I wanted to hate this thing. Toyota? Taking on the last bastion of red blooded American pickups? Yeah, right! The domestic manufacturers have kept cranking up quality, capability and refinement levels - who's this upstart think it is, anyway? Not only has the Tundra garnered a metric crapload of commentary, it's ugly. Okay, not to everyone, but it reminds me of that time I got sand in my eyelids. When a Tundra Limited Double Cab unexpectedly arrived wearing a rather appropriate shade of Herman Melville white, I was primed to register severe intestinal discomfort. Dang.
Make no mistake, Toyota's not messing around; the Tundra is a serious truck. Its broad shoulders fit the same 79.9 inch suit as the GMT900s, while it stands as tall as the F150. The wheelbase options slot right in among the domestic competition, though there's been some controversy about frame construction. The previous Tundra was the first credible iteration of the effort begun with the T100, and the new model builds on that. Emerging fresh from the weightroom, the styling is more in your face, and the truck's been on a steady diet of growth hormone. The grille is big and bold, with a touch of Kenworth to the shape, though big rigs don't waste time with fake vents like the Tundra's proboscis.
The Double Cab has four forward-opening doors and the running boards on our tester made the step up into the XL-tagged cab a trifle. Even after donning bulky insulated Carhartts and logger boots, there was stretch-out space at every seating position. Should the standard-hugeness of the Double Cab feel too snug, there's a XXL-size Crew Max that appears capable of housing a washer and dryer in back. A group of adults will be comfortable inside the Tundra, and there's plenty of cubbies and lids for them to flip, which will make for a conversation-free ride. Exploring the Tundra is a common occurrence when people first meet it. There's been so much hype about it, we wouldn't have been surprised to find the Fountain of Youth inside the center console. Alas, we didn't fare any better than Ponce de Leon, but the center console is capable of swallowing such bulky items as hanging files and laptop computers without a whimper. Even the underside of the lid has thoughtful spaces for credit cards, tissues, and other general detritus. Attention was paid to the fact that there will be business conducted from the cab. Solid cupholders abound in the Tundra as well, which is good because we all know that coffee is the fuel of getting things done.
A look around the cab reveals an interior that trails the competition in materials and appearance. GM interiors are a step ahead of the Tundra, and the F150 is the Audi of pickup trucks, interior-wise. Hard, shiny plastic covers much of the Tundra's insides, and the split-personality dashboard is charitably described as interesting to behold. We'd be worried that the piano black on the center stack would pick up scratches and look awful in just a couple years. Our Limited had optional leather seats that proved comfortable for hours, while not as luxuriously padded as what's in other high-zoot pickups. The leather on the seats looks more like it came from a Nauga ranch, too, but parking your keister in one mitigates any carping. Non-fatiguing seats are more important than big pillowy cushions, and the Tundra seats are a pleasurable place to pass time, rather than making you feel like you're passing a stone.
The dash ergonomics follow their own path, and we're sure that Toyota put plenty of time into the Tundra's distinctive control layout. Love the ergo or hate it, it flat out works. The HVAC knobs are easily manipulated, even with gloves on, and controls fall easily at hand. Well, they would, if they weren't so far away, but there are long reaches in every full sizer these days. The big knobs with clear markings make it easy to dial up what you want. The shifter is awfully thick and chunky, but without substantial heft, kind of like using a 1980s cordless phone to shift.
The gauges are clean and handsome, but we got annoyed that the "lights on, you idiot" indicator glows a very bright, non-dimmable green. There's no need for that little idiot light, or the other details that betray a level of contempt for the consumer. The ass-covering "no hot beverage" legend in the door panels drew snickers. I'll put a coffee wherever the hell I want, and if I burn my ankle, well, that's my fault. The incessant beeping that every Toyota does when you operate the key fob is equally hateful. These are admittedly little things, and not exclusive to Toyota, but minor annoyances pile up, and pretty soon steam is exiting the ears.
The driving experience is above reproach, and will be what creates converts out of skeptics. The ride is supple for a big pickup wearing Blistein dampers with the TRD package. The body-on-frame quivers are there, but not more so than in other trucks, and you bounce around the cabin less as the suspension soaks up impacts. The powerful engine and the 6 speed transmission are matched perfectly; it'll even downshift when descending a grade. Sweet. Mileage was 15mpg in mixed driving, which isn't great, but for such a beefy vehicle, it could be worse. It'd be nice to see some kind of fuel-saving measures, like cylinder deactiviation, especially from "green" Toyota. Like other trucks these days, the Tundra has oodles of power. The 5.7 liter iForce V8 makes 381 horsepower and a massive 401 lb/ft of torque with a throaty roar that'll turn your head around. Even with all that brawn underfoot, the Tundra was well behaved and easy to wheel around. The big mirrors on our tester were part of the tow package, and they could be extended for extra width, helping you see around big loads. Despite its size, the Tundra's mirrors and sonar system made threading the needle with this behemoth a painless experience.
Handling in snow and low traction conditions is confident, even without weight in the bed. We dialled up 4WD and it asked "where would you like to go, sir?" Stopping can be exciting if you don't watch your speed, but as long as you keep the physics in mind, the Tundra is a sure-footed partner in slick going. In all driving conditions, the cockpit is commendably serene, and the Tundra obediently follows your lead when you make inputs to the controls. Should you get all crossed up, there's a stability control system to put her back in line. We were impressed by the way the yaw control keeps the tail tamed when the traction is low. We didn't realize it was the stability control until we noticed the light in the dash blinking at us indicating it was doing its thing.
It's telling that the only things we can really complain about are personal preferences. We much prefer the look of the previous generation Tundra, though the funky-arse of the stepside version should have been a harbinger of impending doom. The new Tundra looks like its predecessor stopped going to the gym and put on a kabuki mask. The fake vent at the top of the grille is exceptionally galling, but time will soften our opinion and someone else will introduce a truck with equally polarizing styling, and we'll be off the Tundra.
All of the commentary about the "TripleTech" frame doesn't amount to a hill of beans for most buyers. Yes, if you're towing 5 tons, perhaps a fully boxed frame is the way to go, but it's a non-issue with loads most of us would be comfortable towing. We think part of what contributed to the compliant ride of the Tundra was the frame allowing some flex, and if Toyota really wanted to cheap out, it'd be C-Channel front to rear. It's not like the frame is made from spaghetti, and let's not forget that Toyota has long experience building trucks. They've certainly gained some expertise through their 40 years of producing compact pickups like the Tacoma. The controversy over the frame will be answered by how this generation of the Tundra holds up.
The Tundra landing in our driveway was a surprise, so it's invited back for a thorough workout soon. In light everyday use, the new Tundra compares very favorably with its competition, and even bests them in some areas. This may not be the truck that vaults Toyota into big pickup sales numbers, but this is definitely not the end of the Tundra line. Toyota may take some bruising, but you can bet the company will learn from its experience. If I were GM, Ford or Dodge, I'd be making sure my own trucks were in order, the next Tundra will correct any mistakes made on this one, and this one is very good.