Toyota Tundra: The Only Guide You’ll Need
The Toyota Tundra is the best-selling full-size pickup on the US market. It’s not hard to see why.
First introduced in 1999, the Tundra was the first of Toyota’s pick-up trucks to be manufactured within the US. And despite some early teething problems, the hardy truck has earned the adoration of fans.
The Tundra has a well-deserved reputation for rock-solid reliability and formidable towing performance. It’s versatile too, with Toyota offering a range of trims and configurations to cater to everyone.
But things weren’t always that rosy.
Two generations, one rough start
The Toyota Tundra was, as mentioned, the Japanese automaker’s first pickup truck to be manufactured in the US. But despite this, it suffered from an identity crisis.
The first generation, sold between 1999 and 2006, bore many similarities with the Tacoma and the short-lived T100. The base configuration used the same 3.4L V6 engine as its predecessors.
When it came to towing performance and bed size (arguably the two of the most important factors when buying a truck), little set the Tundra apart. While it wasn’t a failure, it was hardly a game changer, either.
Still, Toyota got a couple of things right. It recognized that US consumers typically use trucks for personal use, and thus, the Tacoma had a fairly comfortable interior. It also offered a powerful 4.7L V8 engine option, whereas the ill-fated T100 maxed out at a 3.4L V6, which proved unpopular with demanding users.
Over the course of the generation, Toyota made modest improvements, adding 5-speed automatic and 6-speed manual variants. It offered larger bed sizes, and improvements in engine technology allowed it to squeeze more horsepower from the top-spec V8 option.
Toyota later opted to return to the drawing board, resulting in the second-generation Tundra, first released in 2007 with production continuing to this day.
This time around, Toyota got things right. The second generation reinforced the Tundra’s credentials as a work car thanks to its larger bed sizes and improved overall performance.
Over the years, the company has offered five different engine variants, ranging from the entry-level 3L V6 to the 5.7L V8, with a maximum towing capacity of 10,000lbs and a 2,000lbs maximum payload. These were demonstrated in 2012, when an unmodified Tundra pulled the Space Shuttle Endeavor across Los Angeles’ I-405.
Toyota also discontinued the manual transmission option, settling on three variants of five and six-speed automatic gearboxes.
The Tundra came with three different cab sizes: a two-door regular cab, a four-door double cab, and a spacious four-door Crewmax. In 2014, Toyota discontinued the two-door variant due to low demand. The Crewmax style remains the most popular cabin type to this day.
The second-generation also included subtle tweaks designed to cater to its working customer base. Adjustments to the headrest made it more comfortable to wear a hardhat while inside. Toyota also redesigned the door handles, so they could be more easily gripped when wearing a glove.
Although the fundamentals of the Tundra remain unchanged, Toyota has nonetheless made some modest intra-year tweaks over time. The most significant was in 2014, when Toyota fundamentally overhauled the interior. It completely redesigned the seats and dashboard, and started offering an infotainment system and bluetooth as standard.
The 2021 Toyota Tundra
Almost fifteen years since its introduction, the Toyota Tundra is starting to show its age, as demonstrated by a review in Car and Driver. Writer Eric Stafford bemoaned how this year’s Tundra “looks and feels obsolete,” and criticised the truck’s weak fuel efficiency and “clumsy on-road demeanor.”
Still, he conceded the Tundra remained a comfortable ride, noting how the cab offered “apartment-like room.” He also praised the included standard features and off-road performance, particularly on the high-end TRD Pro trim.
This model year was virtually unchanged from the 2020, with the exception of two new limited-edition appearance packages: Nightshade and Trail. Toyota also raised the price of the Tundra across the board, with the base SR model starting at $35,620 (up $100 against the previous year), and the high-end Platinum trim retailing at $50,840.
That notwithstanding, the Tundra has long enjoyed a deserved reputation for dependability, regularly appearing top of its class in publications like Consumer Reports and JD Power. The 2013 year proved especially solid, with the 4WD and 2WD models clinching the top two places in the reliability rankings.
Still, it took some time for Toyota to work out the kinks, and some first generation year models were subject to multiple recalls.
The first major recall took place in 2009 and involved over 110,000 vehicles, over fears that excess rust on the rear crossmember could present a safety risk. In 2012, it recalled models produced during 2004 and 2007 over potential problems in the steering and suspension systems caused by faulty ball joints.
The second-generation has largely been spared from any mass-recalls, although some year models have proven to be more fault-prone than others.
In particular, the 2012 model is reputed to have issues with the air induction pump. This typically breaks down after 74,000 miles and requires a complete replacement, costing over $3,000 on average.
An American Success Story
The Toyota Tundra is a fierce workhorse, with a well-deserved reputation for reliability and comfort. But it took a long time to get there.
The first generation was confused, and struggled to stand out from the crowd. Since then, Toyota has perfected the recipe, and faithfully stuck to it ever since. It remains one of the most appealing full-size pickups on the market.
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July 12, 2021
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