2014 Toyota Tundra: Different by staying consistent

by Aaron Cole :: posted in Reviews on September 9th, 2013
In the great race for American truck buyers, Toyota is the automaker that just loves to kiss their own biceps.

That’s meant in the best possible way, mind you. Whereas most other truckmakers are spending time and money promoting ways to save you fuel via turbochargers or diesel engines, Toyota’s reminding you its Tundra can haul a near-earth orbit spacecraft down a California freeway. Because you’ll never know when a neighbor has one of those hiding in their garage.

Unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show this year, the 2014 Toyota Tundra is vitally important to Toyota’s plan for America. After all, they say, this truck was engineered by a Michigan farmer, built in San Antonio, 75 percent American content and designed by Californians. (Maybe that last part won’t add to the truck cred Toyota’s shooting for.) 

Nonetheless, complete with a Country Western package — the 1794 edition — and massive 6.2-liter V8, the Tundra is in its second-generation and likely here to stay for a while. The difference this year is in the exterior of the Tundra, which has been “sharpened,” according to designers to better reflect American buyers’ preference to stay away from anything resembling a bubble. The Tundra’s hood line has been raised 1.5 inches, and along with an integrated spoiler and 3-piece bumper, the incoming Tundra is impressive — if not wholly intimidating to pedestrians not wearing jousting armor. It’s a handsome truck that middles somewhere between Ram’s utilitarian-looking 1500 and Ford’s bling-tastic F-150.

So much exterior work can then compensate for what hasn’t changed under the hood. Toyota still offers the Tundra in three engine specs, and two power train options. The mills, a 4.0-liter V6, a 4.6-liter V8 and 5.7-liter V8 produce 270, 310 and 381 horsepower respectively. All of the engines can be outfitted with 2WD, whereas only the pair of V8’s can be 4WD. The 5.7-liter V8 is likely to be the bigger seller here, as it’s the standard option on Limited, Platinum and 1794 models. The smaller V8 is only available on the SR5 models and the smaller still V6 is only fitted onto SR models, which have been fitted for mostly fleet buyers or work-truck users.

That’s all fine, but while the exterior is almost all brand new, the engines are going on seven years in the Tundra — or back when the national average for a gallon of gas was around $2.11. Want to make friends with a Toyota truck engineer? Tell them mileage doesn’t matter in full-size pickups. With 15 mpg estimated in combined city/highway driving, the Tundra will need a lot of wind at its back to reach the coveted 20-mpg mark that other automakers tout.

Chances are if mileage is a sore spot for Toyota, the “Made in America” moniker is a close second. And to be fair, the Tundra is as American as cut-off sleeve T-shirts. The interior of the Tundra is roomy and comfortable, with plenty of the interior switchgear developed by people who were probably wearing gloves (read: big and easy to manipulate). The center display and controls have been moved toward the driver by 2.5 inches, which makes it easier for drivers to control the radio and climate without reaching half across Kansas. And speaking of long hauls, Toyota’s interior folks should get a firm pat on the back for this one.

Indulge me in perhaps the most “Toyota moment” of them all when it comes to the Tundra. According to engineers, seat ventilation systems in trucks have been going about it all wrong up until now. For the unfamiliar, seat ventilators do the opposite of seat warmers; ventilators cool your rump on hot days. By my own estimation, every automaker’s seat ventilation system blows cool air onto your back and behind to cool drivers and passengers off. That’s simply not good enough for Toyota. Engineers discovered that your back cools faster if it wicks air away — not blow it — and that delivers a better “sweaty back cooling quotient.” We live in exciting times, folks.

That’s not meant to be sarcastic. When you’re driving a 5,000 lbs. beast such as the Tundra, there are bound to be some tense moments. The Tundra’s 145-inch standard bed wheelbase and 80-inch overall height cast a big shadow on other drivers. When towing — up to 10,000 lbs. for the 5.7-liter V8 — trucks have a habit of snaking when larger (not by much) semis blow past and shake the payload. For that, Toyota has introduced an anti-sway mechanism that rights the ship before you dump your shuttle into a nearby ditch.

We drove a fully fitted 1794, which can run up past $47,000. A base Tundra can start at $25,930. Considering the wide range of price points Toyota needs to contend, it’s important for the chassis to be solid from economical all the way up to opulent. The Tundra’s ride is comfortable with a bent toward sedate rather than severe. Despite leaf springs in the rear, the Tundra manages highway potholes without losing fillings, although that long wheelbase requires some extra attention when navigating sharp turns.

That’s nice for a full-size pickup. It’s also nice that Toyota is adding incremental upgrades to the Tundra, which is sticking to the idea that buyers are still looking for capability instead of fuel economy. Or, if you prefer, this year’s Tundra still bets that the full-size truck market can be won by a good ol’ fashioned American arms race.   Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He appreciates hearing from readers. Reach him at aaron.m.cole@gmail.com
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