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2014 Toyota Tundra Review By Steve Purdy

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2014 Toyota Tundra V8-powered 4X4 Limited Crewmax version with Premium Package

2014 Toyota Tundra
A Refreshing Refresh
By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

In spite of selling well behind the Chrysler, Ford and GM pickups, Tundra is arguably an important product for Toyota. Establishing the brand as being culturally American has been important to the Japanese company as evidenced by participation in NASCAR and plenty of other marketing and advertising efforts. In order to keep up with the competition Tundra experienced a substantial makeover recently and we attended the launch in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains last summer, see that story HERE

We just spent a week with the 2014 Tundra recently and what a fun week it was with back-to-back snow and ice storms, debilitating accumulations and lots of places I needed to go in spite of the weather. We had the V8-powered 4X4 Limited Crewmax version with Premium Package and a sticker price of just about 44 grand. All Tundra and mid-size Tacoma pickups are assembled in the Texas plant. Prices for Tundra range from $25,920 for the base model to $47,020 for a Platinum 1794 version.

The recent Tundra update gave little attention to anything under the skin and the Toyota marketing folks explained there is little that needed attention. Mostly it needed more modern style, trim and ambiance. Tundra’s niche among pickups can be characterized as focused on the “urban cowboy,” that is, more show than go. Basic work capabilities must be competitive, but that is not necessarily the focus.

Styling and design, both outside and in, received substantial upgrades. It is now more truck-like in style and more upscale in design and appearance.

Outside the edges are more defined, headlight and taillight bezels modernized, tailgate redesigned and deeply embossed with the Tundra name. The tailgate even has a subtle integrated wing. The more stylish grilles and front fascia vary with the different models and trims and the new 3-piece front and rear bumpers make it both more attractive and cheaper to fix after those minimal bumps a scrapes. Bolder shoulder lines, bulging wheel arches and tougher shape bring it fully up to the competition in machismo.

Inside the truck is vastly improved. Materials are better and design is more inspired. The center stack controls are brought closer to the driver for more ease managing them and a new instrument cluster is simpler and more pleasant to read. The center console is wide, deep and functional. The rear seat folds up now instead of forward and down adding a substantial 2 cubic-feet of cargo capacity. The seat lift-up is an easy one-handed operation.

We’re told by Toyota officials that their extensive conversations with customers convinced them they need to do nothing more with the powertrains currently. The three engine offerings – one V-6 and 2 V-8s – remain unchanged from previous models. The 4.0-liter V-6 comes only in the base, two-wheel drive, plain-Jane truck and constitutes a small percentage of sales. The next step up is a 4.6-liter V-8 making 310 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque. That engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and came on line in 2010 so is up to date with variable valve timing and other technologies.

The EPA rates that engine/transmission combination at 15 mpg combined city and highway. That is less than the competition at Ford, Ram and GM, who are adding direct injection, turbo charging and other advanced engine technologies to gain a few more mpg. Toyota thinks the extra development costs were not worth it because the customer doesn’t put that much value on that mileage proposition and they claim that real world mileage for the others is in the 15-mpg range anyway. I think the others might dispute that.

The other engine option is this 5.7-liter V-8 making 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet or torque, also with a six-speed automatic. The EPA rates this one at 17 mpg on the highway, 13 in the city and 15 combined. That’s very close to what we experienced this week in extremes of cold and wet. On hard acceleration it felt strong and torquey. We had no trailering opportunities this week but our experience with it at the launch event last summer had us towing some big loads with relative ease. This nice V8 makes some nice, throaty sounds as well.

Regular readers will know that I love to drive the big trucks – the bigger the better. This one feels as big and tough as any of the others. In fact, the driving dynamics are identical as much as I can tell without having them side-by-side. I had the equivalent Ram recently and they feel very much the same. Some reviewers note a less sophisticated ride quality, but I did not notice that. My usual drive routes, though, do not include particularly rough roads. I could easily live with the driving dynamics of the Tundra, but I wouldn’t want to be without the running boards. It’s a long way up into that cabin.

The four-wheel drive function is engaged by way of a knob on the dash. We have both a high and low range in 4X4 modes and a separate 4X2 mode for normal driving. I had to use the 4X4 mode to bull my way through some deep heavy snow banks and to establish some stability on some mighty slippery surfaces. I did not need the low range this week, I’ll admit. The various modes are easily accessed and felt smooth and solid.

The new Tundra is a big, smooth and quiet truck with a good degree of sophistication. That wide expanse of hood tends to be a bit disconcerting on narrow roads at first but the suspension, steering and overall handling make up for it. The turning radius is very good for such a big vehicle.

The Tundra will continue to compete in fourth place in this light truck market, but the Japanese connection will continue to cause consternation among traditionalists. The design and engineering were done primarily in the U.S. and it has more North American content than the others, they insist. Tundra’s marketing is primarily aimed at urbanites and Hispanics rather than the mainstream working fella but the truck’s capabilities stack up well. Towing capacity with the V8 is just over 10,000 pounds and payload around 1,500 pounds.

Ram has announced a 28MPG EcoDiesel version of the 1500 pickup but Toyota has no plans to move in that direction. Ford has an EcoBoost V6 in the F-150 significantly improving the mileage and GM has a small, higher-mileage powertrain as well.

We think Toyota is mistaken if they think light truck buyers aren’t paying attention to mileage.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved