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Driving Impressions

Now that we’ve gotten all the details down, let’s look at the bottom line: how does it drive, and how does it compare to the new GM products and Ford’s venerable F-150?

First, as far as styling, Tundra walked the line between making a presence up front but not offending from the sides and rear. Previous Tundra owners will be taken aback by the relatively large body gaps on the Tundra, since all other Toyota vehicles have exceptionally tight fit and finish. No worries; this was done on purpose, according to the Toyotans, who discovered in focus groups that bigger gaps mean a beefier build to consumers only when it comes to full-size pickups. We still think the F-150 has the most modern exterior styling of all the full-size pickups.

Inside you feel as if you’re in a car more than a truck, especially on the Limited CrewMax. The buttons are large, as are the knobs, and have an industrial feel and look. If you’re going for class, take the Silverado with the woodgrain trim, beautiful dash, and more sophisticated look. If its pure practicality and manly knobs you want, the Tundra will suit you just fine.

We towed with the Tundra and hauled payload on the highway. The ride was smooth and the power and torque impressive. We had to keep looking back to see if we were really pulling the weight. The power rack-and-pinion steering felt a tad soft in the center; more road feel would have been preferred, but it didn’t wander, and the 3.71 turns lock to lock seemed to take forever, especially compared to the Silverado’s 3.0.

Ride quality was exceptional under tow and payload, but only one suspension setup might deter those who aren’t just using the truck for work. The Silverado, with its myriad ride choices, does allow for more specific tuning.

We definitely give Tundra points for the outstanding braking and safety features that are standard on every model, as well as the ease in which the tailgate lifts and lowers. We also like the shifting of the six-speed tranny. It was smooth and quiet, and perfectly matched to the 5.7 V8.

In Louisville we drove all Cab trim levels, and spent the majority of time in the 5.7-liter, which impressed us by using all that 400 lb-ft of torque to easily accelerate and pass other vehicles at speed on the highway.

Did we find anything we didn’t like? The exterior pull-type door handles, certainly big enough for gloved hands, felt a little plasticky, and the high location of the recline function on the seats in the CrewMax was a bit awkward to use. There was exceptional rear-seat leg room, and the recline position was extremely comfortable as opposed to many competitors’ rear seats that force you to sit up uncomfortably straight like a student in the mean nun’s class.

The frame did keep the Tundra from bending and moving under tow; we can’t wait to see its reliability over time. Then we’ll know which design is better.

Payload is a bit of a concern on the Tundra. Max rating is claimed at over 2,060 lb, which, compared to the Silverado’s 3,094, is about 1,000 lb shy. Same goes for the F-150 at its 3,050-lb capacity.

Toyota plans to sell a fair amount of the new trucks to the 60,000 current Tundra owners, with the overall goal of doubling last year’s 100,000-unit sales numbers.

We think it will get close to the 200,000 number, but won’t be able to touch the bigger sales of the domestics until it produces a heavy-duty pickup. We also will be watching to see where the new buyers will come from—the domestics, or will Nissan suffer because of the new Tundra.

Regardless, Toyota is here to do battle, and doesn’t plan to walk away from this money-making segment, no matter how gas prices fluctuate. It will also be interesting to see if this becomes a battle of patriotism and owner loyalty versus customer wants and Toyota’s reputation for reliability.

Like This Story? Check out our interview with Brian Smith, Toyota Corporate Truck Operations Manager.

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