By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
One area where the Japanese have not been able to eat the proverbial lunch of Detroit’s Big Three has been full-size pick-ups. To date, none of the Japanese 1500s have been more than peripheral players.
Probably at least in part because when it comes to big trucks, American truck buyers are like Harley-Davidson owners — seriously partial to the domestic iron. But that doesn’t explain things completely. Badge loyalty only goes so far. And objectively speaking, full-size Japanese-brand trucks like the Toyota Tundra (subject of this review) and Nissan Titan (the other player in this segment) are pretty good trucks. They have strong V-8s and other important stats — such as max towing capability — stack up well against the domestic kings of the hill: Ford’s F-150, the Dodge Ram 1500 and the GM 1500s (Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra).
But, the Japanese trucks aren’t offered in the seemingly endless variety of cab/bed/bodystyle configurations that is par for the course at Ford, GM and Ram stores. There’s also no heavy-duty 2500 or 3500 series for those who need truly Herculean towing/hauling capability.
That plus a not-yet-established bedrock layer of loyal buyers has kept the Tundra — and Titan — from being more than also-rans.
However, they haven’t given up.
Nissan has what looks on paper to be a very interesting new Titan on deck for 2015 — with a new 5 liter diesel V-8 sourced from Cummins on the options roster.
And Toyota has just done a makeover of the Tundra — including a wholesale revision of the previous truck’s somewhat awkwardly laid-out interior. However, the same fairly limited cab/bed configurations — and carryover engines — may not be enough to jump-start sales to the extent that Toyota no doubt wants.
WHAT IT IS
The Tundra is a full-size, 1500-series truck available in regular cab (two door) work truck format, double cab (four doors, the rear two smaller than the front doors) and crew max — with four full-size doors. Three bed lengths are available, ranging from 5.5 foot short bed to an 8.1 foot long bed.
RWD is standard; a part-time 4WD system with two-speed transfer case and 4WD Low range gearing is available optionally. The Tundra can be ordered with either a 4 liter V-6 or (optionally) either of two V-8s.
Base price is $26,200 for a regular cab SR with RWD, V-6 and an 8.1 foot long bed. An SR Double Cab with RWD and 6.6 foot bed and V-6 starts at $27,090 – $28,135 with the step-up 4.6 liter V-8.
A four-door CrewMax starts at $32,105.
This model comes standard with the 4.6 liter V-8, which can be upgraded to a 5.7 liter V-8.
Numerous trim (and functional) packages are available, including TRD off-road, a sport-themed SR-5, luxury-minded Limited and ultra-luxury Platinum packages.
Also available — and probably inspired by Ford’s King Ranch F-150 — is a 1794 edition, named after another country-sized Texas spread. This model is fitted with special saddle-brown leather and suede upholstery, comes with unique exterior trim pieces and pretty much every feature that’s already included in the Platinum package.
Base price for this one is $47,600.
Subtle revisions to the exterior — and significant revisions to the interior — constitute the major changes for 2014.
All trims — including the base regular cab SR — come standard with a back-up camera now. This can be upgraded with rear cross traffic alert and a blind-spot monitor that beeps (and lights) to warn you of another vehicle in — well — your blind spot.
The Entune suite of apps has been upgraded — and if you buy the system, the subscription is free.
Available V-6 (current Titan is V-8 only).
Two optional V-8s (Ford F-150 only offers one V-8).
Much improved interior. It’s no longer necessary to have the reach of an NBA guard to get at the radio controls.
More towing capacity (10,400 lbs., max) than current Titan (9,500 lb., max).
Base (SR) truck is better-equipped than most competitors’ base trims.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Limited cab/bed configurations.
Limited optional axle ratios; each engine is assigned a given ring and pinion.
It feels as big as it looks; less maneuverable than the latest trucks from GM and Ford. Example: Tundra’s turning circle is 44 feet — 4.5 feet more than the Ram 1500’s (39.5 feet), four feet more than Silverado’s (40 feet) and 2.3 feet more than the F-150’s (41.7 feet).
Ram 1500 (base price, $24,385) is $1,815 less to start; F-150 (base price, $24,445) is $1,755 less; Chevy Silverado (base price, $25,575) is $625 less.
Ram offers a diesel; Nissan will offer a diesel soon (2015).
UNDER THE HOOD
Base Tundras come standard with a 4 liter V-6, good for 270 hp. This is a bit under-par, relative to what’s standard in the competition. The ’14 Dodge Ram, for example, comes standard with a 305 hp V-6; the Ford F-150, a 302 hp 3.7 liter V-6. And the current Nissan Titan comes standard with a 317 hp 5.6 liter V-8.
The Tundra’s V-6 is paired with a 5-speed automatic, which is also a bit behind the curve. Several competitors now come standard across the board with six and even eight speed transmissions.
But, the V-6 returns not-bad fuel mileage numbers — 16 city, 20 highway is about 3-5 MPG better than most of the competitor V-8s in this segment.
However, the Tundra’s step-up 4.6 liter V-8 (which makes 310 hp, about the same as some of the competition’s standard V-6s) delivers virtually the same numbers (15 city, 19 highway for the 2WD) as well as better performance.
The Tundra’s top-dog 5.7 liter V-8 makes a much stronger case for itself. You get 381 hp (and 401 ft.-lbs.) of torque — as well as a more up-to-date six-speed automatic. The 5.7 engine comes standard if you order a 4WD regular cab, as well as the Limited, Platinum and 1794 trims.
The 5.7’s rated mileage is 13 city, 18 highway with 2WD — and just slightly worse (13 city, 17 highway) with the part-time 4WD system. It also has mondo oil capacity: 9.8 quarts (same for the 4.6 V-8).
All three engines are designed to run on 87 octane regular — including the 5.7 V-8.
ON THE ROAD
This is a big truck.
Bigger, in fact, than all the others. 228.9 inches long — vs. 205.6 inches for the regular cab Chevy Silverado 1500, 209 inches for the regular cab Ram 1500, and 213.2 inches for the regular cab F-150.
The regular cab SR comes standard with the 6.5 foot bed. The DoubleCab and Crew Max versions come with smaller beds — but they’re just as long. (The bed gets smaller — see point made earlier about Japanese trucks and limited configurations.)
The Tundra also stands 75.8 inches off the deck — an inch taller than the F-150 (74.8 inches) and nearly two inches taller than the Silverado (74 inches).
Even the Kenworth-themed Ram 1500 is “only” 74.6 inches tall.
It seems the Japanese believe size does matter. And not just Toyota. The next biggest 1500 series truck is also Japanese — the Nissan Titan: 224.6 inches and 74.6 inches high.
But size can be a liability, too.
I had the Tundra during the week of Winter Storm Pax — which dumped more than two feet of snow on SW Virginia. The plows could not keep up; most two-lane roads were down to one lane. I tried to plow my driveway — which is a couple hundred yards long — we live in the country — but my overwhelmed tractor couldn’t do more than carve out a compact-truck-sized alley in between towering walls of snow. There was no place left to push the stuff.
Anyhow, I mention the decreased road real estate because it accentuated the Tundra’s hugeness.
Remember above when I mentioned turning radius? The extra several feet it takes the Tundra to get turned around (relative to the regular cab Ram, F-truck and Silverado) matters when you have tight squeeze situations to deal with. I ended up having to back the truck down the driveway because I simply could not get it turned around in the space available.
The Tundra is also roomy through the hips — 79.9 inches wide — which is about half an inch to three quarters of an inch wider than almost all the other 1500 trucks out there except for the Chevy — which is 80 on the nose. The width makes the cabin feel roomy but — again — also makes the Tundra feel really Large Marge. Especially when the road is narrow.
My guess is the Japanese view America — land of the Hummer (RIP) and the ever-growing BMI Index — as the land of people who like things big. Which is true, up to a point. But the Tundra — like the Hummer — may be on the verge of cartoonishly huge (the previous model’s interior layout added emphasis to this).
Men may be ok with it, but many men have wives — and my wife was intimidated by the Tundra. It is possible that at almost two feet longer overall than a regular cab Chevy, it’s not wife-drivable enough — or just too big for suburbia — and that could be part of the reason it hasn’t sold as well as Toyota would like.
Once you’ve got the prow pointed where you’re headed, the Tundra drives like the Titanic sailed: smooth, unperturbed. If, like my test truck, your Tundra is equipped with the top-dog 5.7 V-8, you’ll be soothed by the muscle car burble as the truck trundles along. Steering effort is very light — and though some reviewers have rightly noted that the domestic standard-bearers (in particular, the Chevy Silverado) have achieved ride quality levels almost unimaginably serene — for a pick-up truck with a solid axle rear and (typically) a leaf spring suspension — the Tundra is not far behind par. All current 1500 trucks — no matter who makes ’em — are eons evolved from the trucks of the not-so-distant past, which were as far from the levels of civility achieved by a passenger car of the same time as the table manners of a Klingon are from those of Captain Picard.
Other than its oversized proportions, the Tundra was just the ticket for dealing with Winter Storm Pax (please, someone tell me who came up with this business of naming every weather event — so I can lobby the UN to issue a war crimes indictment). My barely passable on foot driveway served as an informal proving ground. I only needed to engage 4WD Low range once — to get through a particularly tough section where the arctic blowing winds had left a drift pile nearly a foot high. Otherwise, the big lug bullied through the worst of it like a 290 pound NFL lineman. It helps, too, that the Tundra has very generous clearance — up to 10.6 inches, but never less than 10 inches (depending on the trim you buy).
One cautionary note for snow-day dealings: Before you attempt your ascent up a snow-covered driveway, be sure you have manually disengaged the traction control or else the truck’s “safety” electronics will fight you all the way — cutting power when you need every last hp and pumping the brakes when the last thing you need is to slow down.You must do this before you begin moving. The system cannot be turned off once the truck is rolling.
At least there is an “off” button.
Be grateful – as these are rapidly going the way of the catalytic converter test pipe.
AT THE CURB
The chief change is a mild facelift on the outside — and a heavily revised interior.
Changes to the exterior include more squared-off fenders, a redesigned hood that sits a bit higher than last year (to convey bulging power underneath) and bolder badging — including “Tundra” stamped into the tailgate.
I like the subtly redesigned grille, which is kind of hexagonal now — accentuated (depending on trim) with thick vertical bars done in chrome. It’s more traditional — and less weird — than the previous truck’s Cylon Centurion-looking face.
But the big improvement is inside — where you’ll find an entirely new dash and center console that not only looks better — traditional-truck gauges in a breadbox layout vs. the previous truck’s recessed, car-like pods — it’s also much more in tune with normal human proportions. In the old truck, some of the controls felt like they were closer to the front seat passenger than to the driver. HVAC and audio/GPS controls in particular. Way over to your right — such that even a guy like me, who is 6 ft 3 and has pretty long reach — found it awkward to reach (and use) some of the controls. Same issue with the old truck’s center console — which was unusually wide, with the cupholders again almost out of the driver’s reach.
The redesign returns to a more conventional layout — with a narrower center console and much more accessible everything.
The center stack — where the LCD display is for the GPS and audio, along with the controls for the AC and other vitals — is now 2.6 inches closer to the driver.
Base SR trims are very nicely equipped without adding a single extra-cost option. 18 inch steel wheels are standard (the base F-150, Ram 1500 and Silverado come with 17s; the Nissan Titan is the only other 1500 series truck that comes standard with 18 inch wheels).
The next-up size (standard on Limited and Platinums) is 20s.
Another nice “free upgrade” if you buy a Tundra is a windshield wiper deicer (came in handy for me) and a tailgate that’s damped — it opens softly, rather than clunking down heavily. All trims get both of these. The base SR truck also gets AC and a couple of 12V power points, Bluetooth connectivity and a decent four-speaker stereo with 6.1 inch LCD touchscreen.
From there you can go heavy-duty (TRD off-road) Sporty (SR5), luxury (Limited), even more luxury (Platinum) to the Japanese truck equivalent of a full-on King Ranch F-truck — the Tundra 1794 Edition.
Lots of diversity as far as trim and equipment — and price range, too.
The Tundra’s big weakness is limited diversity as far as bed/box combos. For instance, the base SR regular cab is available with the standard 6.5 foot and (optionally) 8.1 foot bed only — no short bed — which means 228.9 inches of truck (vs. 205.6 inches for the base/regular cab Chevy — etc.). And if you want — if you need — the people-carrying capacity of the DoubleCab or Crew Max, you get a short bed — unless you go up to the long wheelbase (164.6 inch) layout and now you’re dealing with a truck that stretches 247.8 inches (almost 21 feet) bumper to bumper.
The Tundra’s not a bad truck. Far from it. Toyota’s problem is that being merely not bad — or even merely good — is probably not good enough to seriously eat into the pie currently all-but-owned by the Big Three.
Inside, it’s now as nice as anything else in the segment. And features/equipment-wise, it’s hard to knock the Tundra. But Toyota probably should have upped the ante, drivetrain-wise. The base V-6 is not by any means a bad engine — it’s just that the V-6s in several competitors are much stronger (typically, by 30 hp — no small difference). And the ’14 Tundra’s step-up 4.6 liter V-8, which adds about $1,000 to the tab, is only slightly stronger than several competitor’s base (no extra cost) V-6s.
The 5.7 liter V-8 achieves par with the competition’s optional V-8s. But — again — Toyota needs something more than par to make the Tundra really stand out.
Like Nissan’s forthcoming diesel V-8, for instance.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Toyota — and Nissan — still have a ways to go before they do to the full-size truck segment what they’ve done to every other segment.