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2012 Toyota Tundra Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2012 Toyota Tundra

New Car Test Drive
© 2012

The Toyota Tundra is a full-size pickup offering value and dependability. Tundra offers strong V8 engines and comfortable cabins. We've found the Tundra to be a stable, comfortable truck for towing a 20-foot enclosed car trailer over long distances. Towing capacities top 10,000 pounds on some models, and maximum payload ratings reach 2,000 pounds.

There are no major changes for the 2012 Toyota Tundra, though there have been some packaging changes. The current generation was introduced as a 2008 model.

The 2012 Tundra comes in three body styles: Regular Cab with two doors, Double Cab with conventional front-hinged, secondary rear side doors, and CrewMax with four full-size doors. Seating is available for three, five or six. Three bed lengths and three wheelbases are available. As with the other full-size pickups, trim levels cover a wide range to luxurious Limited models with leather upholstery. But even the base models are loaded with useful features, including tons of interior storage options, an easy-lift assisted tailgate and four-wheel disc brakes.

For 2012, more standard equipment has been added: All 2012 Tundra V8s come with a heavy-duty battery and starter. All 2012 Tundra models get a windshield wiper de-icer, daytime running lights, front and rear mudguards, and heated power outside mirrors. 2012 Tundra Limited and 2012 Tundra TRD Rock Warrior now come standard with rearview cameras. High-end models are available with GPS navigation or a rear-seat entertainment system with a 9-inch LCD screen. An available deck rail system in the bed anchors moveable tie-down cleats rated at 220 pounds each.

Tundra's double overhead-cam 5.7-liter V8 engine is rated at 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. We've found the 5.7-liter an excellent choice for towing trailers. The 5.7-liter has EPA fuel-economy ratings of 14/18 mpg City/Highway, or 13/17 mpg with 4WD. Trailer ratings may appear low on some models because they are now rated according to a recently adopted standard developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

The smaller 4.6-liter dohc V8 engine is rated at 310 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque, with slightly better EPA fuel-economy ratings of 15/20 mpg City/Highway, 14/19 mpg with 4WD. As with the 5.7-liter engine, the 4.6-liter has Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i), which optimizes valve timing for the best combination of performance, economy and emissions. Both V8 engines come with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The 4.6-liter V8 is a good choice for owners who don't plan to do much towing.

The base 4.0-liter V6, introduced on the 2011 models, nets 270 horsepower, 278 pound-feet of torque and EPA ratings of 16/20 mpg City/Highway. The V6 is available only with two-wheel-drive Regular Cab and Double Cab models. The V6 weighs 300 pounds less than do the V8s resulting in better fuel economy. V6 models can't tow as much as the V8s but easily match the V8s for payload. The V6 comes with a 5-speed automatic. We think the V6 is a good choice for work trucks.

Model Lineup

Toyota Tundra Regular Cab standard bed 4.0L V6 ($25,155); Regular Cab long bed 5.7L V8 4x4 ($30,680); Double Cab Tundra Grade standard bed 4.0L V6 ($27,365); Double Cab Tundra Grade standard bed 4.6L V8 4x4 ($30,560); Double Cab Limited 5.7L V8 ($38,000); Double Cab Limited 5.7L V8 4X4 ($41,060); CrewMax Tundra Grade 4.6L V8 ($30,355); CrewMax Tundra Grade 4.6L V8 4x4 ($33,385); CrewMax Limited 5.7L V8 ($40,535); CrewMax Limited 5.7L V8 4X4 ($43,595)

Walk Around

The Toyota Tundra is an honest-to-goodness, full-size pickup, regardless of how you measure. Tundra is big and burly by design. Its large grille, boldly framed in black or chrome, pulls lines from the deeply sculpted hood into the front end. Some like the rounded lines and others call them inflated. It has presence.

In side view, the Tundra has 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 the Tundra's body add interest and function. Deep recesses underneath make the beefy door handles easy to grip with gloves on. 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 but keep younger kids from helping themselves. The rear view is traditional pickup. There are no stand-out styling cues here.

The optional larger towing mirrors look a little big on the regular and Double Cab models but they work great.

Wheels vary by model, but they're all truckish in appearance. The standard 18-inch, steel wheels on base Tundras are actually quite attractive in their basic, functional look. The aluminum alloy wheels on the Limited models feature thick, monolithic spokes. The optional 20-inch alloys satisfy the current trend toward lots of wheel and not much tire, not our choice for towing, off-pavement travel or other serious truck duties.

The tailgate is damped, making lowering and raising it easier and quieter, a nice feature. 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. The damped tailgate is a great feature. Nissan uses a similar mechanism on the Titan. We'd like to see it on other trucks as well.


The Tundra is a well outfitted pickup with a comfortable cabin. When it was first launched, the full-size Toyota Tundra raised the bar on working truck interiors. Little has changed since then, save the choice of a bench front seat on Double Cabs.

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 very good. The tow mirrors 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 trailers. They can be folded inward when parked to reduce the chance of damage. We wish the small convex mirrors were power-adjustable, but they need not be changed as much for different drivers.

The navigation system includes a rearview camera. The rearview camera is valuable for spotting shorter obstacles when backing up because the top of the tailgate towers well above the height of small children, making it an important safety feature. The rearview camera is 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 several times while jockeying into position. The rearview camera is handy when parallel parking, easing and speeding the task. Rainwater, mud, glare from the sun, shadows and sunglasses can limit the effectiveness of this feature, but usually it produces a bright, highly useful image on the navigation screen.

A sonar system with an audible warning and an indicator on the dash helps the driver determine the proximity of the front corners to objects when maneuvering in tight quarters, another useful feature when parking this big truck. 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, but be sure to replace them when passengers sit back there. The rear-seat entertainment system's drop-down LCD screen is only barely noticeable with the rear view mirror adjusted to its lowest position, a nice feature.

The cabs are roomy. In occupant measurements, the Tundra generally gives up little or nothing to the competition. The CrewMax is the current leader in rear-seat legroom, offering more of it than it does front seat legroom.

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 buttery-soft luxurious, which is probably appropriate for a truck. We've found the seats very comfortable for towing thousands of miles.

Tundra has its fair share of interior storage and conveniences. The passenger seatback in the Regular Cab folds forward to present a flat area for a desktop, 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. The front bench seat center section pivots forward to reveal an otherwise fully concealed storage compartment.

The glovebox is actually two boxes, 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. Both the Double Cab and the CrewMax incorporate 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 center section, while in the CrewMax, there are two more still in the rear seat's fold-down center armrest. Floor-shift models have a center console with three cup holders, with two in a lift-out plate covering a large compartment. Between this compartment and the shift gate sits a narrow slot, concealed beneath a snap-out cover.

Models with front bucket seats feature a deep center console that helps the cabin serve as a road-going office. The middle third of the compartment can hold either a removable bin good for stowing CDs or letter-size hanging file folders, ideal for any manner of business or work papers. There's room for a laptop computer on either side of the middle section, and the side nearest the driver has a power point to keep the gear charged up and ready.

Generally, the CrewMax is the more comfortable of the two stretched-cab Tundras for rear passengers. It starts with the doors, which are full length and make climbing in easier. The back seat in the CrewMax is closer to the 40/20/40 front bench seat in shape and contours, with deep seat bottoms and a slide-and-recline feature that allows a more comfortable rake to the seatback. The Double Cab rear seat is the more bench-like, and legroom is less expansive (though still decent). Dogs may prefer the Double Cab, however. With the seats folded for cargo, the Double Cab has a significantly lower load height, which should make it easier for canines to get in and out.

Ergonomics inside the Tundra are generally good. The dash-mounted controls, and especially more critical and frequently used knobs for fan, temperature and airflow, are extra large, with solid detentes and a nice positive feel that lets the operator know how far they've been turned. They're tuned more for work gloves than polished fingernails, and that's good. The steering wheel is large, but properly scaled for the largest Toyota pickup. The floor-mounted shift lever has a manual-shift slot on the driver's side of the gate. It feels more natural and more precise than the column-shift, but neither transmits any sloppiness.

Audio controls, climate controls and navigation screen are located on the passenger side of the center stack. This moves these secondary controls closer to the passenger, which is good for them, but requires a reach from average-to-petite drivers. The Tundra is a wide vehicle, and while drivers below average height will have no trouble getting comfortable to operate this pickup, they might have a harder time reaching some of the controls.

Driving Impressions

Despite the engines' overhead-camshaft, four-valve-per-cylinder architectures, the Tundra V8's tend to make their peak power earlier at lower rpm, where you want it in a truck, than most competitors' engines. All the power figures quoted below are on gasoline; some manufacturers quote different ratings on E85.

The 4.0-liter V6 is sufficient for propelling a two-wheel drive Tundra and towing a lighter trailer, say 3500 pounds or less, on relatively flat terrain. It's 270 hp, about 30 hp shy of Ford's more economical 3.7-liter V6, but the Toyota V6 doesn't need to be revved to 6500 rpm and torque is equal at 278 pound-feet. GM's 4.3-liter V6 (195 hp, 260 lb-ft) and Ram's 3.7-liter V6 (215 hp, 235 lb-ft) can't compare on output, economy, or sophistication. It's matched to a 5-speed automatic.

The 4.6-liter V8 delivers 310 horsepower, 327 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy is on par with Ram's 4.7-liter and GM's 4.8-liter. The Toyota 4.6-liter is smooth enough to find use in Lexus luxury SUVs. Ford's 5.0-liter delivers considerably more power (360 hp, 380 lb-ft), with similar EPA ratings. Tundra's 4.6 V8 deserves consideration for general-purpose use where absolute fuel economy nor towing capacity are paramount. It comes with a 6-speed automatic.

Tundra's biggest engine is the 5.7-liter V8 with 381 hp, 401 lb-ft of torque. Ram's Hemi slightly eclipses those values (390 hp, 407 lb-ft) while the Nissan Titan works more like a truck engine with 317 hp and 385 lb-ft at the lowest revs of any half-ton V8. GM frames Tundra's 5.7 with a 5.3 V8 (315 hp, 335 lb-ft) that gets better mileage and a 6.2 V8 for bigger cabs only (403 hp 417 lb-ft). Ford has two big engines, a 6.2 V8 (411 hp, 434 lb-ft); and a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 dubbed EcoBoost that brings 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque at just 2500 rpm and fuel economy superior to Tundra, Ram and GM V6 engines.

On the road, power delivery from any Tundra engine is linear, and commendably 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 rpm to 5500 rpm. Very impressive is the absence of any discernible surge sometimes associated with overhead-cam, multi-valve engines. We find the 5.7-liter V8 a delightful engine, very responsive when quick acceleration is needed, smooth and powerful when cruising. It's our choice. However, lighter Tundras will bring similar rewards with the smaller engines.

Maximum towing capacity of 10,400 pounds applies to an unloaded Tundra Regular Cab with the 5.7-liter V8. A similarly configured Ram Hemi can just edge past that (towing 10,450 pounds), whereas GM crew cabs tend to have the advantage in that division (at 10,600 max), and the Nissan Titan (which offers no regular cab) stays near 9,500 max. The giant in this field is now the EcoBoost-powered F-150, which, with the right gearing can tow 11,300 pounds behind any cab configuration. It's worth noting, however, that unless it's quoted per SAE J2807 you don't know the standard behind the rating. We generally try to avoid towing near the maximum load ratings.

For towing trailers in the 4,000- to 7,000-pound range the Tundra does a superb job. Overkill with tow rigs is nice on long nights, in inclement weather, during strong winds or dealing with hilly country. For routine towing of trailers anywhere near the 10,000 pounds you'd be better served by a heavy duty truck from a Ford, GM, or Ram.

Based on towing a variety of trailers from sea level to 5,000 feet, we're here to tell you the Tundra 5.7-liter has more than enough pulling power and appropriate gearing. The Tundra often outruns the competition while getting better fuel economy. Unlike some other half-ton pickups, the Tundra does not offer an integrated trailer brake controller. We'd prefer that it did, but a host of aftermarket controllers do the job well.

Overall, both the 5-speed and 6-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 helpful. In sum the Tundra's transmissions are unobtrusive, which in a truck is usually the best compliment, because in a truck if you frequently notice how the transmission is doing it's job, it probably isn't doing it as well as it could. The Tow/Haul mode is designed for better trailer towing operation and improved transmission durability for loads more than approximately half rated towing capacity.

Ride and handling in the Tundra are both up to snuff. Steering response is sure and certain, though perhaps not as advanced as an F-150 with any engine except the 6.2. Somehow, Toyota's suspension engineers have delivered a setup that leaves no doubt the driver is operating a truck, but isn't reminded of it at every bump and dip. Over severely uneven pavement, the solid rear axle makes its presence known with a slightly skippy feeling, but the Tundra's unladen rear end feels less skittish than some other pickups, and there is rarely any disruption that even instantaneously moves it off the driver's intended path. As with most pickups, the ride gets bouncy on bumpy freeways with an empty bed; any pickup may have the wrong wheelbase to avoid tiring bobbing on expansion joints so do your test-drive on a variety of road surfaces.

Braking is solid, with firm pedal feel. The Tundra's standard four-wheel discs are a first, and still exclusive for a Toyota pickup, as the smaller Tacoma makes due with rear drums. The ABS includes electronic balancing of brake force and stability control is standard on every Tundra.

The TRD Off-Road Package delivers excellent handling on pavement, and it's especially noticeable when Tundras so equipped are driven quickly on winding, two-lane roads; the TRD Sport package does even better if the roads aren't too rough.

For more severe four-wheel-drive use, the Tundra offers decent articulation and good low-range gearing. When enabled the traction control can be intrusive. Unlike many pickups, the Tundra 4WD also has a switch that backs off the thresholds for deploying the side-curtain airbags. This can be helpful on side-angle trails and ditches that might otherwise trigger a side curtain deployment.

The Toyota Tundra is a full-size pickup in every sense of the term, and is competitive with those from Chevy, Ford, Nissan, Ram and GMC. The Toyota delivers power, payload and tow ratings that meet any reasonable need, it's exceptionally comfortable, and it's easy to drive. Tundra shoppers buying as a second car should first consider cab style and seating space. Those buying for truck use will first consider payload and cost. The next choice is either the V6 or one of two V8 engines, and finally the trim package or level of standard equipment. The Tundra offers models to suit the needs of the majority of buyers. correspondents Tom Lankard reported from Louisville, Kentucky; with J.P. Vettraino in Detroit; G.R. Whale in California; Mitch McCullough in California.

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