first-gen Tundra as a budget enthusiast pick.
More From Driving Line
- Want the same experience but with an SUV body style? The first gen Toyota Sequoia might be an even more budget-friendly choice.