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Executive Wheels: A Worthy Pickup Competitor, and Made in the USA

Car review: 2018 Toyota Tundra 4x4 Limited Crewmax


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Recently I drove and reviewed the Toyota Tacoma, the mid-sized pickup in the Toyota line, and, frankly, I did not like it. I won’t reiterate its problems here, but suffice to say I didn’t think it would compete with either Chevy Colorado or Ford Ranger.

It’s amazing a car manufacturing company can get one product so wrong, and then turn around and deliver a gem on the next – especially in the same category. The Tacoma wasn’t good. This full-size pickup Tundra is a winner from the get-go.

I drove the Tundra right after the Tacoma, so I was doubly anxious: First, because I disliked the Tacoma so much I wasn’t expecting the Tundra to change my thinking on Toyota’s ability to make pickup trucks; and, second, I am not a fan of huge pickup trucks because driving them around town – navigating streets, fitting into parking spaces – is a pain. All of my apprehensions melted away the very minute I got into the Tundra and drove it around the block. Surprisingly nimble, this truck, while large, handles beautifully, is easy to drive and is so roomy I recommend it specifically for couples who aren’t exactly on speaking terms at the moment. The front seating area is wide, with a very, very wide console in between the huge bucket seats, so you can keep to yourself with much comfort.

Sure, the Tundra is big and I had to think about where I was going to park every time I went out, but that was okay, it just took a little effort. But as to navigating the streets in the beast, well, there are benefits: When you’re tooling along in a Toyota sedan, often a car will come up from a side street and bolt in front of you if you’re not too close; in the Tundra these side street people never even think about it, and even back up as you approach. People, even the many jerks out there on the roads, afford the Tundra, and therefore you, plenty of respect.  

One of the things that bugged me no end in the Tacoma was the radio dials that designed by an art director who never listens to the radio. The same system there is in many Toyotas, and the Tacoma radio was a giant pain – and I was expecting the same in the Tundra. A pleasant surprise is that the Tundra radio is its own animal, and more than highly competent in design. It is versatile and beautiful. 

I just realized that I should say something about the model year here, as the press pool operators and Toyota sent me the 2018 Tundra, or at least that’s what it says on the sticker provided. My research indicates that the only difference for 2019 is that the base price of the base model has gone from $31,320 to $31,420 – $100. Oh, and they cut the number of trims on this Limited model from 6 to 4, basically doing away with the FFV – Flex Fuel Vehicle – option in 2 trims last year. The no-change policy year-to-year doesn’t surprise me in that the Tundra, introduced as a 2000 model in 1999, has only had two generations in its entire history – 2000-2006 and then 2007-on when the made the truck larger. Toyota has refreshed it a few time over the years without redesigning into a new generation, but it seems as though for the past 5 years or so they have stood their ground. I have criticized Toyota for resting on its laurels far too long in some vehicles, but as far as full-size pickups go, this Tundra is in the right place.

Pickup trucks, especially full-size ones, just might be the most interesting niche in the automotive business. They are the sales leaders – in 2018 the leader, the Ford F series, sold over 900,000 units, more than any other vehicle on the planet, with Chevy/GMC behind with over 800,000; this Tundra had 2018 sales of 118,000+, respectable, but you get the picture. These large pickups are also by themselves as special-use vehicles: people don’t need a Chevy Malibu or a BMW for work, but many, many people do indeed buy pickup trucks for their jobs. And then there’s towing and hauling: if you have a large boat or trailer – up to 10,000 lbs. of towing capacity in this Tundra – then a large pickup is about all you can get. And then there’s loyalty: there are loyal Ford people, or Toyota people, or whatever, but nothing approaches the loyalty of a person and his/her truck; truck ads on TV are designed specifically to break the loyalty code brand vs. brand. The sales would indicate how tough that is to accomplish.

Now, I am admittedly not a truck guy – I don’t need one for hauling and if I was to buy one for the occasional need I would buy an old pickup. But I have often driven pickups for review purposes over the years, and my impression is that the Americans – Ford, Chevy/GMC and Ram – set the tone for what’s expected, and I will add that the only foreign pickup I have ever driven that gives the Americans a run for their money is this Tundra. I have even talked with guys who do indeed have pickups for work, and I have it on good authority that if you showed up to a job/construction site with a Toyota Tundra you wouldn’t lose any credibility. And – this is important – the Tundra, manufactured since 1999 and also the first full-sized pickup from a Japanese automaker, was originally manufactured in Princeton, Indiana and now, since 2008, in San Antonio, Texas. In other words, the Tundra is Made in the USA. 

When I mentioned trims, I was only referring to the basic trims: a 4X2 (rear wheels drive) and a 4X4 (all-wheel drive) in a double cab and the same in the larger CrewMax design, like I drove. Then you have the breakdowns, separated by features other than size: the SR, the SR5, the Limited, the Platinum, and the 1794 Edition – and within those there are several sub-trims offered which is essentially a growing list of options offered as standards as you go up in price. I drove the CrewMax Limited 4X4, which at base carries a MSRP of $45,600 and in the configuration I drove $46,300. From what I could gather, the Double Cab model has a smaller cabin and a 6.5-foot bed, while the CrewMax has a very roomy, 5-passenger, wide four doors cabin, with a 5.5-foot bed. I guess you just have to figure out your own work needs, but if you are hauling people the CrewMax model I drove would certainly make them all happy. Very comfy. 

Other than what I have already mentioned, here are a few of the things in my notes worth considering:

  • Wonderful visibility, a great attribute in a vehicle made for towing. Big side mirrors, big back window large rear-view mirror.
  • Huge console, with huge armrest cubby (with power outlet), and a console shelf with cup holders, a phone shelf with two power outlets, AUX and USB.
  • Power rear window that goes up and down – wonderful on great weather days.
  • Huge back seat, wide 3-passenger seating, plenty of legroom.
  • All the towing/hauling gear: trailer brake and adjustments, tow/haul switch.
  • Power outlets on the back of the console for the rear seat passengers, also containing heat/cooling outlets.

I suppose I should mention that it also has the Toyota/Lexus “nanny” readout that shows a cup of coffee if you hit the lane lines too often, and suggests you take a rest. I dislike this feature, and I doubt if anyone would pay attention to it in any case.

The engine in this beast is a 381 horsepower i-Force 5.7 liter V8, coupled with a 6-speed automatic transmission that is very smooth. The Tundra is also available with a 310 hp, 4.6-liter V8. This top-of-the-line 381 hp job is more than adequate for most jobs and most conditions, and the only downside I could see is its EPA rating of 13 mpg city/17mpg highway/14 mpg combine, but you already figured it would be in that range. Once again, if you need or want a truck like this, those numbers won’t surprise or deter you.

As I mentioned, the base price in this configuration is $46,300, and on my test drive vehicle they added a few packages, equipment and destination charges for a bottom line of $49,123. The biggest take here is the Limited Premium Package combined with the Convenience Package which adds in some of the great safety and convenience stuff people demand today: front and rear park assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, JBL audio with integrated navigation and an app suite, power windows, anti-theft system with alarm, a glass breakage sensor, and an engine immobilizer.

All in all, in my humble and admittedly un-truck opinion, this is a worthy full-size pickup truck that any hard working person or hauler would never regret owning. Does it give Ford or GM or Dodge a run for their money? Probably not in sales, image or loyalty, just in performance.


RATING: THREE-AND-THREE-QUARTERS WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR).  

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Jeff Rundles

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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