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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
I had an opportunity to drive several version of the new Tundras in and around the factory grounds and on the open road.
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.