Everyone suspected there would be a time when Toyota would really challenge full-size pickup manufacturers with a model of its own. The T100 was Toyota's first attempt back in 1993, and it was a big flop in the eyes of most full-size pickup owners. The Tundra that replaced it in 2000 was a little closer competitor to the Dodge, Ford, GM and newcomer Nissan. Still, I never considered the Tundra to be any real competitor of the American pickup icons because it was still more of a "three-quarter-sized" version and didn't have nearly the strengths of its rivals.
That can't be said of the all-new 2007 Tundra. Toyota's new entry is the real deal when it comes to full-size pickups—as I recently found out during a couple days of driving various models on- and off-pavement.
The new pickup is big—a full 10 inches longer, nearly 5 inches taller and 4 inches wider than the Tundra it replaces. Such exterior dimensions place the 2007 Tundra squarely among the biggest of half-ton pickups on the market. It also has a few other impressive traits.
The new American-designed, American-built Tundra can tow 10,800 pounds when properly equipped, giving it the highest tow rating of any half-ton pickup; the optional 5.7L V8 delivers 381 hp, making it the most powerful 6.0-liter-and-under pickup V8 on the road; and there's more legroom in the regular cab and four-door pickups than any other brand.
With those credentials, every full-size pickup owner out there has to at least respect what Toyota is rolling out. In short, the all-new 2007 Toyota Tundra might have just taken away many "best in class" milestones previously held by Dodge, Ford, GM and Nissan.
A Smooth Handler
Driving the new Tundra pickup, regardless of model, brings a lot of pleasant surprises. First of all, Tundras now have one of the highest payload capacities among full-size pickups along with the highest towing ratings, yet they don't ride rough when empty, as many pickups do.
I drove several models, including a Double Cab standard-bed 4x4, with 9,800 pounds in-tow, and found them to be very stable at interstate speeds and over winding country roads. The same is true when the bed is loaded with 1,500 pounds of materials. The new pickup doesn't wallow around when it's burdened.
Another surprise is its very precise steering, thanks to a new rack-and-pinion steering system and a new front suspension that keeps all models of the new Tundra tracking smoothly down the road.
The Tundra 4x4s are equally at home off-pavement. A few short forays along the fencelines and bottomlands of a Kentucky farm in a 4x4 Double Cab is akin to driving a stout half-ton; you know this pickup is built for work/towing/hauling and not to emulate a big sedan with a bed.
When it comes to maneuverability in tight turns and close quarters, such as one finds in many home-improvement center parking lots or on narrow backwoods roads, the Tundra's increased tire turning angle gives the standard-bed Double Cab a remarkably short 44-foot turning radius, which is the best in the half-ton class.
Power With Performance
Driving the new Tundra makes any driver feel very comfortable behind the wheel. The six-speed automatic that comes with the Hemi-killing 5.7L iForce V8, combined with the biggest four-wheel-disc brakes around, makes for a really sweet driving experience.
Toyota is well-known for advanced automotive computer electronics and the new Tundra is loaded with them. One of the many that hunters will find beneficial is the new A-TRAC (active traction control) that 4x4 Tundra pickups have to enhance their traction capability.
Special sensing and software in the A-TRAC system provide brake- and throttle-enhanced traction control even when the truck is in 4x4 mode with the front and rear axles locked. The system also allows independent wheel-spin sensing at each wheel so power can be managed across each axle to maximize traction under adverse conditions.
Driving an A-TRAC-equipped Tundra Double Cab with the optional TRD Off-Road Package enhances the off-pavement driving experience even more. The optional TRD package comes with a specially tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, B.F. Goodrich A/T off-road tires, Bilstein gas-charged shocks and fog lamps.
What really stands out, though, when you drive the new Tundras is the sound and feel of what many North American hunters will immediately equate to good old American V8 power.
Toyota offers its new pickup with three different engine choices: The 236-hp 4.0L V6; 271-hp 4.7L iForce V8; and the all-new monster 381-hp 5.7L iForce V8.
After spending a lot of time driving the various pickups and engine options, my take is this: The smaller engine offerings provide adequate power when fuel economy is the main decision-making factor. But there's only one real choice if you want to maximize the 2007 Tundra's overall performance and driving excitement—the 5.7L iForce V8.
This engine will quickly erase any doubts whether Toyota can build an "American V8." This state-of-the-art small-block is as stout and sounds every bit as healthy as any V8 on the road—including the Hemi. And it delivers that power starting low in the rpm range, which is great for hunters.
The cool part is that the new 5.7L is home-grown. The block is cast at Toyota's Bodine Aluminum plant in Troy, Missouri, and it's assembled at the new Toyota Motor Manufacturing Huntsville, Alabama, (TMMAL) plant where the state-of-the-art operation can crank out 400,000 V8 engines per year.
Such advanced features as Electronic Throttle Control, Variable Valve Timing, Acoustic Control Induction, dual overhead cams, stainless steel 4-into-2 headers and a tuned exhaust system are just a fraction of what's inside the all-new "stroker" muscle-truck engine that makes the most horsepower-per-liter (66.8 hp/L) in the 6.0L-and-smaller V8 class. (The only engine more powerful in the half-ton pickup class is the 400-hp 6.2L GM Vortec found in the 2007 GMC Denali.)
Any outdoorsman who plans to use their 5.7L-powered Tundra for towing or off-pavement exploration should get the towing package option, even if they don't plan to tow. Why? Because the towing package comes with a 4.3:1 axle ratio that gives the Tundra its best overall performance no matter what speed you're driving or how the truck is being used.
When it comes down to fuel economy, the new Tundra will not be the best on the block. If you get mid-teens around town with the 5.7L, you'd be doing well. Highway fuel economy numbers should approach 18-19 mpg.
Some Model Changes
Another striking element of the 2007 Toyota Tundra, in addition to its rugged underpinnings and power, is the body itself. Toyota will offer the Tundra in 31 different cab/engine/bed configurations.
Toyota dropped the "Access Cab" because the 2007 Tundra Regular Cab provides nearly the same interior room, and it adds a brand new model to the line called the CrewMax—a four-door-and-a-half that competes directly with the Dodge MegaCab.
All three cab configurations have strikingly spacious interiors with workman-like styling and features. You feel instantly at home behind the wheel, and all of the Tundra's knobs, switches and buttons are within close reach of the driver—and all can be easily operated with gloved-hands.
"From bumper-to-bumper, under the hood and from the inside out the new Tundra is a true American truck that will set a new benchmark in the full-size truck segment," said Jim Lentz, Toyota Motorsports executive vice president. "It will be aimed at the ‘True Trucker,' the true opinion leaders among full-size pickup owners. True Truckers are highly credible because they use, punish and demand the most from the pickups they buy."
After driving both two- and four-wheel-drive 2007 Tundras, I have to agree the new Tundra is finally a serious full-size contender. In fact, I'm going to do a long-term evaluation of a Double Cab 4x4 to see how it fares over the next 6 months. I'll keep you posted on how it works out.