2014 Toyota Tundra Driving Impressions

Despite the engines' overhead-camshaft, four-valve-per-cylinder architectures, the Tundra V8s tend to make their peak power earlier at lower rpm, where you want it in a truck, than most competitors' engines. All the power figures quoted below are on gasoline; ratings for flex-fuel, E85 engines usually vary.

The 4.0-liter V6 is sufficient for propelling a two-wheel-drive Tundra and towing a lighter trailer, say 3500 pounds or less, on relatively flat terrain. Its 270 horsepower is about 35 hp shy of Ford's 3.7-liter or Ram's 3.6-liter V6, but Toyota's 4.0-liter V6 doesn't need to be revved to 6500 rpm and torque is equal at 278 pound-feet. GM's new 4.3-liter V6 is 285 hp but wins on all-important torque at 305 pound-feet. All three have an EPA fuel economy edge, in part because they use 6- and 8-speed automatics where the V6 Tundra uses a 5-speed automatic.

The 4.6-liter V8 delivers 310 horsepower, 327 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 16 mpg Combined city and highway. The Toyota 4.6-liter V8 is smooth enough to find use in Lexus luxury SUVs. Ram's 395-hp 5.7-liter and 8-speed automatic get similar economy. Ford's 5.0-liter delivers 360 hp with similar EPA ratings. GM's new 5.3-liter brings 355 hp and better economy. At just 1 EPA Combined mile per gallon lower than the 4.0-liter V6, Tundra's 4.6-liter V8 deserves consideration for general-purpose use where towing capacity is not paramount. Tundra's 4.6-liter V8 comes with a 6-speed automatic.

The 5.7-liter V8 produces 381 horsepower, 401 pound-feet of torque. Ram's Hemi slightly eclipses those values with 395 hp, 407 lb-ft, while Nissan Titan works more like a truck engine with 317 hp and 385 lb-ft at the lowest revs of any half-ton V8. GM is offering a new 6.2-liter V8. Ford has two big engines, a 6.2-liter V8 with 411 hp, 434 lb-ft, and a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 dubbed EcoBoost that brings 365 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque at just 2500 rpm. Many users find Ford's 5.0-liter V8 and 3.5-liter turbo V6 get the same mileage in real-world use.

On the road, power delivery from any Tundra engine is linear, and commendably strong at low engine speed. This is especially so in the 5.7-liter, where 90 percent of the torque is on tap from 2400 rpm to 5500 rpm. We find the 5.7-liter V8 a solid powerplant, very responsive when quick acceleration is needed, smooth and powerful when cruising.

Maximum towing capacity of 10,400 pounds applies to an unloaded Tundra Regular Cab 2WD 5.7 V8; the top-line CrewMax 4WD rates 9,000 pounds. Maximum on F-150 is 11,300 pounds, the new GM's will probably exceed the Tundra 10,400 max, the top Ram is similar and the Titan a bit lower. However, the Tundra rating is the only one quoted to SAE standard J2807 that all manufacturers said in 2011 would apply to 2013 models. Only Toyota lived up to the pledge, so no apples-to-apples comparison can be made.

For towing trailers in the 4,000- to 7,000-pound range the Tundra does a good job. Overkill with tow rigs is nice on long nights, in inclement weather, during strong winds or dealing with hilly country. For routine towing of trailers anywhere near 10,000 pounds you'd be better served by a heavy-duty pickup from Ford, GM, or Ram.

Unlike some other half-ton pickups, the Tundra does not offer an integrated trailer brake controller. We'd prefer that it did, but a host of aftermarket controllers do the job well.

Overall, both the 5-speed and 6-speed automatic transmissions work well. Gear changes are smooth, though more apparent when trailering. Automatic downshifts during braking on downhill grades are well managed, properly timed and helpful. In sum the Tundra's transmissions are unobtrusive, which in a truck is usually the best compliment because in a truck if you frequently notice how the transmission is doing its job, it probably isn't doing it as well as it could. The Tow/Haul mode is designed for better trailer towing operation and improved transmission durability for loads more than approximately half rated towing capacity.

Ride and handling in the Tundra are both up to snuff. Steering response is sure and certain, though perhaps not as advanced as an F-150 with any engine except the 6.2-liter. Somehow, Toyota's suspension engineers have delivered a setup that leaves no doubt the driver is operating a truck, but isn't reminded of it at every bump and dip. Over severely uneven pavement, the solid rear axle makes its presence known with a slightly skippy feeling, but the Tundra's unladen rear end feels less skittish than some other max-rated pickups, and there is rarely any disruption that even instantaneously moves it far off the driver's intended path. As with most pickups, the ride gets bouncy on bumpy freeways with an empty bed; any pickup may have the wrong wheelbase to avoid tiring bobbing on expansion joints so do your test-drive on a variety of road surfaces.

Braking is solid, with firm pedal feel. The Tundra's standard four-wheel discs are among the biggest in the segment, as is the rear differential. The ABS includes electronic balancing of brake force and electronic stability control is standard on every Tundra.

The TRD Off-Road Package delivers excellent handling on pavement, and it's especially noticeable when Tundras so equipped are driven quickly on winding, two-lane roads. New Michelin branded tires are a good compromise between off-highway traction and on-highway grip and quiet.

Tundra 4WD does not offer an all-wheel drive setting for on-pavement use in inclement weather, but that makes no difference to braking in the snow. For more severe four-wheel-drive use, the Tundra offers decent articulation and good low-range gearing. When enabled, the traction control can be intrusive. Unlike many pickups, the Tundra 4WD has a switch that backs off the thresholds for deploying the side-curtain airbags. This can be helpful on side-angle trails and ditches that might otherwise trigger an unwanted side curtain deployment.

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