Louisville, Kentucky - The Tundra isn't just bigger than its wimpy predecessor, it begs for notice. There's enough chrome in its grille to deplete global reserves of that metal. Ripped flanks shroud eighteen- or twenty-inch wheels shod with rubber that's ten or more inches wide. But in aiming for a Mack truck look, Toyota designers hit the homely bulldog target dead center.
The beauty instead is in the Tundra's breadth of offering. Thanks to a choice of three cabs, box lengths, wheelbases, engines, and trim levels, you can spec it out thirty-one different ways from Sunday. There's a tow package rated for 10,800 pounds and 381 hp to move it, thanks to the 32-valve, 5.7-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic.
Cruising greater Louisville, we looked down on Ford Explorers from the Tundra's overstuffed seats. Every chassis--even with two-wheel drive--is a high-lift design. Interior trim is an attractive combination of silver painted control areas, low-gloss moldings, and neatly stitched upholstery. Like the new GM pickups, a double stack of glove boxes comes standard. But Houston, we have a problem with the doors. Those on the base two-door and the rear doors on the CrewMax are so long and heavy that kids will struggle latching them. Like baby bear's bed, the Double Cab doors are just right.
All three engines are smooth, quiet, and powerful in the Toyota mold. The big V-8 purrs silently in cruise mode. When tasked to move a hefty load, the samurai warrior buried in its soul lets out a fierce yowl. Steering and brakes are linear and accurate but never involving. This is a big truck with the mindset of a faithful servant.
The ride is skewed in the Lexus direction, with low impact harshness and comfortable isolation but jiggling motions on nasty pavement. Whereas competitors favor fully boxed frames, Toyota engineers welded boxed front rails to C-section rear frame members to save weight, which allows more flex than is typical of the incumbent pickups. While towing a heavy load on wet pavement, too much throttle leaving a stoplight turned the rear axle into a jackhammer.
The Tundra is a more serious threat than Nissan's Titan, but it won't swing 200,000 votes overnight. The new GM trucks are vastly improved, the Dodge Ram is deeply discounted, and the Ford F-150 is due for fresh makeup.