Pros: Stellar 5.7-liter V8; various body styles to suit different needs; pleasant driving experience by truck standards; interior has aged well

Cons: Some controls are an uncomfortable reach for the driver; no diesel option

The 2012 Toyota Tundra has come a long way from its beginnings as a not-quite-full-size truck. The current Tundra, you see, is Toyota's second attempt at building a big pickup in the American mold. The first time around, the automaker didn't quite get the "big" part right. The original Tundra was actually a pleasant effort, but its slight size deficiency doomed it to also-ran status against American stalwarts like the F-150 and Silverado. So for their second act, Toyota's truck guys made sure that the Tundra would never again be viewed as an undersize outsider. The Texas-built 2012 Toyota Tundra is large and in charge, giving up nothing to the big Americans that used to push it around.

Well, that's not entirely true. There's no diesel-powered Tundra, so Toyota doesn't have a big rig to go against the torque-monster diesels from GM, Dodge and Ford. So if you absolutely need the most capable pickup on the market, the Tundra's lack of a diesel takes it out of the running. In this sense, we suppose, the Tundra isn't quite a full member of the big-truck club.

But for everyone outside that hard-core diesel-driving 1 percent, the Tundra is an excellent alternative to the traditional American choices. It has power and toughness to spare, and we like the way it rides and handles, too. If you're in the market for a big truck, go and see for yourself how competitive the Tundra has become the second time around.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Toyota Tundra comes with either a regular cab or one of two four-door crew cabs: the Double Cab and the extended-length CrewMax. The trim levels could hardly be simpler, as there's just the base model and the fancy Limited, but figuring out which Tundra gets which features can be dizzying. There's a Work Truck package for the base model that includes a tilting and telescoping steering column, manual dual-zone climate control and not much more. On the other end of the spectrum, the Limited can be loaded up with a sunroof, perforated leather trim, luxury-car-like power seats with driver's-side power thigh support, a navigation system, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with a nine-inch screen and iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity. In between these two extremes, the possibilities are seemingly endless. We recommend figuring out the features you really want and then asking your Toyota dealer to help you find a Tundra that fits your needs.

Inside the 2012 Tundra, not much has changed since the second-generation model made its debut nearly five years ago. No matter; it's still the most daring truck interior on the market, with its cockpit-like feel, stylish gauges and unusual silver-and-black two-tone dashboard color scheme. Ergonomics aren't ideal, however; the rightmost controls on the dashboard require an uncomfortable reach from the driver. On the bright side, practically every button and knob can be operated with work gloves on, which we can't say for all of the Tundra's competitors.

The Tundra's standard front-seat configuration is a three-person bench, but fancier Tundras have front bucket seats with escalating levels of luxury and power adjustability. The top-of-the-line Limited's power leather seats might be the best in the business. It's not every day you find a truck with perforated-leather upholstery and power thigh support for the driver.

The regular cab doesn't have a back seat, of course, but the four-door Double Cab provides decent room for adults in its 60/40 split folding rear bench, while the CrewMax would make seven-footers feel at home with its extended legroom. Note that every CrewMax's back seat slides fore and aft, but the Double Cab's is fixed by default with an optional sliding function.

The Tundra comes with one of three bed lengths: 66.7 inches (CrewMax only), 78.7 inches (standard on Regular Cab and Double Cab) or 97.6 inches (optional on Regular Cab and Double Cab). So if you want the CrewMax's extra passenger space, you'll have to live with the shortest bed of the bunch.

Technology

The base Tundra has little in the way of high-tech features, but that's to be expected in a full-size work truck. If you step up to a more luxurious Tundra, chances are it'll be equipped with iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, and premium JBL speakers might be present, too. We can't give the Tundra top marks for its optional navigation system because it's DVD based, which means it doesn't have a hard drive with music storage like the latest systems. However, it's pretty cool that you can get that rear-seat entertainment system with its nine-inch screen on the CrewMax Limited, since it's a feature we associate more with minivans than tough trucks.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The standard engine in the Regular Cab and Double Cab is a 4.0-liter V6 that generates 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque via a five-speed automatic transmission. This is a fairly capable engine as standard V6s go-only the Ford F-150's is clearly stronger-but most Tundra buyers will want to step up to one of the two available V8s to get the most out of their trucks. The first, a 4.6-liter V8, cranks out 310 hp and 327 lb-ft of torque, while the top-dog 5.7-liter V8 boasts 381 hp and 401 lb-ft; both work with a six-speed automatic. We respect the smaller V8, as it gives the Tundra solid capabilities while keeping the cost down, but the big 5.7 is a real gem, delivering acceleration that would put some sport sedans to shame along with a maximum tow rating of 10,400 pounds.

The Tundra comes standard with rear-wheel drive. The optional part-time four-wheel-drive system-available on V8-powered models only-has an electronically controlled transfer case with a low range. Fuel economy is 16 mpg city/20 mpg highway with the V6, 15/20 mpg with the 4.6-liter V8 (14/19 mpg with 4WD) and 14/18 mpg with the 5.7-liter V8 (13/17 mpg with 4WD).

Safety

The Tundra comes standard with stability control and eight airbags, including knee airbags for front occupants.

In government crash tests, the Tundra received an overall score of four stars out of five. However, performance varied slightly for the CrewMax, which received three stars in both frontal impact and rollover testing, compared with the other Tundra body styles, which received four stars in those categories. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety was more impressed, awarding the Tundra its highest score of Good in all categories.

Driving Impressions

Like every big truck except the Ram (with its novel and controversial coil-spring rear suspension), the Tundra's ride is a bit firm and jittery when the bed is empty. It's not objectionable, though, and we like the Tundra's relatively compact steering wheel and carlike cockpit, which help give the truck a maneuverable feel. We also appreciate that the cabin remains fairly quiet at highway speeds. The Tundra is a formidable off-road performer, especially with one of the TRD off-road packages.

Other Cars to Consider

Ford F-150 - Extensively refreshed and with new powertrains for 2011, the F-150 has plenty of power, and if anything it's quieter than the Tundra while cruising.

Ram 1500 - With its coil-spring rear suspension, the Ram is the first full-size truck that genuinely rides like a car. Some feel that this design compromises the truck's toughness, though.

Chevrolet Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500 - The GM twins made their debut at about the same time as the Tundra, but their interiors have aged far more quickly. Still, they've got strong V8 power and proven reliability on their side.

AutoTrader Recommends

The point of these full-size beasts is to be able to handle just about any job, right? So we'd take a Tundra Double Cab with the long bed and the 5.7-liter V8. It's the closest thing to a heavy-duty truck that Toyota has to offer, and it's all the truck we'd ever need.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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