It's no secret that Toyota has been making a substantial effort of late to appear more American. Its recent entries into the premier leagues of good-ole-boy racing--first the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and, more recently, the NASCAR Nextel Cup--attest quite loudly to that. But turning left repeatedly can only get you so far with American consumers, some of whom don't even watch NASCAR or any of its subseries. Quality product is what impresses people, a truth that can't be any more self-evident considering Toyota built its reputation--and gargantuan sales figures--on the backs of well-built, reliable vehicles like the Camry and the RAV4 SUV.
That truth also makes the all-new Tundra, arguably the most significant new-vehicle introduction at this year's Chicago auto show, an important piece of hardware for Toyota in its quest to maintain its positive momentum in the American marketplace.
The outgoing version had adequate levels of comfort and capability, but was--and this is being generous--seriously outgunned by larger, brawnier, and, well, truck-ier competition. Despite its shortcomings, however, the Tundra was never exactly a sales failure for Toyota, with 126,529 examples moved last year. But that number pales in comparison when placed next to the 901,463 Ford F-series trucks, the 705,980 Chevy Silverados, and the 400,543 Dodge Rams sold during the same period.
But Toyota, as usual, has a plan, beginning with making the new truck larger in all the areas. The new truck will offer three cab setups, including a standard cab, a double cab with smaller front-hinged rear doors, and, for the first time, a true crew cab featuring four real doors with a full-size rear bench. (The double cab replaces the access cab as the mid-grade bodystyle.) Preliminary specifications show that the new, mid-lineup double-cab truck (shown here) is only 1.4 inches shorter than the outgoing range-topping model, and that same amount has been added to the old truck's height. The bed also gains a whopping 4.4 inches of length, and the wheelbase has jumped from 140.5 inches to nearly 146 inches. That, in turn, means a roomier cabin, more hauling capability, and an even more comfortable ride. There will also be three trim levels: base (the regular one), SR5 (the sporty one), and Limited (the fancy one). Add in the various bed lengths, and the Tundra will be available in over thirty different configurations.
Toyota's 2004 FTX concept truck was a fairly accurate, if more guppy-like, precursor to the all-new model. The production Tundra's styling is still, like the outgoing model's, on the boring side of dull, but it is handsome. The added height has beefed up the truck's physical presence and, viewed in profile, the stubby nose--quickly becoming a signature Toyota design element--gives the impression that each and every spare millimeter was put to good use maximizing cabin space and cargo bed capacity. The interior is typical Toyota: thoughtfully designed but visually uninteresting. Taking a page from the F-150's playbook, the Tundra's designers have placed the shift lever on the center console, freeing up the right side of the steering column for a second control stalk. A variety of tech-heavy options will be available, including a widescreen backup camera, a premium JBL sound system, and Bluetooth cell-phone connectivity.