We were suitably impressed when the full-size 2013 Toyota Tundra pickup towed the Space Shuttle Endeavor across the 405 freeway in LA to its new home at the California Science Center.
Even if you don't have a space shuttle to tow, it's a truck that can handle some pretty serious jobs.
The current Tundra was introduced in 2007, and has since been one of the top trucks alongside the Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150 and RAM 1500. There's stiff competition for sure, but the Tundra did win JD Power and Associates' award "Most Dependable Large Truck" seven years in a row. We're not saying that's the only criteria that shoppers should consider, but it does put a big check mark in the plus column.
To really test the Tundra, we hooked it up to a trailer with an 8,100-lb Bobcat thrown in for good measure. There are many factors when deciding which truck to pick for towing. You have to consider gross vehicle weight, tongue weight, axle weight ratings and overall towing capacity.
It's one thing to be capable of pulling up to 10,400 lbs, but another to bring it to a stop when needed. Once you get 6,500 lbs moving, you have to have really good brakes to get it to stop quickly. Toyota added massive 4-piston brake calipers to help do the job, along with the largest front rotors in its class. We found the Tundra still stopped with authority even with 80 percent of the vehicle's towing capacity tapped. It's no surprise that the Tundra has earned high safety ratings due to available features like trailer sway control, four-wheel drive with active traction control, an automatic limited slip differential and those extra-large brakes.
Toyota has nearly over-engineered the motor, transmission and drivetrain to make this one really tough truck. The truck we drove has the optional 5.7-liter "iForce" engine, producing 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque. Tundra also offers other engine choices, including a strong 4.6-liter V8 and a very capable 4.0-liter V6 (in regular and double cab models).
Even with the heavy trailer and Bobcat on the back, the 5.7-liter engine still has plenty of power. The iForce engine offers dual independent variable valve timing, which offers a good mix of towing and passing power while remaining as fuel efficient as possible.
Possibly the only downside is that the Tundra doesn't have a separate heavy-duty version like Chevy, Ram and Ford. That means whatever Tundra you get is already pretty heavy duty -- maybe too much for typical family hauling duties. That extra toughness also makes the ride extra firm.
But there is a softer side to the Tundra. Toyota offers a Platinum Edition version of the four-door Crewmax model with high-end features like heated and cooled seats, power sliding rear window and 20-inch wheels. The Tundra also boasts ample storage for a variety of items.
The technology is also impressive, especially for a workhorse pickup truck. Available high-tech features include Bluetooth, navigation, backup camera and Toyota's Entune system, which provides Internet streaming music and other apps right in the dashboard. And while the radio can be a stretch from the driver's seat, additional audio controls are conveniently located on the truck's steering wheel.
If you're shopping for a full-size truck, there are lots of good choices. The Silverado and GMC Sierra are all-new for 2014, the RAM has an excellent interior and the F-150 continues to offer a lot bang for the buck. But if you need the capabilities of a heavy-duty work truck that can also comfortably haul around the family, the 2013 Toyota Tundra is definitely worth a look.