While most would say selling large pickup trucks is all about offering more and more choices, Toyota seems to have spent the last few years whittling away at the big choices to now basically specialize in fewer select configurations of their Tundra. The Tundra of course is derided by some who may not have spent any time with it as being long past its prime merely due to its age. However, another way to look at it is that it was ahead of the curve and forced the Big Three to up their game. And finally, fourteen years later, there is more or less parity – the current generations of the others are arguably not overwhelmingly ahead as of yet, and certainly not in all respects.
This generation of Tundra dates all the way back to its 2007 (!) release date with a mainly cosmetic refresh for the 2014 model year, itself a long time ago. Over the last few years Toyota has eliminated the single cab version, the 6-cylinder engine option, as well as the smaller 4.6liter V8 due to relatively low demand and likely the ability to produce more profitable models in their stead.
What’s left then are two cab sizes (DoubleCab and CrewMax, each seating five), one engine, three bed lengths and the choice of 2 vs 4WD. The slightly shorter DoubleCab is available with the 6.5foot bed as well as an 8footer and the larger CrewMax is offered exclusively with a shorter 5.5foot bed. Interestingly, while the truck sold close to 200,000 examples its first model year and then saw sales decline through the recession, as of 2012 it’s seen very steady sales between 100k and 120k units in the United States with Canada adding another almost ten percent to that.
No, that’s not causing Ford or the others to quake in their boots but surely they wish they had that incremental volume that stubbornly remains loyal to Toyota. Incidentally, the Tundra is built exclusively in the heart of Texas for that extra bit of truck credibility, thus perhaps making it more All-American than some others by employing a large labor force here to build it, never mind the engineering and design work that went into it initially.
While on the surface the reductions in formats might make one think the selections are thus meager, that’s not so. There are actually six distinct trim levels available and within each level there is a very large variety of option packages to basically outfit each level exactly how one might desire it with various levels of luxury and off-road ability. In other words far more than expected or obvious at first glance.
Toyota offered us the chance to try out what’s now their smallest version in one of its more specialized trims, to wit a DoubleCab with the shorter but handily sized 6.5foot bed in the TRD Pro trim level. Never one to turn down a chance for a new experience, we enthusiastically replied “Sign us up” and in short order this brand spanking new 2021 Tundra turned up resplendent in its Lunar Rock paint with Black leather interior.
The exterior color is interesting in being basically a light gray that hints at shades of blue and green depending on the light and shadows. The interior color, well, being black it’ll look good forever with minimal care, not a bad idea for an off-roader.
The exterior of the Tundra looks as rugged and handsome as ever with a fairly conservative but competitive design but the TRD Pro aspects of it bolden it up a bit what with the wheels, grille, black accents etc.
Having recently reviewed a Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro, at first I was concerned this would be much the same (too much?) and while aspects are of course very similar, the first surprise was upon entering it; the Tundra interior was also restyled a few years ago and is definitely ahead of the Sequoia in terms of materials.
While still containing a large amount of hard plastics, the quality of most of them seems to be higher than in the Sequoia, the fit and finish were impeccable, and there were some softer surfaces as well, notably large swaths on the dash and door panels in black, again with red stitching. Plastics are weird, there are hard plastics done well and ones done poorly with levels of nuance between them, these overall look and feel quite good.
The seats seem to be the same as those in the Sequoia (in the front), being large units slathered in thick leather with red stitching. The dashboard is easy to comprehend with large knobs and buttons for most functions as well as numerous storage spaces. The center console bin is massive, the lid is wide, and the cover is thickly padded, really it could almost double as a perch for another passenger but instead has a depression in the middle that ends up being a perfect place for a phone.
If they added a wireless charger in that spot it would be perfect, however one was not included in this one so I had to find my cord to recharge. In Toyota fashion, the knobs and dials are extremely solid with excellent resistance and zero slop when touched. And the buttons all have a very positive action and feel good to the touch.
The center console is basically vertical, this does create a little bit of a challenge in seeing the labeling for all of the buttons, especially if the driver is of shorter stature as then the angle becomes more difficult, not helping this are that some of the buttons are silver with backlit white text. This sort of washes out in the sun and depending on viewing angle is difficult to read at times. Some other buttons are ahead of the driver’s knees, not in the way but not easily viewable while on the go.
Still, there are three cupholders in the console, bottle holders in the doors, a console-mounted shifter that falls easily to hand and a foot-operated parking brake for the traditionalists out there (and which betrays the Tundra’s age a bit). Up in the middle is the required 8″ touch screen in Toyota’s familiar format, with decent image resolution and average response times. Reliable and easy to use, most items can be called up via voice command that works well as long as the required syntax is followed (which the assistant will coach the driver on as needed).
AppleCarPlay and AndroidAuto are also included nowadays, and while this model didn’t feature the JBL premium audio system (it’s still labeled “Premium” but the JBL seems to be reserved for the larger CrewMax cab version), it still seemed to have plenty of power to let me rock out and drown out any other noises as desired. I did note that with my polarized sunglasses I got a bit of a weird image thing going on when looking at the screen, it seemed to get better as I consciously reduced my angle toward it, however it’s not something I’ve noticed in either any Toyota or any other vehicle that I can recall.
The rear seats of this shorter cab configuration are still decently sized, it felt larger than some of its competitors and definitely larger than in any mid-size, of course. Noting that I am 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam, if the driver were an inch or two shorter and the rear passengers also a couple of inches smaller, then this would be a decent amount of space for long journeys as the backrest angle is decently reclined. As it was, with myself pretending to be behind myself, it would be acceptable for maybe an hour or so but not all day.
The back seat bottom cushion folds up in a split format and underneath is not just a storage organizer but with a latchable lid as well. I don’t know that there is a real need for the lid here but hey, if it’s included, why not.
A neighbor around the corner has the CrewMax version of the Tundra and I had the opportunity to be in the rear seat of that this week as well (to be clear, the picture above is the DoubleCab as reviewed, not the CrewMax), the space in the back seat of that is simply huge, if carting the whole family around frequently is important and the members are adult-sized rather than kid-sized, then the CrewMax is the way to go with the biggest downside being that then the only bed option is the 5.5foot one. It’s a shame Toyota doesn’t offer that with the 6.5 bed but looking around it doesn’t seem like the take rate for that in its competitor CrewCab half-tons is more than maybe 10% so likely not worthwhile in this case.
Please select page 2 below to read on…
Pages: 1 2
Great review as always, Jim. The full size pickup market is very diverse and it is nice to see a reviewer understand how this older entrant is still competitive in some aspects and can still be appealing to certain buyers. This engine was fairly big news in 2007, IIRC, and did a thorough job of trumping the American V8s of the time. The recession and brand loyalty did an equally thorough job of halting Toyota’s gain in market share after that first year, though. Small wonder they haven’t thrown the necessary bazillions at it to keep up with the Big 3. I believe the upcoming redesign employs the twin turbo V6, and that will be interesting to see.
I don’t have any need for a full size pickup, and so a 5.7L engine that nets 14mpg just doesn’t compute with me. If I ever were to buy one, it would act more as a big sedan replacement and small travel trailer tow vehicle than anything seriously work-oriented or off-road capable. In which case, I’ve grown fond of the 2.7L Ecoboost F150 I’ve been using. It’s fairly nimble and direct for a full sizer, sits lower, has a frankly incredible amount of pop for such a small engine, and is managing 20mpg in unladen mixed highway/rural two-lanes with widely spaced stop lights. Terrible interior quality, though, and the driving position is just slightly off for me.
I am kind of amazed by the fuel mileage – or lack of it. In today’s environment this would not be a top concern, but modern electronic engine management, multi-speed transmissions and all get even big-engine gas trucks up into mileage figures well over this. But if this truck comes without complicating features like cylinder deactivation and transmissions with too many gears that will total the truck in case of failure, maybe it’s a good trade.
Recently I was looking at the domestic parts content for vehicles sold in the US. While it could have been for the 2019 model year, I want to say the Tundra had a higher domestic parts content than Ford, Ram, and particularly GM. While it varies somewhat by trim and engine, the Tundra still seemed to be higher than any. Kudos to Toyota.
With the Toyota versus the Big Three, fuel mileage is the only area where I see the Toyota trailing. However, there is a certain appeal to the relative simplicity of a V8.
When I start shopping for a new pickup, it will undoubtedly come between Ford or Toyota. Both have a lot of merits and both appeal to me more than the other two brands do.
That said, I do have an observation. Toyota’s “Build & Price” section is awful. There is a $5,000 variance in base price for a 2021 Tundra SR5, showing $33,675 in one place but showing $38,415 elsewhere. If this is based upon zip code and local inventory, presenting it as a “Build & Price” is misleading.
I don’t like being critical, but it is what it is. Overall, I think these are fantastic pickups and I enjoyed reading more about it.
My Monroney didn’t break out the content percentages but I believe you are correct.
My B+P version shows the SR5 starting at $35,365 with the SR (no 5) actually higher than that at this time. It does appear to be based on actual current availability, I’m not sure what kind of a radius it uses.
I find Toyota’s site less than helpful myself when it’s not one of the high-volume models and it’s unclear to the casual user what is going on.
I agree that Toyota’s website is frustrating. I wrote in my comment below that we’d been building and pricing Tundras this past weekend, and I’ve run into similar problems as you. And also, dealer inventory is harder to view than with most manufacturers. I’ve noticed that few dealers have pictures of the actual vehicles in stock, and don’t always include what equipment those vehicles are equipped with. I’m surprised that Toyota’s online presence is so poor in this regard.
Excellent review as always Jim. I like these trucks, but I am aware they are outdated. Many customers like me don’t necessarily want or need the latest and greatest though. The chassis dynamics aren’t as good as more modern designs, but they are still great driving vehicles. I think the 5.7L engine is a real gem and other than fuel efficiency is still quite competitive with newer and more complex engines. I like that you pointed out the room in the double cab back seat. When I was shopping for trucks, I wanted a 6.5 foot box and a usable back seat for my kids. The crewcab trucks with a 6.5 box are just too long, about a foot longer than a crewcab with a 5.5 or extended cab with a 6.5 foot box. The Tundra had by far the best rear seat in the “extended cab” type truck. It’s even tolerable even for adults. A few years back I went on a fishing trip with four decent sized guys and my truck was fine for that purpose.
I am surprised on the fuel economy. I know they are not good on fuel, but your MPGs were poor, especially since you got considerably better with the other 5.7L Toyotas you have tested as of late. Was the weather cold during the test period? These trucks tend to be pigs during the cold weather, where they seem to prioritize heating up the catalyst over fuel efficiency. FWIW, my 5.7L 4×4 DC with a 5.7L has a lifetime average of 13.9L / 100 km or 16.9 MPG (US) 20.32 MPG (IMP) over the last 9 years. Full disclosure, it sees a lot of fairly ideal rural and highway use, but that records does include some towing and a lot of very cold weather use. My fuel economy suffers considerably during winter, and seemingly more so than other vehicles I have owned in the past.
Thanks for weighing in, Vince. I was somewhat surprised at the fuel issue myself, I didn’t think it would do really great, but did think/hope it’d be better than what I experienced.
The weather was generally good, no significant rain beyond a few showers, no snow, perhaps a bit cold (mid-30’s to upper 50’s), nothing out of the ordinary, the pictures represent the whole week.
My freeway segment to and around Denver doesn’t include any huge elevation changes (it’s not flat though, it undulates up and down) and is 90% freeway, although those speed limits are at 75mph for over half of it and actual traffic flow is usually a bit faster although I usually run into some traffic, a construction zone or two but again nothing abnormal.
We don’t suffer from excessive traffic here in town, i.e. normal stop signs and red lights, not sitting through multiple cycles.
The dirt portion (a well maintained county road) was at somewhat slower speed and did have various hills etc and the truck did idle at times while taking pictures (I usually take 3-4x as many pictures over a week than I actually use) but generally work quickly while there is some positioning work involving back and forth sometimes due to shadows etc. Still, I wouldn’t consider it excessive and no different really than the LC and Sequoia with the same engine.
And I don’t generally (95% of the miles) drive significantly different than what the mission of the vehicle dictates. – The Hellcat Challenger was obviously driven somewhat differently than the Nissan Versa, the trucks see some full-throttle, and a lot of cruising, just like in real life from someone who plunked down their own money.
Basically I drive the vehicles the same way as I would if I owned them and in fact for the most part they just replace my own while they are here whenever I can make it so, which is the point really if trying to review something for someone who hasn’t experienced one and is a normal user.
I do rely on the vehicle’s computer which is reset when I take delivery (usually by the delivery person but I verify and reset it if needed). Sometimes I need to refuel and if possible I try to verify that to what I actually pump if I refill to full but didn’t need to in this case due to the size of the fuel tank and how far I drove it.
So no, there really wasn’t anything abnormal than perhaps with this being the TRD Pro version it is less aerodynamic at speed than the regular ones are? As you know, a little bit can make a big difference and I can see Toyota being aware of the fuel consumption and optimizing what they can on the regular Tundra with lower rolling resistance tires, underbody air flow management, ride height etc. With a specialty model with a low production quantity that’s a little less important but obviously hurts it overall when someone looks at this review for example and is looking for their own (regular) Tundra. At the end of the day though the results did slot within the EPA guidance.
It was also pretty much brand new with just over 1,000 miles on it when I got it, making it one of the lower mileage testers I’ve had.
Jim I don’t question your methodology or test practices at all. I asked about the weather as I figured there had to be something else at play here. You are right that the TRD Pro version likely affects the aerodynamics, and the tires may also factor in as well. Then there is the green engine not being well broken in yet compared to the other Toyotas you tested. The only other thing I can think of is the MPG computer may not be overly accurate.
I was just surprised how much lower your MPGs were compared to mine. The Tundra is no fuel economy champion, but I’d sill but another in a heart beat.
I didn’t think you were but just wanted to explain the exact parameters. 🙂
Motor Trend’s 2019 Ram 1500 Laramie with ‘eTorque’ mild hybrid returned 15.1 mpg in actual use over a year. I’d rather have the long term dependability of the Toyota V8, paying based on use instead of paying when the warranty ends. I’d also only drive a truck when I have some reason to think a truck would be advantageous. There is a chance that I will grab a V8 Toyota before they’re gone. The tested configuration would be my first choice for a Tundra, but I’m also considering an LC.
Exactly real world Tundra is average for fullsize pickups. I average 17, and can get 20 on the highway.
Jim, excellent review as always.
Pickups are relatively thin on the ground around here, but these are practically invisible. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw one. I forgot Toyota still made these, as at least once in a while I still see a Tacoma.
Now I’m curious, where do you live (in the US or Canada I assume) where pickups aren’t common? In my town the Tacoma seems to be one of the most popular vehicles of any type, and Tundra’s are everywhere too. Lots of first-gen Tundra’s still running around, many working trucks.
I’m about 2mi NW of downtown Chicago.
I read this with a great deal of interest since I spent some time this past weekend “building” Tundras online. My wife and I are considering buying a pickup this coming year, largely to enable us to take trips with a trailer (her brother has kindly offered to lend us his 5,000-lb. trailer for vacations).
Of course an issue is that aside from this hypothetical towing, we don’t have a great need for a pickup, aside for things like hauling mulch, etc. (which would be awfully nice). So we’d be putting up with some of the downsides such as fuel economy, maneuverability, etc. in order to get the benefit of having a good tow vehicle. I’m not sure we’ll end up actually making that leap, but it’s awfully enticing.
And the Tundra is our first choice for pickups. Ours would likely be an SR5 4×4 CrewMax with minimal options, and a front bench seat… such a configuration lists for about $43,000. We both like the 5.7 V-8 and 6-spd. transmission, and consider this to be a big plus for the Tundra.
The next obvious step is to go and test drive one, which we may do this coming weekend. Personally I’d love to have one of these trucks, but I’d also love to save $40,000 for some other purpose, so the answer, as usual, isn’t quite clear cut.
Anyway, thanks for this review; I found it interesting and helpful.
I recommend saving about 10-15k by buying a 2-4 year old tundra with lower mileage. I drive a 2015 Crewmax with 90000 miles on it and have never visited a mechanic. These trucks are built to last and the average tundra owner can’t tell the difference between a 2015 and a 2020 other than the newer grill and headlights. The tundra is such a fun and dependable truck to drive, I have no reason or urge to look elsewhere other than the horrible gas mileage which I justify to myself by never paying for repairs.
I considered looking at used vehicles, but it appears that right now (at least where I live) the asking prices for lower-mileage used Tundras are so high that it’s barely worth it. For example, a 3-year-old Tundra SR5 with 30,000 mi. sells for well over $35,000. At those prices, if I can have a new one for just $5,000 or so more, I’d buy new.
This was a good write up. I own a 2019 Tundra that I bought new. I initially was not going to consider the Tundra due to the rated MPG, but when I looked closer at the MPG of the F150 (5.0) and Ram (5.7) with trailer tow packages, that MPG got closer to the Tundra because of the optional lower rear axle ratios (something I wanted for towing in the mountains). You really need to dig in order to find the real MPG of the F150 because they offer three different axle ratio’s not to mention a plethora of engine choices. So the F150 that nets 20MPG does not really compare to the Tundra. It’s a different truck for a different owner.
In addition, the Tundra came standard with all the features I wanted and none that I didn’t. I did not want cylinder deactivation, start stop, automated grill louvers and a constantly shifting 8 or 10 speed transmission. I so much wanted to avoid those features that I briefly considered a 250/2500 – but that is just over kill for me. The features that I did want came standard on the Tundra: V8, low gears, trailer package including brake controller, and a proven reliability record. The Tundra is (soon to be was?) the last of the simple ½ tons.
Lots of Tundras here in Toyotalandia. Dubbed “Growdozers”.
Excellent review, as always. And terrific pictures, as always too.
I love my 2017 TRD PRO double cab. Flawless performance and reliability, great comfort, fast, great off road (in wide open spaces), decent towing, and stands out. I average 17mpg over an oil change interval (5k miles) and can get 20mpg on the highway keeping 65-70 mph. and At 55k miles, I love it more every time I drive it
I love the color of this truck.
I took home this exact same configuration about 2 months ago, and it’s been an incredible truck. Love the size, power, and reliability. Can’t wait to take it more places!
The difference between getting 14 mpg and 17mpg is much more significant than the difference between 17 and 20 mpg.
Yes, gas is cheap today. But it’s kind of beneath Toyota to be so behind in this rather important metric. Think of all the extra CO2 being emitted. Or so it seems….
Toyota is a big picture enterprise, IMO, the best-run auto company in the world. I can only speculate, of course, but I feel they have made a deliberate decision to leave the Tundra largely unchanged. It makes money for them as is. Tooling and design paid for eons ago. The resources spent here are spent in other segments, keeping Toyota always in the top tier of whatever vehicle it is you seek in general, anywhere in the world, and honing Toyota’s edge in hybrids, which really are very fuel-efficient, without range anxiety.
The big truck profits keep the big three “healthy”. And the pandemic has not hurt truck sales. Toyota does not want to be scapegoated as “killing Detroit”, lest the US government target Toyota in particular, and ‘foreign’ automakers in general. So they just cede it to Detroit. They seem to take the Tacoma more seriously, though they let it get a little old, for a while.
That said, I don’t think this Tundra looks quite right–inside or out. I’d rather have a Chevy. I think GM’s trucks are quite robust. And if I wanted to do my small part to curb CO2, I’d get the six-cylinder diesel truck, even though I consider it grossly overpriced (typical of GM–we have something good, let’s charge more for it)
That said, I’m very confident that if I bought a new, or used Tundra, I’d get used to the looks, and would probably be satisfied–or better—with the truck.
In reviewing a pickup, usually a comparison of towing capability versus the competitors is included instead of fawning over the plastic trim parts and the paint color. One thing about Toyota’s off road package that I have always found somewhat amusing is the TRD moniker. It’s too easy to just nickname it “Turd”.
I like to be different…But I’m not convinced I was “fawning” anywhere, I believe I attempted to “explain” both the color and the plastics.
As regards towing, what would be the point anyway? There are too many trim levels, engines, packages etc available on the competitors’ trucks to nail down a towing comparison that’s actually relevant. It also varies within the Tundra lineup depending on actual variant. The minimum is 8,800, the maximum is 10,200 pounds which seems to cover by far the meat of the half-ton market, Toyota doesn’t seem to care to pick up crumbs at either end of the spectrum. Anyone who actually tows will spend five minutes on each manufacturer’s website, spec out their preferred build and see what that tows. And then usually just buy their preferred half-ton off the lot of their local dealer anyway and hope for the best.
The comparative interior quality is in my opinion far more important to most buyers of half-ton trucks as RAM and the rest of the industry has figured out, the majority of comments on new truck posts are usually about how nobody ever sees anyone hauling or towing anything beyond a Harbor Freight trailer loaded with ego, how nice the RAMs are inside (they are), how weak the new GM products are inside (they are still better than most trucks were a decade ago) and how Ford needs to step up their interior game (which they seem to be doing).
I’m glad they still make the double cab with the 8′ box, I’m a fan of that configuration for hauling long objects and the occasional passenger. I do question the wisdom of Toyota’s 60/40 split rear seat. I find having the short piece on the driver’s side more useful since in my truck I leave it folded with a rate on the floor for tools, tie downs and grocery bags, leaving two seats on the right.
Toyota’s battleship grey is an interesting choice, I find it dull looking but striking in a filed of metallic non colors.