Sixty-one summers ago, a compact car called the Toyopet Crown went on sale in California. The four-cylinder engine provided a top speed of 78 mph for negotiating LA’s notoriously busy freeways. This $2,200 car was Toyota’s first offering in America.
Last year, Toyota sold over 2.4 million new vehicles in America, making it the second most popular automaker in the 50 states, trailing only Ford. Best-selling models include the RAV4 crossover plus the Camry and Corolla sedans, giving Toyota three vehicles on the top 10 sellers list.
Unlike the domestic “Big Three” automakers, which are each led by full-size pickup truck sales, Toyota’s full-size Tundra accounts for only half the sales of its smaller brother, the midsize Tacoma. Combined, the Tundra and Tacoma’s annual sales are still significantly less than the Ford F-150, the FCA Ram or the Chevy Silverado, respectively.
This matters little to both Toyota truck loyalists, or apparently to Toyota, as this year’s Tundra is essentially the same bold pickup that debuted here in 2006. Same 5.7-liter V-8 engine, same rugged chassis, same six-speed transmission, same dimensions, same two four-door cab configurations.
If you are Toyota, one might say, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” Yet, in a market that is in a constant race to make changes and add continuous improvements, the Tundra stands out for its steady reliance on a design that has evolved little beyond some front fascia changes, some modest interior advances, plus some new features. There is apparently a cadre of buyers that appreciates a familiar tool.
In one concession to consumer preferences for more luxurious trucks, Toyota has created several trim levels to give Tundra devotees more panache. Base SR models start at $31,670 in double-cab, 2WD form with the 310-hp 4.6-liter V-8, while an SR5 model with 4WD and the 381-hp 5.7-V-8 pushes the sticker to over $40,000. Next up are Limited, Platinum and 1794-themed trucks, with our featured TRD PRO Crew Cab stickering for $55,106 as shown.
Blending the off-road themes that have propelled greater Tacoma sales (as well as several special edition rival trucks), the TRD package adds handsome 18-inch BBS Forged wheels shod with Michelin LTX-AT2 off-road tires, a stiffer suspension setup, a giant hood scoop, brilliant LED lighting up front, plus nerf-bar side-steps. The wheels look great, and don’t compromise the on-road ride, while the stance is dynamic and draws a lot of attention. Add the TRD PRO dual-exhaust (try it before you buy it) and the Tundra becomes a more extroverted pickup.
The Tundra’s visit became a true test of achievement, as an ’07 Tundra does work duty at this address. A more critical eye prevailed.
Gone is the dreadful throttle tip-in from the original Tundra; steering feel is slightly improved, and the oversize dials and push-button controls remain — making access easy for all. A trailer brake controller is new, plus several of Toyota’s Star Safety System features like dynamic cruise, emergency forward braking and lane departure alert, yet the Tundra still lacks an auto-mode 4WD/AWD setting in the electric transfer case that rivals have been offering for as long as two decades.
An Entune 7.0-inch screen provides decent graphics in the navigation system and for the satellite radio, plus the Tundra remains one of the few trucks with a full-size power rear window.
By contrast, the Tundra lacks any useful bumper steps, cargo boxes in the fender, or a multi-function tailgate, yet the humongous rear seating area — easily the industry’s most spacious crew cab — lacks any underseat compartments for sorting cargo.
The Tundra also lacks keyless access and ignition, which stymied a rainy day entrance with arms laden with groceries.
However, a 480-mile day in the saddle from Ellsworth to Fairfield, west to Rangeley and Oquossoc, south to Errol and North Conway and east back to Naples, Auburn and a return to Ellsworth proved that the Tundra was a comfortable, steady performer even if the best mileage coaxed from the truck was only 18.5 mpg, against an EPA rating of 13/17 mpg. The smaller 4.6 engine gets two more miles per gallon but lacks the larger 5.7-liter engine’s 10,200-pound tow rating. A 38-gallon tank helps the TRD spend all day on one tank of fuel.
On one hand, the Tundra is a 13-year old truck missing some modern features. On the other hand, its reliability record and high resale values indicate a mature design that works, and works.
After some debate, my favored mechanic — a longtime GM aficionado and multiple truck owner — stated that if he needed a new half-ton pickup, he would be buying a Tundra. “We change brakes and oil in Tundras — that’s it.”
When you need your tool to always perform, what else do you need to know?