2007 Toyota Tundra

By Design 1

1. The headlamps are extremely banal, set high in the fender with a sharp break in the contours at the top.
2. Supremely bad design: a fake air scoop set into the top of the grille shell, blocked off by a textured black panel.
3. This may look like a skid plate, but it's just more decorative plastic. Simpler, better versions are available.
4. Suddenly, almost every new vehicle has round lamps in its bumper covers. Are designers out of ideas or out of money?

By Design 2

5. The silly little kick-up in the sill line simply looks like a mistake. But there are lots of those on the Tundra.
6. Wheelhouse bulges on the sides are supposed to make the truck look tough. They really don't.
7. The taillights push out from the nominal surface so that they can be seen from the front at a 45-degree angle. Good for safety, but not for style. And they're vulnerable to damage.
8. The Tundra is huge, with very high sides, so this add-on running board is almost a necessity.

By Design 3

9. The steering wheel has a definite passenger-car look, pudgy and without character. Very Toyota-like, in fact.
10. Two small gauges to the right of the speedometer are rather clever, making one think of technical necessity rather than styling.
11. There are essentially two instrument panels--the light attached to the gauge cluster and the dark one dealing with controls a passenger could use. A good idea reasonably well executed.
12. Five little round elements in a line across the two console sections seem like a bit much, but presumably the whole cockpit design was heavily researched so owners will like it.

Horizontal Black Line

For many years, key people in Detroit were convinced that no one could possibly compete with domestic pickup trucks. I recall retired Ford design chief Jack Telnack railing about the just-introduced Nissan Titan pickup at the 2003 Detroit auto show. He said it looked awful, so how could anyone buy it? "Jack," I replied, "imagine for a moment that you had to buy your own cars at whatever price you could negotiate with a dealer and pay for all of the servicing. Wouldn't you let great Japanese quality and reliability trump indifferent Japanese styling?" There was a long, pensive silence and a noncommittal but expressive "Ummm, well . . . " The Titan hasn't been a big winner, partly because of its styling but largely because the expected quality wasn't there.

Cool Detail

Toyota quality is generally better than Nissan's, and its 95-percent-full-size, outgoing Tundra has been pretty much bulletproof, so the new Tundra is well-placed to devour the lunches of Chevrolet, Dodge, and Ford pickups. And it just might do that, based not on appearance--it's very ugly in my view--but on Toyota's enviable reputation. Bad guys the world over use small Toyota pickups and crudely made Kalashnikov AK-47s to trump expensively equipped military units when the chips are down.

I believe we can be certain that the Tundra will be a good vehicle. It is surely not as aerodynamic as the latest General Motors pickups, and despite a grille largely inspired by the Dodge big-rig look, it doesn't really carry off the theme as well as Tom Gale's design team did more than a decade ago. The perpetual best-seller, Ford's F-150, was slightly feminized one generation back, and Toyota has tried to capture a bit of that civilized look without, it must be said, much success. But as I remarked to Telnack, what difference does the styling make if the vehicle is clearly superior?

Is it? It's too early to know, but I would be surprised if it's not. The Tundra is available with the classic pickup short cab, with an extended cab as seen here (Toyota calls it an Access Cab), and with a full four-door Double Cab. The chassis pattern is purely American: a ladder frame with nine crossmembers, leaf springs holding a live axle in place at the rear, and an independent front suspension. There are V-6 and V-8 engines and approximately one zillion options, accessories, and ways to make every single Tundra rolling off the assembly line subtly different from every other Tundra. As is often the case, the plain, pipe-rack models look quite a lot better than the fancier ones. The chrome grille seen here, with its fake air scoop at the top, is a lot less agreeable than the painted shell of the less expensive versions. The bumpers of those more workmanlike vehicles are less obtrusive than this model's imitation skid plate, and there are other desirable simplifications, too.

But, to repeat, who cares, as long as the truck is solid?

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