Versus the competiton:
Big and bold, the 2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro is a remarkably spacious, civilized full-size truck, let down by an uncompetitive interior and dismal fuel economy.
From the start, the Toyota Tundra has been something of a bit player in the full-size pickup truck market. It started out as too small, too weak and too limited in size and scope for traditional American buyers, but has since grown in size and capabilities to the formidable beast you see today. No longer second fiddle to its American-brand foes for cab size or towing duties, the Tundra today is a fully competitive, equally massive pickup truck. For 2015, the brand offers an off-road version called the TRD Pro that brings the same all-terrain capability to the full-size truck as similar packages have brought for the Tacoma compact pickup and 4Runner SUV (compare the 2015 and 2014 Tundra here). But in transforming the big truck from spacious towing rig to Baja-ready off-roader, has Toyota compromised its everyday civility? I spent a week with a molten-lava-orange Tundra TRD Pro to find out.
It’s hard to make a full-size pickup look distinctive. There’s only so much one can do with the three-box shape, and many times the designer’s best hope is to just not egregiously screw something up. Toyota’s done a good job in keeping the Tundra conservative yet stylish, conveying a sense of power and heft without looking gaudy. LED headlight trim doesn’t really create as distinctive a look on the Tundra as it does on the GMC Sierra, for instance, but the “TRD Pro” stamped into the rear fenders is certainly unique. The grille is enormous, and on other trim models comes in acres of chrome. It’s body-colored on the TRD Pro, and what a color it is — Inferno orange, so bright and unsubtle that the only way the Tundra would be more noticeable was if it were actually on fire.
Two engines are available for the Tundra: a 310-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 or a 385-hp, 5.7-liter V-8, both mated to a standard six-speed automatic transmission. No V-6 is available, turbocharged or otherwise, nor is there a diesel option. My test vehicle was equipped with the bigger engine, matched up to a TRD dual exhaust that sounded positively wicked. The growl and roar of the 5.7-liter added serious macho credibility to the orange truck, making it sound as much like a Baja race truck as it looked. If you’re looking for a luxurious, serene pickup experience, this isn’t it. It’s a butch and brutal assault on the eyes and ears, but it definitely leaves you smiling.
The thrust from the big V-8 is considerable as well. Despite hauling around all that mass, the Tundra develops plenty of motion to go along with that noise, and the six-speed automatic is well-matched to it. Despite the TRD Pro’s off-road-ready shock and suspension tuning, the big truck’s ride and handling are outstanding. It’s not choppy like some other trucks. Even unladen, the softer tune soaks up road imperfections but maintains admirable stability in nearly all driving conditions, a characteristic we found to be true in the 4Runner TRD Pro as well (but most definitely not in the old Tacoma TRD Pro, which is awful on the street). The Tundra’s ride and handling behavior may be its most impressive attributes.
The downside of the Tundra’s big, older powertrains comes at the pump — my 4×4 test truck with the big V-8 is rated at 13/17/15 mpg city/highway/combined, a number that marginally improves to 13/18/15 when you specify the standard 4×2 truck. Opt for the smaller 4.6-liter engine and you’ll net 14/18/16 mpg in 4×4 form, or 15/19/16 in 4×2 trim. This pales in comparison with the best of the domestic competitors. A Chevrolet Silverado 4×4 with the even bigger 420-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 is rated at 15/21/17 mpg, thanks in part to the standard eight-speed automatic transmission. The more efficient 4×2 V-6 Chevy rings in at 18/24/20 mpg, well north of the most efficient Tundra.
The Ford F-150 matches the Chevy’s 6.2-liter V-8 fuel economy with its 385-hp, 5.0-liter V-8, offering up 15/21/17 mpg, but Ford also offers two turbocharged V-6 engines. They supposedly both provide V-8 power with better fuel economy. The Ram 1500 4×4 with its 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 is also rated at 15/21/17 mpg, matching the big engines in the Ford and Chevy. But the fuel economy leader for the Ram lineup is a 4×2 with a light-duty turbocharged EcoDiesel V-6, which turns in a 20/28/23 mpg rating, the best in the bunch. As always, your mileage will vary, but the Toyota has an innate disadvantage from the start due to its outdated powertrains.
It’s one heck of a climb up into the cabin of the TRD Pro, made more difficult by the lack of a grab handle for the driver (running boards are optional, but then you lose the ground clearance you gained by specifying the TRD Pro trim). Once in the immensely spacious cabin, you settle into some wide, flat seats covered in black-and-orange fabric. The orange stitching carries over to the dash and doors, and looks like a custom order to match the Inferno orange exterior paint. Unfortunately, it looks like a dress-up job on what is otherwise a substandard interior, full of cheap hard plastic and switches that look and feel inexpensive.
In an era when the main players in the class are putting nice interiors in their base model pickups and really nice interiors in the midlevel trims, the Tundra’s interior looks low-rent and cost-cut. You most definitely won’t feel cramped, however, with plenty of room front and back for five full-sized adults. Outward visibility is excellent, with a commanding seating position and big windows all around. The rear window features something no other pickup truck has: It’s one uniform piece of powered glass, and it drops down into the cab body like the door windows. Drop all the windows and you have a unique open-air experience in a pickup, but beware — the aerodynamics mean that exhaust gas is flowing in through that opening, which you’ll smell quite clearly if you accelerate vigorously.
The Tundra may not be the best-selling truck on the market, but it’s got the cargo and towing abilities to hang with the major players. Two wheelbases are available along with three cab styles and three bed lengths, all meant to provide flexibility in ordering. The regular cab can be had with the long bed only, while the double cab can be had with standard or long beds. The enormous CrewMax four-door can only be had with a short bed given its already copious size. My test vehicle, the TRD Pro with the 5.7-liter V-8, standard bed and CrewMax cab, had a tow rating of 9,800 pounds, which is also fully competitive with the rest of the field. All the automakers offer so many combinations for their pickup lineups, however, that comparing them is difficult. Suffice it to say, they can all largely do the same things, and do them well.
The Tundra’s crash tests give it a four-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a good rating for nearly every test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (out of a possible good, acceptable, marginal or poor). See the Tundra’s crash-test results here. That brings it even with the Ram 1500 in NHTSA’s test, but below the Chevy Silverado and Ford F-150, which both score five stars.
Where we start to see some differences between the trucks is in technology, particularly with safety features. Many automakers are starting to equip their pickups with the latest safety features, with Ford leading the way, featuring available automatic cruise control with crash detection warning and blind spot sensors (Toyota offers this too, but on higher trim levels). The Chevy joins the Ford in offering lane departure warning and parking assist sensors. Both the Toyota and the Ram have some catching up to do in this department. See all of the Tundra’s safety features here.
Pricing for the Tundra is as competitive as its equipment, and while you’ll find more options now in terms of packages and trim levels than previously offered, it still doesn’t have quite the same level of build combinations as the domestic trucks. It starts with the 4×2 double-cab short box for $29,705 (including a destination fee), featuring the smaller V-8 engine and not much else. You can option a Tundra up to lofty heights, ranging up through the SR, SR5, Limited, TRD Pro, 1794 Edition and Platinum trim levels. It maxes out at the Platinum CrewMax 4×4 at just less than $50,000, which frankly is still a few steps below where competitor trucks max their luxury trims out at. My test vehicle was a TRD Pro with the CrewMax cab and larger engine; along with an optional drop-in bedliner it came to a reasonable total of $45,465. Build your own here.
The domestic automakers all offer trucks similar to the Tundra TRD Pro, but none with a dedicated midlevel desert-runner spin like the TRD Pro. You can get a Z71 off-road package for the Chevy or specify your Ram to be the new Rebel model, but the TRD Pro trim is more off-road racer than simply off-road capable. It’s not as extreme a Baja-racer truck as a Ford Raptor, but then nothing else is. All of the Detroit trucks offer large engines that outgun the Tundra in horsepower, however, despite tow ratings that are similar. Mix and match the competitors’ options here.