Toyota’s beleaguered design staff needed to try something, anything, with the 2014 Tundra. Customers, automotive critics, and little old ladies in crosswalks had been demanding better styling for the unhappiest-looking pickup on the market. So, with nearly limitless digital capacity at their disposal at the Calty Design Center in Newport Beach, California, and the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the team dispatched their evolving creation on a virtual journey.
First, evidently in a capricious mood after coffee, they sent it to the virtual petting zoo, where it swallowed a muscovy duck and found, as in some fairy tale, that it began to resemble its meal. Talk about a big honkin’ truck! Next, it careened through a virtual rodeo; the fencing and grandstand debris couldn’t be removed from the front end. Finally, it was barrier-tested against Glenn Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Hence, the glitter.
Then the old devils in design pressed “send.” The result was displayed to flagrant disadvantage when the ’14 Toyota Tundra was introduced to the press at Falling Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania. This bastion of Frank Lloyd Wright emulation is just down the road from the architect’s Fallingwater house. Wright himself could sometimes overdo it, and because he was a tyrant, no one told him, “OK, that’s enough!” Yet the emphasis always remained on simple lines and functionality.
Not so with the ’14 Tundra. That hornbill-hood syndrome, with the chrome grille surrounds extending over the edge, is overkill. And the vented snout up there on the 1.6-inch-higher hood? It’s fake. Sheetmetal seals up the underside. Good thing handguns aren’t allowed in the Newport Beach and Ann Arbor facilities, or a whole lot of designers would be rehabbing foot injuries.
Considering this new level of Frankentruckness along with the curious lack of powertrain improvements and the absence of key features, we have to ask: will Toyota ever get the big truck thing right? (Nissan can’t get the big truck thing right, either, but the modesty of the Titan’s styling is appreciated.) Toyota’s twenty-one years in the full-size segment have resulted in the automotive equivalent of direct release to video.
Yes, many good things were done in the attempt to refine the Tundra and improve this year’s sales of 107,000 units. Toyota excels at bringing along its products from one generation to the next. To this end, a new top-of-the line model was added: the 1794 Edition, which salutes the ranching pioneers of the San Antonio property where Toyota builds Tundras and Tacomas.
The 1794 Edition has 20-inch alloy wheels, heated and ventilated front seats, LED daytime running lights, a moonroof, a tow package, and premium infotainment. With the CrewMax cab configuration, the cargo bed is 5.5 feet long, but the backseat is vast and the seat cushions tip up for added storage space. The handsome leather-and-suede-trimmed interior with rearranged instrument display and center console really stands out. “I’d put this interior up against any vehicle on the road,” said chief engineer Mike Sweers. The steering wheel, of leather and wood, is a wonder. And we actually found ourselves gazing with appreciation at the tufted floormats and thinking, “Wow, people lived well in the eighteenth century!”
The 1794 stands over the SR and SR5, Limited, and Platinum in a four-model lineup. Although they share the same powertrain and basic running gear, stepping down from the 1794 to the Platinum is disappointing because of the latter’s dismal interior of urethane and olefin. The model mix includes a choice of a a 4.0-liter V-6 and V-8s of 4.6 and 5.7 liters. There are regular, double and CrewMax cabs; cargo bed lengths of 8.1, 6.5, and 5.5 feet; and of course the choice between rear- and four-wheel-drive. A backup camera is standard on all models, and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic warning alert is included on CrewMax models. Sweers said it was either this feature or an integrated step in the bumper, and they went with safety instead.
Another gripe about the Tundra is that nothing much is happening in the cargo bed. Compared with the Ram’s clever cargo management system and bodyside storage compartments or the Ford F-150’s bed extender and deployable tailgate step, it’s not too advanced. Having a spoiler integrated into the tailgate looks OK, but we’re not sure if it reduces drag enough to make a difference. Fuel economy figures are not good.
On the road, the Tundra drives just dandy. The 5.7-liter V-8 is smooth and quiet and has a nice kick. The six-speed automatic is no match for the Ram’s eight-speed (and the fuel economy advantage it returns), but isn’t a bad transmission. Compared with electrically assisted steering, the Tundra’s hydraulic assist feels like having a bass on the line instead of just bait, and rolling on massive P275/55R-20 Bridgestone Dueler all-season tires, the 1794 managed to avoid the brittle sort of ride we experienced most recently in an F-150 on 22-inch wheels. Heading for a secluded hilltop cabin, we ascended a rutted trail nearly to the crest before switching to four-wheel low and blasting over the top. This was accomplished without the specially developed Michelin off-road tires that are available.
While we chide Toyota about the homely face of this poor truck, we find the sharper character line on the side quite appealing. And the Tundra name stamped into the tailgate is a nice touch. When the ’14 Tundra goes on sale in mid-August, with nationwide availability by mid-September, Toyota expects to see sales rise by 30,000 units. (Pricing has yet to be announced.) The toughest challenge for them will be to fully utilize the factory’s capability in producing that many.
Those of us who live in Southern California see 40-year-old Toyota compact trucks in regular use by gardeners and junk collectors, and although the Tundra is aimed more at suburbanites with toys or mulch to haul, we know it will still be scrapping around in mid-century, favored approximately by the same bunch of users. Maybe by then, as our perspective evolves, we won’t be so appalled by how it looks. Nevertheless, in the summer of 2013, we find it regrettable, and we can’t think of a significant advantage the Tundra has over the Ram or any other full-size competitor.
2014 Toyota Tundra
- Engine: DOHC 4.0-liter V-6; DOHC 4.6-liter; DOHC 5.7-liter V-8
- Power: 270 hp @ 5600 rpm; 310 hp @ 5600 rpm; 381 hp @ 5600 rpm
- Torque: 278 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm; 327 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm; 401 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
- Transmission: Five- or six-speed automatic
- Drive: Rear- or four-wheel
- Steering: Hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion
- Front suspension: Double-wishbones with stabilizer bar and gas shock absorbers
- Rear suspension: Live axle with leaf springs and gas shock absorbers
- Brakes: Four-wheel ventilated disc with ABS
- Tires: P255/70R-18, P275/60R-20 all-season
- L x W x H: 228.9-247.8. x 79.9 x 75.8-76.4 in
- Wheelbase: 145.7-164.6 in
- Track F/R: 67.9/67.9 in
- Weight: 4760-5860 lb
- Ground clearance: 10.0-10.6 in
- Angle of approach: 26.0 degrees
- Ramp breakover: N/A
- Angle of departure: 21.0-22.0 degrees
- Passenger volume: N/A
- Cargo volume: N/A
- Towing: 9000-10,400 lb
epa mileage (est.):
- 4.0-liter V-6 4×2 16/20 mpg; 4.6-liter V-8
- 4×2 15/19 mpg, 4×4 14/18 mpg; 5.7-liter V-8 4×2 13/18 mpg, 4×4 13/17 mpg