On the Road Review: Toyota Tundra SR5 CrewMax

In an industry that favors four- to five-year product designs, Toyota counters that philosophy with extended-run production cycles that are far longer than what competitors utilize on their vehicles. 

Camry and Corolla sedans might get styling updates to remain competitive every few years, yet the foundation, the chassis and powertrain, might remain unaltered for much longer. Doesn’t seem to stunt sales any, as buyers obviously prefer the dependable reliability of what works, and works, over fresh modernity that frequently doesn’t.

This is even more obvious with the brand’s trucks. From the midsize 4Runner to the compact Tacoma and the full-size Tundra pickup, Toyota’s popular trucks are, to be kind, a little long in the tooth. This week’s Tundra SR5 is mechanically unchanged since its 2006 debut, a statement supported by an original SR5 parked here in the driveway for the last 11 years. A 15-year production run for a mainstream product is extremely rare today.

The current Tundra made an impressive national debut back in 2006, even staging an event at the Bangor State Fair that summer, as Toyota proclaimed (like Nissan would later) that it was going to be a true competitor to the established “Big Three” pickup trucks. The Tundra arrived with a bold, spacious cabin available in two different four-door layouts, a then class-leading 381-hp 5.7-liter V-8, plus a ride and handling dynamic that was more polished than its rivals in 2006, but a bit less so against more compliant suspensions today.

In the interim, everyone else got better while the Tundra, built in Texas, stayed mostly the same. It still lacks an AWD setting in the 4WD case, there is no multi-function tailgate or access steps in the fenders or bumper to aid pickup bed access, there are no storage bins under the rear seats or in the humped rear floor, no stylized dual exhausts and no heated seats at this price point ($33,675 Double Cab base, $49,040 CrewMax shown). The cabin remains spacious — with the largest rear seat space in the segment in CrewMax format — yet the same aggravating gated shifter is in the console, and the fuel economy remains woeful: 13/17 mpg for EPA estimates, 14 mpg realized in winter driving. 

Using a stout 4.30 set of tall rear gears that improves acceleration (and hurts fuel economy), the Tundra’s tow limits remain at 10,200 pounds, about 20 percent less than its primary rivals. The six-speed automatic, which works well now like it did 15 years ago, is down at least two cogs to the modern eight- and 10-speed automatics used by Ram, Chevy and Ford that produce more fuel efficiency. 

All of this is probably irrelevant to the loyal cadre of Tundra owners who are often repeat owners — with numbers in the top 10 in the industry for multiple Tundra purchases. The Tundra repeatedly earns top marks for dependability, a factor that is vastly more important to owners who need their truck to work all of the time rather than fancy updates that don’t improve performance. With sales that ring in at around 110,000 to 120,000 units year in and year out (Ford sells on average 800,000 F-series trucks each year), Toyota sells half as many Tundras as compact Tacomas. Apparently this is good enough. 

Perhaps the Tundra’s steady appeal is that it remains an analog experience in a world gone mad for digital interaction. The oversized knurled knobs for the climate system, perfect for gloved hands, the dual knobs on the stereo instead of a silly touchscreen, plus the precise rocker switches for other functions all point to a conscious design emphasis for ease of use, not impressive visuals. 

The huge console, the big door pockets, plus a unique power rear window add to the Tundra’s appeal. And while the 5.5-foot bed in CrewMax models is a foot shorter than Double Cab versions, there is no mistaking the functionality of that massive rear seating area. 

A trailer braking control is new, Apple and Android capability is more widely available, plus Toyota’s Safety Sense electronic driving assists are standard. Lockable storage bins atop the wheel wells in the bed are a smart concession to modern storage options — while retaining the ability to carry 4-by-8 sheets of building materials, plus Toyota has flushed out the lineup with several new trim levels to provide some acumen for off-roading and luxury expectations. 

A new Tundra is supposed to debut this fall. Details are scarce, but rumors indicate a potential turbo V-6, like Ford uses, plus a hybrid-powered Tundra, which is long overdue from the company that makes more hybrid vehicles than all other makers combined. 

It should be assumed that the next Tundra will be tough, strong and still march to the beat of a slightly different drummer. 

Next week: Dodge Durango SRT

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.

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