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.
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