There is an old saying that a musician should always leave the audience wanting more, and the first drive of the 2014 Toyota Tundra did just that. Being in the Tetons for a scant 24 hours with no chance to flyfish or do much else is certainly a form of advanced torture, but it did leave me wanting more — more of that amazing geography and more time in the new Tundra to make a broader assessment.
Toyota gave us a first glimpse of the new truck almost a year ago, but this was the first time that we had a chance to get behind the wheel. My first impression is that Toyota has gone a long way where aesthetics is concerned, but — by offering no real changes to engines, drive train or suspension — they have not gotten ahead of a very competitive pack.
That said, legacy Tundra owners will be delighted with the changes; and, at the high end, the interiors are a giant leap from their predecessors. This is the first major changes to the truck since 2007, and the market has said that a revamp was long overdue. I don’t believe, however, based upon my scant drive experience, that commited F-150, Silverado, Sierra or Ram owners will be jumping ship, but no one is ever more loyal than a truck owner.
Toyota again stays with its claim to the All-American full-size pickup. There is no way to debunk that. It is designed by Calty Design Research Centers in Newport Beach and Ann Arbor, MI, and engineered by the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor. The V6 and V8 engines are built at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Huntsville, AL, and transmissions are built in North Carolina. As with its Tacoma stablemate, it is assembled exclusively at the Toyota truck plant in San Antonio, TX. It has about 75% US content.
Big changes are aesthetic
This is a far more attractive Tundra than we have seen in recent years. Toyota describes its new design as more chiseled and refined. The trucks, including those with high end packages that were not available before, are priced from $25,920 to $47,320 — a sweet spot for truck buyers.
There is a strategy based on five unique grades which modify features such as the grille, wheels, trim, and interior treatment. We saw some of this with GM’s differentiation of the Chevy and GMC brands, and modifying the sheet metal and interiors has long been a way to add vehicle alternatives to a fleet.
One feature that I especially like is the shift from one piece to three piece bumpers front and back at every grade level (although finishesw differ). This can cut costs dramatically when part of a bumper is compromised since only the damaged part need be ordered and installed. Nice touch, Tundra.
The new Tundra looks bigger, broader and bolder than its predecessor. The fascia is larger and there are more “character lines”, as designers like to all them. The grille is taller, and fenders and wheel wells have been squared off.
There are changes to the bed and the tail gate, as well as the rear tail lamps, so this is a new-looking vehicle from front to back and side to side. Three new colors: Altitude Black Metallic, Sunset Bronze Mica and Blue Ribbon Metallic have been added to the popular carryovers.
On the inside — some of the biggest changes
There are five interior grades, from the basic to high end. Each features a new instrument panel, with very nice gauges. Seats are much improved. Emphasis has been placed on the higher grade packages.
The mid-range SR5 which Toyota sees as a volume choice has metallic accents, special fabric, driver and passenger “zones” and premium surface treatments for areas like the center cluster, as well as unique seat stitching.
The action is at the Limited level and above. The Limited is described as having an “active premium” image with leather seating surfaces, matching soft-touch and console surfaces and faux wood interior trim.
The two high-end models are priced the same. The Platinum has perforated diamond-pleated premium leather seats (described to us as “Lexus leather”), door and instrument panel inserts. It comes with an upgraded audio system, navigation and heated/ventilated front seats.
I spend most of my drive time in this vehicle, and — even allowing that it was a pre-production truck — I found that only the seat leather looked and felt like it had come out of a Lexus. Quilting on the instrument panel and door panels was uneven and didn’t have a premium feel. It is inordinately difficult to create a quilted leather interior at all. The dash and door surfaces are not truly linear, while the two-directional quilting must be.
That said, the rest of the interior was a great leap for Tundra, both in styling and quality. The seat comfort and ventilation were hugely improved. It did not appear that the optional tow mirrors had been installed, and the ones that were on the truck seemed insufficient were I towing. They seemed skimpy for a bold truck like this.
The wild card in the new Tundra offering is the 1794 Edition. There is a great romance story attached to this vehicle. The San Antonio Tundra plant is located on a unique tract of land that dates its ownership back to a single family in 1794. It has a western style interior with saddle brown leather seating featuring embossed and stitched accents throughout. Were I buying it, I would opt for black rather than the bright bronze-y finish that is its signature.
Toyota sells about 30% of its trucks in Texas, and with the truck being Texas-built, it could be a very interesting alternative.
No major changes under the hood
There are three engine options:
the most capable engine available is the 5.7-liter DOHC i-Force V8 which generates 381hp at 5,600 rpm and 401 ft-lb of torque aqt 3,600 rpm. This engine is available as gasoline or “flex fuel”. Fuel efficiency on 4×2 models is 13mpg city, 18mpg highway (16 combined). For 4×4 models fuel efficiency is 13mpgt city/17mpg highway (15 mpg combined).
As with previous model years, the V8s come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Aluminum cylinder blocks, DOHC heads and dual variable valve timing with broad torque curve are a part of all of the 2014 engines, as in all Tundras since 2007.
There are several changes to the Tundra suspension. These include the retuning of the shock-absorber valving; better steering feel and straight line stability due to steering wheel system modifications. Both were noticeable and offered a definite improvement over the previous model year’s handling and ride quality.
Patented aerodynamic stabilizer fines have been added to the outside surface of the rear tail lamp lens and exterior mirror bases. These are very subtle, but Toyota says that they reduce air turbulence along the sides of the Tundra and also are a factor in the improvement in straight-line stability.
It was apparent that the cabin noise had been reduced. Long an issue, it was addressed through installation of a new hood insulator design, more sound absorption in the dash, a modification of windshield angles, a different headliner, door trim pads and body mounts to improve sound absorption from the engine compartment.
Towing numbers today are generally determined by manufacturer testing, but Toyota has hitched itself to a Society of Automotive Engineers’ standard (J2807) since 2011. They are the only truck manufacturer to do so, and have been since it was established. This does not reflect on any other truckmaker’s methods or published numbers, but it does tell you how Toyota reached its calculation.
When equipped with a factory-installed tow package, Toyota says the Tundra has a max tow capacity of 10,400 lbs. for a 4×2 regular cab model. (The info provided to journalists in their media packages.) The package includes a one-piece towing receiver integrated in the frame prior to bed installation, tow package rear springs, upgrades to the Tundra cooling and electrical systems including integrated engine and transmission oil coolers, as well as a heavy-duty battery and alternator.
An under-dash connector pre-wire for a third-party trailer brake controller. The new seven-and four-pin trailer brake connectors are now located near the hitch. On the 5.7-liter models, heated, power, outside tow mirrors with turn signal indicators and manual extend features are available as an option. The standard outside mirrors are on the small size and I would recommend the optional ones to anyone who tows regularly.
Tundras with the six-speed transmission also gain a tow/haul shift mode, selectable by dedicated switch. When selected, this feature adjusts throttle and transmission shift control for a better towing or hauling experience. The trailer sway control, standard on all models, helps counteract handling forces when potential trailer sway could be an issue.
I was disappointed to hear that there is no integrated locking differential on the new Tundra. This would have been the ideal time for Toyota to add this feature, but it was not to be.
The diesel question and a new Tacoma
When asked if they would respond to some competitors inclusion of a diesel alternative in its full-size pickup offering, Toyota responded differently than Ford and GM who has basically said they want to assess demand. Instead, Toyota management said that Federal changes to diesel emissions would obsolete current diesel engines by 2017.
There was confirmation as part of the press briefing that a newly designed Tacoma would soon be shown. Since the mid-size truck market is showing new life and Tacoma is the current volume leader, this was not unexpected. I suspect that an unveiling could happen as soon as the SEMA show in Las Vegas in October.
I think the Tundra is greatly improved from an aesthetic and suspension standpoint, as well as seating comfort and cabin noise. I would have liked to see the integrated locking differential and a couple of other features. It would have been wonderful to see some weight taken out to achieve better fuel efficiency or a more efficient engine as a new offering along with the old and very reliable standbys.