With its full-size Toyota Tundra, Toyota has finally unleashed a no-holds-barred, light-duty truck that shows no deference to those from Chevy, Dodge or Ford. The Tundra doesn't just run with the big dogs. It is, plain and simple, one of the biggest.
It might be no surprise, then, that this Tundra has more than doubled Toyota's share of the big pickup market, compared to the previous-generation, slightly-less-than-full-size model. But double is not enough. Toyota has invested huge in its big pickup, and not just in the vehicle itself, but by re-configuring its assembly line in Indiana and adding a second pickup plant in Texas. So for 2008, Toyota has added more models to the Tundra line and priced the truck more aggressively.
When the Tundra was launched for 2007, the only really basic, no-frills model was the conventional Tundra Regular Cab, with its single-row seating for two or three. In 2008, buyers can choose the most popular Tundra versions, the Double Cab and CrewMax, with a new Tundra Grade trim package that offers fewer standard features and substantially lowers their price. The six-passenger Double Cab, for example, now starts at $24,715, or $1,400 less than the least-expensive 2007 version. Higher trim Tundras, meanwhile, get even more standard equipment. Bottom line, the 2008 Tundra should appeal more to buyers at the lower-end of the full-size pickup market, and deliver more value to buyers at the high end.
Tundra covers nearly all the half-ton pickup bases. The 4.0-liter V6 engine is most economical, with more than enough power for basic work-truck duty. The high-torque, 381-hp 5.7-liter V8 and its standard six-speed automatic transmission make one of the strongest, most responsive powertrains in the class. Even the base models are loaded with useful features, including tons of interior storage options, an easy-lift assisted tailgate and standard four-wheel disc brakes. Overall, the Tundra might be the smoothest, most comfortable full-size pickup available.
Safety equipment is the most comprehensive in pickups, including side-impact airbags, curtain-type head protection airbags, advanced anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and brake assist, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and a limited-slip differential.
The high-end Limited models offer features such as GPS-linked navigation with a backup camera and a state-of-the-art rear-seat entertainment with a nine-inch LCD screen.
Yet the comfort and features shouldn't suggest that Tundra is best left to truck-as-family-car buyers. When it was launched for 2007, this Toyota offered best-in-class payload and tow ratings, and it still exceeds nearly every other half-ton on the market. Maximum Payload ratings range from 1410 pounds to 2060 pounds, while maximum towing capacity reaches 10,800 pounds. An available deck rail system in the bed anchors moveable tie-down cleats rated at 220 pounds.
The Tundra comes in three body styles: two-door Regular cab; Double Cab with front-hinged, secondary rear side doors; and four-door CrewMax. It's available with three bed lengths and three different wheelbases. In addition to the V6 and 5.7-liter V8, there's an intermediate 4.7-liter V8. Rear-wheel drive is standard, four-wheel drive optional, with seating for two, three, five or six in three trim levels. In all, the 2008 Tundra is available in 44 different build configurations.
That's a lot fewer than a Ford F-150 or Chevy Silverado, believe it or not. Moreover, those veteran pickups offer more options than Tundra, including things like different rear-end ratios and towing aids that allow a buyer to more specifically tailor a pickup to personal needs. And Dodge, Chevy and Ford have a database of valuable customer feedback that goes back decades beyond Toyota's.
It's difficult to convince a longtime pickup owner to switch brands, and each make has strengths and weaknesses relative to the other. But there's no arguing that Toyota has jumped into full-size pickups in a huge and very effective fashion. Shoppers without a particular brand affinity, or those new to the light-duty truck market, should absolutely have a look at Tundra.
The Toyota Tundra line isn't quite as complicated as some other full-size pickup line-ups, but it still offers plenty of potential for confusion. For 2008, there are 44 different Tundra configurations, with three cab styles seating from two to six, three bed lengths and three engine options. Trim levels range from basic work configurations with vinyl flooring to luxury grade, with leather, navigation and a rear-seat DVD player. Payload ratings run from 1410 pounds to 2060 pounds, while towing capacity tops out at 10,800 pounds, which is among best in class.
Tundra shoppers should first consider cab style or seating space. The next choice is either the V6 or one of two V8 engines, and finally the trim package or level of standard equipment
The Tundra Regular Cab 4x2 ($22,290) is the least expensive model. It's powered by Toyota's 236-hp 4.0-liter V6, with 266 pound-feet of torque, a five-speed automatic transmission and the 6.5-foot, standard-length bed. The eight-foot long bed ($330) and either a 271-hp, 4.7-liter V8 ($1,140) or a 381-hp 5.7-liter V8 ($1,335) are optional. The bigger V8 also adds a six-speed automatic. (All NewCarTestDrive.com prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices, which may change at any time without notice; prices do not include destination charges.)
The Regular Cab 4x4 ($26,480) is the least expensive four-wheel-drive Tundra. It comes standard with the 4.7-liter V8, which generates 313 pound-feet of torque, and Toyota's electronically controlled, part-time four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case. The Regular Cab is the workhorse edition Tundra, with a fabric-upholstered, 40/20/40-split bench seat, vinyl floor covering, column shift and manual-crank windows. Standard equipment includes a four-speaker, AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary audio input, manual dual-zone air conditioning, tilt steering and Toyota's gas-boosted, tailgate-assist system. The standard wheels are 18-inch steel.
Double Cab Tundra Grade 4x2 ($24,715) comes with the 4.0-liter V6 and standard bed. The Tundra Double Cab features rear side doors, forward-hinged like on an SUV, and seats for as many as six. The 4.7-liter V8 ($145), 5.7-liter V8 ($1,335) and long bed ($990) are optional on Tundra Double Cab models. The Tundra Grade equipment basically matches the Regular Cab, adding carpet in place of the vinyl flooring, a tachometer and outside temperature indicator. The Double Cab Tundra Grade 4x4 ($27,910) adds four-wheel-drive and the 4.7-liter V8.
The Double Cab SR5 4x2 ($26,105) and 4x4 ($29,900) add lots of standard equipment, including power front bucket seats, a floor-mounted shifter and center console, power windows and heated mirrors, central locking, cruise control, a stereo with six speakers and an in-dash six-CD changer, heavy duty starter and battery, and mud guards.
The Double Cab Limited 4X2 ($34,460) and 4x4 ($37,510) represent the most luxurious trim package. Both come standard with the 4.7-liter V8, though they are only offered with the standard bed. Standard equipment includes heated, leather-trimmed front buckets, JBL audio with 12 speakers, sliding rear glass, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and programmable garage-door opener and front and rear park-assist.
The CrewMax Tundra Grade 4x2 ($27,685) and 4x4 ($30,735) feature full-size rear side doors and more rear-cab space, with a sliding, fold-flat rear bench seat. They come standard with the 4.7-liter V8, but are only offered with a 5.5-foot short bed. The 5.7-liter V8 and six-speed automatic are optional ($1,190). A CrewMax SR5 4x2 ($29,675) and 4x4 ($32,725), and CrewMax Limited 4x2 ($37,760) and 4x4 ($40,810) are also available. Standard equipment on each trim level basically matches that on the Double Cab models, though the CrewMax adds an overhead console and a vertical sliding power rear window.
Options have been repackaged for 2008 in groups designated by letters. These vary in price and exact content depending on model and region, and include things like a navigation system with back-up camera, rear-seat DVD player, cold-weather features, off-road packages and 20-inch aluminum wheels. There are few factory-installed stand-alone options, but dozens of dealer-installed accessories, such as bed liners.
Safety features that come standard on every model include front- and side-impact airbags for driver and front passenger (the latter with an off switch in Regular Cab models), side curtain airbags with rollover sensor, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability control with traction control and a limited slip differential.
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.
In the practical sense, that means the Tundra's payloads and towing capability match ratings for half-tons from Detroit's Big Three. Most measurements for Tundra's three different pickup beds come within tenths of an inch of the competition, and when they differ the Tundra's are usually bigger. The standard bed on a Dodge Ram, for example, is 2.3 inches shorter and two inches shallower than Tundra's.
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.
The headlights are set into the fenders and separated from the front bumper, which is either chrome or body-colored resin, again according to trim level. For 2008, the shiny, black-painted bumper on the base Tundra Regular Cab has been replaced with chrome.
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. The optional larger towing mirrors look a little too big on the regular and Double Cab models. 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 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. SR5s get styled steel, stamped more expressively to resemble mags. The aluminum alloy wheels on the Limited models feature thick, monolithic spokes, while 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 standard tailgate assist. 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. Other pick-up manufacturers are no doubt scrambling to respond.
When it was launched for 2007, the full-size Toyota Tundra raised the bar on working truck interiors. Nothing has changed for 2008, save a shuffling of the standard equipment on each model. The Tundra remains one of the most comfortable, best outfitted pickups available.
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 rear-seat entertainment system's drop-down LCD screen is only barely noticeable in the rear view mirror. 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. It's also 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. 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 cabs are roomy. In occupant measurements, the Tundra generally gives up little or nothing to the competition, although where it trails, it's sometimes by more than an inch: In hiproom, for example, where the Ford F-150 offers almost 2.5 inches more in front, the Dodge Ram offers almost two inches more both front and rear. Yet all these vehicles are wide enough that hiproom will not likely be a major concern. In all-important rear seat legroom in the top-selling Double Cab, only the Dodge Ram tops the Tundra, with the F-150 coming up two inches short.
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 across the state.
The passenger seatback in the Regular Cab folds forward to present a flat work/writing area, 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.
Similarly, both the Double Cab and the CrewMax incorporate assorted 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, that's just the right size for the typical map book.
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 near 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, and the center stack (the switch panel dropping in the middle toward the floor or center console) is split into two portions. 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. 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 nav 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.
Pick-up buyers can be like beer drinkers. No one will convince them that another brand is better than their own, and their loyalty can rest as much in image as taste (or performance). We won't even try to convince anyone that the Toyota Tundra is better than any other half-ton pickup on the market. We'll simply observe that it's as good as any.
Pickup manufacturers, on the other hand, like to tout their different tacks on frame design, materials and construction. There's hydro-formed this, C-channel that, fully boxed the other, welded versus one-piece, high-tensile steel versus low-vibration, etc. For the record, the Tundra is a hybrid unibody-on-frame, which is fully boxed in the front half, rolled C-channel in back.
Truth, though, is that what a driver really cares about is how it all comes together under the right foot, at the seat of the pants and at the hitch. And with all six full-size, light-duty trucks in play (counting the GMC Sierra), the Toyota Tundra sits near the front of the bench. In some ways it's tops, and in others it falls a bit short. It lacks some features such as optional rear-end ratios that allow owners to tailor a truck more specifically to their needs. In basic technology and overall refinement, it might be the best.
Examples from the powertrain department make the point. The V6 and the 4.7-liter V8 are what have been state of the art for a number of years, as are some of the competition's engines, with features such as variable intake valve timing, sequential fuel injection, knock sensors (allowing in most cases use of 87 octane gas), electronically managed throttle-by-wire and dual-length intake manifolds.
But the big Tundra news, and in the truest sense of that word, is the 5.7-liter V8. This V8 advances light-duty truck engine technology with the addition of variable exhaust valve timing. And not just timing, but phasing as well, also changing the speed of the valves' movement, the duration (how long the valves stay open) and the overlap between exhaust and intake.
Careful manipulation of these dynamics achieves two, complementary goals, optimizing power and fuel economy and lessening stress on valve springs. Downstream, the two-into-one, dual exhaust system achieves balance between the two pipes by looping one back on itself inside the muffler, thus making them in fact the same length and, for the most part, equalizing back pressure so one bank of cylinders doesn't have to work any harder than the other in pumping combusted gases out of the engine. It all works toward what many pickup buyers seek and expect: long-mileage engine durability.
There's more, but these examples make clear that Toyota's engineers didn't just cobble together some bits and pieces from the engine department's parts bins in building what is one of the most powerful V8s in the class. The benefits of this level of attention to detail are evident driving in and working with the Tundra.
On the road, power delivery in the two V8 engines is linear, and surprisingly strong at low engine speed. This is especially so in the 5.7-liter, where 90 percent of the torque is on tap from 2400 revolutions per minute to 5500 rpm. Very impressive is the absence of any discernible surge sometimes associated with overhead-cam, multi-valve engines.
Fuel economy is competitive, though not best in class. Tundra's maximum towing capacity of 10,800 pounds was best in class when it was launched in 2007, and it remains near the top compared to Chevy, Dodge, Ford and Nissan. Based on towing enclosed and open car trailers from L.A. to Monterey and from L.A. to Phoenix and back, we're here to tell you the 5.7-liter has more than enough pulling power.
Overall, both the five-speed and six-speed automatic transmissions work well. Gear changes are smooth, though more apparent when trailering. Downshifts during braking on downhill grades are well managed, properly timed and helpful. In sum the Tundra's transmissions are unobtrusive, which in a truck is usually the best compliment, because in a truck if you frequently notice how the transmission is doing it's job, it probably isn't doing it as well as it could. A Tow/Haul mode is available for increased trailer towing performance and improved transmission durability.
Ride and handling in the Tundra might be the best in class. Steering response is sure and certain. Somehow, Toyota's suspension engineers have delivered a setup that leaves no doubt the driver is operating a truck, and yet by virtually every measure suggests the Tundra is anything but. Over severely uneven pavement, the solid rear axle makes its presence known with a slightly skippy feeling, but the Tundra's unladen rear end feels less skittish than some other pickups, and there is rarely any disruption that even instantaneously moves it off the driver's intended path. As with most pickups, the ride gets bouncy on bumpy freeways with an empty bed.
Braking is solid, with firm pedal feel. The Tundra's standard four-wheel discs are a first for a Toyota pickup and push the technological envelope in light trucks. The ABS system has all the control features, including electronic balancing of brake force, that one expects in a luxury car.
Tundra's optional trailer brake controller lacks the sophistication of Ford's, which works more like a rheostat than an on/off switch, making for much smoother stops.
The TRD Off-Road Package delivers excellent handling on pavement, and it's especially noticeable when Tundras so equipped are driven quickly on winding, two-lane roads. The only competitor that's as much fun in a similar setting, albeit in an entirely different way, is the Dodge Ram SRT 10, and that is largely a function of the Ram's huge Dodge Viper V10 engine.
The Toyota Tundra is a full-size pickup in every sense of the term, and it gives up nothing to the full-size trucks from Chevy, Ford, Dodge, Nissan, and GMC. The Toyota delivers power, payload and tow ratings that meet or beat the best, it's exceptionally comfortable, and it's easy to drive. For 2008, the Tundra is priced more aggressively, with lower-trim, work-grade models in more configurations, and more standard equipment on the up-line models.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Louisville, Kentucky; with J.P. Vettraino in Detroit.
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