The 2017 Tundra, radiant in Sunset Bronze Mica, sat glowering at me on my driveway, willing me to defend its honour. I hadn’t driven it yet, but a neighbour had already approached me to advise this wasn’t a real truck. For the record, that neighbour has purchased a new Ford F-150 every three years since we’ve lived there. And so, without even having stepped foot into it, I realized what one of Toyota’s biggest challenges is.
The Tundra definitely looks good – and yes, Toyota, it looks tough.
After a week in the truck, I can tell you plenty about what this truck does very well. For starters, it looks pretty awesome. Toyota obviously aims to remove any doubt of the Tundra’s masculinity with its styling. Chiseled, squared-off and maybe even a bit angry – that’s what it looks like. The bright strip of LED driving lights grab your eyeballs and the massive chrome grille is something to behold and to fear. The tailgate has “TUNDRA” stamped into the steel, rather than opting for girly badging. The huge 20-inch rims look great and are shod with 275/55-sized gummies. Overall, I think the Tundra definitely looks good – and yes, Toyota, it looks tough.
I really liked the Tundra’s cabin. The styling is simple and attractive and the fit and finish seemed to be excellent. Hard plastics make up the dash (similar to the majority of the competition), but I’m fine with it in this application – the textures are nice and the material is easily cleaned. Of course the 1794 Edition trim I tested helps a lot. I really liked the stitched leather(-like?) material on the dash and door panels. And the tan saddle leather seats (heated, ventilated and with suede inserts) are as comfortable as they are nice to look at. And man, those seat heaters are quick!
The sore spot is the horrifying fake wood. It’s one of the worst I’ve seen in a while. Even my kids immediately pointed out that it looked fake. And they don’t even care about stuff like that.
Some of the knobs and controls on the centre stack are chunkier, making them usable with gloves. The 7.0-inch touchscreen was a bit of a reach due to the sheer size of the truck’s interior, but it works well, handling the audio, phone, navigation and vehicle settings. The 12-speaker JBL system sounds pretty good, but it is super bass-heavy and often rattled some of the plastic panels. There’s also a dual-zone automatic climate control system and a sunroof.
For a top-of-the-line truck, the Tundra’s driver assistance technology feels very limited – blind-spot monitoring, a back-up camera with parking sensors all around and rear cross-traffic alert is all you get.
In the back you’ll find three seats – with enough space for three adults. There is ample head room and leg room. Rear passengers get adjustable air vents, a 12V plug and an armrest that folds down out of the middle seatback. Top-of-the-line trucks from other manufacturers give rear passengers heated seats and plenty of charging options. You won’t find those goodies here.
If you need more “trunk space” inside the vehicle, the rear seat cushions fold up (in a 60/40 split), creating a massive open cargo space with an almost flat floor. We found this very convenient for moving a lot of stuff. The rear window is powered, allowing it to slide open vertically – a bit of a Toyota trademark.
The business end of things under the hood remains unchanged. The 5.7-litre V8 churns out 381 horsepower (at a lofty 5,600 rpm) and 401 lb-ft of torque, available at 3,600 rpm.
The Tundra has a six-speed automatic transmission and an electronically controlled 4WD transfer case. It comes as no surprise that that kind of powertrain lugging around a 2,575 kg (5,677 pound) truck isn’t going to make for good fuel economy. The Tundra (in this configuration) is rated at 18.1 L/100 km in town and 13.1 L/100 km on the highway. I averaged 18.8 L/100 km – sadly that includes more than average freeway driving than usual for us, and I wasn’t driving it with a heavy foot. This might be the worst fuel economy I’ve ever seen in a vehicle to date, and it didn’t take long to drain the huge 144-litre tank. I kept telling myself that people don’t buy full-size trucks to save on gas as I watched the fuel gauge needle swing lower and lower.
The Tundra feels substantial. When it comes to the driving experience, I’d use the word smooth to describe almost everything. The V8 sounds terrific under load, and it has plenty of power in every situation and the transmission is buttery. There is a sport mode that hangs on to gears longer – which just feels silly in a truck like this – and gears can also be shifted manually.
I found the ride to be excellent – well-controlled and downright luxurious, with little of the wallowing around corners and bucking over bumps that one expects from a truck. It soaks up big hits on and off road, letting nothing come through to the cabin. Even the Tundra’s road manners are excellent – it’s surprisingly competent when it comes to handling. The Tundra is quiet too – road noise, engine noise and wind noise are all nicely dampened, even with winter tires and at highway speeds.
The Tundra’s 4x4 system is very effective. I didn’t feel any binding at low speeds, even while parking, and it provided tremendous grip and drivability during several snow dumps and on icy roads. In terms of smoothness, it actually performed more like an all-wheel-drive system, instead of a 4x4. You can quickly switch between rear-wheel drive, 4HI and 4LO using a rotary dial on the dash.
These days, trucks are often as much mobile offices as workhorses. Which means people need places to put stuff, and conveniences to get the working person through their day. The Tundra gets a big glove compartment and door bins, and an organizational space at the front of the centre console. There are little smartphone-sized drop-in bins – one on top of the dash (not the safest place to put something, mind you) and on top of the armrest lid.
This brings me to one of the things that the Tundra does not do well. Mobile offices are filled with electronic devices, and those need power. While Toyota offers two 12V plugs on the console, another inside the huge bin under the armrest lid and one for rear passengers, you’ll find no additional charging plugs of any sort throughout the cabin. Yes, there’s a USB plug – but it’s for audio input only, and will not charge your device. And no, there are no household plugs (which are also becoming commonplace in competitive trucks) to be found anywhere. So yes, there are four 12V plugs but the competition has blown past these dinosaurs in terms of power/charging flexibility and convenience.
When it comes to work, the Tundra holds its own – even if it can’t compete in the pure numbers game with some of the competition. The 5.5-foot box configuration I reviewed is rated to hold just 535 kg (1,180 lb) of payload. It gets a bright utility light and a soft-open tailgate. I really liked the adjustable tie-down hooks on rails situated on either side of the box. They complement the stationary tie-down loops throughout the box and make load management easy. A power plug is nowhere to be found in the Tundra’s box, yet Toyota puts it in their lighter-duty Tacoma. Weird.
The towing capacity (slightly lower than the competition’s) is 4,305 kg (9,490 lb). Tundra’s towing package includes a hitch receiver, both sets of trailer plugs, various drivetrain cooling elements and a trailer-brake control as well as electronic trailer-sway control.
While I didn’t test the towing this time around, I have towed a roughly 5,500 pound boat and trailer rig with an identically equipped Tundra previously. It performed admirably and felt very stable and rigid around town and on the highway. I would say the Tundra has the rigidity and power most consumers need in a half-ton truck when it comes to recreational or work-related towing.
This will sound like an epic first-world problem, but it is a problem nevertheless. The Tundra does not come with a heated steering wheel. This leviathan didn’t fit in my garage so it was parked outside during a week where Edmonton temperatures hovered between -15 and -20 degrees Celsius. That makes for a chilly truck in the morning. Roughly half of the steering wheel is composed of the previously mentioned “wood” which is absolutely freezing to the touch in the mornings. And it stays that way for a long time after the truck cabin heats up. While I’m complaining, much of the competition offers remote starters in their trucks now – you won’t get one from Toyota. And you won’t get a push-ignition either. Actually it’s a basic key and separate key fob set-up, kind of like we used to get about 15 years ago. And one final complaint – a feature that I’ve taken for granted on modern vehicles – the three-tick lane change signal simply isn’t here. That’s right – you’re holding the signal stalk when you want to change lanes. I can’t remember the last time I drove a vehicle that didn’t have this simple safety feature.
Toyota has built the Tundra for some time now. And it’s a good truck. It does a lot of things very well, and it has proven itself to be very reliable. It’s very pleasant to drive, and has what it takes to be a truck. As noted, there are a few oversights that seem almost shocking to me, particularly if Toyota wants to be taken seriously as a competitor. But the truth is, if you were to buy this truck, you wouldn’t be disappointed.
Yet there are some big barriers to the Tundra’s success. First of all, can Toyota convince the truck-buying public (that’s about a quarter of Alberta’s population, it seems) that the Tundra really is an alternative to the establishment?
While the Tundra certainly holds its own and has plenty of merits, Ram, Ford and GM haven’t rested on their sales laurels. The half-ton truck segment moves at a break-neck pace when it comes to innovation and improvements. And the Big Three are making some freaking awesome trucks these days. It’s not as if there is anything wrong with the Tundra. But when you compare it the competition’s top-of-the-line trucks, it feels like it has fallen way behind – and perhaps that’s because Toyota basically hasn’t changed anything here in the last three years – which is an eternity in the half-ton truck market.
And then there are people like my neighbour who have bought Fords, GMs or Rams their entire life. Just like their daddy and their daddy’s daddy. Go ahead and show them all the specs on paper, present them with solid objective evidence – and throw in a winning test drive to boot – and they will often remain unconvinced. Heck, you could even tell them the Tundra has been designed, engineered and manufactured in North America – all of which is true – and this still wouldn’t be enough to sway them. And perhaps that is Toyota’s biggest hurdle of all.
But there is another argument when you look at the truck from another perspective. Toyota products’ reliability and longevity and the fact that the Tundra is over $20,000 less than the Ford F-150 King Ranch trim (which rang in at over $82,000!) I drove last week may be all it takes to sway some buyers. If they’re willing to overlook the little things that are missing, the Tundra is a great truck and, if it has everything in it they need, perhaps it’s also a fantastic value.
|Peak Horsepower||381 hp @ 5,600 rpm|
|Peak Torque||401 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||18.1/13.9/16.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||5.5 ft bed|
|Model Tested||2017 Toyota Tundra 4x4 Crewmax Platinum|
|Price as Tested||$60,400|
$210 – 1794 Edition $210