The badging reads "Off-Road." The big P265/70R16 tires and generous ground clearance strongly suggest "Off-Road." But surprise -- the is 2WD. The compact pickup apparently targets a younger, hipper crowd wanting a capable-looking vehicle with lots of room. On that score, the Prerunner is spot on.

A spacious double cab comfortably fits four adults. The four doors allow easy access to firm yet comfortable 60/40 seats up front and a bench seat in back. Rear seats come equipped with three-point seat belts and new tether anchors to secure child safety seats. Both front occupants get airbags and seat belts with pretensioners and force limiters. Drivers face a typical compliment of white-lettered gages illuminated by orange light for improved night viewing. Another plus is the well-designed cruise-control lever borrowed from Toyota's luxury-line Lexus cars. However, the turn-signal lever just above it completely hides the digital clock from view.

Helping you to forget the time is a good-sounding, six-speaker CD stereo. I had to break out the manual when the CD player randomly chose which songs to play. It turns out "random play" is a selectable mode.

Driving with the radio off is remarkably quiet despite the potent powerplant under the hood. A four-cam, 3.4-liter V6 generates 190 hp at 4,800 rpm and 220 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm, or enough to tow a 5,000-lb trailer. And a dealer-installed supercharger from Toyota Racing Development (TRD) boosts output nearly 40% to 260 hp.

The motor couples to a four-speed overdrive (0.705:1) automatic transmission, then to a 4.100:1 rear differential. A five-speed manual transmission is also available. The combination gives brisk acceleration and decent fuel economy at cruise speeds. EPA estimates are 17/20 city/highway.

The Prerunner handles and rides, well, like a pickup truck. Up front is a rack-and-pinion steering system mated to a double-wishbone, independent suspension. The TRD Off-Road package includes stiffer, progressive-rate springs and Bilstein shocks. Beefy rear leaf springs and hydraulic shocks help push maximum payload -- occupants' equipment and cargo -- to 1,749 lb. The $1,150 TRD option also includes a pushbutton locking rear differential, operable at speeds below 10 mph. Locking differentials apply power equally to both rear wheels for greatly improved traction on slippery surfaces.

The Prerunner has a MSRP of $18,715. An SR5 appearance package, TRD Off-Road package, power windows and locks, cruise control, bedliner, and a rear-seat cargo net, plus delivery and minus discounts, brought the total to $22,721.

Lawerence Kren