A lot has changed recently and not just because of Corona. The market for half-ton trucks is changing, too.
And just as dramatically.
For the first time in decades, the number-one best-seller, Ford’s F-150, is threatened by the truck that for decades had been the third-best-seller, the Ram 1500. The 1500 had already supplanted the decades’-long hegemony of the Chevy Silverado as the country’s second-best-selling truck.
The half-ton truck that may become the next second-best-selling full-size truck if the hard-charging Ram displaces the F-150 as number one: The Toyota Tundra.
The reason—the Tundra is still very much a truck.
It comes standard with a big V8 engine with 5.7 liters and doesn’t turn itself off every time the truck comes to a stop. No ASS.
It hasn’t got a ten-speed automatic, either. Or a turbo. No claxons go off because you drive within 50 yards of another vehicle.
It does have a rugged, simple leaf-spring rear suspension and a steel (not easy to wrinkle and expensive to unwrinkle aluminum) body.
The base trim can tow as much as 10,200 lbs. with the standard engine.
The steering wheel doesn’t “assist” you, either. You drive this one.
And you’ll love doing it.
What It Is
- The Tundra is Toyota’s half-ton truck.
- It competes with other half-ton pick-ups like the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, Ram 1500, and Nissan Titan. Like them, it’s available in various cab/bed combinations and offers a heavy-duty 4WD system with a two-speed transfer case and Low range gearing.
- It differs from its Big Three rivals in that it comes standard with a V8. A V8 is available but optional in the Ram, Silverado, and F-150. That V8 isn’t direct-injected or saddled with automated stop/start (ASS), a system that has become common in most new vehicles as a fuel-saving measure but which many people dislike because of the constant stop/start cycling.
- If you don’t want that, the Tundra hasn’t got it. God bless it!
Prices start at $33,575 for the base SR Double Cab with a 5.5-foot bed and 2WD.
Two additional bed lengths, 6.5 feet, and 8.1 feet are available, as is 4WD. You can also get a Crew Max cab—four full-size doors and more room for the backseat passengers. However, you can’t get a regular cab (two-door) version of the Tundra— something you can still get in an F-150 and Silverado 1500.
A new Ram no longer offers a truck with just two doors. The previously available Ram Classic, which did offer the regular cab body style, isn’t around anymore.
A top-of-the-line Tundra CrewMax with four full-sized doors, the TRD PRO off-road equipment, includes more ground clearance, off-road shocks, BBS wheels with M/S-rated tires, a performance dual-exhaust system with side-exiting tips and other upgrades stickers for 48,655.
- The 5.7 liter V8 that used to be the Tundra’s optional V8 is now standard, and you can get the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) PRO off-road package with either cab style.
- Two new matte-finish colors, cement grey and army green, are now available as well.
- The Tundra is the most affordable V8-equipped/double cab half-ton truck on the market.
- 10,000-plus pounds of towing capacity available with the standard SR trim.
- Standard V8 is fuel-injected, not direct-injected.
- It doesn’t shut itself off at every red light.
What’s Not So Good
- Can’t get a regular cab/eight-foot-bed combo, which the F-150 and Silverado still offer.
- Can’t get a Tundra for less than $33k (F-150 starts at $28,745; the Silverado’s base price is $28,300.)
- Like all current 1500s, the Tundra’s bed walls are so high it can be difficult to reach into the bed to get things out of the bed without standing on a step ladder.
Under The Hood
All Tundras comes standard with the same 5.7 liter V8, which produces 381 horsepower and 401 ft.-lbs. of torque, which enables every Tundra to pull as much as 10,200 lbs. without paying extra for an optional engine or a more expensive trim.
You can get a V8 for less money in the regular cab Silverado, which offers the option to replace the otherwise standard 4.3 liter V6 with a 5.3 liter V8. This one will cost you $29,695 ($28,300 for the base Work Truck plus $1,395 for the 5.3 liter V8).
But that V8 makes less horsepower (355), and if you want the extra doors, the price rises to $33,595 ($32,200 for the base Work Truck double cab plus $1,395 for the optional V8).
And you still don’t get more horsepower.
To get it, you have to move up to the LTZ trim, and then you can opt for the available 6.2 liter 420 hp V8, which is the strongest in the class.
But you won’t be paying $33k for it.
Nissan’s Titan also comes standard with a 5.6 liter V8, and it’s a strong one (400 hp for 2020), but it costs almost $37k to start and only tows 9,370 lbs. This is the lowest in the class (for a 1500 with a V8). You can get a 4WD Tundra that pulls more for less.
The Tundra’s archest rival is the Ram 1500, which one can buy with a same-sized 5.7 liter V8 that makes more horsepower (395) isn’t direct-injected, tows more (12,000-plus pounds) and costs just a couple of hundred bucks more so equipped ($32,145 for the truck plus $1,695 for the Hemi V8).
You can also get a V8 (5.0 liters, 395 hp) in the F-150 and for less (without four doors). A regular cab XL ($28,745) with the optional 5.0 liter V8 ($1,995) underprices the Tundra by a couple of thousand bucks. But the Ford’s V8, like the Chevy’s, is direct-injected and ASS-addled. Also, the F-150’s whole body is aluminum, which shaves weight but makes the F-truck much more vulnerable to physical damage and more expensive to repair when damaged.
And probably will make it more expensive to own.
Another Tundra plus is, it’s standard and unique in the class six-speed automatic transmission. All the others come with automatics that have at least eight speeds and some (the F-150 and Silverado V8s) ten. Even the otherwise appealing Ram 1500 pairs an eight-speed automatic with its optional Hemi V8.
The just-updated Nissan Titan also comes standard with a nine-speed transmission as well as direct injection. And its direct-injected engine demands premium fuel to make its advertised 400 hp.
The Tundra’s 381 hp is delivered on regular 87 octane unleaded.
Interestingly, the Toyota’s top overdrive gear (sixth rather than eighth or ninth or tenth) is the lowest in the class (.059), so the engine revs at highway speeds are just as low, without all that in-between shifting and without all that additional complexity.
The other trucks with the additional gears do get slightly better gas mileage because of all that gearing (and direct-injecting).
The difference is simple vs. more complex.
And potentially more expensive, if something breaks after the warranty ends.
Toyota doesn’t offer a diesel engine, yet, which is something you can get now in all three of the Big Three trucks. The mileage difference between the gas and diesel is probably a wash anyway because of the higher cost of diesel. For example, the Ram’s available 3.0-liter turbodiesel adds $4,995 to the tab.
It is capable of 30 on the highway vs. a best-case 18 for the 4WD-equipped Tundra. But given how cheap gas is (vs. how expensive diesel is), it’s not likely you’ll save any money this way.
However, the diesel-equipped Ram is a hoss with 480 ft.-lbs. of torque and capable of pulling a stout 12,650 lbs.
On The Road
Drive the Tundra, and you’ll understand why trucks sell better than cars. They are so much more fun to drive than most cars. There’s background throb of that hunky V8; the effortless pull even when six people are on board, and the bed is stacked high with a pallet of bricks.
The throbbing isn’t interrupted by auto-stop/start (ASS) either, which is arguably the most annoying “feature” being foisted on the car (and truck) buying public since automated seat belts.
The reason given for ASS, fuel savings, doesn’t amount to much. The Tundra V8’s 13 city, 18 highway (2WD) is only about 5 MPG off the mileage advertised by the Silverado’s smaller 5.3 liter, 355 hp V8, which rates 16 city, 21 highway. In real-world driving, it’s a wash, and you’ll never have to deal with the constant annoyance of stop-start cycling in the Tundra.
PS: If you’re worried about gas mileage, opt for the available 38-gallon gas tank. It’ll make you feel as though you’re driving a Prius because even at the rate of 1 gallon converted to gas every 18 miles, the Tundra can travel farther than a Prius before it requires more gas.
Also, the Tundra’s gas neck isn’t capless, which means it won’t annoy you by shutting off the flow of gas while you’re trying to refuel, as is a common issue with capless fuel-fill rigs.
The Tundra is also devoid of the many buzzers and beeps that seem to have sprouted new vehicles. The Tundra lets you drive without pestering you if a tire touches a painted line and then countersteers in the direction a nanny thinks you need to go. This truck feels pleasantly retro, almost like 1995 again, but with almost 400 horsepower (and more than 400 ft.-lbs. of torque) at your command.
This thing can get to 60 in 6.5 seconds. Reread that. Then compare it with the 0-60 times of V8 muscle cars from the ’60s and the ’90s, when cars were half the size and weight and couldn’t pull a 10,000-pound load behind them.
You can also roast the tires at will. Just turn off the TCS, which turns all the way off. Hold the brake and give it gas. Let off the brakes just enough to let the tires begin to rotate. Now floor the gas, modulating the brake.
Instant Invisibility Cloak!
Another incredible thing is how fast you can drive the Tundra off-road without the rear axle doing the Moon Bounce. It probably is doing the Moon Bounce but you won’t feel it inside the Tundra. Maybe it’s special biscuits in between the frame and body. Whatever it is, the leaf-sprung Tundra rides as if it had an independent/coil spring suspension in the back, but without the complexity and cost and inevitable down-the-road fix-it issues that come with IRS.
At The Curb
You can still get an eight-foot bed, but you can’t get it with just two doors, which means that a long-bed Tundra is a long truck. Double Cab models with the short bed have a turning circle of 44 feet. With the Crew Max cab and four full-size doors, this widens to 49 feet.
Regardless of length, the bed is tall.
The high box thing is now universal and whatever you think about the look, it makes it hard to get at the things in the bed even if you’re a taller-than-most guy, as I am. Getting to whatever you’ve got in the bed often means getting in the bed first. Toyota does not offer a built-in step ladder (as the F-150 and Chevy do) or even a milk crate tossed into the bed by the dealer at the time of purchase.
There are, however, some compensatory features, including configurable cleat tie-downs and lockable bins, one of which is insulated and can be filled with ice to keep things cool.
The Crew Max has more legroom (42-plus inches) than in the front seats of many full-size cars and ore head and shoulder room than any of them unless we’re talking ’78 Lincoln Town Cars.
The room for laptops, cinder blocks, cell phones (as many as you have pockets for) is practically limitless. Of course, other big trucks are similarly spacious, but few are as wonderfully non-naggy as this one is.
The Tundra does not have a TV-sized infotainment system nor is a digitized dashboard, either — which another reason to really like this truck.
It is a truck that does not need such distractions because it is the main event.
It’s also a more American truck than the Chevy Silverado and the Ford F-150 because the Tundra is made in the USA (San Antonio, Texas).
The Bottom Line
Keeping it simple isn’t stupid. It’s exactly what truck buyers want.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos
* * *
The Eric Peters Car Review is sponsored by the NMA Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation. The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions.