Big wheels and big steel matter in truck-savvy Texas.
Dainty just ain’t acceptable in a full-size pickup – period. I mean, where are we supposed to put our hats?
Just ask Toyota. When the Japanese automaker sought to add a full-sized pickup to its dense lineup of sedans and compacts in 2000, its first Tundra emerged too small and soft to stand tall.
But Toyota learned. The enormous 2018 Tundra 1794 CrewMax I had recently – the second generation of the pickup – cast shadows long enough to shade my neighbor’s yard across the street.
The company clearly wants to play in the giant, profitable full-size truck sandbox with segment bullies like the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Fiat Chrysler Ram.
It needs a stronger punch, though.
As you may recall, the current Tundra rolled out of the Toyota factory in San Antonio 11 years ago and has changed only modestly since.
Like all full-sized pickups in the segment, the metallic-brown Tundra I had sported a massive nine-bar chrome grille bigger than some commercial signs.
The grille kind of dwarfed stern, upright headlamps on either side that wrapped around into crisp, short overhangs.
Subtle lines up high through the chrome door-handles and down low almost softened the truck’s 145.7-inch wheelbase, which appeared to leave the back third of the Tundra in an adjacent county, but, hey, if the rear end has to hang out, at least it’s pretty decent-looking with vertical tail lamps and polished dual exhausts (an $1,100 option, gasp).
Meanwhile, slotted chrome-and-black 18-inch wheels with 275/65 quasi-mudder tires provided bite for the Tundra’s four-wheel-drive system.
Although its stout and sonorous 5.7-liter V-8 generates a respectable 381- horsepower and 401 lb.-ft. of torque, that is essentially the same power that the Tundra offered when it arrived in 2007 in its current beefy form – and now less than the top engines of its competitors.
Even more disappointing, the pickup still relies on an outdated six-speed automatic while competitors use eight- and 10-speed automatics.
Granted, my three-ton Tundra 1794 felt plenty powerful, snarling and bulling its way to 60 mph in a fairly fleet 6.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver, and able to tow up to 8,800 pounds.
But Toyota has not matched many of the powertrain and suspension upgrades made by Ford, Chevy, GMC and Ram, and with 13-mpg fuel economy, it’s pretty obvious.
The Tundra also transmitted plenty of bounce to the ounce. Of course, no four-wheel-drive pickup rolls with a velvety, luxury-car ride, but the 1794 seemed especially harsh, bounding and pitching over small bumps and downright hopping over the big ones.
Some of that intensity can likely be attributed to the truck’s TRD off-road package, but I’ve driven other pickups with off-road packages that felt more refined.
Here’s the deal, though, kids. While not the newest or the most polished, my loaded Tundra 1794 cost about $55,000, at least $5,000 less than some options-stuffed domestic trucks.
Just as important, it wore the gold-standard Toyota brand on its rump, meaning it boasts one of the best resale values in the segment and glistens with Toyota’s high-quality aura.
That can ease a lot of bumps – both at the gas pump and on the road.
While Toyota has been slow to invest in upgrades for the Tundra – claiming consumers are satisfied with the current truck – the interiors in upscale 1794 models get some spiffs and polish.
The 1794 in the name, incidentally, refers to land that Toyota purchased for its Tundra plant from the oldest working cattle ranch in Texas, established in 1794.
Fittingly, I guess, the saddle interior in my Tundra 1794 featured yards of fine, western-looking leather that mostly compensated for lots of black plastic as well – a staple in all full-sized pickups.
A broad, flat-top black dashboard, for example, rolled down onto stitched saddle trim at mid-dash that bordered a seven-inch display screen with knobs and buttons for the audio and climate systems.
Somewhere stuffed in there were the usual modern safety systems, including pre-collision with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and sway alert.
More important to me were the comfortable saddle seats with stitched bolsters and perforated centers that offered excellent leg- and headroom in back.
Likewise, saddle trim on the door panels and the broad console contributed to the western feel.
The truck came standard with lots of features, but its options included a moon-roof ($850); the aforementioned exhaust system ($1,100); and a TRD rear anti-sway bar ($299).
An all-new Tundra, presumably with upgrades to the engine and transmission, as well as a possible diesel-engine option, could finally arrive next year, some industry sources claim.
In the meantime, the Tundra remains a solid, dependable workhorse of a truck that can be a real value because it’s too old to command top dollar – something I’m vaguely familiar with.
Besides, your neighbors might appreciate the shade next summer.