2009 Tundra New Car Test Drive
The Toyota Tundra is no longer a 7/8-scale truck as the previous-generation pickup was sometimes called. It's an honest-to-goodness, full-size pickup, whether you measure by load, dimension, or work capacity.
In the stylistic sense, the Tundra is big and burly by design. To that end, it abandons the high-stepping, nose-in-the-air look of Tundras built before 2007 in favor of a more down-to-earth but very large grille, boldly framed in black or chrome, depending on trim level. The grille pulls lines from the deeply sculpted hood into the front end. Some like the black piece of trim designed to look like an air inlet at the top of the grille, some don't; likewise some like the rounded lines and others call them inflated. In any case, it has presence, and we think it looks good.
In side view, the Tundra is blander, and Toyota-like, with understated fender flares tied together by a gentle indent along the lower door panels. Body proportions comfortably accommodate the three bed lengths and wheelbases. Interestingly, gaps between body panels are deliberately wider than contemporary robotic assembly might allow. Toyota's stylists decided that slightly wider gaps better suggest the rugged first impression they wanted the Tundra to make.
Some of the details on Tundra's body add interest, and function. Deep recesses underneath make the beefy door handles easy to grip. The Tundra CrewMax has these big handles on all four doors, while the Double Cab uses vertical grabs on the back doors that are a bit snug for large hands. The optional larger towing mirrors look a little too big on the regular and Double Cab models but function trumps form here.
The rear view is traditional pickup. There are no stand-out styling cues here, save maybe for the backup lights, which are dimensionally almost the equal of the taillights. The tailgate is damped, making lowering and raising it easier and quieter.
The wheels vary with the model, too, but they're all very truckish. The standard 18-inch, drilled steel discs on base Tundras are actually quite attractive in their basic, functional look. SR5's get styled steel, stamped more expressively to resemble mags. The aluminum alloy wheels on the Limited models feature thick, monolithic spokes. The optional 20-inch alloys satisfy the current trend toward lots of wheel, not much tire.
Opening and closing the tailgate is dramatically eased by the tailgate assist (standard). The mechanism starts with a torsion bar in the hinge assembly to make the tailgate feel lighter, and includes a gas-pressurized strut, concealed behind the left taillight, to damp the lowering and assist in raising the lockable tailgate.
When it was launched for 2007, the full-size Toyota Tundra raised the bar on working truck interiors. Little has changed for 2009, save the choice of a bench front seat on Double Cabs. The Tundra remains a comfortable, well outfitted pickup.
Visibility from the driver's seat is excellent. The standard mirrors are large, and can be adjusted to deliver a panoramic view all the way around the truck. The optional tow mirrors are also superb. They feature a large traditional mirror that's power operated, with a small convex mirror at the bottom that's manually adjustable. They can be adjusted to cover all blind spots. The tow mirrors can be manually extended outward to help the driver see around enclosed car trailers and other big trailers. They can be folded inward when parked to reduce the chance of damage.
The optional navigation system includes a back-up camera. It's particularly useful on 4x4 models, as the top of the tailgate towers well above the height of small children, making it possibly a critical safety feature. Plus it's extremely useful when hitching a trailer, allowing the driver to position the ball directly below the trailer coupling without having to jump out of the truck 27 times while jockeying into position. The rearview camera is handy when parallel parking, easing and speeding the task.
Headrests on the back seats can block the view rearward if not in their lowest position. Removing them or flipping the back seat down affords the best view. The rear-seat entertainment system's drop-down LCD screen is only barely noticeable with the rear view mirror adjusted to its lowest position, a nice feature. An sonar system with an audible warning and an indicator on the dash helps the driver determine the proximity of the front corners to objects when maneuvering in tight quarters, another useful feature when parking this big truck.
The cabs are roomy. In occupant measurements, the Tundra generally gives up little or nothing to the competition. The Toyota Tundra CrewMax is the current leader in rear-seat legroom, offering more of it than it does front seat legroom.
The seats are comfortably cushioned but not too soft, with modest side bolsters in front. Deep seat bottoms provide ample thigh support. The fabric upholstery feels durable and the leather does, too. It's more a heavy-duty grade than luxurious, and probably appropriate for a truck. We've found them comfortable in daylong towing trips.
The passenger seatback in the Regular Cab folds forward to present a flat area for writing up jobs, and there's room behind the seat for a small generator and a five-gallon bucket. This is in addition to bins, both open and capped, for tools and such, and it emphasizes an area where Tundra stands out among full-size pickups: interior storage and conveniences.
The seat bottom in the center section of the front bench seat pivots forward to reveal an otherwise fully concealed storage compartment. There's a bi-level glove box, with an upper compartment big enough to hold a Thermos bottle. The lower compartment, more than twice the size of the upper, is lighted and fitted with a damped door. The front-door armrests house flip-out compartments beneath the power window switch plates, though models with manual windows forgo this storage. Front-door map pockets are molded to hold two 22-ounce water bottles, and so are the rear-door map pockets on the CrewMax. The Double Cab rear doors hold one bottle.
Both the Double Cab and the CrewMax incorporate storage bins and compartments beneath and behind their rear seats, though in the Double cab, a subwoofer replaces the lockable under-seat bin when the up-level stereo is ordered.
Column-shift Tundras have two, flexible-sized cup holders in a slide-out tray beneath the climate control panel, and two more in the backside of the fold-down center section of the bench seat. In the Double Cab, two more cup holders fold out of the backside of the front-seat center section, while in the CrewMax, there are two more still in the rear seat's fold-down center armrest. The console in floor-shift models contains three cup holders, with two in a lift-out plate covering a large compartment. Between this compartment and the shift gate sits a narrow slot, concealed beneath a snap-out cover.
The crowning touch inside the Tundra might be the center console compartment in models equipped with front bucket seats. This compartment transforms the cabin, for all intents, into a road-going office, to a greater extent than any of the competition. The middle third of the compartment can hold either a removable bin good for stowing CDs or letter-size, hanging file folders, ideal for stowing contracts, permits and other work papers. There's room for a laptop computer on either side of the middle section, and the side nearest the driver has a power point to keep the gear charged up and ready.
Generally, the CrewMax is the more comfortable of the two stretched-cab Tundras for rear passengers. It starts with the doors, which are full length and make climbing in easier. The back seat in the CrewMax is closer to the 40/20/40 front bench seat in shape and contours, with deep seat bottoms and a slide-and-recline feature that allows a more comfortable rake to the seatback. The Double Cab rear seat is the more bench-like, and legroom is less expansive (though still decent). Dogs may prefer the Double Cab, however. With the seats folded for cargo, the Double Cab has a significantly lower load height, which should make it easier for canines to get in and out.
Ergonomics inside the Tundra are generally good, though if we have a complaint, it's here. The dash-mounted controls, and especially more critical and frequently used knobs for fan, temperature and airflow, are extra large, with solid detents and a nice positive feel that lets the operator know how far they've turned. They're tuned more for work gloves than polished fingernails, and that's good. The steering wheel is large, but properly scaled for the largest Toyota pickup. The floor-mounted shift lever has a manual-shift slot on the driver's side of the gate. It feels more natural and more precise than the column-shift, but neither transmit any sloppiness.
The problem lies more in design than execution. The Tundra's basic dash layout is different, almost avant-garde as pickups go, with the instruments and left third of the center stack (the switch panel dropping in the middle toward the floor or center console) split from the navigation/audio/climate and operating controls on the right side of the stack. The narrower left portion, toward the driver, is finished in the same silver-metallic plastic as the gauge package, and rises up around the steering column and into the gauges to create a cockpit-type effect for the driver, but this is compromised by instruments and warning lamps placed in numerous nacelles. Gauges themselves are adequate, and especially easy-to-read on upper-grade models, but compared to more integrated designs from the Big Three the information seems scattered. The slightly wider right half of the center stack is finished with the trim material on that particular Tundra model, either wood-grain or dark plastic. It looks good, but it creates some operational issues.
Most of the knobs and buttons, including the audio cluster, frequently adjusted climate controls and navigation screen, are located in the passenger half of the center stack. In the psychological sense, this moves these controls out of the driver's domain and gives control to the passenger. In a very practical sense, it moves them to the edge of the driver's reach. The Tundra is a wide vehicle, and while drivers below average height will have no trouble getting comfortable to operate this pickup, they might have a harder time operating some of the controls. When the seat is comfortable for driving, they may have to literally lift up from the seat back and lean toward the center of the truck to adjust airflow direction. They'll do the same to get a clear view of the navigation screen.