Lost in the blinding glare of two all-new six-cylinder engines for the 2011 Ford F-150 is a nontrivial mechanical and power update for the 2011 Toyota Tundra’s 4.0-liter V-6. That’s unfortunate because it’s a well-sorted and modern naturally aspirated six.
Originally we planned to include a 4.0 Tundra in our 2010 Work Truck Shootout, but an accident during transportation prevented that from happening. To make up for this, we flew to Texas last week — at our expense — to test a loaner from Champion Toyota in Houston. We were provided with a two-wheel-drive double cab model modestly configured in base-level Work Truck trim.
It’s tough to call the Tundra we tested a bare-bones hauler despite its 18-inch steelies, vinyl interior and anonymous Super White/Graphite exterior. The optional BX Work Truck Package replaced eight-way adjustable seats with simpler four-way seats but added power windows and locks instead of manually operated equipment. Also standard was a six-speaker AM/FM stereo with a six-CD player and auxiliary jack for MP3 players, plus a dual-zone climate control system.
It’s certainly not bare bones in the engine bay. The Tundra’s 24-valve aluminum block 4.0-liter V-6 is now rated at 270 horsepower and 278 pounds-feet of torque, up 34 hp and 12 pounds-feet from the 2006-2010 Tundra. The extra power comes from improvements to the 4.0-liter V-6's dual-overhead-cam variable valve timing system.
VVT can improve emissions and power levels by controlling the opening and closing of an engine's intake or exhaust valves or both.
The previous version of the 4.0-liter V-6 used VVT to control only the intake valve cam. The new and improved 4.0-liter V-6 has dual VVT to manage cam timing for both the intake and exhaust valves.
With less than 48 hours on the ground in Houston, we only had time to test the Tundra unloaded, but we believe the data we collected show the 4.0-liter V-6 is a credible competitor to Ford’s all-new dual-overhead-cam 302-hp (278 pounds-feet of torque) 3.7-liter V-6. We’d rank the 4.0 well ahead of the single-overhead-cam 215-hp (235 pounds-feet) 3.7-liter V-6 in the Ram 1500 and the 25-year-old 195-hp (260 pounds-feet) 4.3-liter pushrod V-6 in the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 half-tons.
The Tundra’s vinyl seats were surprisingly comfortable over long distances, up to 70 miles in a stretch on the highway. Driving position was also very good with excellent visibility, though we had to adjust its rearview mirrors by hand. Steering felt vague at low and high speeds and the ride felt choppy at times, but it’s significantly improved from the last Tundra double cab we’ve driven.
In late 2010, Toyota issued a technical service bulletin for second-generation Tundras and made production improvements to reduce so-called “bed bounce” that led many Tundra owners to complain about ride quality and comfort at highway speeds. New rear body mounts for double cab trucks do an excellent job at damping unwanted beaming and jounce at highway speeds. We’d consider this Tundra the best-riding empty Toyota half-ton we’ve tested.
The 4.0-liter V-6 didn’t have the tough truck exhaust note of the Tundra’s two available V-8 engines, but it didn’t sound wimpy or overly harsh when pushed at wide open throttle, either.
Using our VBOX test kit, we measured the 5,000-pound bricklike Tundra going from zero to 60 mph in a respectable 8.6 seconds and running the quarter-mile in 16.73 seconds at 85.93 mph. That’s less than a second slower for both data points than what we measured a 4,760-pound two-door cab (not SuperCab) 2011 F-150 with the 3.7-liter V-6 during the Work Truck Shootout.
Holding back the Tundra’s performance, we believe, is its 6,000-rpm redline — 1,000 rpm less than the F-150 — and the five-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox also seems to hold back fuel economy. The V-6 Tundra is rated 16/20 mpg city/highway compared with the F-150’s 17/23 mpg rating.
The 4.0-liter Tundra has a final drive ratio choice of either a modestly fuel-efficient 3.90 or a work-oriented 4.10. Ours had the 3.90 rear axle. Perhaps the Tundra could increase its fuel economy to 18/22 mpg with a six-speed transmission and a taller rear axle ratio, like 3.55.
One inexplicable deletion from the Tundra’s interior was a missing tachometer in the gauge cluster, to show engine speed. Instead, the empty instrument pod blindly stared back at us with the words “Toyota Tundra” and the transmission’s PRNDL position. We speculate this was done for cost savings, but can’t understand why. Even a work truck guy wants to know how hard his truck is working.
It required a trip to our friends at well-known aftermarket tuning shop Fastlane to confirm the Tundra’s 6,000-rpm limiter on the shop’s chassis dyno, which also measured peak power and torque of 224 hp (at 5,700 rpm) and 234 pounds-feet of torque (at 4,200 rpm) at the rear wheels.
We spent the rest of our time in Houston driving the Tundra on surface streets and rural roads in addition to Texas’ freeways. Ride and handling were generally good in all situations, if a bit underwhelming. As we said earlier, the chassis is much calmer today than when the current Tundra debuted in 2007.
As we wrote in our review of the 2010 Tundra, the big-for-bigness’-sake climate and audio controls are almost comically large, and the instrument panel’s materials are very plasticky and dark — particularly the door handles, which feel like Fisher-Price parts. First-row seats were configured as a 40/20/40-split bench with a folding center that served as a seatback or armrest and cupholder. The second row of the six-seater had plenty of room to stow luggage on its rubber floor with the rear bench seat folded up. In general, the next-gen Tundra needs a radical rethinking of its cabin and could learn several lessons from the Ram 1500.
The MSRP for the Tundra we tested came in at $26,899, including an optional spray-in bedliner and destination and delivery fees. That’s less than a comparable Ford F-150 XL SuperCab with similar features that prices out at $28,740 with the 3.7-liter V-6, but it’s also in the neighborhood of what we expect Ram to offer its new 2011 1500 Tradesman Quad Cab work truck at with a standard Hemi V-8.
If Toyota can pair the 4.0-liter V-6 with an efficient six-speed gearbox and shed some size and weight from its massive body and frame, there’s every chance for the Tundra to rival the F-150 in performance and fuel economy. That probably won’t happen until there’s a Tundra redesign, expected around 2014, and by the time this happens, we expect GM and Ram to offer all-new six-cylinder engines, too.