Mountain Wheels: Toyota’s titanic Tundra is the new normal in truck-land |

Mountain Wheels: Toyota’s titanic Tundra is the new normal in truck-land

2014 Toyota Tundra Limited CrewMax 5.7L V8

MSRP: $41,895; as tested, $45,929

Powertrain: 381-HP 5.7-liter V8 engine, six-speed manual transmission

EPA mpg figures: 15 combined: 13 city, 17 highway

I recently got a chance to revisit one of the boldest and initially polarizing automobiles I’ve driven in recent years, and the results were … again, polarizing, though mostly in a good way.

The third-generation 2014 Toyota Tundra, crafted in a style so blocky some might wonder if Lego was its inspiration, came onto the full-size truck scene at a funny time. That is, just a little before the new GM products and a new F-150, both of which also incorporate the freight train/snowplow/bank vault ethos into one chrome-laden and bombastically macho package.

Given that chunky and slab-sided is the new normal in the big-truck world, is Tundra suddenly behind the curve? I don’t think so. It’s positively gigantic, tremendously comfortable and capable of feats of cargo capacity like you wouldn’t believe — especially if you’d considered the scale of Toyota’s vehicles just a few years ago.

The primary issue is one that emerged when I checked out the Tundra earlier this year: The top-of-the-line, 4×4-equipped, 5.7-liter V8, with 381 horsepower, does not seem to be capable of producing more than 15 miles per gallon, even on extended highway jaunts at lower altitudes.

This may be OK in a climate that presently sees gas prices at their lowest levels since “Seinfeld” was still producing original episodes, but you know that won’t last, and a behemoth of this sort will eventually return to being a reverse cash machine.

A V6 was once part of the lineup but since it got only 1 mpg better than the second-best option, a 310-HP 4.6-liter V8 rated for 19 mpg, you’re now down to two choices. In a world where other full-size trucks can get up to 25 mpg, albeit with six-cylinder options.

So you have to have a conversation that gently dances around that issue and concentrates instead on Tundra’s largesse, its finish and its capabilities — all of which are still quite impressive, including a 10,500-pound tow rating. If you’re not a fan of chrome, and interior spaces that make a vehicle seem more like the Superdome than a private vehicle, I cannot help you.

That chrome is unavoidable, from the Berlin Wall-sized grille, the chrome-topped side mirrors and the tube step running boards, absolutely critical for climbing aboard. In 4×4 suspension setup, the tailgate is at chin height; the proximity sensors (including a helpful display between the instruments) and the back-up camera are also required so as to not accidentally reverse over a house or something while moving the Tundra around.

General ride and roll of the big Toyota is quite balanced and easy to handle, which is good news. The suspension is firm and the truck is well composed on the road. Its stance, however, completely sucks up an entire lane, and as a result, the blind-spot monitors in the mirrors seem to be constantly lit up as other motorists gingerly make their way around you — or vice versa.

As a hauling machine, it also does the job. I was working with a 229-inch-long CrewMax with the standard 5.5-foot box, which meant a queen-size mattress could not quite entirely fit in the bed, but I might have actually been able to get it into the back of the cabin, if I’d tried hard enough. I don’t think any passenger vehicle has this much rear-seat leg room; fold those seats up and I swear a refrigerator box would have slid in there, pretty easily, or maybe a snowmobile. A slight platform under the rear seats does eat up a bit of space, but also gives your passengers a theater-styled view of the road.

The bed itself, which featured a built-in bedliner, had tiedown points in each corner and also a set of sliding and repositionable tiedowns on rails. It’s just all quite tall; other brands have added steps or that crazy Fred Astaire-styled balancing stick to help you access your goods, but Tundra just calls for Really Big Dudes.

The Limited edition also brings leather-topped seating, and the dash and console remain a testament to aggressive rhomboidal design. That tallboy-sized gear shifter, the barbeque-esque center console box and the purposefully brutal center-stack design all give things an unquestionably macho look.

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