This third-generation Toyota Tundra is an honest-to-goodness, full-size pickup, regardless of how you measure. The first iteration, called T100, was about the size of a Dodge Dakota, and it taught Toyota that in America a larger truck needs a V8 engine. The second generation, and the first with the Tundra badge, taught Toyota that 7/8 is not full-size. The current generation, launched as a 2007 model, shows that Toyota has learned those lessons well.
Tundra is big and burly by design. Its large grille, boldly framed in black or chrome, pulls lines from the deeply sculpted hood into the front end. Some like the rounded lines and others call them inflated. In any case, it has presence, and styling is meant to generate discussion. We like it.
In side view, the Tundra has understated fender flares tied together by a gentle indent along the lower door panels. Body proportions comfortably accommodate the three bed lengths and wheelbases. Interestingly, gaps between body panels are deliberately wider than contemporary robotic assembly might allow. Toyota's stylists decided that slightly wider gaps better suggest the rugged first impression they wanted the Tundra to make.
Some of the details on the Tundra's body add interest and function. Deep recesses underneath make the beefy door handles easy to grip with gloves on. The Tundra CrewMax has these big handles on all four doors, while the Double Cab uses vertical grabs on the back doors that are a bit snug for large hands but keep younger kids from helping themselves.
The optional larger towing mirrors look a little big on the regular and Double Cab models but they work great.
The rear view is traditional pickup. There are no stand-out styling cues here. The tailgate is damped, making lowering and raising it easier and quieter.
Wheels vary by model, but they're all truckish in appearance. The standard 18-inch, drilled steel discs on base Tundras are actually quite attractive in their basic, functional look and styled steel wheels are available. The aluminum alloy wheels on the Limited models feature thick, monolithic spokes. The optional 20-inch alloys satisfy the current trend toward lots of wheel and not much tire, not our choice for towing, off-pavement travel or other serious truck duties.
Opening and closing the tailgate is dramatically eased by the tailgate assist (standard). The mechanism starts with a torsion bar in the hinge assembly to make the tailgate feel lighter, and includes a gas-pressurized strut, concealed behind the left taillight, to damp the lowering and assist in raising the lockable tailgate. The damped tailgate is a great feature and one that's not included on other trucks.
The Tundra is a well outfitted pickup with a comfortable cabin. When it was first launched, the full-size Toyota Tundra raised the bar on working truck interiors. Little has changed since then, save the choice of a bench front seat on Double Cabs.
Visibility from the driver's seat is excellent. The standard mirrors are large, and can be adjusted to deliver a panoramic view all the way around the truck. The optional tow mirrors are very good. The tow mirrors feature a large traditional mirror that's power operated, with a small convex mirror at the bottom that's manually adjustable. They can be adjusted to cover all blind spots. The tow mirrors can be manually extended outward to help the driver see around 8'6-wide box or travel trailers. They can be folded inward when parked to reduce the chance of damage. We wish the small convex mirrors were power-adjustable, but they need not be changed as much for different drivers.
The navigation system includes a rearview camera, which is a valuable feature. It's useful for spotting shorter obstacles when backing up because the top of the tailgate towers well above the height of small children, making it an important safety feature. We've found having an experienced co-driver watch the display screen while the driver monitors the mirrors to be a very effective technique when backing up. The rearview camera is also extremely useful when hitching a trailer, allowing the driver to position the ball directly below the trailer coupling without having to jump out of the truck several times while jockeying into position. The rearview camera is handy when parallel parking, easing and speeding the task. Rainwater, mud, glare from the sun, shadows and sunglasses can limit the effectiveness of this feature, but usually it produces a bright, highly useful image on the navigation screen.
A sonar system with an audible warning and an indicator on the dash helps the driver determine the proximity of the front corners to objects when maneuvering in tight quarters, another useful feature when parking this big truck. Headrests on the back seats can block the view rearward if not in their lowest position. Removing them or flipping the back seat down affords the best view, but be sure to replace them when passengers sit back there. The rear-seat entertainment system's drop-down LCD screen is only barely noticeable with the rear view mirror adjusted to its lowest position, a nice feature.
The cabs are roomy. In occupant measurements, the Tundra generally gives up little or nothing to the competition. The Toyota Tundra CrewMax is the current leader in rear-seat legroom, offering more of it than it does front seat legroom.
The seats are comfortably cushioned but not too soft, with modest side bolsters in front. Deep seat bottoms provide ample thigh support. The fabric upholstery feels durable and the leather does, too. It's more a heavy-duty grade than buttery-soft luxurious, which is probably appropriate for a truck. We've found the seats very comfortable for towing thousands of miles.
Tundra has its fair share of interior storage and conveniences. The passenger seatback in the Regular Cab folds forward to present a flat area for a desktop, and there's room behind the seat for a small generator and a five-gallon bucket. This is in addition to bins, both open and capped, for tools and such. The front bench seat center section pivots forward to reveal an otherwise fully concealed storage compartment.
The glovebox is actually two boxes, with an upper compartment big enough to hold a Thermos bottle. The lower compartment, more than twice the size of the upper, is lighted and fitted with a damped door. The front-door armrests house flip-out compartments beneath the power window switch plates, though models with manual windows forgo this storage. Front-door map pockets are molded to hold two 22-ounce water bottles, and so are the rear-door map pockets on the CrewMax. The Double Cab rear doors hold one bottle. Both the Double Cab and the CrewMax incorporate storage bins and compartments beneath and behind their rear seats, though in the Double cab, a subwoofer replaces the lockable under-seat bin when the up-level stereo is ordered.
Column-shift Tundras have two flexible-sized cup holders in a slide-out tray beneath the climate-control panel, and two more in the backside of the fold-down center section of the bench seat. In the Double Cab, two more cup holders fold out of the backside of the front-seat center section, while in the CrewMax, there are two more still in the rear seat's fold-down center armrest. Floor-shift models have a center console with three cup holders, with two in a lift-out plate covering a large compartment. Between this compartment and the shift gate sits a narrow slot, concealed beneath a snap-out cover.
Models with front bucket seats feature a deep center console that helps the cabin serve as a road-going office. The middle third of the compartment can hold either a removable bin good for stowing CDs or letter-size hanging file folders, ideal for any manner of business or work papers. There's room for a laptop computer on either side of the middle section, and the side nearest the driver has a power point to keep the gear charged up and ready.
Generally, the CrewMax is the more comfortable of the two stretched-cab Tundras for rear passengers. It starts with the doors, which are full length and make climbing in easier. The back seat in the CrewMax is closer to the 40/20/40 front bench seat in shape and contours, with deep seat bottoms and a slide-and-recline feature that allows a more comfortable rake to the seatback. The Double Cab rear seat is the more bench-like, and legroom is less expansive (though still decent). Dogs may prefer the Double Cab, however. With the seats folded for cargo, the Double Cab has a significantly lower load height, which should make it easier for canines to get in and out.
Ergonomics inside the Tundra are generally good. The dash-mounted controls, and especially more critical and frequently used knobs for fan, temperature and airflow, are extra large, with solid detents and a nice positive feel that lets the operator know how far they've been turned. They're tuned more for work gloves than polished fingernails, and that's good. The steering wheel is large, but properly scaled for the largest Toyota pickup. The floor-mounted shift lever has a manual-shift slot on the driver's side of the gate. It feels more natural and more precise than the column-shift, but neither transmits any sloppiness.
Audio controls, climate controls and navigation screen are located on the passenger side of the center stack. This moves these secondary controls closer to the passenger, which is good for them, but requires a reach from average-to-petite drivers. The Tundra is a wide vehicle, and while drivers below average height will have no trouble getting comfortable to operate this pickup, they might have a harder time reaching some of the controls.