It might be no surprise, then, that this Tundra has more than doubled Toyota's share of the big pickup market, compared to the previous-generation, slightly-less-than-full-size model. But double is not enough. Toyota has invested huge in its big pickup, and not just in the vehicle itself, but by re-configuring its assembly line in Indiana and adding a second pickup plant in Texas. So for 2008, Toyota has added more models to the Tundra line and priced the truck more aggressively.
When the Tundra was launched for 2007, the only really basic, no-frills model was the conventional Tundra Regular Cab, with its single-row seating for two or three. In 2008, buyers can choose the most popular Tundra versions, the Double Cab and CrewMax, with a new Tundra Grade trim package that offers fewer standard features and substantially lowers their price. The six-passenger Double Cab, for example, now starts at $24,715, or $1,400 less than the least-expensive 2007 version. Higher trim Tundras, meanwhile, get even more standard equipment. Bottom line, the 2008 Tundra should appeal more to buyers at the lower-end of the full-size pickup market, and deliver more value to buyers at the high end.
Tundra covers nearly all the half-ton pickup bases. The 4.0-liter V6 engine is most economical, with more than enough power for basic work-truck duty. The high-torque, 381-hp 5.7-liter V8 and its standard six-speed automatic transmission make one of the strongest, most responsive powertrains in the class. Even the base models are loaded with useful features, including tons of interior storage options, an easy-lift assisted tailgate and standard four-wheel disc brakes. Overall, the Tundra might be the smoothest, most comfortable full-size pickup available.
Safety equipment is the most comprehensive in pickups, including side-impact airbags, curtain-type head protection airbags, advanced anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and brake assist, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and a limited-slip differential.
The high-end Limited models offer features such as GPS-linked navigation with a backup camera and a state-of-the-art rear-seat entertainment with a nine-inch LCD screen.
Yet the comfort and features shouldn't suggest that Tundra is best left to truck-as-family-car buyers. When it was launched for 2007, this Toyota offered best-in-class payload and tow ratings, and it still exceeds nearly every other half-ton on the market. Maximum Payload ratings range from 1410 pounds to 2060 pounds, while maximum towing capacity reaches 10,800 pounds. An available deck rail system in the bed anchors moveable tie-down cleats rated at 220 pounds.
The Tundra comes in three body styles: two-door Regular cab; Double Cab with front-hinged, secondary rear side doors; and four-door CrewMax. It's available with three bed lengths and three different wheelbases. In addition to the V6 and 5.7-liter V8, there's an intermediate 4.7-liter V8. Rear-wheel drive is standard, four-wheel drive optional, with seating for two, three, five or six in three trim levels. In all, the 2008 Tundra is available in 44 different build configurations.
That's a lot fewer than a Ford F-150 or Chevy Silverado, believe it or not. Moreover, those veteran pickups offer more options than Tundra, including things like different rear-end ratios and towing aids that allow a buyer to more specifically tailor a pickup to personal needs. And Dodge, Chevy and Ford have a database of valuable customer feedback that goes back decades beyond Toyota's.
It's difficult to convince a longtime pickup owner to switch brands, and each make has strengths and weaknesses relative to the other.
Toyota Tundra Regular Cab standard bed 4.0L V6 ($22,290); Regular Cab standard bed 4.7L V8 4x4 ($26,480); Double Cab Tundra Grade standard bed 4.0L V6 ($24,175); Double Cab Tundra Grade standard bed 4.7L V8 4x4 ($27,910); Double Cab SR5 standard bed 4.0L V6 ($26,105); Double Cab SR5 standard bed 4.7L V8 4X4 ($29,900); Double Cab Limited 4.7L V8 ($34,460); Double Cab Limited 4.7L V8 4X4 ($37,510); CrewMax Tundra Grade 4.7L V8 ($27,685); CrewMax Tundra Grade 4.7L V8 4x4 ($30,735); CrewMax SR5 4.7L V8 ($29,675); CrewMax SR5 4.7L V8 4X4 ($32,725); CrewMax Limited 4.7L V8 ($37,760); CrewMax Limited 4.7L V8 4X4 ($40,810)
In the practical sense, that means the Tundra's payloads and towing capability match ratings for half-tons from Detroit's Big Three. Most measurements for Tundra's three different pickup beds come within tenths of an inch of the competition, and when they differ the Tundra's are usually bigger. The standard bed on a Dodge Ram, for example, is 2.3 inches shorter and two inches shallower than Tundra's.
In the stylistic sense, the Tundra is big and burly by design. To that end, it abandons the high-stepping, nose-in-the-air look of Tundras built before 2007 in favor of a more down-to-earth, but very large grille, boldly framed in black or chrome, depending on trim level. The grille pulls lines from the deeply sculpted hood into the front end. Some like the black piece of trim designed to look like an air inlet at the top of the grille, some don't.
The headlights are set into the fenders and separated from the front bumper, which is either chrome or body-colored resin, again according to trim level. For 2008, the shiny, black-painted bumper on the base Tundra Regular Cab has been replaced with chrome.
In side view, the Tundra is blander, and Toyota-like, with understated fender flares tied together by a gentle indent along the lower door panels. Body proportions comfortably accommodate the three bed lengths and wheelbases. Interestingly, gaps between body panels are deliberately wider than contemporary robotic assembly might allow. Toyota's stylists decided that slightly wider gaps better suggest the rugged first impression they wanted the Tundra to make.
Some of the details on Tundra's body add interest, and function. The optional larger towing mirrors look a little too big on the regular and Double Cab models. Deep recesses underneath make the beefy door handles easy to grip. The Tundra CrewMax has these big handles on all four doors, while the Double Cab uses vertical grabs on the back doors that are a bit snug for large hands.
The rear view is traditional pickup. There are no stand-out styling cues here, save maybe for the backup lights, which are dimensionally almost the equal of the taillights. The tailgate is damped, making lowering and raising it easier and quieter.
The wheels vary with the model, too, but they're all very truckish. The standard 18-inch, drilled steel discs on base Tundras are actually quite attractive in their basic, functional look. SR5s get styled steel, stamped more expressively to resemble mags. The aluminum alloy wheels on the Limited models feature thick, monolithic spokes, while the optional 20-inch alloys satisfy the current trend toward lots of wheel, not much tire.
Opening and closing the tailgate is dramatically eased by the standard tailgate assist. The mechanism starts with a torsion bar in the hinge assembly to make the tailgate feel lighter, and includes a gas-pressurized strut, concealed behind the left taillight, to damp the lowering and assist in raising the lockable tailgate. Other pick-up manufacturers are no doubt scrambling to respond.
Visibility from the driver's seat is excellent. The standard mirrors are large, and can be adjusted to deliver a panoramic view all the way around the truck. The optional tow mirrors are also superb. They feature a large traditional mirror that's power operated, with a small convex mirror at the bottom that's manually adjustable. They can be adjusted to cover all blind spots. The tow mirrors can be manually extended outward to help the driver see around enclosed car trailers and other big trailers. They can be folded inward when parked to reduce the chance of damage.
The rear-seat entertainment system's drop-down LCD screen is only barely noticeable in the rear view mirror. The optional navigation system includes a back-up camera. It's particularly useful on 4x4 models, as the top of the tailgate towers well above the height of small children. It's also extremely useful when hitching a trailer, allowing the driver to position the ball directly below the trailer coupling without having to jump out of the truck 27 times while jockeying into position. Headrests on the back seats can block the view rearward if not in their lowest position. Removing them or flipping the back seat down affords the best view.
The cabs are roomy. In occupant measurements, the Tundra generally gives up little or nothing to the competition, although where it trails, it's sometimes by more than an inch: In hiproom, for example, where the Ford F-150 offers almost 2.5 inches more in front, the Dodge Ram offers almost two inches more both front and rear. Yet all these vehicles are wide enough that hiproom will not likely be a major concern. In all-important rear seat legroom in the top-selling Double Cab, only the Dodge Ram tops the Tundra, with the F-150 coming up two inches short.
The seats are comfortably cushioned but not too soft, with modest side bolsters in front. Deep seat bottoms provide ample thigh support. The fabric upholstery feels durable and the leather does, too. It's more a heavy-duty grade than luxurious, and probably appropriate for a truck. We've found them comfortable in daylong towing trips across the state.
The passenger seatback in the Regular Cab folds forward to present a flat work/writing area, and there's room behind the seat for a small generator and a five-gallon bucket. This is in addition to bins, both open and capped, for tools and such, and it emphasizes an area where Tundra stands out among full-size pickups: interior storage and conveniences.
The seat bottom in the center section of the front bench seat pivots forward to reveal an otherwise fully concealed storage compartment. There's a bi-level glove box, with an upper compartment big enough to hold a Thermos bottle. The lower compartment, more than twice the size of the upper, is lighted and fitted with a damped door. The front-door armrests house flip-out compartments beneath the power window switch plates, though models with manual windows forgo this storage. Front-door map pockets are molded to hold two 22-ounce water bottles, and so are the rear-door map pockets on the CrewMax. The Double Cab rear doors hold one bottle.
Similarly, both the Double Cab and the CrewMax incorporate assorted storage bins and compartments beneath and behind their rear seats, though in the Double cab, a subwoofer replaces the lockable under-seat bin when the up-level stereo is ordered.
Column-shift Tundras have two, flexible-sized cup holders in a slide-out tray beneath the climate control panel, and two more in the backside of the fold-down center section of the bench seat. In the Double Cab, two more cup holders fold out of the backside of the front-seat
Pickup manufacturers, on the other hand, like to tout their different tacks on frame design, materials and construction. There's hydro-formed this, C-channel that, fully boxed the other, welded versus one-piece, high-tensile steel versus low-vibration, etc. For the record, the Tundra is a hybrid unibody-on-frame, which is fully boxed in the front half, rolled C-channel in back.
Truth, though, is that what a driver really cares about is how it all comes together under the right foot, at the seat of the pants and at the hitch. And with all six full-size, light-duty trucks in play (counting the GMC Sierra), the Toyota Tundra sits near the front of the bench. In some ways it's tops, and in others it falls a bit short. It lacks some features such as optional rear-end ratios that allow owners to tailor a truck more specifically to their needs. In basic technology and overall refinement, it might be the best.
Examples from the powertrain department make the point. The V6 and the 4.7-liter V8 are what have been state of the art for a number of years, as are some of the competition's engines, with features such as variable intake valve timing, sequential fuel injection, knock sensors (allowing in most cases use of 87 octane gas), electronically managed throttle-by-wire and dual-length intake manifolds.
But the big Tundra news, and in the truest sense of that word, is the 5.7-liter V8. This V8 advances light-duty truck engine technology with the addition of variable exhaust valve timing. And not just timing, but phasing as well, also changing the speed of the valves' movement, the duration (how long the valves stay open) and the overlap between exhaust and intake.
Careful manipulation of these dynamics achieves two, complementary goals, optimizing power and fuel economy and lessening stress on valve springs. Downstream, the two-into-one, dual exhaust system achieves balance between the two pipes by looping one back on itself inside the muffler, thus making them in fact the same length and, for the most part, equalizing back pressure so one bank of cylinders doesn't have to work any harder than the other in pumping combusted gases out of the engine. It all works toward what many pickup buyers seek and expect: long-mileage engine durability.
There's more, but these examples make clear that Toyota's engineers didn't just cobble together some bits and pieces from the engine department's parts bins in building what is one of the most powerful V8s in the class. The benefits of this level of attention to detail are evident driving in and working with the Tundra.
On the road, power delivery in the two V8 engines is linear, and surprisingly strong at low engine speed. This is especially so in the 5.7-liter, where 90 percent of the torque is on tap from 2400 revolutions per minute to 5500 rpm. Very impressive is the absence of any discernible surge sometimes associated with overhead-cam, multi-valve engines.
Fuel economy is competitive, though not best in class. Tundra's maximum towing capacity of 10,800 pounds was best in class when it was launched in 2007, and it remains near the top compared to Chevy, Dodge, Ford and Nissan. Based on towing enclosed and open car trailers from L.A. to Monterey and from L.A. to Phoenix and back, we're here to tell you the 5.7-liter has more than enough pulling power.
Overall, both the five-speed and six-speed automatic transmissions work well. Gear changes are smooth, though more apparent when trailering. Downshifts during braking on downhill grades are well managed, properly timed and he
The Toyota Tundra is a full-size pickup in every sense of the term, and it gives up nothing to the full-size trucks from Chevy, Ford, Dodge, Nissan, and GMC. The Toyota delivers power, payload and tow ratings that meet or beat the best, it's exceptionally comfortable, and it's easy to drive. For 2008, the Tundra is priced more aggressively, with lower-trim, work-grade models in more configurations, and more standard equipment on the up-line models.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Louisville, Kentucky; with J.P. Vettraino in Detroit.