The saying goes, “Don’t fix what ain’t broke.” It posits that some things are better left alone. They don’t need improvement since such things are already good enough. Fish hooks, pens, umbrellas – these things have pretty much gotten as advanced as they’ll ever need to get.
Interestingly, Toyota has taken a similar stance on its half-ton, the Tundra. Since the launch of the latest body style in 2007, the truck has gone through its compulsory facelift, and is now sitting at 12 years old; emphasis on the word “old.”
Now, to their credit, Toyota has tried to stay on top of the truck game. Over the years, the automaker has launched new trim levels – 1794 Edition, Rock Warrior, etc. – to get customers to come check out what’s new. The latest example is the one I received not too long ago: the TRD Pro. It had been years since I’d driven a new Toyota and I was curious to see what the latest and greatest held in store.
If you’ve seen a Tundra over the past five years, then you know what you’re getting. The face of the Tundra has remained mostly unchanged since 2014, which was when the refresh happened. It gave the truck a wider grille, installed a hood vent above it, brought the plastic molding up to the bumper’s upper edge, and threw in some sleeker-looking fog lights. On my TRD Pro, there’s an additional hood vent above the one already there. Why? I have no idea, but it sure isn’t for a supercharger or anything.
In profile, the looks improve a bit. The sleekness of the front end transitions to a smooth roofline and the fenders bulge ever so slightly to let something “pop.” It is a bit of a letdown, however, to look at the tires and see diminutive 32-inch tires on 18-inch wheels. They just look odd to me, too small to match the size of the rest of the truck.
The rear carries over the color-keyed bumper to match the front, and the tailgate has some inventive contours to make it look as good going as it does coming. Oh, and how could I forget to match the paint? My Tundra came in a bright blue hue called Voodoo Blue. I was expecting something a bit more run-of-the-mill from Toyota, but I’ll give them credit, the color is intense and wonderful to look at if you’re a blue-is-my-favorite-color guy like me.
Nothing shows a vehicle’s age quite like the interior. In the case of the Tundra, that age is tired and old. Compared with the spry and modern-feeling Tacoma, the Tundra is boring and stuck in its old ways. It’s hard to articulate why, but I suspect it comes from the extensive use of silver plastic bezels. I found it easy to jiggle them and see the amount of play they had compared to the more solid black pieces encasing them. In that way, the interior had a cheap feel that I could never break free from.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of the Tundra, I never felt like I was about to go on an adventure. The boring steering wheel, the humdrum center display with its dreary fonts, a center console with no redeeming qualities except its huge size – there was so little to look at and explore in the Tundra, that it felt more like driving an early 2000s commuter car.
However, the comfort was amenable. The black leather seats were large and accommodating, and I could move my seat back a long ways for maximum legroom. The rear seating was good as well, as it is on practically all full-size trucks.
The instrument panel had a large fixed speedometer and tachometer, along with fixed gauges for battery voltage, oil temperature, coolant temperature, and fuel level. Truth be told, I miss having fixed gauges like this in newer trucks, since a lot of them have fully switched over to digital displays that can only show one or two at a time. I think Toyota did a good job with the real estate here, and even allowed for a vertical digital display to cycle through, making it feel more like a modern-day vehicle.
Under the hood rests the 5.7-liter iFORCE V8. It’s a stout and powerful unit, generating 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque. Compared with the competition, the Tundra holds its own – the F-150’s 5.0-liter V8 makes 390 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, while the Silverado’s 5.3-liter makes 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque.
Toyota terms its four-wheel-drive systems as “4WDemand” systems. The system allows users to switch from two-wheel-drive to four-wheel-drive seamlessly, and it’s backed up by an automatic limited-slip rear differential to help navigate tricky terrain while in two-wheel-drive.
Outside of that, the drivetrain is fairly bog standard. It doesn’t feature any electronic processes like active fuel management or auto-start-stop, which is a blessing. But keeping a big V8 constantly churning probably plays a part in the Tundra’s dismal MPG rating – 13 city, 17 highway, and a combined average of 14. I’ll share more on that later.
On-Road Driving Impressions
For the first couple of days, driving the Tundra around town felt like driving a riverboat in a creek. The truck is large – more than 20 feet long, and about 7 feet wide – and feels that way going down the road. Thankfully, I got used to driving the full-size truck within a day or two. Also, visibility is good on all fronts, with plus-sized door windows and a rear window offers a wide view left to right. Also, it rolls down into the cabin, which is really neat.
Turning and braking in the Tundra was pretty straightforward. Electric steering has made its way into all modern-day trucks, and that can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s helpful for making U-turns and having to put the steering wheel into full lock on either side, but it makes steering so effortless that the arm muscles feel weak going to hydraulic steering like on my Explorer. As for braking, having discs on all four wheels does a good job of putting a 10,000-pound truck to a halt.
Road noise and sound from the outside world is effectively kept at bay thanks to good sound dampening. I didn’t notice any ticking or rattling noises on the truck, either, making the driving experience one of the better ones of recent memory. The Fox shocks didn’t appreciate going over potholes, owing to the truck’s off-road emphasis, but other than that, the Tundra was peach to drive around town.
Last but not least, I had to see for myself just how bad the MPG could get. So I reset the gauge before setting off for my destination of Ocotillo Wells SVRA, and the result I got was right within the expectations: 17.5 miles per gallon.
Off-Road Driving Impressions
Off-roading in the TRD Pro is a delight. Out in the open desert of Ocotillo Wells SVRA, there are a lot of places to check out, and enough variation in terrain to test capability on the rocks, dirt, and sand.
Unfortunately, the Tundra TRD Pro is lacking when it comes to drive modes to test out, so I just turned off Traction Control, put it on 4High, and put the pedal to the metal in a wash section. I took it up to 50mph and found the shocks were capable of dealing with small bumps in the terrain, but didn’t put up well with bigger whoops; on those, I had to drop down to between 5-10 mph to make it through them without bucking.
I dropped it into 2High just to see if that added to the fun, and it did; granted, it was a little more dangerous, but that was where I found the most enjoyment driving the Tundra. The truck wouldn’t let me go completely hog wild, but it did let me have a good time. It had a good center of gravity that reassured me it wouldn’t just tip over from hitting a hidden rock or ignored berm.
On rocks, the truck has an ample amount of clearance, and could amble up onto stones about the size of bowling ball. I didn’t notice a lot of grinding or groaning going up a rocky incline. This was even better when in 4Low and using the automatic limited-slip differential in the rear.
The Tundra TRD Pro is an interesting vehicle when looked at on the whole. On the one hand, it’s using a design that dates back to 2007, and hasn’t been updated since 2014. There are aspects of the truck I don’t care for, like the uninspired interior and lack of driving modes that enhance off-roading.
But there are other aspects that shine, like the sound dampening and firmed up windows and seals, so much so that driving the Tundra felt peaceful and undisturbed. Niceties like the Navigation screen helped me figure out where I was when blazing around Ocotillo Wells. And having a powerful V8 to play with made it easy to scratch the off-road itch.
Toyota’s MSRP for the Tundra TRD Pro I drove is $51,040. The quad cab 2019 Ram Rebel I tested earlier this year is in a similar price range, coming in at $55,145. Crew cab 2019 Raptors start at around $57,000. And a crew cab 2019 Silverado Trail Boss will cost you $50,000 and change. So the Tundra TRD Pro, as an off-road-targeted truck, doesn’t really have anything going for it – it’s not the most affordable, it’s not the most well-equipped, it’s not the most fuel-efficient, and it’s not the most powerful, either.
On that basis, I can’t really recommend the Tundra TRD Pro for anyone but diehard Yota fans. Even then, I would likely steer them toward the Tacoma. Nevertheless, I admit that I enjoyed the Tundra. It had the goods for a fun time out in the desert; I just wish I could have felt that all the time.