cars first washed up on America's shores, they were too small (so
at first we threw them back.) They were also technically competent,
well constructed, and brought with them almost everything the discriminating
car buyer could want.
many Japanese makers learned what made a car more than just transportation.
That's why Z-cars exist, and Miatas. And that passage to maturity
cost none of their technical virtues.
Now that Japan's
automakers have started to build full-size pickup trucks, we seem
to be back at the beginning.
The first of
the breed, Toyota's Tundra, is a full-size pickup (well, a 95% scale
pickup, about which more later) every bit as well
as Toyota's immensely-durable-if-mostly-vanilla passenger cars. And
its technical competence often outshines its competitors.In engineering,
at least, this is Star Truck: The Next Generation.
But do you
remember Commander Data from the near-eponymous show? A simulacrum
of a human, Data lacked only emotions. He was too perfect,
humanity with the flaws pasteurized out. The Commander Data of pickups,
the Tundra is so well engineered, so easy to drive, so well assembled,
it almost ceases to be interesting. The Camry is a car-shaped transportation
appliance; the Tundra is a truck-shaped transportation appliance.
And, like the Camry, Corolla, or Data, soul is not an option.
credit: It takes nerve to go after the testosterone side of the
car business by counter-programming. If Monday Night Football is
tops in its rating period, don't show another football game; put
on a Martha Stewart special. That's one way to success, and the
Tundra follows this path less taken. It is a new-paradigm pickup,
built not for the open range but the open mall. Instead of Marlboros
tucked in its sleeve, it has Altoids in its fanny pack.
start with what can only be described as a car interior. The lines
of the instrument panel (particularly over the climate control)
and the radio surround are soft and curved, unlike typical pickup
practice. Appointments - even in this mid-level SR5 model - equal
the quality of a Camry or Avalon, and appear designed for the city
trucker rather than the country trucker. No hosing out this one.
If you sent Binky and Muffin out to the south 40 to muck silage,
this would be their truck. Call it a J. Crew cab.
consist of somewhat shiny plastics, on the whole better than we've
come to expect from Toyota. Door handles and pulls, though, lack
the quality look one expects from any vehicle costing over twenty
continues on the outside, with styling owing more to the Lexus 300
line than to any current Toyota. Reflector type headlights with
a very jewellike and polished appearance key a front end noticeably
less aggressive than the competition, even if one leaves out the
in-your-face Dodge Ram. It's a serene look, as if the Tundra is
above the petty chores left to other pickups. That serenity continues
when underway, with a ride more quiet and stately than most other
pickups. But then you look out back, and there's all that empty
bed to fill.
to fill behind you, too. Toyota calls Tundra's stretched cab an
Access Cab. Like others in the field, two smaller rear doors give
access to the rear seat. With full-size handles on the outside,
not small pulls set into the door jamb, they allow easy, yes, access.
the rear seat is tight on knee room, but nobody's invented the club
cab truck that isn't and in the Tundra, rear seaters get to face
forward. This mostly full-size stretch cab yields about as much
knee room as the Nissan Frontier crew cab, with four full-size doors
but a smaller truck. Sitting in the back seat with the front seat
adjusted for 5'11" me, there is essentially no room between knees
and front seat. On the other hand, the back of the seat is deliberately
cushy, and your knees can stand it. The rear doors have flip out
are slightly contoured, although they don't provide much lower back
support. Their sturdy-appearing velour might as well be Velcro,
so firmly does it hold you in place. And yes, there is ample room
for a third person between the seats - or, of course, for ol' Rufus.
A large flip-down
center console opens to reveal a change holder and a large square
compartment with a movable divider. Two cup holders are molded into
it for average size and larger beverages. A similar tray in the
center of the back seat offers two more cup holders and other storage.
One of the
Tundra's three power ports bears a cigarette lighter, and all of
them shut down when you turn off the key.
panel features oil and water temperature, 7000-rpm tachometer with
the red line at 6250, 110 mile per hour speedometer, and battery
and fuel gauges. The speedometer is full arc, the tachometer two-thirds,
and the other gauges quarter arc, offset to left and right. It's
backlit green, all easily readable at night.
If you like
mysteries, try the Tundra's steering wheel. It is vinyl and slippery;
okay, we've seen that before. But it also has six screw holes in
the back, where your fingers go, so when that wheel is passing quickly
through your hands, it catches your palm or your gloves. That is
not logical, Captain.
are very large (easily operated with gloves) with a large fan speed
switch, a temperature switch, and a selector for where the air comes
looks bigger than it is. Without anything around for comparison,
it looks like a full-size truck. In fact, like Smokey Yunick's fabled
7/8 scale NASCAR Chevelle, it's smaller in most dimensions, but
proportionally so. Here's how it compares to a Chevy Silverado:
Leg Room (in.):
Leg Room (in.):
that's 5% less truck, inside and out. However, does that matter?
Does the overall size of a truck matter as long as you can ride
comfortably, and carry all your stuff in the bed? You can certainly
do those things with the Tundra.
(built, we should certainly note, in the prefecture of Indiana),
comes in three trim levels, two- or four-wheel drive, with standard
or Access Cab. Plywood carriers (and you know who you are) need
a standard cab, with its 98.2 inch bed; the rear seat cuts bed length
to 76.5. Width on both beds is 61.2 inches, 49.3 between the wheel
size and weight make for a nimble truck. Good breeding helps; the
front suspension sports a double wishbone layout, just like your
Formula 1 hay haulers. The Tundra's leaf spring rear behaves fairly
well during normal driving, but on uneven surfaces or metal strips,
it can step lively.
much more docile when you drop the throttle mid-corner, thanks in
part to a fairly soft return spring. Firm rack and pinion steering
has decent on center feel, although one can hardly call it well
weighted in the manner of a sports car; you get rather more assist
than a truck of this size requires. Braking, too, is a tad overboosted,
but the front discs and rear drums acquitted themselves well, thanks
in part to the increased contact patch of our Tundra's optional
265/70R16 Dunlop TG35 Grandtrek tires.
maneuvering, the Tundra maintains its dignified demeanor. Body movements
and outside sounds are well damped. At times, it's eerie, like when
we realized that even over the roughest pavement, one sound was
missing: The box. It flat does not rattle. In a week of steady use,
we did not hear it once. Even the newest and most sophisticated
competing pickups shake their booty audibly. The Tundra doesn't.
That's the mark of a solid piece.
Tundra carried the standard engine, a 3.4 liter, 24 valve V-6 good
for 190 horses. The six resisted all attempts to make it sound like
the Farmall many competitors will readily imitate. We wished at
times for more off-the-line grunt than the six delivered (through
a four-speed automatic and a 4.093 rear), but it yielded 22.7 mpg
on the highway, and 17.2 in hard local use. A 5-speed manual is
available. (Indeed, we were surprised to see that our SR5 model
bore an automatic; time was, the SR5 badge went on only the sportier
Toyotas, with a 5-speed part of the package. Now it's just a trim
for the Tundra comes from a mighty Lexus (yes!) V-8, legendary for
its smoothness and torque, and putting down 245 Clydesdales, with
which Toyota claims the best acceleration in class. It's EPA rated
at 15 and 19.
We found only
one sample defect on our test truck, a driver's side seat belt retractor
that seemed unwilling to achieve its life's destiny.
All in all,
we like the Tundra, but with some qualifications. An almost full-size
truck, the Tundra carries a full-size load of contradictions. Ride
in it blindfolded, and you'd never guess it was a truck. It hauls
full-size loads, but is nimble like a mid-size. It's put together
very well, although some choices of materials and appointments seem
odd in a work vehicle. It comes with a powerful V-8, but its V-6
variant is much less distinguished. For now, the Tundra is, perhaps,
gender confused. Is it a truck or a car, a working vehicle or a
play vehicle? For the PTA or FFA?
In some ways
Toyota's Tundra is not a truck for the better; in some ways, it
is not a truck for the worse. Price can be a concern with the Tundra.
So, too, can character. But at base, we come back to the question:
What is a truck? Must a truck be rough as well as tough? Are all
cowboys John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, or can Cary Grant give it
a try? Commander Data in a Stetson, the Tundra is nothing if not
Tundra 4x2 SR5 V6 Access Cab (phew!)
Base Price: 20,940 Price as Tested: 23,969
as tested includes all-weather guard package, 70; anti-lock brakes
with daytime running lights, 630; convenience package (power mirrors,
windows, and locks; dual sun visors with extensions; sliding rear
window with privacy glass), 1310; 16x7" styled steel wheels with
265/70R16 tires, wheel ornaments and arch moldings, 220; bedliner,
299; carpet floor mats, 80; destination, 420.