The Toyota Tundra.Matthew DeBord/BI
- The Toyota Tundra is typically the fourth-best-selling full-size pickup truck in the US.
- The Tundra is aging, but it has a reliable design that’s up against new pickups from Chevy, Ford, and RAM.
- Despite its age, I thought the Tundra was a great pickup that is notably easy to drive and, in an upscale trim package, comes with a lot of luxurious features.
In the world of the full-size pickup truck, the Ford F-150 rules the realm. Its perennial challengers are the Chevy Silverado and the RAM 1500— the big three.
You could be forgiven if you thought this massive US market was a trifecta, full stop. But there are other large pickups in the land. And they are worthy.
The most worthy is the Toyota Tundra. While Toyota sells just about 115,000 of these every year and Ford moves close to a million F-150s, the Tundra is no slack when it comes to pickups. Among those in the pickup-truck know, Toyotas are considered more or less indestructible.
You buy the F-150 because it’s … well, because it’s an F-150. You might own a dozen in a lifetime.
You buy the Tundra if you think you might want to go to your final reward having owned just one truck.
That’s an exaggeration, but not far off. You do have to make some trades. Trucks from the Detroit big three can be lavishly luxurious these days, while most of the pickups from Toyota we’ve sampled at Business Insider have been sort of barebones.
And then a tasty Toyota Tundra 1794 Crewmax, tipping the cost scales at about $53,000, landed at our Suburban New Jersey test center. It was different. Very different.
The Tundra has been around since 2000 and the pickup has amassed a loyal following, even as it fails to seriously compete with the big three. (The current-generation arrives in 2007 and was updated in 2014, making it a pretty old platform). That certainly doesn’t mean that Toyota doesn’t take the Tundra seriously. In a week of driving it around, with a nice long run to the Catskills in the upstate New York thrown in, I found out why.
So what’s the verdict?
The Tundra platform is, to be blunt, ancient. The current generation of the pickup has been around since 2007. Everybody expects Toyota to update it soon, to keep pace with new full-size trucks from Ford, Chevy, and RAM.
Except, of course, that there’s no rush. The Tundra, while a dandy truck, isn’t even remotely competitive with the big three. And yet Toyota continues to crank on the vehicle, to satisfy what is by its standards robust US demand.
You may have anticipated the punchline, set up by that clunky six-speed automatic transmission, that gas-chugging big V8 motor, and the circa 2010 infotainment system. That’s right, Toyota doesn’t need to expend resources on the Tundra because it isn’t a combatant in the great pickup war that’s ongoing among the Detroit big three.
The crusty old Tundra isn’t broken, so why fix it?
Indeed! In my testing of the truck, I was almost ready to call it my new favorite, second only to the exquisite RAM 1500. There’s something to be said for a platform that simply performs, is notably comfortable, and that carries Toyota’s ironclad reputation for reliability.
For example, that thirsty V8 and steampunk six-speed aren’t likely to give you much trouble. And you know that even if you beat this pretty vehicle to pieces, it won’t let you down. Toyotas are tanks.
Ride quality truly stands out. The RAM 1500, with its all-around independent suspension (the Silverado and F-150 continue to use leaf springs), is like driving an old-school American sedan. But the Tundra is like piloting a Lexus. The contrast with the more crude, purposeful Tacomas we’ve tested is vivid. Rolling around town or up into the country, the Tundra rapidly impressed me with its soothing, car-like manners and handling.
When you need it, of course, that torque-y V8 is there for ya. But for long hauls, I’d choose the Tundra over just about any other big pickup.
At around $30,000 for the base truck, the Tundra is price-competitive with everything else in the segment. But given that Ford, FCA, and GM have all revamped their full-sizers, Toyota is going to have to do something with the Tundra to sustain its market share.
No one is asking Toyota to mess with a good thing — and the Tundra is pretty darn good — but the segment is modernizing and Toyota can’t wait forever to roll out a gen-four Tundra. That said, it can wait a few more years without enduring significant damage.
Sometimes it’s an advantage to be number four!