Tundra: the Toyota of Big Pickups

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CHATHAM, Mass. – While shooting the lead photo for this post, I was approached by a guy who got out of a very clean, late-model Toyota Tundra.

“How do you like the Tundra?” was his first words followed immediately by, “It’s the best truck I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a bunch, all kinds.”

He proceeded to explain why he liked it:

“It’s got lots of power. It rides great, like a Cadillac. I just love it.”

The sense of pride in his voice was not a surprise: brand loyalty amongst full-size pickup truck owners is the strongest within all U.S. light-vehicle market segments (and full-size pickups is the second largest segment with 2.33 million sold in 2020).

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Toyota Tundra TRD Pro Makes a Big Statement

Toyota, a relative newcomer to this segment (a bit more than two decades on the market, but it was not a true full-size pickup until the second generation introduced for the 2007 model year) does not have the volume of the American nameplates, but this Texas-built, U.S. designed work/play/daily-driver truck racked up 111,678 sales in 2020.

A week in a 2021 Toyota Tundra 4X4 SR5 CREWMAX, the second trim level of the six offered for 2021 (not counting special editions) showcased many of the qualities my harbor-side friend mentioned.

V8 power, four-wheel drive and sturdy frame provide a solid base

The heart of the Tundra is the i-FORCE 5.7-liter V8 engine pumping out 381 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 401 pounds-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm. Built with an aluminum cylinder block and heads, the i-FORCE is fortified with a variety of performance tech, including double overhead-cams, four valves per cylinder, Dual Independent Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i), and an Acoustic Control Induction System for a broad torque curve. All Tundra models are equipped with a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.

This truck featured the on-demand, electronically controlled 4WDemand part-time four-wheel drive (4WD) system. The driver selects the drive mode using a dial on the dash. With 4WDemand, Active Traction Control (A-TRAC) operates like Automatic Limited-Slip Differential (Auto-LSD), allowing full, unrestricted engine output, transferring power to the wheel with the most traction at both the front and rear axles.

Using the mode selector, the driver can adjust traction capability as needed. In normal mode, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and TRAC function to help enable traction and control capability. TRAC Off and Auto-LSD modes activate Auto-LSD to help extricate the Tundra from extreme conditions by allowing full, unrestricted engine output and transferring power to the wheel with the most traction. The VSC Off mode turns off all three systems.

All these features add up to a full-size pickup which can go almost anywhere under virtually any conditions whether you want to work, play, or just get from point A to point B safely and securely. And it can do it carrying up to 1,730 pounds of cargo, with a tow rating of 10,200 pounds (the truck comes standard with a tow package consisting of a hitch, heavy-duty battery, heavy-duty alternator, 4/7-pin connector and Tow/Haul Mode driving settings. Also included are trailer-brake and trailer-sway control.).

Toyota describes the Tundra’s frame as Triple Tech, referring to the wide, fully boxed rails for the front portion, a reinforced C-channel under the cab, and an open C-channel beneath the bed for strength, ride quality, and durability.

The double A-arm front suspension uses coil-over spring-shock units, and a front-mounted steering rack enhances steering feel and response while decreasing the overall turning diameter. In the rear suspension, staggered shocks mounted outboard of the trapezoidal-mounted leaf springs help improve dampening efficiency to better control the rear axle. Spring rates are tuned to help provide a flat stance when the vehicle is fully loaded.

The SR5 rides on 18-inch styled steel wheels shod with Michelin All-Terrain tires.

Like the gray wheels and all-terrain tires, these pair of lockable bed storage boxes are part of the Tundra Trail Edition package

Toyota Safety Sense P headlines driver-assist and safety features

Standard is the Toyota Safety Sense P set of advanced drier-assist systems (ADAS) including pre-collision warring with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beams. Our truck had the very helpful blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert systems and front/rear parking assist systems, all part of the SR5 Convenience Package.

The standard Toyota Star Safety System for Tundra brings Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), and Smart Stop Technology (SST) brake override.

The truck featured eight standard airbags, including driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, front and rear roll-sensing side curtain airbags, driver and front outboard passenger airbags with an Advanced Airbag System, and driver and front outboard passenger knee airbags.

Quiet, comfortable and roomy interior

Four wide doors and running boards make entering and exiting the large, roomy cabin (height, leg and shoulder room for five) smooth and easy. Once inside, the power seat with lumbar support (part of the SR5 Upgrade Package as was the wide and deep center console) along with the tilt/telescoping steering wheel makes it easy to find the perfect driving position from a height providing command-of-the-road vision.

Clear views from the driver’s seat do not end with outward vision. The large, straightforward, logically arranged instruments, displays and controls is just as clear.

Manual switchgear operates the climate-control system and supplements on-screen controls of the infotainment system. The review truck included the Premium Audio Upgrade with eight-inch touchscreen, and dynamic navigation. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.are part of the infotainment system.

The Tundra provided a warm, inviting place in which to spend time during early January on Cape Cod. Conversation was easy due to good sound deadening design and tight production quality – this is a solid vehicle.

The ride was firm, but not harsh, bumps and road irregularities were felt, but not objectionably so – I had no complaints from any of my passengers. The Tundra reinforced my belief that today’s pickup trucks, especially the full-size ones, generally are as comfortable as anything on the road and, aside from their size, as easy to drive.

Fuel economy and pricing

The one area in which a full-size pickup still stands out when compared to other modern light-duty vehicles is fuel economy. The Tundra 4X4 SR5 CREWMAX is rated at 13 miles per gallon in city driving, 17 mpg on the highway and 14 overall. We achieved the latter figure during our time in the Tundra – not great, but on par with other V8s in the segment.

Pricing is another area in which the Tundra is competitive with Ford, GM and Ram. The SR at $33,675 is the entry-level Tundra with base pricing rising to $48,775 for the TRD Pro trim. Within that range you can build virtually any kind of full-size Toyota pickup you could desire.

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The 4WD SR5 CREWMAX in our driveway came with a $41,020 base MSRP. Options and packages – like running boards, Premium Audio, SR5 Upgrade, Trail Edition (with locking bed storage boxes, dark-gray wheels, the all-terrain tires) and Convenience Package, along with the delivery, processing and handling fee ($1,595) brought the as-tested price to $49,040.

That is not a lot of money for this much truck in today’s market. It brings Toyota’s well-earned reputation for quality and reliability, as well as adulation from owners like my new friend who called it: “the best truck I’ve ever had!”

Next week TBR Drives the iconic Volvo V90 station wagon.

Mike Geylin
Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Editor-in-Chief at Hagman Media. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.