Rating: 9.0
Bottom Line:
Toyota’s Tundra is the latest of the full-size pickups to benefit from a recent overhaul. Its proven powertrain and redesigned interior, sheet metal and electronics will certainly please the Toyota faithful — but can it win domestic converts?
  • Quiet, like a library at midnight
  • Much improved interior
  • Durable as stone
  • Side-swaying ride in lower trim levels
  • Over-styled exterior
  • Bed lift-over height too tall

View Pictures:  2014 Toyota Tundra

Toyota buyers are a loyal lot, thanks to the brand's well-deserved reputation for durability and quality. Not surprisingly, a small legion of those loyalists demand a full-size personal-use pickup from their favorite automaker, and Toyota is happy to oblige with the Tundra, which is designed and built in the United States. For its third generation Toyota has freshened the 2014 Tundra's exterior and redesigned its interior, fitting it with the latest amenities and lightly upgrading the proven powertrain.

Model lineup
Like others in the full-size pickup market, Toyota doesn't offer Tundra trim levels, but rather builds five distinct trucks, or what Toyota calls "grades." The idea is to more strongly appeal to the somewhat disparate groups of family guys, active boomers and commercial users Toyota identifies as their best Tundra customers.

The base SR is a working vehicle with cloth split bench seat in the standard cab, and an optional Work Truck package that deletes the power windows and locks and substitutes vinyl for the seating material.

More personal-use friendly is the SR5 with all the usual power accessories, single-zone air conditioning and 18-inch steel wheels. Numerous options allow dressing up the SR5 to well-equipped family-use trim. The SR5 Upgrade package, for example, carries cloth bucket seats, a power driver's seat and tilt-telescoping steering along with extra storage cubbies and so on. Forged 18-inch wheels are optional.

Definitely turning the corner to a premium pickup is the Limited, which starts with standard 20-inch allow wheels, along with standard dual-zone air conditioning, leather seating and an option package delivering goodies such as front and rear sonar-assisted parking, and one-touch power windows.

At the top of the line are either the Platinum or the specialty 1794 Edition. These are functionally the same high-grade trim, heavy on Lexus-level leather luxury, and with standard trailer sway control they're built to tow. The difference is that the 1794 Edition sports a rich, saddle-leather interior with extensive 1794 branding, while the Platinum goes for an urbane black and silver scheme.

Building on the Tundra's powerful off-road capability, a TRD Off-Road package is available on SR5 and Limited grades. This brings skidplates, Bilstein shocks, unique 18-inch alloy wheels and tow hooks. A new Michelin tire developed specifically for the 2014 4x4 Tundras works remarkably well, being both quiet on the street and surprisingly grippy in the goo.

Three cabs and three bed lengths are offered: the regular cab, a Double Cab with rear doors larger than most competitor's extended cab offerings, and the limousine-like doors and rear seat room on the Crew Max. The latter is a Tundra strong point and should be considered by anyone needing to put true adults in the back seat for extended periods.

Bed lengths are matched to the cabs. Only regular cabs get the 8.1-foot box; the Double Cab pairs up with the 6.5-foot standard box; and the Crew Max makes do only with the abbreviated 5.5-foot short box. Unfortunately, there is no standard-box Crew Max combination, which is a common shortcoming across the half-ton pickup market.

Under the hood
The 2014 chassis and powertrains are nearly pure carryovers, although Toyota reports unspecified detail changes to the optional 5.7-liter V8 engine's innards and upgrades the automatic transmission with stronger gears. That means the 4.0-liter V-6 with 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque continues as the base engine. This is a fuel-economy choice in a full-size truck and suited for general runabout duties. It is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission.

An in-between 4.6-liter V8 engine rated at 310 horsepower and 327 lb-ft of torque is commonly available with the larger cabs, followed by the real attraction: a 5.7-liter 32-valve V8 with 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque. All 5.7-liter engines are mated to the tow package, and all of the V8s to the updated 6-speed automatic.

No significant changes have been made to the brakes, chassis or suspension, which is fine, because the Tundra chassis is capable on pavement and especially off-road. Toyota has stayed with hydraulic-assisted steering, preferring the feel it gives compared to electric assist. Four-wheel drive with low-range gearing is optional with the V8 engines, and is combined with brake-intervention traction control systems that provide good grip in sloppy conditions.

Most 5.7-liter Tundras are rated for over 10,000 pounds of towing, or at least 1,500 pounds of cargo-bed payloads. Fuel economy ratings for 4x2 Tundras are 16 mpg city/20 mpg highway with the V6, 15/19 mpg with the 4.6 V8, and 13/18 mpg with the 5.7. The 4.6 doesn't save much gas, while the 5.7 is decidedly more muscular.

Inner space
Responding to customer input, Toyota seriously updated the 2014 Tundra interior. Materials and finish are better throughout, along with a fresh redesign. Certainly all the basics are well-covered. The new instrument cluster offers easily read traditional round dials and a new information screen, and the center console and its controls have been moved closer to the driver. Overall, the look is bold and oversized in keeping with the Tundra's full-size mantra.

In-cab storage options are also improved, with nifty under-seat storage compartments. To increase storage room, rear-seat cushions now fold upward rather than the seatbacks folding downward.

Big changes are also found in Toyota's Entune electronics suite. Revised audio head units, more apps, a swipe-enabled touch screen, better voice recognition, navigation, and free HD data subscriptions are now on hand. The rearview camera has also been upgraded.

On the road
Tundras are notably quiet, the 4.6-liter V-8 engine all but silent at idle and emitting little more than background white noise when pushed, for example. On the other hand, the 5.7-liter V8 engine emits a familiar, if well-muted, exhaust grumble that just can't be hidden, along with a useful boost of power appreciated on hill climbs - that's a huge plus when towing anything more than an aluminum rowboat. The 5.7 has a slight, and appreciated, heft to its ride as well.

Roominess is genuine, with none of the common pickup bugaboos like cramped front passenger foot room. However, the new styling raises the hood almost two inches, which enhances the Tundra's full-size presence from the driver's seat, but combined with the Tundra's trendy, tall ride height, it also means the environment immediately in front of the truck is less readily visible.

Another casualty to the tall ride and bed side height is bed access; reaching into the Tundra's bed is for NBA players. Available rail-system cargo tie-downs make load security a breeze.

Definitely worth noting: The Tundra 4x4s are very effective off-roaders with excellent ground clearance and effective tires. An especially low-range gear ratio gives good performance and enjoyable trail crawling, and is backed by good electronic traction aids.

Right for you?
Tundra pricing and performance are on par for its class, so the purchasing decision comes down to first deciding if the elegantly midsize Tacoma isn't large enough for your needs, and then finding satisfaction with the Tundra's personality. Its emphasis on noise isolation, soft ride and styling make it a valued daily or long-haul driver, and there's no lack of performance or capability. Its larger Double Cab and limo-like Crew Max cabs are also strong attractions for those commonly filling more than the front seats.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

Longtime Road & Track contributor Tom Wilson's credits include local racing championships, three technical engine books and hundreds of freelance articles.