The Toyota Tundra is a full-size pickup, with good work capability and durability, that comes in three cabs, three bed sizes, and five trim levels. With 2WD and 4WD, there are no less than 42 models of Tundra. The Tundra is pretty much an all-American vehicle. It was designed in California and Michigan, its engines are assembled in Alabama, its transmissions built in North Carolina, and it rolls off a Texas plant.
For 2015, Tundra offers a choice of two V8s with the same 6-speed automatic. (The V6 engine was dropped.) Much of the sheetmetal and interior was new in 2014, so there are no changes for 2015, except the introduction of the 2015 Tundra TRD Pro model, with its own suspension and touches to the body and interior. It’s a 4×4 for serious off-roaders.
Toyota is re-marketing TRD (Toyota Racing Development) around the new Pro Series, starting with Tundra, Tacoma, and 4Runner. The TRD Pro is more than bolt-on parts; it has its own off-road suspension geometry with fat Bilstein dampers, tuned stainless twin exhaust, unique interior color, 32-inch-tall Michelin offroad tires, black 18-inch alloy wheels, TRD trim and badging, and more. Toyota has been off-road racing for three decades and has more than 300 victories; so with the TRD Pro Series re-branding the brand, it’s like a double-down.
In fact, the Tundra TRD Pro won its class in the Baja 1000 in November 2014, finishing first in the full size stock truck class, with pro drivers and a team of six Tundra engineers riding shotgun as navigator or mechanic. After the race they turned around and drove it on the road 1000 miles back to Ensenada where they started.
The basic Tundra two-door Regular Cab comes in entry-level trim levels with only the 8-foot bed. The Double Cab has four doors and seats five or six, depending on the front seat, and comes with 6.5- or 8-foot beds. The big CrewMax seats the same with more room, and comes with a 5.5-foot bed and vertically sliding rear window. The TRD Pro is available in Double Cab or CrewMax 4×4 cab types, but not Regular Cab for those most serious off-roaders, who say they don’t need no stinkin’ back seats.
Tundra is among the largest of half-ton trucks. It’s stable and comfortable, including the rear seats, and tows beautifully. The smaller 4.6-liter dohc V8 with an aluminum block is rated at 310 horsepower, 327 pound-feet of torque at 3400 rpm, and EPA ratings of 15/20 mpg City/Highway, one mpg less with 4WD. It also the same 6-speed automatic transmission as the bigger engine. The 4.6-liter is a good choice for drivers who want the oomph of a V8 but don’t do a lot of towing.
Tundra’s double overhead-cam 5.7-liter V8, also with an aluminum block, is rated at 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque, mated to that 6-speed automatic transmission. It’s a good truck engine, with EPA ratings of 14/18 mpg City/Highway, one mpg less with 4WD. Some competitors offer more horsepower or torque, while others offer better fuel mileage by 1 or 2 mpg. We like the Tundra’s balance of power, economy, cargo and towing.
We towed a 20-foot enclosed car trailer over long distances, with ease. Towing capacities top 10,000 pounds on some models equipped with the available tow package, and maximum payload ratings exceed 2,000 pounds.
The 5.7-liter Toyota Tundra comes with a 4.30:1 final drive ratio with a 10.5 ring gear, the largest ring gear in the segment. Because of the engine torque, the transmission 3.33 1st gear ratio, and the 4.30 rear end ratio, this Tundra produces a blockbusting 5,742 foot-pounds of torque (401 x 3.33 x 4.30) at the drive wheels, and that’s without any gear reduction from the transfer case on 4X4 models.
Standard equipment in all Tundras includes the touchscreen, CD player, iPod integration and Bluetooth. Infotainment increases with the model, including SiriusXM satellite radio, HD radio, subscription-free weather and traffic (where HD radio is supported in urban areas, through your smartphone cellular data outside those regions), GraceNote art, expanded voiced recognition including compound commands, navigation, predictive traffic, radio buffer that lets you pause up to 20 minutes of AM/FM/HD radio for later playback, Entune App Suite (Bing, Pandora, Open Table, Facebook Places, Yelp and more) and a 440-watt JBL sound system.
The Tundra is full size and looks it. It’s sharp and angular like a heavyweight boxer’s jaw, with squared-off wheel openings. It’s visually imposing. The SR/SR5, Limited, Platinum and 1794 have different grille arrangements, all large. The Tundra’s nose looks like if it hit a wall, the wall might lose, although the plastic chrome would smash to bits.
The TRD Pro solves that. It’s way better looking, with a strong black grille and air intake below the body-colored bumper, and a cool thin horizontal air intake over the bumper.
The bumpers at both ends are sectional, so if you bump into something and bend a corner, you don’t have to replace the whole bumper. Fog lights are recessed for protection and headlights are single-bulb units; every example we drove from SR5 to TRD Pro had a manual in-cab adjustment for vertical aim, handy for keeping light on the road when it rises with a load or trailer.
The horizontal lines at the rear are framed by chiseled vertical lights, with the name Tundra embossed in the lower right tailgate, which is damped to avoid a big thunk when it’s dropped. A rearview camera is standard, located near the tailgate latch. Trailer plugs are in the bumper, and license plate lights illuminate the area.
In the bed, a deck rail system along all sides except the tailgate offers tie-down cleats to secure loads.
Four-door Tundras have running boards that take a couple of inches off the step-up height. Shorter drivers or those with creaky knees will appreciate them, while others might think they’re just in the way, there to get your pants dirty or hit rocks off the road.
The TRD Pro stands out from the rest of the Tundra line. It’s got a beefy all-black grille and fascia below the bumper, which rides 2 inches higher on account of the springs, an aluminum front skid plate, black badging on the door and tailgate, two-inch lift in the front springs, and 18-inch 5-spoke black alloy wheels with the TRD logo. It’s also one inch taller at the roof. Inside there are TRD floor mats and a shift knob, red stitching on uniquely colored seats, and touch-ups to the instrument panel. It’s available in Attitude Black, Super White, and a new copperish color called Inferno.
Any Tundra cab is big. A Regular Cab will hold a 5-gallon paint bucket flat on the floor in back. Only an F-150 SuperCrew has more rear seat room than a CrewMax, and the Tundra Double Cab matches the new Silverado Double Cab for space.
Base models can have rubber flooring instead of standard carpet. The lower door panels, where your boots scuff, are made to be easy to clean.
Visibility from the driver’s seat is very good. You can see the top corners of the front fenders, and the pillars aren’t too big. Rear-seat headrests, tall enough to protect a 6-foot, 3-inch passenger, drop forward allowing a good view through the rear window. A rearview camera is standard on all models. Park sensors for both ends are available on upper trims.
The large standard mirrors can be adjusted for a panoramic view. The optional tow mirrors have a small convex mirror at the bottom that’s manually adjustable, so there are no blind spots. The power mirrors can be manually extended outward to help the driver see around trailers, and they can be folded inward when parked to reduce the chance of damage in tight quarters.
Front seats are comfortably cushioned but not too soft, with modest side bolsters to hold you in place without making entry/exit a chore. Deep seat bottoms provide ample thigh support, adjustable on some. We found the seats very comfortable while towing thousands of miles. The fabric upholstery definitely feels durable, as it should; and the leather is nice but if it’s the Platinum model’s diamond-quilted cowhide, be careful with the rivets on your jeans.
The TRD Pro seats are standard, but with unique upholstery and stitching. The backrest on Tundra Double Cab rear seats is generously reclined and cozy. The cushions fold up in a 60/40 split for tossing large cargo in back. CrewMax is the adult rear seat arrangement, with recline and as much room and comfort as the front. Like the Double Cab, the seats fold to lower the loading height and vastly increase storage space.
The Tundra has many interior storage spots and conveniences, with cupholders bloating up to 22 ounces. The degree of storage varies by cab and trim level.. The passenger seatback in the Regular Cab folds forward to make a flat area for a laptop, and the center console folds forward to open a concealed storage compartment. The padded armrest is wide for the driver.
The gated floor shift can get you in any gear without pushing buttons with your thumb on the lever. The column shifter with manual +/- toggle is big, and might block view of the instrument panel for shorter drivers unless they like the steering wheel low. The main controls are in the center of the dashboard, not to the right like they used to be. The top right rotary knob is still a mild reach, but no longer feels like you’re searching the glovebox for something.
The ergonomics in the cabin are good. The omni-directional air vents get what you need where you need it, and the climate controls are easy to use. Only some ancillary dash switches adjacent the steering column may be difficult to see.
Gauges are white-on-black, the graphics easy to read, with a warning light for transmission fluid temperature (there used to be a gauge). the base models lack a rev counter, oil pressure and voltage gauges. The 3.5-inch information display is easy to read and use, because it doesn’t offer too much info.
All Tundras have iPod/USB integration, Bluetooth and a touchscreen display, with radio sources and voice recognition expanding by model. You can get navigation on an SR5 and the JBL sound system on a Limited, while Platinum and 1794 come with everything. However, even on a Platinum CrewMax with three power points there is only one USB port.
The 5.7-liter V8 produces 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. The Ram Hemi tops that with 395 hp and 407 lb-ft, while the Chevy Silverado 6.0 liter comes in at 360 and 380, and 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. Ford has two big engines, a 6.2-liter V8 with 411 hp, 434 lb-ft, and a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost that brings 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque at just 2500 rpm.
The TRD Pro uses the 5.7-liter, with a deep-throated TRD dual cat-back exhaust system. The truck was developed by Toyota engineers in the high desert of California, with the focus on suspension. They like the result, using thick (2.5) Bilstein high-performance offroad monotube shocks with remote reservoirs front and rear, with large 60mm pistons (46mm standard), larger shafts (18mm vs 12mm), and Eibach front coil springs with a 2.0 lift and decreased spring rate to improve ride quality over harsh terrain. Wheel travel is increased 2.0 in front and 1.25 rear. The standard Tundra bump stops, front sway bar, and end links are retained.
There’s 2 inches more ground clearance at the front and under the skid plate, but clearance under the rear differential is the same as any Tundra. The approach angle increases by 5 degrees, but the turning circle decreases to 23.6 feet.
A number of tires were tested before the Michelin offroad hoops were chosen. They’re P275/65/R18 Michelin LTX AT2 tires that are 32 inches tall, and look serious on the black alloy wheels. Their tread and sidewall patterns are designed for the Tundra TRD Off-Road Package, with strong center ribs to limit road noise, and aggressive siping and side lugs help maximize offroad traction in mud and sand.
We got some seat time in a Tundra TRD Pro Double Cab, although not hard running in the high desert like the lucky engineers. It’s not uncomfortable or difficult to drive slowly on pavement, and it will climb slopes, navigate ravines and stomp big rocks. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed driving the TRD Pro, said one small female we know, about her seat time on downtown Houston streets.
On the road, power delivery from any Tundra engine is linear, and strong at low engine speed. This is especially so in the 5.7-liter, where 90 percent of its 401 pounds of torque is there from 2400 rpm to 5500 rpm. It’s a solid powerplant that’s very responsive when quick acceleration is needed, while being smooth and powerful when cruising.
The 4.6-liter V8 delivers 310 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque, using the 6-speed automatic transmission. It’s smooth enough to meet the Lexus standard, where the same engine is used in Lexus luxury SUVs. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 16 mpg Combined city and highway.
For a powertrain comparison, Chrysler offers a 5.7-liter V8 in the Ram, rated at 395 horsepower; using an 8-speed automatic, it gets about the same mileage as the Tundra. Ford’s 5.0-liter delivers 360 hp with similar mileage. GM’s 6.0-liter makes 360 hp with 380 lb-ft and uses a 6-speed automatic.
Maximum towing capacity of 10,400 pounds applies to an unloaded Tundra Regular Cab 2WD 5.7 V8; the top-line CrewMax 4WD rates 9,000 pounds, while maximum on the F-150 is 11,300 pounds. The top Ram is similar and the Titan a bit lower.
For towing trailers in the 4,000- to 7,000-pound range the Tundra does a good 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 10,000 pounds you’d be better served by a heavy-duty pickup from Ford, GM, or Ram, maybe with their diesel engines.
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.
The 6-speed automatic transmission works well. Gear changes are smooth, though more apparent when trailering. Automatic downshifts during braking on downhill grades are well managed, properly timed and helpful. The Tundra’s transmissions are unobtrusive, which is important. The Tow/Haul mode helps the transmission live longer by shifting less.
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-liter. 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 max-rated pickups, and there is rarely any disruption that even instantaneously moves it far 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 among the biggest in the segment, as is the rear differential. It’s a good thing, because the TRD Pro Double Cab weighs just 100 pounds shy of three tons, and the 4×4 Double Cab just 40 pounds less than that. The ABS includes electronic balancing of brake force and electronic 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. New Michelin branded tires are a good compromise between off-highway traction and on-highway grip and quiet. The TRD package offers much of the off-road capability of the full-blown TRD Pro.
Tundra 4WD does not offer an all-wheel drive setting for on-pavement use in inclement weather, but that makes no difference to braking in the snow. 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 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 an unwanted side curtain deployment.
With 42 models and mixes of cabs, beds, and powertrains, there’s a Tundra for almost every full-size pickup buyer except diesel. It’s comfortable, easy to drive, and delivers power, payload and tow ratings to handle all but the heaviest loads or largest trailers. The new TRD Pro model is built for the serious off-roader, and looks distinctively rugged.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses reported on the TRD Pro from the Northwest, with G.R. Whale from California and Pennsylvania, Mitch McCullough in California, J.P. Vettraino in Detroit, and Tom Lankard in Louisville, Kentucky.