The 2014 Toyota Tundra represents the Japanese giant's second stab at the fullsize truck market. The first was hamstrung by timing -- shortly after the upsized and dramatically restyled Tundra came out in 2007, the Great Recession hit and threw the truck market into turmoil. Sales never reached the 200,000 annual mark the automaker hoped to hit and, on top of that, Ram, General Motors, and Ford have upped their game. So, where did Toyota go from there?

We learned part of the answer at the Chicago Auto Show. While Ford has opted for a turbocharged V-6 engine, Ram went with innovative features like air suspension and grille shutters, and GM opted for a combo of direct injection and cylinder shutoff, Toyota took the most conservative route, making just minor mechanical changes for 2014. What the company did, though, was fine-tune details, revise the styling, improve materials, and add a new trim level.

All three engines -- 4.0-liter V-6, 4.6-liter V-8, and 5.7-liter V-8 -- return, but for our drive, Toyota supplied a variety of 5.7-liter Double Cabs. Trim levels are SR, SR5, Limited, Platinum, and 1794. We started our drive in the Limited, which is likely to be the heart of the market for the truck.

After a brief walkaround, we could finally see the Tundra's new looks in natural light. The changes are more apparent here than they were under the fluorescent lights of the auto show floor. The lines are crisper, and telltale signs that the styling has changed can be seen in the new grille and nose (different for each trim level), squared-off fender wells, and the word "Tundra" embossed into the tailgate. The front-end styling is perhaps the weakest part of the Tundra's new look -- it has gone from bold to gaudy on the premium trucks, almost looking like change for change's sake. Overall, the outside difference between the 2013 and 2014 is subtle.

Things are more substantial on the inside, where the Tundra's cabin looks more technical. Materials on the dash, seats, doors, and steering wheel all look and feel like they're higher quality than before and the gauges are more modern and are easier to read. There are still little odd quirks -- the front passenger seat had manual controls, which is strange in the midlevel truck, and for me, the seat bottom was almost too long. I'm not short, but it would be nice if the bottom cushion length could be adjusted. Not everyone who drives a truck is 6'3".

On the road, the truck feels as good as we remember the Tundra feeling the last time we drove one. The 381-horsepower V-8 and six-speed automatic continue to work well together. While it may seem like an odd decision for Toyota to stick with the same powertrains as before, Toyota is happy with the combination of fuel efficiency, power, and reliability the trio offer. The DOHC 5.7-liter uses dual VVT-i and has plenty of torque, with its peak 401 lb-ft on tap at 3600 rpm. That's more horsepower than the EcoBoost, but less torque -- and it comes at a higher rpm. The Tundra is quick off the line, with touchy throttle tip in, and easily gets to speed. Braking is confident (like the throttle, it was also slightly touchy), and the front discs are almost 14 inches in diameter. Noise levels are better than before, and both steering and ride are excellent. Engineers did a great job of improving on the driving characteristics of the truck without making massive changes. Entune contains a lot of cool innovations, but we still find some elements of the system to be counterintuitive. For example, making the map fill the screen should have been easier.

We then moved up to the new 1794 Edition. It is named in honor of the year the Walsh Ranch, which is near the San Antoinio, Texas factory that builds the Tundra, was founded. It is Toyota's answer to the F-150 King Ranch, Ram Laramie Longhorn, and upcoming Silverado High Country. This Toyota's interior was very different from the rest of the Tundra line. It pairs butterscotch leather with coppery wood accents to black and silver gauges and center stack. It's a color scheme that looks surprisingly attractive. The seats were wrapped in Lexus-quality leather, but there are a lot of different textures here: two different types of perforation, suede inserts along the sides, and solid leather at the top. And, similar to the Laramie Longhorn, the 1794 has unique embossing on the seats plus its own take on floor mats. In this case, each mat is ringed with what looks like black rope, and the inset material is durable carpet with bolts. The mat material looks tough enough for someone to scrape cow "dirt" off the bottom of a pair of boots, yet I don't think that anyone who buys a 1794 will be eager to get a cabin this nice that dirty. Considering this grade comes with a bevy of standard equipment, we wonder just how much the 1794 is going to cost. This is one of the nicest-looking Western truck interiors out there, but for those that don't like the "hey, y'all" looks of the 1794, yet still want a premium interior, there is the Platinum, which uses a techy, black and silver motif.

Off-road, the 2014 Tundra is just as capable off-road as before. Engineers did chose to have the transfer case made from even more durable materials than before, and revised the four-wheel-drive system so it takes less time to shift into 4WD -- and it does. Towing capacity is 10,400 pounds, and that is J2807-compliant (Toyota is the only truckmaker to adhere to it).

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. Sales begin in August, with pricing to come shortly.


2014 Toyota Tundra Limited 4x4; 1794 4x4
BASE PRICE $42,000; $51,000 (TT est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck
ENGINE 5.7L/381-hp/401-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 5675; 5750 lb (est)
WHEELBASE 145.7 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 228.9 x 79.9 x 76.4 in
0-60 MPH 6.6 sec (est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 13/17 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 259/198 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.33 lb/mile (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. August 2013
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