SAN ANTONIO, TX – It may not play in the same league as the F150, Silverado/Sierra or Ram in terms of sales volume, but the Toyota Tundra has become a critical component in Toyota’s overall business in North America.
While the others sell as many trucks in a month as Toyota does in a year, the company’s massive plant here is operating at capacity, cranking out a new truck every 62 seconds.
The Tundra was designed in and developed specifically for the North American market, first appearing as a 2007 model.
Toyota says it appeals to a more upscale customer than the "Big Three." It's buyers typically are younger, more affluent and have more education than the "Detroit buyer".
The company also says the Tundra buyer is more likely to own a small business or fleet than work for one. It says that in many cases the Tundra is chosen as a personal vehicle by these buyers.
Accordingly, when it came time for a makeover, the design and development teams concentrated on widening the availability of trim levels, enhancing the appearance and fuel efficiency and placing more marketing emphasis on the truck’s existing power, capacity and interior space.
The 2014 Tundra thus gets a minor exterior update and a major makeover inside. There has been no attempt to broaden the drivetrain selection, no V-6 engine, no diesel and no nine- or 10-speed transmission.
The steering, suspension and brakes have been tweaked slightly but are essentially carried over from the outgoing truck.
Toughened truck look
Full-sized pickups are one of the last bastions of masculinity, and owner loyalty. Toyota’s research showed the Tundra lacked the tough truck look outside and had too much plastic inside. The 2014 Tundra addresses those perceptions – in spades.
The new Tundra has an absolutely massive grille, 40% larger and extending 40-mm up and unto the hood, leaving no doubt about the nature of this vehicle.
Each trim level gets a unique treatment, but they all shout "big and tough". The side view places more emphasis on the prominent wheel arches and the tailgate incorporates a small spoiler built into the top.
Look closely and you see slight aerodynamic touches in the mirrors and tail lights to encourage the air to pass over with less disturbance benefitting both fuel economy and noise.
The new bumpers are three piece units. That may not seem significant unless you have experience with a big pickup in the workplace and off, where bumper damage is common. With the new Tundra you only have to replace one piece, not the whole thing.
Radical interior makeover
While the exterior changes are modest at best, the interior has come in for a radical makeover.
The seats are new and, when equipped with coolers, provide much more airflow. The instrument panel has been entirely redesigned and varies in finish from one trim level to the next with soft touch surface and contrasting stitching on all.
The steering wheel, instrument cluster and console are all new as well. Metal-like finish is used on functional parts and the centre stack has been pulled 65-mm closer to the driver for ease of reach.
In that same vein, the audio system controls have been simplified – in contrast to the trend elsewhere.
Luxury and Technology
Each trim level gets a different treatment and all emphasize luxury and technology. A crisp , clear screen atop the prominent center stack shows the view from the rear provided by a camera that is standard on all 2014 Tundras. When so-equipped it also serves for the new navigation system.
Blind spot monitoring and cross traffic alert are standard on some grades and available on all.
The crew- and double-cab models benefit from a revision to the rear seat arrangement so the bottom cushion now lifts up and locks against the back, instead of the rear cushion folding down. The result is a massive increase in available storage space, stretching from floor to roof. The load height has been reduced by almost 300 mm.
Two new trim levels
Two new trim levels have been added , one at either end of the range. The entry point is now the SR model at $26,750.
But that doesn't mean it is stripped to play in the fleet sales war. It boasts an extensive list of standard equipment not found on the base models of the competition, including an updated audio system with a 15-cm screen, Bluetooth connectivity and wireless streaming, backup camera, air conditioning, power windows and locks, power heated mirrors and a tilt and telescope steering wheel.
The Limited, SR5 and Platinum models return to fill out the mid-range and a new 1794 trim level has been added at the top.
The real effort went into the high end models. The previous range-topping Platinum has been extensively upgraded and now boasts black leather seating with a quilted pattern that extends to the instrument panel and door panels, 12-speaker JBL audio system with navigation, unique 20-inch chrome wheels and heated and ventilated front seats.
The 1794, named after the year the ranch was founded where the Texas plant now resides, has a western theme and Lexus-like luxury. It is bathed in supple saddle-brown premium leather with ultra-suede accents on seats, IP and doors and has the bells and whistles expected in a $54,000 pickup – dual zone climate control, big screen audio/nav system, power rear window, unique 20-inch alloy wheels, clearance and backup sensors etc.
Beneath the skin
The 2014 Tundra comes in regular, double and crew cab models with three boxes ranging from 1676 mm (5’6") to 2464 mm (8’1") in length.
Little has changed beneath the skin. The frame, V-8 engines, six-speed automatic transmission, on-demand 4WD system, steering, suspension and brakes are carried over with subtle tweaks here and there. When equipped with the towing package, the Tundra can haul up to 4545 kg (10,000 lb) and has a 682-kg (1500-lb) payload capacity.
I had an opportunity to drive several version of the new Tundras in and around the factory grounds and on the open road.
On- or off- road, towing a 3400-kg (7500-lb) trailer or motoring down a Texas freeway at a legal 130 km/h, it is a quiet, composed and comfortable truck that is not outstanding in any single area but competent in all.
Quiet and refined are the two adjectives that spring to mind looking back at the wheel time. Let’s call it the Lexus of pickups.
Toyota has elected not to try to emulate the traditional volume sellers in the pickup segment, but instead solidify its position among those looking for something different. Which the Tundra is.