Overview: Toyota’s Tundra remains an outlier in the full-size-pickup segment, a bit of an iconoclast’s choice compared with the entrenched domestic rigs from Chevrolet, Ford, and Ram. It is a nice product, however, with plenty of capability and a chunky, tough look. The truck’s primary weakness is in the low number of configurations offered, although this strategy makes sense given the Tundra’s minuscule relative sales numbers versus the segment leaders. Against the flood of different ways one can order an American truck, the Tundra offers a regular cab, a “Double Cab” extended cab, and a “Crewmax” four-full-door variant, each with a fixed bed choice except for the lower-grade Double Cabs, which are available in 6.6- and 8.1-foot lengths. The CrewMax can be paired only with the 5.6-foot bed, while the regular cab is long-bed only. Two V-8 engines are offered, a 310-hp 4.6-liter and a 381-hp 5.7-liter, and both come with a six-speed automatic transmission with your choice of rear- or four-wheel drive. For this review, we revisited the 5.7-liter engine in a 2016 Tundra 4×4 Limited.
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What’s New: The Tundra last was upgraded for the 2014 model year. Since that refresh, which included the fitment of a new grille, tweaked headlights and taillights, and a manlier tailgate design, all’s been quiet on the Tundra front. Outside of a few minor trim changes and equipment shuffling, and Toyota’s abandonment of the Tundra’s base V-6 engine in 2015, the only thing that’s changed is the price, which has risen a couple hundred dollars since last year.
What We Like: There really isn’t a completely stripped, work-truck version of the Tundra. Even the base SR model—there also are SR5, Limited, Platinum, TRD Pro, and range-topping “1794” variants—feels decently turned out. Thanks to its 2014 update, the Tundra has a solid, battering-ram sort of countenance, and the interior remains logically laid out and well put together, with buttons and knobs large enough to operate with gloves; our Limited test model also had a touch-screen display. Upscale models, especially the 1794 Edition, feel like Lexuses inside, too. The interior is cavernous, even on our Double Cab, which is sort of a plus-size extended cab with four front-hinged doors. The rear doors may be stubby in appearance, but they open to a back seat that’s surprisingly spacious and with a bottom cushion that sits at a comfortable height and angle, unlike the rear seats in some other pickups.
The standard wheelbase is on the long side and it not only affords rear-seat passengers plenty of space—there’s even more room in the CrewMax—but it also pays dividends in the ride department. Broken roads, speed bumps, and errant road debris barely register through the structure, and there is minimal head toss over truly wavy surfaces. Power delivery is smooth, the 5.7-liter makes good noises when prodded, and the six-speed automatic is mostly unobtrusive in operation.
What We Don’t Like: Compared to the contemporary full-size-pickup zeitgeist, the Tundra seems slightly old-school. The brakes don’t feel particularly strong (although in our most recent four-truck comparison test, they stopped the 5900-pound Tundra CrewMax 4×4 in a respectable-for-the-class 189 feet from 70 mph), and the steering is slow and not very accurate. At highway speeds, the steering requires constant corrections to maintain a straight path. Even though the 5.7-liter engine is capable of punting the truck to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, the Tundra prefers a more sedate driving style.
That engine sounds throaty when you’re caning it off the line, but it also tends to drone at highway speeds (the Tundra was the loudest truck in the aforementioned comparison test, registering higher decibel readings at idle, full throttle, and a 70-mph cruise than the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and Ram 1500), and the side mirrors on our Limited test truck produced more wind noise than other Tundras we’ve driven. Furthermore, its EPA-estimated fuel-economy numbers fail to break 20 mpg even on the highway; in our testing, we’ve recorded between 14 and 15 mpg in mixed driving. Inside, the controls on the right side of the center console can be a stretch for some drivers. As it sits, the Tundra remains toward the back of the full-size-truck pack, but it’s a small field of generally excellent—and newer—competitors. This Tundra is the first from Toyota to be truly full-size and to go fully head-to-head with the domestic truck makers. There’s no denying that the Toyota is a capable truck, but it needs more than that if Toyota has any hopes of luring greater numbers of brand-fanatical truck buyers away from the domestic stronghold.
Verdict: It’s not enough to be built in Texas—the Tundra needs to act more like Texas.