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2014 Toyota Tundra First Drive: New Face, Same Ol’ Truck

Jeff Perez

In 2000, the Tundra hit the market as the first full-size pickup for foreign automaker Toyota. Following the success of the Tacoma, the Tundra garnered praise, from Motor Trend‘s Truck of the Year award in 2000, to Consumer Reports naming it the best full-size Truck of the Year. It was a booming start for a foreign automaker in the American pickup market.

But in 2006 when Toyota unveiled its second generation of the pickup, it wasn’t met with the same overall enthusiasm. The overall visual and literal toughness was toned-down, giving way to slipping sales. For 2014, Toyota went back to the drawing board. Hoping to make an impact in a massively expanding market, the Tundra got a facelift, an engine upgrade, and a few other new features that Toyota hopes will make it stand out to consumers. And we got a chance to preview the new full-size pickup first-hand.

Born in the USA

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RELATED: See Photos of the 2014 Toyota Tundra

Ford, GMC, Ram- the one thing that these three automakers have in common is that each were founded and are based here in America. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that a few of these are either assembled, sourced, or parted from other areas around the globe (Mexico, Canada, etc.). The F-150 being the only exception (although not fully), surpassing the Toyota Camry (go figure), only this year, as the most American-made vehicle.

So where does that leave the Tundra? Ranked as one of the best American made cars the last few years, Toyota has made it abundantly clear that the pickup is American-made, and that Toyota as a whole, is focused on securing jobs here in the US. Which is more than some other “American” automakers can say. Final assembly takes place in San Antonio, Texas. Nearly all the parts, from the engine and drivetrain to the chassis, are built and sourced from Toyota factories around the country, and include California, Alabama and Michigan.

Off the Road, On the Move

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Taking it through its paces on the gravel, it felt capable, it felt durable and manageable. It bottomed out much less than I expected (although the “off road” course was no Rubicon), the four-wheel drive system clawed hard, and around the corners, it was about as composed as any.

While off-road, the Tundra kept me entertained and frightened for the rest of the evening, on-road wasn’t the same story. ‘Soft,’ ‘spongy’ and ‘unrefined’ immediately came to mind. Sport mode was essentially pointless, the suspension and steering– unlike off-road– was unresponsive and dull. You sort of get that feeling that Toyota was really pushing the Tundra’s off-road capabilities, maybe enough to forget that most driving time actually isn’t spent off-road.

Bigger is Better

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In an age where rumbling V8s are being replaced with turbocharged V6s, Toyota is going in a different direction with the Tundra. Naturally, the V6 is still an option, but it’s one that, according to statistics, won’t appeal to buyers nearly as well as the V8.

But why is power overruling fuel efficiency? Well, Toyota tells us (in so many words) that the V6 is pretty much pointless. Essentially, what you’re getting in terms of both power and efficiency in the V6, just aren’t adding up to the power and efficiency you can get in a slightly larger V8. And as the Tundra is the largest truck in the lineup, it’s pulling most of the load. The base model comes loaded with a 4.0-liter V6, the mid-range packs a 4.6-liter 310-hp V8, topping out with 5.7-liter 381-hp V8; the latter two, powerful enough for off-roading, towing and hauling towing. In fact, the Tundra is the only full-size pickup that’s SAE J2807 certified.

Dressed to Kill?

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In all, it wasn’t at all a bad looking truck. Definitely more aggressive than previous generations. Up front, there was something that was ‘off’ about the headlight-to-grille ratio. Some beady little eyes were overwhelmed by an in-your-face chrome grille. In the back, it was all tied together much nicer with some wraparound taillights. Rather than a Tundra badge, you find a large muscular Tundra stamped in–paying homage to previous generations. Inside, you get a lot of very Toyota-esque features. Aside from the tough leather trim, everything else– from the dash to the center console to the gear lever– was painfully coated in $2 plastic and occasionally fake wood inserts. It felt, for lack of a better word, cheap.

Overall: 79%

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Overall, the Tundra gets a passing grade, but just so. There are a few issues. Starting off at $25,920, the base Tundra is about $1,000 pricier than the F-150 or GMC Sierra. And for what it’s worth, both of those trucks sport an overall better quality inside and out. But opt for a Tundra Platinum or 1794 Edition, and you’ll find yourself sneaking close to $50K ($47,320). This begs the question- why would you pay $3K more for a pickup that isn’t an F-150 Raptor (which starts at $44,035)? We’re not sure either. But go a little bit deeper even; the Tundra is the work horse of the Toyota lineup, but with Ford, GMC and Ram, that’s not the case.

The Super Dutys and Heavy Dutys are the real work horses of any lineup. More towing capacities, larger V8s, and overall more ruggedness than the Tundra could ever hope for. Granted, we only got about a day and a half’s worth out of the Tundra (still, I had a lot to say about it). But for an initial impression, the Tundra barely snuck past average, barely snuck past good looking, and barely steps up to compete with its American rivals. We’re looking forward to an even more in-depth review in the near future, but for now, we’re not quite sure if this new Tundra stacks up against the competition.