Back in 1961, oil geologist Robert Liscomb discovered a large fossil in the Alaskan tundra. A year later Liscomb perished in a rock slide, and his fossil sat in a Shell warehouse until the early 1980s, when it was rediscovered and sent off to the United States Geological Survey. There, scientists determined that it was indeed a dinosaur bone, triggering a new rush of exploration. In 2017, a rather large fossil can be found, not frozen below the subsoil of the North Slope but at your local Toyota dealer in the form of the Tundra pickup truck.
The Tundra had a mild refresh for 2014, but under its steel skin remains an old skeleton: The 2017 model still rides on the same second-generation platform introduced in 2007. Another update is coming for 2018, but an all-new Tundra won’t appear until 2019 at the earliest. The one we tested—painted in an osseous Quicksand and then wrapped with $395 paint-protection film—was equipped with the optional $2030 TRD Off-Road package, which includes 18-inch aluminum wheels and Michelin LTX all-terrain rubber, Bilstein dampers, skid plates to protect the engine and fuel tank, and bedside decals. The optional dampers firm up the ride and manage side-to-side motions well, but during interstate excursions, persistent road blemishes will unsettle the ride. However, when blasting down Michigan’s washboard- and pothole-ridden back roads, we found that the dampers come to life and keep wheel motion in check, absorbing large impacts and keeping the tires connected to the ground by limiting wheel hop. The Tundra’s overall ride quality was the cream of the crop a decade ago, but in today’s full-size-truck market, it falls short of the Ford F-150 and the Ram 1500.
Although electrically assisted power steering has become common industry-wide, the Tundra still relies on a hydraulic-assist system—but to no advantage. The steering lacks on-center feel and requires frequent inputs to maintain a straight path. The light weighting eases the task of low-speed maneuvers, but precise placement of this big rig depends entirely on what your eyes tell you rather than any sensation through the wheel.
Under the hood lurks another fossil. Slide the metal key into the ignition slot (push-button start is not available), give it a turn, and Toyota’s i-Force 32-valve V-8 roars to life. The aluminum 5.7-liter V-8 has remained unchanged since its debut in 2007, and the howl of the hydraulically clutched cooling fan provides a reminder of that. This old mill is good for 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque, enough to take the 5858-pound sled from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds and cover the quarter-mile in 15.1 seconds. That matches the all-new Nissan Titan Pro-4X we recently tested, recording the same time to 60 and beating the Titan by 0.1 second in the quarter-mile. The Toyota doesn’t stack up so well when compared with the best-selling trucks, however. A Chevrolet Silverado with its 420-hp 6.2-liter V-8 we tested back in 2015 ran to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and hustled through the quarter-mile in 14.3; a Ford F-150 with its previous 365-hp 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 performed the tasks in 5.6 and 14.4 seconds.
While eight- and even 10-speed transmissions are now expected in the full-size-truck market, the Tundra still relies on the six-speed automatic it has had since day one. But the transmission provides crisp upshifts, and whereas newer multispeed gearboxes can sometimes stumble while trying to choose among their many ratios during passing maneuvers, the Tundra is quick to downshift into the right gear.
To Toyota’s credit, while other trucks tout the fuel-economy benefits that are supposed to come with their extra gears, the Tundra didn’t do much worse than other full-size V-8 pickups we’ve tested recently. To minimize the need for refueling stops, our test truck was equipped with an optional 38-gallon fuel tank. During our 800 miles of testing we averaged 14 mpg, just 1 mpg shy of the EPA combined rating and the same as what we measured in a 2016 Ram Rebel with an eight-speed automatic. On our 200-mile highway fuel-economy loop, we saw 17 mpg, right on par with the EPA highway rating, suggesting a potential range of 640 miles of uninterrupted interstate cruising. One annoyance, however, was a premature low-fuel warning. The indicator light illuminated with about nine gallons of fuel left, more than enough to deliver you farther than the 50 miles of remaining range indicated on the trip computer.
To climb into the Tundra’s interior is to take a step back in truck history. Although there were some minor upgrades coinciding with the 2014 facelift, the interior now is decidedly dated. Our truck’s optional SR5 Upgrade package ($1220) did little to change this impression but did add bucket seats—power-adjusting only on the driver’s side, which also has power-adjustable lumbar support—in place of the standard bench, a front center console with a floor-mounted shifter, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, three front cupholders, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a compass, and an anti-theft system. We would have welcomed heated seats to ease the pain of our frosty Michigan winters, but those aren’t offered. All-weather floor mats do a nice job of keeping the sludge off the carpet, though, making them well worth the $219 asking price. Silver-painted plastic surrounds the 7.0-inch, not-very-intuitive Entune infotainment system. Thankfully, there are still plenty of buttons and knobs; however, few drivers will be able to comfortably reach the radio’s tuning knob located far to the right of center. Nearly every control or piece of switchgear looks and feels all of a decade old.
The $970 Safety and Convenience package on the tested pickup adds front and rear parking assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts, but the Tundra doesn’t offer the most modern safety features, such as adaptive cruise control. They’re probably coming for 2018 models.
When introduced, the Tundra CrewMax boasted the most spacious second row, but the Toyota’s 61 cubic feet now trails the F-150’s massive 67 and the Silverado’s 63 cubes. One neat trick the Tundra offers that others do not is the ability to lower the entire rear window, which allows long objects to pass through or passenger access to items stored in the bed.
The modern-day full-size truck has become a luxury land yacht, packed full of advanced technology and constructed of lightweight materials. The Toyota Tundra, a throwback to simpler times, does at least conform to the scale of today’s outsize entries: It casts a shadow as massive as any “light-duty” pickup. While other manufacturers advertise massive towing abilities that seemingly never stop increasing, Toyota declines to participate in the half-ton arms race. The SR5 comes standard with a towing package and a trailer-brake controller and is rated to pull a respectable 9800 pounds, but that’s nearly a ton shy of the ratings on similarly equipped Ford (11,600 pounds) and Chevrolet (11,700 pounds) pickups.
An as-tested price of $45,159 makes this Tundra a relatively affordable, spacious, and capable package, albeit light on the latest style, technology, and features. With annual U.S. sales consistently exceeding 100,000 units—well behind the Detroit brands but nothing to sniff at—this is one dinosaur in no danger of extinction.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-/4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door pickup
PRICE AS TESTED: $45,159 (base price: $39,665)
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 346 cu in, 5663 cc
Power: 381 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 401 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 145.7 in
Length: 228.9 in
Width: 79.9 in Height: 76.2 in
Passenger volume: 125 cu ft
Curb weight: 5858 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 6.4 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 18.5 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 6.6 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.5 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.4 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 15.1 sec @ 92 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 108 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 190 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.70 g
EPA combined/city/highway driving: 15/13/17 mpg
C/D observed: 14 mpg
C/D observed 75-mph highway driving: 17 mpg
C/D observed highway range: 640 mi