- The ToyotaTundra is typically the fourth-best-selling full-size pickup truck in the US.
- The Tundra is ageing, but it has a reliable design that’s up against new pickups from the Detroit Big 3: Chevy, Ford, and Ram.
- Despite its age, the Tundra is a great pickup that is notably easy to drive and, in an upscale trim package, comes with a lot of luxurious features.
In the world of the full-size pickup truck, the Ford F-150 rules the realm. Its perennial challengers are the Chevy Silverado and the Ram 1500.
You could be forgiven if you thought this massive US market was a trifecta, full stop. But there are other large pickups in the land. And they are worthy.
The worthiest is the Toyota Tundra. While Toyota sells just about 115,000 of these every year and Ford moves close to 1 million F-150s, the Tundra is no slouch when it comes to pickups. Among those in the pickup-truck know, Toyotas are considered more or less indestructible.
You buy the F-150 because it’s … well, because it’s an F-150. You might own a dozen in a lifetime.
You buy the Tundra if you think you might want to go to your final reward having owned just one truck.
That’s an exaggeration, but not far off. You do have to make some trades. Trucks from Detroit’s big three automakers can be lavishly luxurious these days, while most Toyota pickups we’ve sampled at Business Insider have been sort of bare-bones.
And then a tasty Toyota Tundra 1794 Crewmax, tipping the cost scales at about $US53,000, landed at our test center in suburban New Jersey. It was different. Very different.
The Tundra has been around since 2000 and has amassed a loyal following, even as it fails to seriously compete with the big three. (The current generation arrived in 2007 and was updated in 2014, making it a pretty old platform.) That certainly doesn’t mean Toyota doesn’t take the Tundra seriously. In a week of driving it around – with a nice long run to the Catskills in upstate New York thrown in – I found out why.
Behold, the Toyota Tundra, Crewmax configuration — rather out of its element in the leafy suburbs of northern New Jersey.
The competition among full-size pickups is brutal. Here’s the Raptor high-performance version of the Ford F-150.
And here’s a similar high-performance Chevy Silverado Z71.
It’s not a high-performance model, but behold the mighty Ram 1500.
We’ve also sampled the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, a midsize pickup …
… and the Tacoma TRD Sport. So we know what we’re dealing with when it comes to Toyota trucks: The TRDs are tough customers.
The story of the Tundra we tested is a little different.
Our test truck was the 1794 edition, well-appointed and well-optioned at almost $US53,000.
The 1794 backstory is intricate: The oldest cattle ranch in Texas, near San Antonio, dates to 1794. The property is where Toyota built its US pickup-truck factory.
If Bentley or Aston Martin made pickups, they’d look like this on the inside: tooled butterscotch leather and upscaled bunkhouse timber. I was a real suburban cowboy for the week I tested this Tundra.
You’re not going to confuse the Tundra for anything other than a full-size pickup. Ours had a 5-foot-5 doubled-walled bed and a power-sliding rear window …
… as well as a “Super White” exterior and LOTS of chrome.
The grille is, well, a mass of chrome. The American pickup it most closely resembles is the Ram 1500, the truckiest of pickups.
Tundra badging on the liftgate was subdued.
The four-wheel-drive identifier was a bit bolder. Also, more chrome.
The great thing about pickups is — Duh! — hauling capacity. And with the 1794 edition, you get the best of both worlds: cargo room to burn in the back, abundant premium-ness up front.
The 1794 cues continue on the outside.
A full-size pickup with a tow rating of 10,000 pounds indicates some serious business under the hood.
Look here! A 5.7-litre V8, making 381 horsepower — but more importantly, supplying 401 pound-feet of bone-crunching torque.
The six-speed automatic gets the job done, but both my colleague Ben Zhang and I found it to be antiquated relative to the competition. Fuel economy is a thoroughly unimpressive 13 mpg city/17 highway/14 combined.
Let’s climb inside, using that helpful step.
Roomy! Comfortable! The 1794 Tundra is a close second to the Ram 1500 for sheer interior bliss.
The rear seats aren’t as plush, but they aren’t bad.
The bench design allows for three passengers.
Legroom is excellent.
I took the Tundra on a long road trip, the same one I used the Raptor for last year. These seats — heated and cooled — did not disappoint on the long haul.
The moonroof is also a nice touch.
That’s a NICE steering wheel, with the kind of wood-and-leather combo you’d expect to see on Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus. To be honest, the Tundra 1794 is kind of the Lexus of pickups.
Amid chrome and brushed-metal details, you have three cupholders …
… plus a lot of charging options and USB/AUX ports.
The compartment between the front seats is a cavern.
And the glove box has its own shelf.
The switchgear is large and easy to find, making for ease of operation, even when wearing gloves.
No push-button start here — you crank the Tundra to life. Technically, we’re still on the second generation of the pickup, with a refresh offered in 2014 for a design that has been around since 2007. We might see a push-button start on gen three.
Infotainment works fine, with GPS navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, device integration, and satellite radio. The touchscreen interface, however, is small and rather outdated — it’s more or less the same as what I have in my 2011 Prius.
The JBL audio system is an 11-speaker rig that sounds pretty good, though it doesn’t quite cross into premium territory.
So what’s the verdict?
The Tundra platform is, to be blunt, ancient. The current generation of the pickup has been around since 2007. Everybody expects Toyota to update it soon, to keep pace with new full-size trucks from Ford, Chevy, and Ram.
Except, of course, there’s no rush. The Tundra, while a dandy truck, isn’t even remotely competitive with the big three. And yet Toyota continues to crank out the vehicle to satisfy what is, by its standards, robust US demand.
You may have anticipated the punchline, set up by that clunky six-speed automatic transmission, that gas-chugging big V8 motor, and the circa-2010 infotainment system. That’s right: Toyota doesn’t need to expend resources on the Tundra because it isn’t a combatant in the great pickup war ongoing among the Detroit big three.
The crusty old Tundra ain’t broken, so why fix it?
Indeed! In my testing of the truck, I was almost ready to call it my new favourite, second only to the exquisite Ram 1500. There’s something to be said for a platform that simply performs, is notably comfortable, and carries Toyota’s ironclad reputation for reliability.
For example, that thirsty V8 and steampunk six-speed aren’t likely to give you much trouble. And you know that even if you beat this pretty vehicle to pieces, it won’t let you down. Toyotas are tanks.
Ride quality truly stands out. The Ram 1500, with its all-around independent suspension – the Silverado and F-150 continue to use leaf springs – is like driving an old-school American sedan. But the Tundra is like piloting a Lexus. The contrast with the cruder, purposeful Tacomas we’ve tested is vivid. Rolling around town or up into the country, the Tundra rapidly impressed me with its soothing, car-like manners and handling.
When you need it, of course, that torquey V8 is there for ya. But for long hauls, I’d choose the Tundra over just about any other big pickup.
At about $US30,000 for the base truck, the Tundra is competitive in price with everything else in the segment. But given that Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and General Motors have all revamped their full-sizers, Toyota will have to do something with the Tundra to sustain its market share.
No one is asking Toyota to mess with a good thing – and the Tundra is pretty darn good – but the segment is modernising, and Toyota can’t wait forever to roll out a next-gen Tundra. That said, it can wait a few more years without enduring significant damage.
Sometimes it’s an advantage to be No. 4.
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