Toyota has no misconceptions about being a major player in the full-size pickup segment.
After all, Ford sells as many pickups in three weeks as Toyota does in a full year. But Toyota figures its Tundra appeals to a different buyer than the volume brands from Detroit.
Toyota does not figure in many pickup fleets, but a number of small fleet owners choose the Tundra for their personal vehicle. Toyota says its research indicates Tundra buyers are younger, better educated and more affluent than what it refers to as "Detroit shoppers."
Accordingly, the changes for 2014 are targeted at these buyers. There is a new SR entry-level trim at $26,750, but the big news is at the other end of the range, above the $50,000 threshold, where a pair of fancy new "signature" models appear.
The body, frame, engines, transmissions, drive systems, steering, suspension and brakes are carried over with minor detail upgrades. The exterior changes are cosmetic, but the interior gets a major makeover in pursuit of that perceived upscale customer. There are some new options and pricing has been adjusted, downward in most cases.
While sales numbers do not compare to those of the Detroit Three, the massive Toyota plant in San Antonio, in the heart of pickup country, that produces the Tundra and Tacoma is running at capacity. The first batch of updated 2014 Tundras was rolling off the line during our tour at the rate of one every 62 seconds. The one-millionth Toyota pickup will come off the line in the coming weeks.
Outside, we were able to drive several well-optioned models on and off road, tow a 6,000-pound trailer and a 9,500-pound boat and try the four-wheel-drive system.
The first thing you notice about the new Tundra is a tougher look, thanks to a giant grill that is 40 per cent larger than the outgoing model. A closer look reveals subtle touches aimed at improving fuel mileage and cutting wind noise, things like vortex generators built into the side mirrors and tail lights and a spoiler incorporated into the tailgate that opens and closes with hydraulic assist. The new bumpers are comprised of three pieces, so when damaged – as occurs very often with pickups – instead of having to replace the entire thing, only the injured portion need be replaced.
The interior of the 2014 Tundra jumps to the head of the pack in both design and execution. The big, blocky shift knob takes up an unnecessarily large amount of space, but otherwise the ergonomics, fit, finish and material quality are first-rate. The centre stack and controls are 65 mm closer to the driver and the overall look is modern.
There is more provision for storage, especially in the Crew cab model, the most popular in the line. The bottom of the rear seat folds up against the back, creating a huge space from floor to roof (in the outgoing model, the back cushion folded down). The new arrangement lowers liftover by 27 cm, which will be appreciated when you're trying to lift large or heavy items.
The 2014 Tundra comes in SR, SR5, Limited, Platinum and 1794 trim levels, each with a distinct grill and instrument panel finish. The SR and 1794 are new and the Platinum has been extensively revised. It now has a dose of chrome trim on the outside, black leather seating with a quilted pattern that extends to the dash and door panels. A 12-speaker JBL audio system with navigation is standard along with specific 20-inch chrome wheels and heated and ventilated front seats.
As is appropriate for a trim level named in homage of the year the ranch on which the factory now sits was formed, the new 1794 trim is western-themed and Lexus-like in the interior and equipment. Supple saddle-brown premium leather with suede accents is everywhere – seats, dash and doors. Other soft touch materials are used as accents throughout. The standard equipment level is extensive, as befits the $54,000 price.
All 2014 Tundras come with a back-up camera and the latest-generation audio system with 6.1-inch screen and Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning, power windows and locks, heated power mirrors and a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel. Options include a blind spot monitoring system and cross-traffic alert.
The new Tundra is available in regular, double and crew cab configurations in a dizzying array of choices involving two engines, three box lengths and two- or four-wheel-drive.
There is nothing new under the hood; no V-6 or diesel is available. Power comes from a 310-horsepower, 4.6-litre V-8 or 381-horsepower, 5.7-litre V-8 paired with a six-speed automatic transmission sending power to the rear or all four wheels. An automatic limited-slip differential is standard. An on-demand four-wheel-drive system is available. The Tundra has a 1,500-pound cargo capacity and, depending on trim and equipment levels, can tow up to 10,500 pounds.
The suspension has also been left untouched except for some different tuning of the staggered shocks. Upgrades to the steering are intended to improve straight-line stability. Thanks to the new front and rear lower fascias, approach and departure angles have been improved. Toyota says they are best in class. The Tundra retains the biggest brakes in the sector – ventilated 13.9-inch calipers clamped by four-piston calipers up front and twin-piston, 13.6-inch units at the rear.
On the road, the Tundra is extremely quiet, composed and reasonably agile for such a large vehicle. Extra sound-deadening under the hood, behind the dash and in the doors, pay dividends.
Thanks to extensive interior upgrades, the 2014 Toyota Tundra remains a viable alternative in the full-size pickup segment, but there has been little effort to broaden its customer base.
2014 Toyota Tundra
Price range: $26,750- $54,000 plus freight and options
Engines: 4.6-litre, 32-valve V-8 and 5.7-litre 32-valve V-8
- 310 hp/327 lb-ft for 4.6-litre
- 381 hp/401 lb-ft for 5.7-litre
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: Rear- or four-wheel
Fuel economy (litres/100 km ): 14.2 city/10.5 highway (2WD 4.6); 16.3 city/11.9 highway (4WD 5.6)
Alternatives: Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra, Dodge Ram, Nissan Titan