Toyota Likes to Talk About Trucks, Trucks, Trucks BIG SKY, Montana - Land Cruiser, RAV-4, 4Runner, Sequoia, Tundra, and Tacoma - with a double-cab entry. Does Toyota think it's Ford or something?

Midsized sedan leader Toyota Motor Corp. goes for the heart of the U.S. market with two, new mainstream sport/utility vehicles (SUVs), a completely redesigned RAV-4, and an expanded lineup for its Tacoma pickup truck.

With seven truck models, Toyota becomes the most diversified foreign automaker competing in the American market.

But Toyota doesn't simply want to imitate competitors Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. The No.1 Japanese maker instead wants to create a standard-bearer, in effect doing exactly what the Camry did to the American sedan. The concept of Toyota as a strong player in the truck market once may have seemed far-fetched. The new-for-'00 Tundra fullsize pickup, however, convinced the public that Toyota can ably play in truck land.

The all-new Sequoia, built alongside the Tundra in Princeton, IN, and sharing its i-Force V-8 engine, enters the market as Toyota's largest vehicle. It is, as Toyota hastens to report, Expedition-sized. Though the largest, the Sequoia fills the gap between the 4Runner and the luxury, low-volume Land Cruiser as Toyota's first mainstream, full-size sport-ute.

The three-bench SUV, which comes as either a 4x2 or a 4x4, names Expedition customers as its target market. And, like the Tundra before it, the Sequoia combines the right features to spell success. The 4.7L V-8 has been tweaked to better suit the larger, heavier SUV and provides ample power - 240 hp at 4,800 rpm and 315 lb.-ft. (427 Nm) of torque at 3,400 rpm - for the family-oriented vehicle.

It shares the Tundra's 4-speed automatic overdrive transmission as well as its 4x4 system, which allows the driver to shift from two-high to four-high with a dash-mounted switch.

Thanks to Toyota's A-TRAC 4-wheel-drive system, which maintains traction by instinctively applying brake pressure to each wheel independently, the vehicle also can hold its own off-road - in case of any tough terrain on the way to Little League practice.

Yes, family activities are key to many of the vehicle's features, such as its flexible third bench and enhanced safety system. Though the back row does not go so far as to fold flat into the floor, the seats easily slide or tumble forward, or can be removed completely.

For safety,Toyota offers three-point seatbelts at all eight seating positions, with the front seatbelts featuring force limiters and pre-tensioners. Front air bags are standard, and side bags and curtain-shield side SRS bags are options.

On top of that, the Sequoia is not a bad-looking truck. Its sporty and up-to-date exterior and comfortable and utilitarian interior (10 cup-holders, kids!) are designed with the American family in mind. With one exception - Toyota could lose the four, in-ceiling sunglass holders on non-sunroof models. It makes no sense.

Perhaps as important as bringing the Sequoia to market is the RAV-4 redesign. Toyota's compact SUV first arrived in 1996 and helped define the segment. Competitors soon followed, often with more powerful and more attractive entries.

For '01, the second-generation RAV-4 has been given a thorough and much-needed revamp. Toyota officials admit that styling was the "first, and most obvious" priority. Toyota sought out U.S. help on the redesign from its Calty Design Research center in Newport Beach, CA. The new design sports a front end that, unlike its predecssor, looks like it actually belongs on a truck, as well as sleek lines and tastefully executed cladding. A sporty instrument panel and metallic detail work are tasteful without being boring.

Toyota didn't ignore the RAV-4 powerplant. The 2L engine with Variable Valve Timing with intelligence is all new - the first in a new family of lighter, higher-power all-aluminum 4-cyls. It's 40 lbs. (18 kg) lighter and offers an added 21 hp - 148 hp at 6,000 rpm - and 142 lb.-ft. (193 Nm) of torque - 10 more than in the last.

As if the SUV entries weren't enough, Toyota expanded its Tacoma small pickup offerings, adding a double-cab model as well as the S-Runner, a limited-edition, high-performance, 190-hp sport truck.

Toyota now offers 17 different variations of the Tacoma, with three engines, three cab configurations, and 2- and 4-wheel-drive versions, covering what is becoming one of the most diverse buying segments.

If these entries aren't enough to keep Toyota truck fans interested, just wait a couple of months. The Highlander, which Toyota defines as "mainstream utility" (and a close cousin to the Lexus RX300) is soon to follow.