By the early 2000s, the Japanese had already proved they were capable of building far more than cheap and cheerful compacts, with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry having already established themselves as the models to beat in the midsize class, and the Lexus LS 400 starting its second decade as a no-nonsense competitor in the luxury sedan segment. So it was only natural for the Toyota to think it could take on the most prized segment of all in terms of volume and profitability, full-size pickups. After Toyota's somewhat half-hearted attempt with the T-100 in 1993, it came back with a more focused and deliberate effort for the full-size segment with the Tundra in 2000.
First Generation - 2000-2006
The first generation was slightly larger than its predecessor T-100, and added a V-8 engine option, but was still slightly smaller than its domestic peers. Our editors were so impressed with the Tundra's adept fusion of carlike maneuverability, comfort, and driveability with truck capability that it won our 2000 Truck of the Year award. In retrospect, we perhaps overestimated the Tundra's impact on the full-size truck market:
"The notion that only the domestic "Big Three" can build a proper full-size pickup has finally been eclipsed. In making good in on its longstanding promise to directly challenge U.S. producers of full-size V-8 pickups, Toyota has delivered an exceptional new offering: the 2000 Tundra. On sale since last June, this bold upstart has sent shockwaves through the industry -- and handily rolled off with our Truck of the Year award, as well. Although first full-year sales volumes are projected only at about 100,000 units, its mere presence ensures that the Ford/Chevy/Dodge big-pickup game (total volume over 2 million units) will never be the same."
Over the course of the first-generation's model run, the 4.7-liter V-8 got a power bump from 245 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque to 282 hp and 325 lb-ft, while the 190 hp, 220 lb-ft 3.4-liter V-6 was replaced in 2005 with a new 4.0-liter engine with 236 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. A Double Cab crew cab model was added in 2003, which sported an industry-first full-width rear vertical-sliding window, a feature that remains a Tundra class-exclusive to this day. As if to prove its legitimacy with full-size truck customers, Toyota offered a Darrell Waltrip-edition model in 2006 to commemorate the brand's recent entry into the all-American racing league. Despite competitive powertrains and innovative features, the Tundra was still not considered a legitimate rival to the domestic models. Toyota was about to surprise everyone.
Tired of being called a "seven-eighths" pickup, Toyota went big with the second-generation model, which it debuted at the 2006 Chicago auto show. In addition to being substantially larger dimensionally than its predecessor, it also had much higher capacities, with a 2000-pound payload, and a 10,000- pound towing capacity. The top engine option was a take-no-prisoners 5.7-liter V-8 with 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque. Also to counter criticism that the previous model was available in too few configurations compared with the dozens offered by the domestic models, the new Tundra was offered in 31 configurations with three bed lengths, three cab configurations, and four wheelbase lengths. Due to availability issues, the new Tundra missed out on our 2007 Truck of the Year competition, but rallied to win the award for 2008. In our summary of the testing, we said:
"Superiority? Toyota is pulling no punches by introducing one of the biggest, strongest, and most capable vehicles in the segment as well as investing billions in a new state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in the heart of truck country--San Antonio, Texas. Significance? With Toyota looking to more than double its presence in the hotly contested half-ton marketplace, the Tundra represents one of the most highly anticipated new vehicle launches in many years -- car or truck."
Along the way, the 4.7-liter V-8 was replaced with a more powerful and more efficient 4.6-liter unit with 310 hp and 327 lb-ft, matched to a six-speed automatic. Among the numerous trim and cab configurations was a short-bed, regular cab with the 5.7-liter V-8, that could be further augmented with a TRD supercharger, bringing output to a scorching 504 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque. Our test of this configuration yielded an eye-popping 4.4-second 0-60 run and 13-second-flat quarter mile at 106.3 mph.
Although the second-generation Tundra was able to break six figure sales, selling almost 200,000 units in 2007, it was still a long ways off from toppling the F-Series.
The 2014 refresh is just that, a refresh. Seven years is the typical model cycle for full-size pickups, at the end of which they usually get a clean-sheet redesign. So when spy shots of the 2014 model started surfacing, hopes were high for some significant changes, such as a hybrid powertrain option, direct-injected engines, and all-new styling. When the wraps were finally pulled off the new model, we got a full look at what the 2014 model entailed: exterior nips and tucks, a significant interior refresh, and minimal mechanical changes. A more cynical view would say Toyota capitulated to the reality that it would never unseat the domestics from their dominance in full-size trucks, but we think it was a shrewd realization that fixing some of the issues existing owners had with their trucks and offering Toyota loyalists a reason to trade up:
"Yes, this Tundra redesign is a conservative one that doesn't add a lot of bells and whistles, like the ones that are available on Rams and Fords, but the truck is highly capable and comfortable. The 2014 Tundra probably won't pull a lot of people away from Ford, GM, and Ram, as those buyers are often very loyal to their respective brands, but it will make Toyota buyers very happy. And it's possible that's all Toyota has to do to reach its almost-certainly less-ambitious sales goals for the new truck."