By Aaron Bragman
When you think of full-size pickups trucks, do you think Ford or Chevrolet? Or maybe little brother Ram? Well, if you're 1 in 10 pickup buyers, you think Toyota. The Japanese manufacturer would like more people to think Toyota and intends to try and draw in more customers for 2014 with an update to its Tundra full-size pickup. Yes, most of the changes are cosmetic, but the Tundra still offers solid equipment and capabilities from the 2013 model. One of the biggest changes is the addition of a new top luxury trim package, the 1794 Edition, which is the model I spent a week with in the depths of a Michigan winter.
First, we need to address the obvious question: 1794 Edition? What does that mean? Well, hang on tight because this is stretched marketing at its finest. The Toyota plant in which the Tundra is built is near San Antonio and sits on land that the company bought from the oldest working cattle ranch in the state, the JLC Ranch. That ranch was founded in — you guessed it — 1794 by Spanish colonist Juan Ignacio de Casanova. It's a fancy trim level meant to go up against the luxury trucks from the Detroit Three, like the Ford's F-150 King Ranch, Ram's Laramie Longhorn and Chevy's Silverado High Country. I guess it beats calling it the Tundra Casanova.
The Tundra has received a pretty thorough cosmetic update for 2014, starting with an exterior that's more aggressive and physically bigger than the model it replaces. Check out that new grille — that has to be the biggest grille in the truck market today. It's so big, even the grille has a grille; it's mounted up on top of the chromed behemoth. New headlights with LED running lights flank the chrome. New sheet metal for the rest of the truck is subtle, with more squared-off wheel wells and fenders and a new rear-end treatment with the truck's name stamped into the tailgate. A new three-piece bumper out back replaces last year's one-piece, which should help lower replacement costs if it should get banged up. The overall look is still recognizably Tundra and communicates size and heft rather successfully, but it breaks no new ground for the brand.
The Tundra is available in five trim levels, each with their own "look," according to Toyota. The entry level is the work truck Tundra SR, followed by the volume-leading SR5, the more luxurious Limited and the range-topping Platinum. The 1794 Edition comes in above the Platinum, with more luxurious trim, special leather, cool accents and more. The Tundra is still offered in three cab styles: the two-door regular cab and four-door double cab, with standard 6.5-foot and optional 8-foot beds, and the even bigger four-door CrewMax, available only with a 5.5-foot bed.
The more noticeable changes to the 2014 Tundra are inside, where an all-new interior improves dramatically upon the 2013 model. Plastics get an upgrade in quality, designs and shapes are considerably more modern, and seats are more comfortable. The Tundra's dashboard is where the biggest improvements manifest, as Toyota has updated the look but retained the function of the previous model with big buttons and knobs that can be operated even while wearing thick gloves. My test truck was the 1794 Edition CrewMax, loaded with everything it could have.
The 1794 interior is certainly distinctive, and may be borderline kitschy. It has a Western motif to it, with saddle-colored leather, special stitching and leather on the dash, wood trim, stars here and there, and floormats that are a mix of thick rubber and carpet. The overall look isn't bad, but some of the material and color choices are a little over the top. The leather is almost orange in hue, and when matched up with the imitation wood trim, it looks a little cartoony. It certainly doesn't have the luxury truck feel of the Ram Laramie Longhorn or the Ford F-150 King Ranch (especially the all-new 2015 models), but it's pleasant enough in its own way.
There's certainly no shortage of space either, with the Tundra offering the largest cabins in the segment. Seats have been redesigned front and back, and are plenty comfortable for all passengers. Standard on the 1794 are heated and cooled front seats, and a rear bench that now folds up to allow for storage of bulky items in the cabin with an 11-inch lower lift-over height. One of the coolest features of the Tundra, and one that's unique to the truck, is the sliding rear window — we're not talking a small window flanked by two fixed panels that slides to the side. The entire rear back glass slides down into the cab, like the tailgate glass on an old 1984 Chevrolet Caprice Classic wagon.
The truck has Toyota's Entune multimedia system, which looks better than previous efforts but lacks the user-friendliness and sophistication of Detroit Three competitor systems. It also lacks any of the truck-specific apps that have become popular on competitor models. The premium JBL audio system is decent, but doesn't feature the clarity or punch of some high-end systems in competitor trucks. Overall, the switches and gauges look a little behind the times, despite the update.
Under the Hood
The powertrain is completely unchanged from 2013, with my top-level test truck featuring the 381-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 engine. It makes 401 pounds-feet of torque and is sufficient to get the Tundra moving smartly under hard acceleration or providing sufficient pulling power to haul a trailer or a load of logs in the shortened bed. The engine is mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission and sends power to the rear wheels; a part-time selectable four-wheel-drive system comes with the 1794 Edition.
The powertrain combination is perfectly acceptable for everyday use, providing plenty of power and decent acceleration accompanied by a snorty V-8 exhaust note that will turn heads. Highway passing is a breeze, and aside from some rather surprising levels of cabin noise at highway speeds, the Tundra feels calm and planted, if a little choppy in its ride quality. We should note that the choppiness smooths out considerably when the Tundra is under load, as I discovered after putting a face cord of firewood in the bed. Steering is light and highly boosted, as is common in full-size trucks, with a ratio that doesn't seem particularly quick in parking-lot maneuvers. Brakes are firm and progressive, and maintain their efficacy even under fully laden conditions. Testing the four-wheel-drive system in deep snow and ice on Michigan roads after a major winter storm proved quite enjoyable, as errands on back roads through unplowed rural townships proved almost boring for the big pickup.
Where you'll definitely feel pain is at the fuel pump, with the Tundra's economy ratings coming in at the bottom of the barrel — 13/17/15 mpg city/highway/combined. I achieved 14.5 mpg in a week of combined highway and city driving, a less-than-stellar number and well below competitive vehicles in the segment. By comparison, the 5.7-liter Hemi engine in the Ram 1500 4x4 makes more power and torque than the 5.7-liter in the Tundra, but achieves 15/21/17 thanks to the optional eight-speed automatic transmission. GM's new 6.2-liter V-8 makes considerably more power and torque than the smaller Toyota engine, is also mated to a six-speed automatic, and even it delivers better fuel economy at 14/20/17 mpg. And Ram's new 1500 EcoDiesel gets 28 mpg highway, making the Tundra's 17 mpg even more egregious.
The cost for all this is a not-too-surprising $49,715. That's $47,320 for a 1794 CrewMax 4x4 (also available in 4x2 if you've no need for the extra traction), plus $470 for optional blind spot monitoring, $345 for running boards, $220 for "chrome clad" (read: "plastic") 20-inch wheels, $365 for a plastic bedliner and $995 for destination. Option one up for yourself here.
Putting things just shy of $50,000 puts the 1794 Edition within easy swinging distance of all of the major Western-themed luxo trucks on the market, such as the aforementioned F-150 King Ranch, Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn or Chevrolet Silverado High Country. A new level of luxo trucks is developing above this, however, given the F-150 Platinum and Ram 1500 Laramie Limited, further pointing to the fact that there truly is no upper limit when it comes to luxury truck prices. Compare the Tundra to similarly equipped competitors here.
Overall, the lack of powertrain and suspension progress in the Tundra is disappointing. The 2014 update seems to have been mostly cosmetic, and while this pickup did sorely need an interior update, leaving the powertrain and electronics alone will push the Tundra even further behind all-new pickups from GM and Ford this year, not that truckmakers aren't about to start playing serious catchup once the revolutionary new aluminum Ford F-150 is released. But Toyota's position, it seems to us, has never been about truly competing with the established truck players; it's been about providing a reasonably viable alternative to foreign-brand buyers who also wouldn't mind owning a truck from their favored brand. More than likely these are personal-use light-duty buyers, using the pickup in much the way I did: hauling firewood and building materials, not work-site duty or serious towing (something we'll try to do more of next time). The Tundra does well with low-demand tasks, but unless the next generation delivers some improvement in the powertrain and design departments (and maybe the TRD Pro Series is a step in the right direction), it risks falling further behind its increasingly impressive competitors.
To download our test unit's price sheet, click here.
Cars.com images by Aaron Bragman