Behold, you’re looking at a historical icon. This is the truck that towed the 150,000 lbs Space Shuttle Endeavor. Well not this actual Tundra, but one that shares its namesake. In the much-publicised stunt back in 2012, Toyota worked with the space geeks at NASA to make history.
An unmodified Tundra assisted in the transport of the Endeavour as it journeyed over the Manchester Boulevard Bridge, across America’s busiest highway, enroute to its new home at the California Science Centre. The tow was a result of a 20-year partnership between Toyota and the Science Centre, and was to raise awareness of the space program and continue public education through exhibits and events.
And so it’s a constant game of oneupsmanship as Ford, General Motors, Toyota, and Nissan try to win market share from each other. And why wouldn’t they? The full-sized truck market is extremely profitable for the manufacturers, with market leader Ford reportedly making double digit margins on the best selling vehicle in America, the Ford F-150.
In order to compete with the domestic automakers, the 2014 Tundra was redesigned, inside and out, representing the first major change since the launch of the current generation Tundra for the 2007 model year.
These changes are courtesy of the work done by the teams at the Toyota Technical Centre in Ann Arbor Michigan, and the Calty Design Research centres in Newport Beach California, where the Tundra was completely engineered and designed.
Moreover, the Tundra is built exclusively in San Antonio, Texas, where it is built with 75% North American content, the same as the F-150. In contrast, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra are listed as having only 40% North American content.
So clearly Toyota is very serious about competing in this space. But what do they actually promise brand loyal full-size pickup truck customers with the Tundra?
I think it comes down to a combination of the Japanese reliability and build quality combined with the features and capabilities that full-sized pickup truck buyers expect from their rigs.
Increasingly so, buyers are also expecting more luxury features and creature comforts from their pickup trucks. People no longer want a basic rough-riding tow rig with a thirsty V8 engine. Indeed where I live, it’s not uncommon to see many moms using pickup trucks as the school run vehicle while still being to tow the family RV or boat on the weekends.
In line with this trend, the biggest news about the Tundra is not just its new styling inside and out, but a revision of the two top-tier trim levels. Indeed Toyota admits that it is making a shift towards crew-cab (4-door) models and premium equipment offerings.
For the urban pickup truck enthusiast, the “Platinum” trim is still offered but with even higher spec interior trimmings. And to compete with the Ford F-150’s popular King Range luxury trim, the “1794 Edition”, which includes textured “Lexus-quality” leather and suede surfaces and wood accents.
For this review, I was handed the keys to the newly refreshed 2014 Toyota Tundra CrewMax Platinum to see how a good truck has been made slightly better.
Toyota says that the 2014 Tundra has “new chiseled exterior styling” as a result of listening to their customers. There are now unique exterior designs depending on the trim line that you select.
The first thing you’ll notice with the super-sized four door CrewMax Tundra is how much longer the rear doors have been stretched compared to the four door Double Cab Tundra. The extra large cabin pays dividends in cabin space (more on this later).
The Calty design team’s mandate was to create a new and bold exterior to embody the Tundra’s capabilities. They responded by integrating the hood and grille for a more modern industrial image.
The grille now has a taller, bolder look, and the front fascia size has been increased and tightened up. The fenders and wheel wells were also squared-off for a wide and sturdy stance.
But not all of the changes were purely for aesthetics. The front lower bumper and rear bumper were changed from one piece to three for lower replacement costs. An integrated spoiler in the deck helps with fuel efficiency. The requisite LED daytime running lights were also added to the headlamps.
The end result is a handsome look that embodies Toyota’s take on big rig styling that has been crucial to the success of the Dodge Ram. While to my eyes I don’t find it quite as handsome as the Ram just yet, if you can’t beat them, join them right?
The CrewMax Platinum also adds monochromatic bumpers with ultrasonic parking sensors and attractive 20” alloy wheels.
In order to compensate for the extra long cabin, the CrewMax’s pickup truck bed is only available in 5’4” length versus the 6’2” that the Double Cab Tundra can be ordered with.
This is more than sufficient for family bicycles, a load of top soil from the garden centre, or the new washing machine. However, it is a bit on the short side for a standard dining room table, or a 4×8’ sheet of plywood. You’ll need to go for the double cab Tundra for that.
Therefore as a strict work truck, the CrewMax’s bed is probably on the short side. But as a daily driver, a long distance family tow vehicle, the CrewMax is a great alternative to an large SUV if you need or want a pickup truck bed.
As a special note, the Tundra also comes with a lockable easy-lower-and-lift tailgate with lowers slowly with no slam.
Calty’s design team worked closely with the Product Planners and Tundra engineers to develop a bold new interior focusing on styling differentiation between trim levels and improving the availability of features most important to truck buyers.
The interior has a rugged, interlocked construction with new instrument panel. The gauges feature 3D metallic rings and are grouped around a centre-mounted multi-information LCD screen.
Toyota also cleaned up the centre stack and added a number of creature comforts. The idea was to make the cabin more ergonomic and easier to use. They downsized the huge control knobs that resembled safe dials on a bank vault, making them 2.6 inches smaller.
The new Platinum grade has been redesigned for the next generation of personal use truckers.
It features perforated, diamond pleated premium leather seats, door and instrument panel inserts, and chrome seat and console accent badging for an upscale, yet urban feel.
In addition, the new Platinum trim uses premium leather never before used on a Toyota truck and comes with many standard amenities, including a 12-speaker touch-screen multimedia Premium JBL Audio system with navigation, and heated and ventilated front seats.
Despite the update, the Tundra’s infortainment system still feels a bit basic compared to the systems from GM, Ford, and Dodge. The graphics are rather uninspired with boring colours. In this regard, Toyota still has some catch-up to do.
With the CrewMax’s limo-like rear legroom, the Tundra offers one of the most luxurious cabins one can find in a pickup truck today. Front or back, it is easy for a family of four to get comfortable even with computer bags, groceries, laundry, etc. The CrewMax’s rear seats can also be folded up for additional cargo carrying capability while maintaining a comfortable seat back angle.
This is an interior that you can pick up (pun not intended) a visiting celebrity or politician in without being embarrassed. Yet it is still built well enough and equipped with all the creature comforts that a family can live with for years to come.
As a side note, I have to say how much I loved the Tundra CrewMax’s standard power sliding vertical rear window.
Not only is it a unique Toyota-only feature carried over from the 1980’s (also shared with the 4Runner), but one that is far superior for cabin ventilation than even Ford’s much ballyhooed laser-cut sliding rear window in their 2015 F-150.
Finally along with updates to interior style and ergonomics, Toyota has added three safety “firsts”; the segment’s first knee airbags and back-up cameras on all models. A microwave-based blind spot monitoring system with cross traffic alerts, another full-size truck-segment first, is also available as an option.
SO HOW DOES IT DRIVE?
My Tundra tester was equipped with the most popular engine choice amongst its owners, the 5.7L DOHC i-Force V8. This mill generates 381 hp at 5,600 rpms and 401 ft-lbs of torque at 3,600 rpms. This engine is built on an aluminium cylinder block and features Toyota’s dual variable vale timing (VVT-i) for a broad torque curve and optimized efficiency.
The DOHC 32-valve V8 delivers smooth acceleration and even sounds great doing so. This is a V8 that is much livelier than the lazy V8s from the domestic manufacturers. And I was never left wanting more power around town or merging onto the highway.
Toyota rates the 5.7L V8 at 16.3L/100 kms in the city, and 14.3L/100 kms on the highway. I managed at best 18.5L/100 kms in mostly city driving, which is surprisingly on par with the smaller 5.3L V8 engine (with cylinder deactivation) in the GMC Sierra.
When it comes to slowing down, the Tundra is equipped with class-leading four-wheel disc brakes that measure 13.9” up front with 4 piston callipers, and 13.6” out back with 2 piston callipers. ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, and Brake Assist are standard on all Tundra models. But this is still a big heavy truck and you definitely feel the big binders working hard on all four corners when decelerating.
The refreshed Tundra features several new suspension enhancements to improve capability, handling and ride. The shock absorber valving has been re-tuned to improve ride quality over harsh surfaces, and steering feel has been improved thanks to tweaked steering system enhancements.
However while the steering feel and precision is surprisingly good for a pickup truck, both it and the ride quality still feel less refined than the new GMC Sierra/Chevy Silverado. The chassis feels less torsionally rigid than the aforementioned competitors and while it’s never rough, there is a bit more flexing and bucking than expected when on some surfaces.
At least the interior noise is pleasantly hushed due to new NVH (Noise Vibration Harshness) reduction measures. These include a new hood insulator design, a sound-absorbing dash, reduced windshield angles, and new body mounts under the dash and rear panels to reduce sound transmission from the engine compartment to the vehicle cabin.
In fact the main source of noise is from the large rearview mirrors when travelling at highway speeds.
Tundra 4×4 models feature an on-demand, electronically controlled four-wheel drive system with 4×2, 4×4 Hi and 4×4 Low Range modes. However this system does not have an auto or full-time mode, meaning that on slippery surfaces you may experience some rear wheel spin before the traction control system steps in.
Since my vehicle was equipped with a towing package, the 6-speed auto transmission gained a TOW/HAUL shift mode that applied specific logic for adjusting the throttle sensitivity and transmission shift control, favoring and holding of the lower gears when accelerating or decelerating to help enhance control and safety.
Standard for all models, Trailer Sway Control uses the Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) to help counteract handling forces applied to the truck in an effort to minimize the impact of trailer sway.
When equipped with a tow package, Tundra has a maximum tow capacity of 4,760 kgs (10,500 lbs 4×2 Regular Cab Long Bed). My CrewMax Tundra’s was rated for a max of 9,000 lbs tow capacity.
There are few vehicles that inspire brand loyalty as fiercely as full-sized pickup trucks. Even though last year Toyota celebrated its one-millionth Tundra to roll off its San Antonio assembly line since the plant opened in 2006, its sales numbers are still a case of David versus Goliath when compared to the big 3 domestic manufacturers.
Nonetheless Toyota’s first foray into the North American pickup truck market was back in 1964 and they certainly don’t show signs of giving up anytime soon.
So while the Tundra is starting to show its age compared to its competitors, the 2014 refresh does a nice job at making a good truck even better.