Although the Toyota Tundra's beefy proportions are suitably trucky, its bits and pieces don't have the cohesive feel of rivals from Detroit.
The Tundra lacks the all-of-a-piece look and feel inside and out delivered by rivals like the Ram 1500 and the GMC Sierra, which means it scores 6 out of 10 for styling. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Those domestics certainly overstate many of their details, but there's a clean balance that ties everything in together, whether they have the straight-edge ethos of the GMC or the hints of big rig that have made the Ram so distinctive after several generations.
The Tundra was refreshed for 2014 and it gained a new hood, grille and front end treatment, a stamped tailgate with the "Tundra" logo featured prominently, and a host of revisions inside.
Still, its details remain out of balance, almost cartoonish in proportion. The biggest offender, to our eyes, is the truck's tall, bluff front end. The sides and rear of the Tundra feel more familiar, while the stamped tailgate treatment is understated and rugged; things seem to get better the more you walk around the Tundra, but there remains an element of simplicity present in the domestics that's missing in the Tundra's sheet metal and metallic trim.
Inside the cabin, a sensible arrangement of controls overrides the inflated size and proportion of all the controls, something the Tundra learned from the last generation of Detroit trucks. That overstated, cartoonish look is mostly gone from Ford, Ram, and GM, but it remains a thing in the Tundra.
Every knob and button is oversized. It's all overwrought in its outreach to people wearing work gloves—which can be removed, after all—but materials have improved on the upper trim levels. GM's trucks still come off better than any in base trim, but the Tundra's lavish 1794 Edition doesn't look out of step with the King Ranches and Laramie Longhorns of the world thanks to its beautiful leather trim.
In spite of the excesses of size and, some would say, color and trim choices, the Tundra's cabin still comes off about mid-pack.
The Tundra's big, bold grille and stamped tailgate are solid truck elements, but it looks more disjointed inside and out than rivals.
With just two V-8s on offer, the Tundra's spec sheet is a lot shorter than that of its Detroit-brand rivals.
Both engines are strong, and the Tundra's suspension is tuned for a comfortable ride, but it comes up short overall compared to its competition and rates a 5 out of 10 for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The reason here is that Toyota simply doesn't sell as many Tundra pickups as Ford sells F-150s—or even as many trucks as Ram sells 1500s. With the Tundra's lower volume, Toyota can't justify a broader lineup, which leaves the Tundra's repertoire fairly limited.
That's been aggravated since the 2015 model year, when Toyota dropped the Tundra's base V-6 engine option.
Today, the Tundra's base engine is a 4.6-liter V-8, rated at 310 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers are certainly adequate for lightly laden rear-wheel drive trucks. But GM, Ford, and Ram all over base V-6s with almost the same horsepower and far better fuel economy.
The more potent, and, frankly, recommended Tundra option is a much stronger 5.7-liter V-8, with 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque. Even here, despite its strong V-8 bark and strong acceleration, it's off the pace set by trucks like the V-8-powered Rams. The Tundra's V-8 offers a lot of torque on paper, but it needs to be revved to reach that peak, which stands in marked contrast to the twin-turbo V-6 in the Ford F-150. At least the Tundra's V-8 sounds particularly good with its NASCAR-worthy exhaust note.
Both Tundra V-8s get 6-speed automatics, a couple of cogs down from the most advanced competitive pickups. The transmissions shift smoothly and respond quickly to calls on the throttle, but fewer gears is the chief reason why the Tundra's fuel economy lags rivals by a wide margin. Compounding things is the lack of a cylinder-deactivation system.
Strap a hefty load behind the Tundra, which is rated at up to 10,400 pounds trailer capacity, and the story changes.
Toyota was the first automaker to use the SAE's J2807 standard for tow ratings, but despite that impressive technical qualification, the Tundra feels anemic with a trailer exceeding 8,000 pounds. Accelerating to highway speeds within the length of a typical on-ramp while towing is a real challenge—something not true in a Ford, Chevy, or Ram, where the most capable variants are rated at up to 12,200 pounds.
In day-to-day traffic, the Tundra is comfortable and easy-going, on the other hand, with light steering that's not as direct or as quick as that in the Ram or the Ford. Ride quality can be a bit jouncy with no load in the bed, but that's true of all pickups to some degree, and the Tundra's ride is about on par with the latest F-150.
If leaving the pavement is one of your priorities, the TRD Pro trim level delivers with Bilstein shock absorbers, all-terrain tires, and a beefier front skid plate. It offers all of the capability most buyers will need for medium-duty trail use.
For everyday use, however, the Tundra lacks an automatic mode for its four-wheel-drive system, meaning it shouldn't be engaged on dry pavement.
With its optional 5.7-liter V-8, the Tundra is smooth and fast, but rivals offer a better ride and handling balance.
The Toyota Tundra's interior is as wide open as the West Texas landscape, but a look at the details reminds us why certain rivals continue to outsell it.
It's easy to get comfortable in the Tundra, even though there is a lack of attention to detail here compared to rivals, which pushes this truck down to 5 out of 10 for comfort and quality. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Tundra is as wide as a truck is legally allowed to be to qualify as light-duty, and it is offered in three cab lengths: regular, Double Cab (extended cab) and CrewMax. In terms of bed utility, the Toyota feels behind the domestics, simply because you can't mix and match bed lengths and body styles to the same degree. All CrewMax Tundras have 5.5-foot-long beds; there's no long-bed option. Double Cabs can be fitted with a choice of 6-foot-5 or 8-foot-1 beds, while Regular Cabs come only with the 8-foot-1 bed.
The Tundra's bed also lacks some of the great touches applied to the latest F-150 and Ram 1500—from lockable in-fender storage, to steps and handrails embedded in the tailgate, even stowable loading ramps. The race for features is the new battlefront in the full-size pickup wars—and at present, the Tundra is falling behind.
The Regular Cab version is essentially a work truck, with seating for three at most with the standard bench seat, although captain's chairs are optional. There's not much in-cabin storage space, but there's always the pickup bed behind you.
The Double Cab model adds rear-hinged doors and a set of flip-up rear seats. There's not a lot of space in the second row, but kids will fit just fine. The extra space doubles as a convenient weather/theft resistant cargo area when not being used for passengers.
The CrewMax is where the Tundra really comes into its own, with a spacious second row and four full-sized doors. Seating for five is realistic and on par with a full-size SUV like the company's Sequoia. The rear seats even slide and recline, though their backrest cushions don't sit at an especially comfortable angle, and the bottom cushions are low to the floor, resulting in a knees-up position that isn't as pleasant as in the Ram and the F-150.
Front seat passengers have a center console storage area large enough to hold file folders or even a laptop, and certain models boast underseat storage as well. Good sound deadening and acoustic glass keeps engine and road noise at bay nearly as well as the downright silent Silverado and Sierra.
Where the Tundra falls a especially short inside is in the quality of its materials; it feels almost as though Toyota benchmarked the last generation of trucks rather than assuming that rivals would continue to get better. Even in 1794 trim, which boasts supple leather trim, the color matching and glossy sheen of some trim doesn't match up to the Ford F-150 King Ranch or the Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn.
Lots of hard plastic detracts from what is otherwise a roomy interior.
The Toyota Tundra has made marked improvements in its crash protection, but it still runs well behind our expectations.
Subpar performance in both the IIHS and the NHTSA assessments, combined with a lack of advanced safety features, knocks the Tundra down to just 3 out of 10 points. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Before 2015, some Tundras earned truly bad crash-test scores from the NHTSA. Crew cabs fared best, with four stars overall, while regular cab models in both rear- and four-wheel drive, as well as the extended cab four-wheel drive, scored three stars overall in NHTSA testing.
For 2015, and continuing unchanged into 2017, Toyota improved the truck's scores to four stars overall, across the board, though some versions still are rated at three stars for rollover resistance. That's balanced somewhat by five-star scores for side-impact protection.
The IIHS sees things differently, rating the Tundra range as a whole with scores of “Good" for most crash tests but an "Acceptable" rating in the small-overlap crash test.
Like its rivals, the Tundra doesn't yet offer automatic emergency braking, but all models include eight airbags and a backup camera as well as the expected anti-lock brakes and stability control. Opt for a Limited CrewMax, Platinum, or 1794 Edition, and you'll net blind spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alert, however.
No adaptive cruise control or collision warning system is available, a gaffe that would be fairly easy for Toyota to correct.
The Tundra has not performed well in crash tests.
|Overall Frontal Barrier Crash Rating:||(4/5)|
|Overall Side Crash Rating:||(5/5)|
|Overall Side Barrier Rating:||Not Rated|
|NHTSA Roll-over Resistance Rating:||(3/5)|
|Side Impact Test||Not Tested|
|Roof Strength Test||Not Tested|
|Rear Crash Protection/Head Restraint||Not Tested|
|IIHS Small Overlap Front Test Results||Not Tested|
|IIHS Moderate Overlap Front Test Results||Not Tested|
Although the Toyota Tundra's sliced-and-diced domestic competitors are available in a wider range of options and configurations, this truck is still well-packaged with the features many consumers want in a full-size pickup.
We give it a 7 thanks to its good standard and optional infotainment systems and the logical, easy-to-follow ordering of its trim levels. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The model breakdown
Aimed at work-oriented buyers, the base Tundra SR offers the minimum spec, with standard tech features like an AM/FM/CD stereo with smartphone connectivity, a 6.1-inch touchscreen, USB and iPod connectivity, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, and a small degree of voice recognition functions. It can be pared down to proper work truck standards with vinyl-covered seats and rubber floor coverings, for those who prioritize utility.
The SR is the only Tundra available with a regular cab, although the double cab is optional. The CrewMax body style is not available on the SR, but it is offered on every other trim level.
From there, the SR5 represents Toyota's mainstream trim level and it includes some nice interior upgrades like metallic accents and fabric upholstery, plus 18-inch alloy wheels and a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The SR5 is also available with a TRD Off Road package with Bilstein shocks and a light-duty skid plate.
For those who need even more dirt road capability, the TRD Pro has its own specially tuned Bilstein monotone dampers and TRD-tuned shock absorbers, plus a beefier skid plate. Keep in mind that full-size trucks take up a lot of room on the trail, however. If four-wheeling is your thing, the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro offers a more manageable size for a tight trail.
The Tundra Limited gets leather seating surfaces, power front seats (made newly standard for 2017), automatic dual-zone climate control, and soft-touch interior surfaces. The Limited Premium package has front and rear parking sensors, power windows, ambient lighting, and a glass breakage sensor.
At the top of the lineup, the Tundra offers a choice of two directions priced the same: swanky Platinum and cowboy-themed 1794 Edition. Both go above and beyond the Limited with higher-quality leather seats that are both heated and ventilated, a 12-speaker JBL audio system, a power moonroof, and parking sensors. The primary difference between the two is styling, with the Platinum delivering diamond-pleated leather seats and the 1794, named in tribute to the Texas ranch where the Tundra plant is located, outfitted with special brown hides with embossed and ultra-suede accents.
Though it may not offer the customization of rivals, the Tundra is well-packaged and has good infotainment options.
Fuel economy isn't a strength for most full-size pickups, but the Tundra comes up especially short.
Most Tundras on dealer lots will have the 5.7-liter V-8, which is rated at a subpar 15 mpg combined regardless of drive-wheels. That earns it a 5 out of 10, but there's more to the story than just that number. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The 4.6-liter V-8 with rear-drive comes in as the most efficient at 15 mpg city, 19 highway, 16 combined. The top-line 5.7-liter V-8 model with rear-drive rates 13/18/15 mpg.
Choosing four-wheel drive with the 4.6-liter V-8 model reduces mileage to 14/18/16 mpg; adding it to the 5.7-liter engine yields gas mileage of 13/17/15 mpg.
Rival mainstream models come in at around 17 or 18 mpg with four-wheel drive. Without any advanced fuel-saving tech like an 8-speed automatic transmission or a cylinder-deactivation system, the Tundra is on par with full-size trucks from 10 or 15 years ago.
The Tundra is downright inefficient compared to its rivals.