On the Road Review: Toyota Tundra Platinum

What if you could get your customers to trust in you, believe in your product(s) so much that they did not care about the latest fads, trends, or the need to be the latest and greatest — at anything — as long as you held fast to the basic tenets that the consumer first believed and held dear?

In reality, this is not all that far-fetched as Toyota claims some of the highest customer loyalty scores in the industry. Its cars and trucks hold up, working well over time, and are seen as relatively affordable — value-conscious products with more function than form.

{gallery}platinum{/gallery} Incredibly, Toyota’s dealership network ranks near the bottom in how it treats customers within the industry and Toyota-badged vehicles rarely win comparison tests with rivals — even as critics like to refer friends and family to buy Toyota products. And how inspired are Toyota owners; can you name two songs that have a Toyota name in them, as opposed to the hundreds of songs that feature some version of a Chevy?

As irrelevant as that comparison may seem for some semblance of market credence, it cannot be ignored that Toyota fans are legendary for their commitment. It might be hard for Alan Jackson to sing about a Toyota, but that does not mean that hundreds of thousands of Toyota owners don’t sing the praises of their favorite Camry, Corolla, 4Runner, Tacoma or Tundra.

And therein lies part of the explanation of why Toyota, to the critics’ everlasting chagrin, didn’t feel it necessary, or deem it all that important, to foist the same amount of upgrades, features, improvements or additions on the latest Tundra pickup as market rivals have done just for the sake of change. With a rugged truck in the house — essentially, the same pickup as the 2007 Texas-built debut version — Toyota doubled down by polishing the rough edges, adding some visual flair as well as a few new accoutrements, but stuck with the powertrain and chassis that got the Tundra to the big dance in the first place.

Hard to argue with that powertrain or the chassis either. Beefy box-frame with double-wishbone front suspenders and strong leaf springs out back render a composed ride that still readily accommodates heavy towing errands without sacrificing handling or the ride. Throw in a tight turning radius, better than almost every other full-size pickup, plus extra sound insulation provided on the cab, the thick windows, the firewall, and the Tundra also is one of the quieter pickups on the road.

While Toyota still offers three engines in the Tundra (the V-6 is probably leaving), most buyers opt for the stout 5.7-liter V-8 that packs 381 hp and 401 pound/feet of peak torque. Backed by a six-speed automatic transmission that features tow/haul mode, downhill braking and manual shift change options, the Tundra gets up and moves smartly whenever you ply the throttle with any vigor. That includes when your boat, camper or horse trailer is affixed to the integrated tow package. With a very aggressive 4.300 rear axle ratio no one will ever feel shortchanged by the Tundra’s pulling ability.

Another strong suit of the most recent Tundra has been the CrewMax version. Regular cab models make up less than 10 percent of sales now, while the DoubleCab configuration works well with many buyers. But the CrewMax offers outstanding rear seat legroom — more than a Lincoln Town Car. Access is via huge rear doors too, so not only do you have lots of seating space — Stetson included — but you have a huge window to view the passing world. The split bench seat folds up as well, creating a very large cargo area safe and inside our Attitude Black Metal CrewMax.

So if the chassis is the same on the new Tundra, the body and cab versions have not changed, and the same engines remain, what is different, you ask.

Well, side by side, the visuals are different only from the front where a different grille profile clearly separates the latest Tundra from last year’s truck. Add brilliant LED running lamps and the Tundra is much more visible too.

Trim-wise, Toyota added two high-end option packages/trim levels to goad buyers into spending more for the panache of a premium Tundra. New Platinum trim, our sample truck, ($49,930 as shown) as well as the new 1794 trim — a western themed interior with lots of cowhide on display — definitely tout some advantages over base trimmed Tundras.

Features such as a crisp JBL audio system, power moonroof, power rear window, heated and ventilated front leather seats with memory, plus Toyota’s Entune 7-inch infotainment screen with navigation and Bluetooth are all supplemented by quilted leather accent panels in the cab. Big seats — for big users — are a definite plus, while a back-up camera, back-up sensors, plus side-steps are now deemed essential rather than frivolous options.

One big feature that I would swap out is the huge center console up front. IF you are opting for the CrewMax pickup, don’t you want the most passenger space that you can get? Doesn’t that mean six-passenger capabilities? That oversize trunk of a console obviously has its fans, and does make a nice spot for an interior picnic, but leaving one spouse or another out of a three-couple date is not a great way to start the weekend. Flip the gearshift back onto the column where it belongs and get the 40/20/40 front seat for maximum flexibility.

Toyota could, and should, make some other changes if it really wants some notoriety and street-cred bragging rights in the pickup wars. The latest Tundra has no bumper steps, no fender-side cargo boxes and no easy lift/easy lower tailgate — like several rivals have available. To further annoy, the Platinum Tundra also came with a cheesy plastic bedliner. Once popular, this setup is no longer the hot-ticket for interior bed protection.

Full disclosure, a black Tundra DoubleCab does yeoman towing and plowing duty in yours truly’s active lifestyle. So, it is easy to both pick on the new Tundra and renew acquaintances with its virtues.

Fuel economy would not, however, be considered a virtue, at least not with the potent 5.7-liter V-8. Surprisingly, our Platinum test truck with the shiny polished 20-inch black wheels, returned a credible 18.2-mpg average during its visit — beating the EPA highway mpg estimate of 17 mpg. Just think, you can get a dealer-installed Supercharger for this motor that adds tunable power up to 500 hp. I don’t think the fuel economy will be the same as our experience though.

For 99 percent of Tundra buyers, this new pickup is an attractive value. Sales are, in fact, up over 10 percent this year, so Toyota is reaping greater volume, greater margins and greater income, critics be damned.

But, for those of us with a more critical bent — we will always want more. The Chevy’s bumper step seems so logical; why don’t all trucks have this? The same for the Ram’s integrated cargo boxes, and the Honda Ridgeline’s in-the-bed trunk. Have you ever crawled around under a five-six year old pickup trying to get the spare tire down? Honda’s pickup trunk would be quite swell to hide a real spare tire, in case someone wants to try to engineer that idea into an upcoming pickup design.

And, do one-touch lane change stalks really cost that much more? Passive exterior locks? I would like the double glove box to return too.

Beefy, strong, stout — all adjectives that apply to the Tundra. Roomy, comfortable, quiet and composed have to be on the list, too. And fast. And it’s a Toyota.

Maybe that’s the most important adjective of all.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.