Trying to keep information about the all-new 2007 Toyota Tundra a secret put many a journalist to the test. We saw and drove the vehicles in Louisville, Kentucky, almost six months ago, and Toyota made us cross our hearts, pinkie swear, and sign a stack of documents stating that everything we heard would remain under wraps until the North American Auto Show in Detroit in early January. Let's just say some of us are better at keeping quiet than others. Word leaked out about horsepower and torque, but you had to dig a bit to find it on the internet. And woe to those who blabbed before the embargo was lifted. We're sure they'll feel the wrath for quite some time to come.
Why so secretive? Because this is the most important launch in Toyota's 50-year history in the U.S. Breaking into market segments and dominating sales has become a normal task for Toyota. Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Prius and numerous other vehicles have quickly become the popular players in their respective segments. The final frontier for Toyota was the full-size pickup truck market, dominated by American manufacturers who have had a century to perfect what the truckers needed to get their jobs done.
We all know the T100 was-let's face it-a big failure. And Toyota, not one to repeat its mistakes, came out swinging with the previous Tundra iteration. While definitely more successful than the T100, the Tundra also wasn't able to convince and extraordinary number of F-150 or Silverado owners to switch to a Japanese brand.
Nissan took a stab at it with the Titan, and although it's sold the projected numbers, Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge continued to remain focused only on each other.
As they say, the third time's a charm. Toyota was going to go big, or go home, and it chose to go big. Is the new Tundra enough to make the domestic manufacturers lose big-time market share in the full-size pickup arena they once dominated entirely unchallenged? Time will tell.
Now that the Tundra's beans have been spilled, let's take a look at what Toyota decided was going to be important to true truckers, the people it considers the Tundra's target audience.
First, the exterior of the Tundra is bigger and more in-your-face than ever before. One thing Toyota designers understood from previous owners is that they wanted more of a presence at the front end. They asked, and Toyota delivered.
The oversized front grille and chrome surround speak of muscle and dominance. It's a similar story to the remake of Dodge's Ram when it decided many years ago that it had nothing to lose by designing something that was going to polarize buyers. We've seen the chats in the forums. Some like the Toyota's giant grille, some hate it, but no one ignores it. From an impartial viewpoint it's big, but it's proportional with the rest of the truck. Everything else is big as well: long doors, big exterior grab handles, big wheels and tires, and big ideas that customers will appreciate inside and out.
There are 31 different cab configurations that follow a 3-3-3-3-2 pattern: three cab configurations, three engines, three trim levels, three bed lengths, and two drive configurations. Sure, Ford and Chevy has more mix-'n'-match setups; heck, Silverado has five different suspension systems compared to Toyota's one, but Toyota insists it's not trying to be the best truck in the segment; it's the best truck Toyota can make, as well as make it the Toyota way. In addition, Toyota states that it can do as much and more with its 31 configurations because of the engine/transmission choices it's using. The game plan was to focus on what it believes customers want, which includes the typical Toyota elements of high-quality materials, impressive fit and finish, durability, and reliability that will be unmatched in the industry.
Three trim levels make up the new Tundra: The Regular Cab is a two-door design, but has lengthened doors to accommodate the impressive storage behind the bench or bucket seats. It will fit three or more five-gallon buckets in a row, or even a small generator along with one or two of those buckets.
The Regular Cab comes with either the standard bed at 6.5 feet, or the long bed, at 8.1. The Regular Cab is available in Tundra (basic) trim, but most likely will be ordered with the SR5 Upgrade Package, which has all the features of the SR5 trim level and includes chrome steel front and rear bumpers and chrome grille surround, power windows/door locks/mirrors, cruise control, variable intermittent wipers, carpeted flooring, and high-grade seat fabric.
The Double Cab replaces the Access Cab. Now all doors on all Tundra models are forward opening for easy entry and exit. Double Cabs come in regular- and long-bed configurations and when combined with the 8-foot box in back, is the longest in the Tundra lineup with an overall length of 247.6 inches.
The final cab design is called the CrewMax. Again, Toyota is not the biggest in interior volume, that goes to the Dodge Mega Cab, but it does offer more front-row and second-row leg room (44.3 inches) than the Mega Cab does, not to mention a slew of other impressive features like an industry-first slide/recline second row seat with fold-flat feature. The CrewMax comes in short bed (5'5) only, otherwise it would need its own zip code to park in public.
The Double Cab comes in SR-5 or Limited trim; same goes for the CrewMax. Go with the Limited on the CrewMax and you'll walk away with just about every feature available.
Two of the three engines will be familiar to Tundra owners: the entry 4.0-liter V6 that produces 236 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque is a carryover engine from the 2006 model. The 4.7-liter i-Force V8 remains a strong mid-pack engine with 313 lb-ft of torque and 231 hp. But the big daddy, the one that's laid claim to the power edge, is the 5.7-liter i-Force V8, with 381 horses and 401 lb-ft of torque. The 5.7 features a lot of new technology, including Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence, where the intake and exhaust valves have their own camshafts on both banks for individually variable phasing. This is a first in the full-size pickup market, and the benefit is reduced emissions and better performance.
The 5.7L produces more power than GM's 6.0-liter workhorse V8, but can't take the title because of GM's 6.2-liter that's going into the GMC Yukon Denali pickup, with 417 lb-ft of torque. Toyota is extremely satisfied with the 5.7, and claims it's not about how much power you have, but how well you use it. To that end, the new Tundra can tow a max of 10,800 lb; that's 300 lb more than the top claim from both Ford and GM. Keep in mind that's one specific model: the Regular Cab 4x2 with the 5.7-liter engine. But all models can tow over 10,000 pounds, something the other domestics can't match.
The 5.7 is the first truck engine Toyota has built in the U.S., and it's coming from the Toyota-owned Bodine aluminum plant in Troy, Missouri, and being assembled at Toyota's manufacturing assembly in Huntsville, Alabama.
If we're throwing around a lot of U.S. locations, it's because the Tundra has what Toyota likes to call All-American roots. It was designed and engineered by Calty in Newport Beach, California, as well as Ann Arbor, Michigan. Engine production is in two locations as well: Troy, Missouri, and Jackson, Tennessee, while the vehicles are being built in Princeton, Indiana, and Toyota's newest truck facility smack in the heart of truck territory in San Antonio, Texas. Toyota understood that to be taken seriously as a truck by American workers, it had to be designed, engineered, and built in the U.S. Lest you think this wasn't a big deal, it took a fair amount of effort to convince the Japanese heads of Toyota to relinquish control to Toyota Motor Sales in the states. Will it make a difference to customers that Toyota has taken this step? Does anyone care that Toyota employs over 32,000 people in the country or has helped create almost 400,000 jobs here? Maybe; maybe not.
Enough of the flag waving and back to the drivetrain. Any Tundra engine below a 5.7 will receive a 5-speed automatic transmission with a sequential shift, while the 5.7, on CrewMax or Double Cab comes standard with a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with Select Shift. It offers the widest overall gear range of any full-size pickup, reducing the need to have so many different rear-axle ratios like the competitive trucks. The standard final-drive ratio is 3.91:1, while the tow package offers a 4:10. With the tow package comes a tow/haul feature on the 5.7 with the six-speed that holds the gears when going downhill to increase braking control, and stops gear hunting when pulling uphill. The shift lever actually shifts depending on the seating. If you go with a bench seat, the lever is on a column stalk; if you get the bucket seats, the shifter moves to the center console along with a huge flat top storage box that doubles as a work space. That storage box is big enough to fit full-size folders so the trucker actually can use the vehicle as a mobile office.
To make sure the Tundra can handle all the power it's putting down, Toyota designed two new rear differentials, both as well assembled in America at the new Toyota-owned Hino Motors plant in Marion, Arkansas. Tundras with both the V6 and 4.7 V8 will get a new 9.5-inch ring gear, while the 5.7-liter-equipped trucks get a 10.5-inch ring gear, the largest in the half-ton segment and, Toyota claims, bigger than most ¾-ton trucks. Gearing here is a 4.1:1, and 4.3 with the tow package. The point is that the overall ratio range with the six-speed tranny is as wide as the 4-speeds on both Ford and Chevrolet with their full ranges of final-drive options. Even the front diff is new, with an 8.7-inch ring gear, all-aluminum case, and an automatic disconnecting feature.
Boosting the rear diff also meant changing the driveshaft, and there are even two versions of that. The Regular Cab with the standard bed gets an all-aluminum one-piece shaft, while the Regular Cab long bed and all Double Cab and CrewMax models receive a two-piece shaft with a steel front end and aluminum rear section. The center bearing is supported by a frame crossmember. The object with the two-piece design was to add strength but reduce weight. The aluminum half is 30 percent lighter than steel, which reduces rotational mass and curb weight, as well as unsprung weight. Toyota also notes that it helps reduce NVH throughout the cabin as well.
Reducing NVH is a big deal to Toyota, and a big part of that-and possibly the most controversial part of the new Tundra-is the frame. While many of us expected Toyota to build the new Tundra with a fully boxed frame, it didn't do that. Toyota created something called a Triple Tech frame, which incorporates three unique sections. The front third is boxed for strength to carry the engine and provide frontal crash protection. The middle, where the cabin sits, is a rolled C-channel with top and bottom flanged reinforcements for strength but also to provide better ride comfort. The rear section is an open C-channel for maximum bending resistance and strength to carry heavy loads.
The rebuttal for Toyota to the boxed frame argument is that on the heavy-duty trucks from the domestics the frames are also C-channel. In addition, access to any harnesses or lines is easier, as is cleaning out the frame if there's mud and dirt from off-roading duties. Toyota claims it's easier to drive the truck under heavy payload, thereby reducing driver fatigue on long trips. It will be interesting to see how Ford-big-time proponents of the fully boxed frame-will tackle this insubordination. Although official testing numbers haven't been released, Toyota expects to receive both a 5-star crash-test rating from NHTSA as well as a "Best Pick" from the IIHS. If it doesn't get these scores, that may settle the boxed-frame issue once and for all.
There are so many build features of the new Tundra, we've yet to move to the interior, but that will come soon, we promise. First we want to talk about the brakes, because it is a big story here. Tundra had decidedly one-upped the competition by offering the largest, thickest brake rotors in the segment at 13.9 x 1.26 inches. The standard four-wheel vented discs are matched to a four-piston opposed caliper design, while the rear gets 13.6-inch rotors and single-piston calipers. Big brakes are a necessity, especially if you plan to stop almost 11,000 pounds of boat or trailer. Standard safety braking features include ABS, EBD, and Brake Assist, regardless of trim level.
Let's do a quick summation so far: Engines: good. Brakes: good. Variety: good. So how's the suspension? This is where Tundra realized that Ford might have had a better idea, and copied at least part of it. The front setup is a double A-arm design with coilover shocks complemented by a tubular 35mm front stabilizer bar. The design allows the Double Cab standard bed to have a 44-foot turning diameter, the shortest in the segment.
In back it's a staggered shock design, mounted outboard of the leaf springs, which increases leverage and reduces wheel hop, like the F-150 design. Toyota went one better, though, with a toe-out mounting on the leaf springs to help improve tire contact as well as overall vehicle stability under heavy side loads when cornering or towing.
For those who want more support for off-roading, the TRD Off-Road Package features unique dual-rate progressive springs on 2WD models and stiffer, linear-rate springs on 4WD models. In addition are trademark bright-yellow Bilstein gas-charged monotube shocks with large 46mm pistons for better jounce and rebound control off-road. The TRD package also gets BFG T/A 18-inch tires matched to specific wheels, as well as fog lamps and front tow hooks that are attached directly to the front frame rails for extra strength.
Speaking of off-road, the Tundra's shift-on-the-fly 4WD system is only available on V8-equipped trucks and features an all-new transfer case to help reduce effort. A lower reduction gear improves off-road traction and control. A standard automatic limited-slip diff comes on 2WD models, while in 4WD, ALSD becomes Active Trac, which works when front and rear axles are locked together to provide excellent traction. Toyota claims that the Auto LSD reacts quicker to changing traction conditions, and delivers up to 15 percent better torque transfer than mechanical LSD systems, plus reduces yaw on washboard roads for a better ride off-road.
Other systems on the Tundra to improve handling and traction include standard Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control on all models. Before we move from the off-road discussion, one feature that Tundra has that's not found on the competition is a standard Roll-Sensing side Curtain Airbag "off" switch that can be activated when doing serious off-roading so the roll angle sensor doesn't deploy the side curtain airbags inadvertently.
Toyota continues the Tundra's focus on ride and handling with standard 18-inch wheels and tires, the largest standard package in the segment. Regular Cabs get the 18 x 8-inch steel wheels with P255/70R18 tires. Step up to the SR5 grade and the wheels become styled steel, and on Limited models they become aluminum alloy, which are also optional on the SR5 and are matched to P275/65R18 rubber. Limited models have available a 20-inch alloy wheel with a lower-profile P275/55R20 tire. All models come with a standard tire pressure monitor system.
One last area we want to mention is the cargo bed. It's deeper than the previous model and features an available cargo management system, a locking gate, and an assist that not only helps reduce the effort when raising the gate, but also damps it when lowering. The assist strut is housed inside the rear taillight assembly so it's protected from the elements. Plus a backup camera is available to help when hooking up a trailer. The tailgate can be removed even when equipped with the camera. Toss in an available front and rear sonar system, and the Tundra makes it easy to maneuver just about anywhere.
By now you should be realizing that Toyota is serious about getting a bigger piece of this American pie. If you're still not convinced of this by outside appearances alone, let's take a look at what's going on inside.
We mentioned that the Regular Cab had lots of interior space behind the seats for storage, as well as a fold flat front passenger seat that can double as a small work space. All cabs have best-in-class front-row leg room, and the Regular Cab with the bench seat hides a big storage area below the middle section. Three-point belts and adjustable head restraints at all seating positions are welcome safety features on all trim levels. All trims have front doors with three-position stops, standard manual dual-zone climate control system, and the quietest blower at any level of airflow.
The Double Cab features many comfort and convenience areas, like standard 60/40 split-fold cloth rear bench seat with fold-up seat cushions and a 22-degree seat back angle. All models are satellite radio capable, as well as available Bluetooth hands-free calling capability. The Double Cab features a 10-speaker JBL sound system as standard.
The CrewMax gets more goodies than the rest, including electronic dual-zone automatic climate control and standard power vertically sliding rear window on the Limited level. Standard on all CrewMax cabs is the most rear-seat leg room in the segment, leather seats, rear seat recline and slide (a segment exclusive), power thigh support, leather-wrapped steering wheel with power tilt/telescoping feature and redundant audio, climate, and cruise controls, and a 3-position door stop with the widest opening at 80 degrees.
Over 40 accessories are available for Tundra for 2007, and the truck has the distinction of winning the award for being the most accessory friendly truck at SEMA last year. Although Toyota admits that its primary target are the true truckers, we don't think it would be upset if it saw a lot of tricked-out Tundras roaming the streets of every town, since personal-use truckers are also on its list of potential purchasers.
Now that we've gotten all the details down, let's look at the bottom line: how does it drive, and how does it compare to the new GM products and Ford's venerable F-150?
First, as far as styling, Tundra walked the line between making a presence up front but not offending from the sides and rear. Previous Tundra owners will be taken aback by the relatively large body gaps on the Tundra, since all other Toyota vehicles have exceptionally tight fit and finish. No worries; this was done on purpose, according to the Toyotans, who discovered in focus groups that bigger gaps mean a beefier build to consumers only when it comes to full-size pickups. We still think the F-150 has the most modern exterior styling of all the full-size pickups.
Inside you feel as if you're in a car more than a truck, especially on the Limited CrewMax. The buttons are large, as are the knobs, and have an industrial feel and look. If you're going for class, take the Silverado with the woodgrain trim, beautiful dash, and more sophisticated look. If its pure practicality and manly knobs you want, the Tundra will suit you just fine.
We towed with the Tundra and hauled payload on the highway. The ride was smooth and the power and torque impressive. We had to keep looking back to see if we were really pulling the weight. The power rack-and-pinion steering felt a tad soft in the center; more road feel would have been preferred, but it didn't wander, and the 3.71 turns lock to lock seemed to take forever, especially compared to the Silverado's 3.0.
Ride quality was exceptional under tow and payload, but only one suspension setup might deter those who aren't just using the truck for work. The Silverado, with its myriad ride choices, does allow for more specific tuning.
We definitely give Tundra points for the outstanding braking and safety features that are standard on every model, as well as the ease in which the tailgate lifts and lowers. We also like the shifting of the six-speed tranny. It was smooth and quiet, and perfectly matched to the 5.7 V8.
In Louisville we drove all Cab trim levels, and spent the majority of time in the 5.7-liter, which impressed us by using all that 400 lb-ft of torque to easily accelerate and pass other vehicles at speed on the highway.
Did we find anything we didn't like? The exterior pull-type door handles, certainly big enough for gloved hands, felt a little plasticky, and the high location of the recline function on the seats in the CrewMax was a bit awkward to use. There was exceptional rear-seat leg room, and the recline position was extremely comfortable as opposed to many competitors' rear seats that force you to sit up uncomfortably straight like a student in the mean nun's class.
The frame did keep the Tundra from bending and moving under tow; we can't wait to see its reliability over time. Then we'll know which design is better.
Payload is a bit of a concern on the Tundra. Max rating is claimed at over 2,060 lb, which, compared to the Silverado's 3,094, is about 1,000 lb shy. Same goes for the F-150 at its 3,050-lb capacity.
Toyota plans to sell a fair amount of the new trucks to the 60,000 current Tundra owners, with the overall goal of doubling last year's 100,000-unit sales numbers.
We think it will get close to the 200,000 number, but won't be able to touch the bigger sales of the domestics until it produces a heavy-duty pickup. We also will be watching to see where the new buyers will come from-the domestics, or will Nissan suffer because of the new Tundra.
Regardless, Toyota is here to do battle, and doesn't plan to walk away from this money-making segment, no matter how gas prices fluctuate. It will also be interesting to see if this becomes a battle of patriotism and owner loyalty versus customer wants and Toyota's reputation for reliability.