Road Test

ROAD TEST: Toyota Tundra

The Tundra came in for a mild makeover in 2014 to keep pace with newer competitors

2014 Toyota Tundra SRT5 TRD

Toyota is the largest vehicle manufacturer in the world in terms of annual sales. It builds its largest vehicle, the Tundra, in its largest market – the United States. More specifically, it builds the Tundra in the world's largest pickup market, which is the state of Texas.

In fact, Toyota likes Texas so much it is moving its North American headquarters there from California.

Part of that attraction may be the success of the new full-size Tundra. While Tundra sales still pale in comparison to pickups from the “Big Three”, they have shot up since the new Tundra started rolling off the San Antonio assembly line – and especially so in Canada where Tundra sales are up 33% for the first 11 months of the year.

Made in Texas

The first Tundra rolled off that Texas line in 2007. More than one million have been produced there since and the plant is currently operating at capacity, cranking out a new Tundra or Tacoma every 62 seconds.

Toyota has aimed the new Tundra at the heart of the market, the half-ton segment where F150 and Ram rule. But its internal research shows the Tundra attracts a different customer, a younger, more affluent and better educated truck buyer – someone more likely to own a small business or fleet than typical buyers of Detroit pickups.

It is for this market niche that the new Tundra was developed, centered around the known Toyota hallmarks of quality, durability and reliability.

Facing major upgrades for its competitors, the Tundra came in for a mild makeover in 2014 – to keep it fresh until a major overhaul for 2016. The appearance and interior have been updated but the Tundra continues to be offered with V-8 power only, no six-cylinder or diesel engines.

But that hasn't restricted its ability to offer a wide range of trucks. For 2015 the Tundra is available in 10 models with multiple trim levels and 25 configurations! There are three cab sizes, three box lengths, two engines and two or four-wheel-drive.

It's a big truck

The first thing you notice about the new Tundra is that this is a big truck. The new look starts up front with a bold, chrome-laden face, larger headlights, LED daytime running lights and a taller hood.

The new bodywork includes more aggressive fender flares which on my Tundra tester covered a set of 20-inch alloys wrapped in 275/55-size rubber. At the rear, the brand name is prominently stamped into the metal tailgate, which has a small spoiler at the top. The overall effect is one of a more masculine truck, more chiseled and squared-off.

That first impression of size is reinforced when one attempts to get in. I have never been called small, in fact the opposite is more common, but I had to reach up and grab the steering wheel in order to hoist myself into the cab of the 4X4 double-cab with the TRD off-road package.

Focus on interior

Once ensconced up there in the stratosphere, the visibility is terrific. Look around and you see where Toyota spent most of the money on this makeover. The overall impression is one of a handsome, masculine vehicle.

Through the four-spoke steering wheel one sees the usual complement of instruments, in this case nicely arrayed with two prominent ones for road and engine speed and a quartet of secondary displays. The centre stack is topped by a big 7-inch touchscreen that  handles audio, phone, navigation and other vehicle settings. The HVAC controls are beneath with large knobs and buttons.

The centre console is big and wide with ample provisions for large liquid containers. The glove box, door bins and storage area beneath the armrest are also size large. There are USB, AUX and multiple12-volt outlets but, surprisingly in this day and age, none for 110-volts.

The back seat of the double cab tester was equally impressive for size, comfort and ease of entry/exit. The big doors open nice and wide, there is ample head and legroom for a trio of big adults and the seat bottoms fold up and out of the way (in a 60/40 split), resulting in a massive open, and tall, cargo space.

The box out back has a nice and bright loading lamp, tie-down hooks on the rails, loops on the sides and a soft-open/close tailgate. Just pull the handle and let go, the tailgate lowers slowly and smoothly. No crash and smash.

V-8 engines only

The new Tundra comes with a pair of available V-8 engines carried over from the outgoing model. The base unit displaces 4.6-litres and produces 310-horsepower and 327 lb-ft of torque. My tester had the larger 5.7-litre unit with 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque – and it was needed.

Silky smooth and quiet as you’d expect from an engine also used in some Lexus vehicles, it propelled the truck with ease – though not impressively.

This thing tips the scales at more than 2700 kg (6,000 lb) with nobody or nothing aboard. That’s is a lot of ask for an engine where peak torque doesn't occur until a lofty 5,600 rpm. This is a case where a diesel with its low-end grunt would make a lot of sense.

All that weight and the corresponding need for a lot of throttle input makes this Toyota a very thirsty ride. I averaged 16.7 litres/100 over a week of mixed city and highway use.

The Tundra comes with a six-speed automatic transmission and an electronically controlled 4WD transfer case. It has a maximum towing capacity of 4,636 kg (10,200 lb) with the proper configuration. 

The ride quality was smooth with an empty box and even better with a load aboard. The long wheelbase and long-travel suspension make it an excellent highway cruiser with a surprisingly refined ride.

The suspension, with double wishbones up front and a solid axle in the rear is typical pickup but the engineers deserve praise for the tuning.

Thanks to extensive attention to NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) road and wind noise in the cabin are all but eliminated.

The new Tundra is unlikely to draw a raft of new customers from the Ford, Ram and GM camps. After all, pickups are the last bastion of brand loyalty in the business. But someone looking for their first truck or moving up from a smaller one, would be attracted to this big smoothie.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: 2014 Toyota Tundra Double Cab 4X4 SR5

Price: $36,650 BASE, $44,845 as tested including freight

Engine: 5.7-litre 32-valve V8, 381-horsepower, 401 lb. ft. of torque

Drivetrain: Six-speed automatic, full-time four-wheel-drive

Fuel consumption (city/highway): 16.3/11.9 L/100 km

Length: 6,295 mm

Width: 2,030 mm

Wheelbase: 4,180-mm

Mass;  2,575-kg (crew cab)

Competitors:  Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F150, GMC Sierra, Ram, Nissan Titan

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