Mountain Wheels: Hybrid version of Toyota’s new Tundra simplifies the technology

Toyota has gone with a single electric motor paired with its standard twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 engine to create a hybrid system designed largely for added cruising and towing power. (Andy Stonehouse/For the Summit Daily News)

I had a chance to revisit the brand-new Toyota Tundra with the kind of thorough technical overview you’ll expect to get as a purchaser of any new vehicle — otherwise you might have to ask a tech-savvy seven-year-old to help you figure out all the buttons, screens and controls, as they’ll probably find it totally intuitive.

Toyota conducted several days of training for its salespeople this week at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and that provided further hands-on experience driving the new hybrid version of the truck, plus checking out prototypes of both the $66,815 TRD Pro off-road and the $73,530, black-and-white leather, 22-inch-wheel Capstone edition of the full-size pickup.

We also got a full rundown of both the new, web-based infotainment system, which I was unable to access during my drive earlier this year, as well as all of the amazing self-driving and multiple-monitor tech included in the Tundra’s trailering package.

First up, the hybrid — which is now being produced in Toyota’s San Antonio factory, suggesting availability later this year, fingers crossed. It’s a whole new hybrid concept for the company and, unlike Prius, is not designed to produce remarkably improved fuel efficiency, but will certainly improve the Tundra’s overall driving and towing experience.

Rather than employing a different engine or multiple generator power units, as is the case with other Toyota hybrids, Tundra’s iForce Max engine is exactly the same 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 setup, with a single electrical motor integrated into the system. The same “one motor” system will be also be used with the upcoming Sequoia.

In terms of practicality, that extra boost — 437 horsepower and 583 tall pound-feet of torque, versus 389 hp and 479 pound-feet in the standard engine — helps effectively negate any turbo lag, as well as make the 12,000-pound towing capacity an easier experience.

It’s hard to tell that you’re driving a hybrid as the Tundra’s rooty exhaust note is still there, with a very, very loud version of that hybrid, Frankenstein-style, pedestrian-warning noise as you pull to a stop.

Out on the road, it really goes, with tangibly stronger pull. Total mpg creeps up a bit, especially for in-town driving (final EPA figures have not been released), but the major objective here is added power. As a side note, Toyota’s training crew said they have been seeing mileage as high as 24 mpg during highway trips with even the standard engine.

The hybrid setup is also available as the powertrain for a wide variety of models, including the TRD off-road editions. And when equipped with Tundra’s improved crawl control system, you can set a cruise control feature to more safely navigate while bouncing over rocks or negotiating particularly tough terrain. That system employs a new ABS system that does away with the sometimes terrifying squeaking and crunching noises you may have heard on other hill-descent or terrain-management systems in new 4x4s. In low range, it’ll take care of business both forward and backward at up to 3 mph (slowing you down a bit as you apex over an obstacle, to emphasize traction), with similar thumb-button-regulated speed up to 18 mph in 4×4 high range.

So far, 90 factory accessories are ready for customers, the most impressive being a three-inch lift kit, which adds different shocks and springs.

In the cabin, I also got a walkthrough of the sophisticated Audio Multimedia System, centered in that massive 14-inch touchscreen which dominates the dash. Fulltime owners will get coaching on setting up a web-based account and profile that Tundra will sense each time they get in the car — or, if you have multiple drivers in your family, be able to instantly change seat, mirror and even interior light settings, as well as load your personal audio presets.

The mapping I missed without login privileges is very sophisticated and is loaded from Wi-Fi signal, rather than being permanently loaded on the system; you can also switch back and forth between wirelessly-connected Apple Car Play, if you prefer.

For trailer users, or especially those who really need help occasionally pulling a boat trailer, Tundra’s automatic Straight Path Assist tech will allow hands-free backing assistance, while you concentrate on the power-extended trailer mirrors. Trailer setup is also all-digital and the system even has a brake-light test mode, which will run your turn signals and brake lamps if you want to get out and inspect your connections. It’ll even remember a jackknife angle and automatically brake the truck if you’re backing in too steeply; an extended, 40-foot-long blind spot monitoring mode is also ideal for passing on the highway.

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