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I’ll bet some readers remember when two of the most affordable new vehicles were pickup trucks and Jeep Wranglers. You could acquire either one for less than the price of an inexpensive sedan and they were rugged and useful. That scenario has changed. Toyota just redesigned its USA-destined Land Cruiser from a posh $85,000 people hauler to a mid-$50,000 off-road rival to Jeep’s Wrangler and Ford’s Bronco. That’s right, $50-grand is the average retail price of an off-road Jeep these days and the same is true with pickups.

Today it’s still possible to find a reasonably priced, rugged truck or Jeep, at least in theory. Jeep has a base Wrangler model that retails for $31,895 and I found a RAM Tradesman standard cab for $30,695. Of course I didn’t find either on a dealership lot and base models seldom arrive from media test fleets for evaluation.

What did arrive for my week’s testing was Toyota’s I-Force Max Capstone, a 6,000-pound big-rig perched on 22-inch dark chrome alloys shod with 265/50R22 tires. It’s an impossible vehicle to miss, although that big mug of a face plastered on the front of today’s pickups has been toned down a bit in Tundra’s top trim model.

Climbing aboard this big fella might seem a bit daunting for humans of normal stature, but grasping the door handle with its keyless entry sensor deploys automatic running boards that descend to aid entry. Once aboard, the posh cabin is fitted with seats upholstered in semi-aniline leather and both the dash and center console are accented with Dark American Walnut with an open pore finish. A panoramic moonroof sheds light on the luxury gear that includes a 14-inch multimedia screen that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along with other voice-activated features. And acoustic glass in the front doors help quiet road noise so the JBL Premium Audio System can be properly enjoyed.

All this luxury and much more are part of the Capstone’s $77,940 window sticker and it’s unlikely that your local plumber or tradesman will pick this model for their work truck. But if you have a big camping trailer, perhaps a two bedroom with a full bath, shower and a dine-in kitchen, the I-Force Max can tow up to 11,000-pounds with its combined 437-horsepower and 583-pound-feet of torque. And 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 with its hybrid system will do its work while delivering 22 MPG highway fuel economy along with a 708-mile range from its 32.2-gallon gas tank.

During my week of truck touring, I didn’t have the opportunity to tow even a small boat or load the bed with cargo, but I was impressed with the Tundra’s smooth demeanor. Hybrid power transition is seamless and the ten-speed automatic transmission keeps engine speed low unless you need quick power. This is a very comfortable and competent family vehicle that is ready to do serious work and that’s why the segment has become so popular.

It took Toyota a few tries to get the full-size pickup truck right but its current Tundra offerings are very competitive in a segment that’s been dominated by America’s big three automakers. Part of that success is developing and building the trucks in Texas along with the company’s legendary quality focus. And it’s the kind of competition that makes everyone better.

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2023 Toyota Capstone Crewmax

TYPE:  Front-engine, all-wheel-drive

ENGINE:  3.5-liter Twin TurboV6 with Hybrid Drive

HORSEPOWER:  437 @ 5,800 RPM

TORQUE:  583 lb.ft. @ 1,300 – 4,500 RPM

BASE PRICE: $76,145

AS TESTED:  $77,940

FUEL CONSUMPTION:  19-city, 22-highway, 20-combined

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