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Toyota Tundra: Two V8 engine options, impressive safety are reasons to consider

The enthralled masses of Toyota fans, many driven to the Japanese automaker over decades by perennial dependability and outstanding quality, were very willing to accept the Toyota Tundra when it hit the market in 1999. Early on, Americans were also open minded as it was nominated for the North American Truck of the Year award and was Motor Trend magazine’s Truck of the Year in 2000 and 2008.

The American full-size pickup market was rarified air when Toyota entered it – and it still is a very exclusive club. The Tundra was the first North American full-size pickup to be built by a Japanese manufacturer. Since the entry, the competition has grown fiercer. Like an aging boxer still capable of all the moves and worthy of respect, the Tundra is a capable pickup, but it is at a crossroad where it will have to make some changes in the coming years to get back to award-winning status.

Even Safer

Changes for this year’s Tundra include making the Safety Sense package standard in the Tundra. This package includes driver assistance technologies like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and pedestrian detection. These impressive features were previously unavailable in Tundras.

Performance

The Tundra features a 5.7-liter 310-horsepower V8 base power plant, though an elevated 381-hp V8 is more desirable if you plan to haul or tow. The V8 power is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that was smooth shifting and provided fine acceleration, though it labored a bit getting up to highway speeds. With only V8 engines to choose from, the Tundra’s best MPG ratings are 15 mpg city and 19 mpg highway.

I found the Tundra’s ride to be more truck-like than other full-size options, though many pickup fans will appreciate this feature, it is far more impressive as a capable off-roader when it uses the available TRD Off-Road package, which my tester featured.

When it comes to towing, the Tundra can handle more than 5 tons and haul more than 1 ton, but that’s not equal to the competition that easily surpasses those numbers. Trailer Sway Control features enhance the towing experience and make it easier to tow for even the novice.

Cabin Comforts

My tester was the standard Double Cab that is capable of accommodating five or six passengers, and you can choose from front bucket seats or the standard bench seat. The front seats are very comfortable. I like the high seating position offered and the supportive cushioning is perfect for the pickup’s stiffer ride. Look for rear-seat legroom to be excellent for adults.

I think the some of the plastic feels dated in the interior layout, but it is not overwhelming and easily overlooked. While Tundra doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, it will need to infuse this into future models if it wants to stay in step with the market demand for this interface technology.

Standard features in the Tundra include Bluetooth and the Entune infotainment system with a 6.1-inch touch screen, voice recognition, a USB port, and Siri Eyes Free. Available features include dual-zone automatic climate control, a power moonroof, a 12-speaker JBL audio system, and an upgraded Entune system with a 7-inch touch screen, HD Radio, satellite radio, smartphone app integration, and navigation.

Storage Space

The Tundra offers 5.5-foot, 6.5-foot, and 8.1-foot beds. I was especially impressed with the interior cabin storage space which is ample and exceeds the competition’s base models. There are two body styles (Double Cab and CrewMax) and three bed sizes. Trim levels include the base SR, SR5, Limited, Platinum, and the 1794 Edition. Rear-wheel drive is standard and four-wheel drive is optional.

With a starting price of just over $31,000, the Tundra has one of the most expensive entry points in the class, but it gradually becomes more of a deal as you graduate to the higher trim levels. My SR5 trim with the TRD Off-Road package ($2,755).