THE PROS & CONS
- What’s best: Cabin roominess, functionality, value
- What’s worst: decidedly low-tech
- What’s interesting: Rear door openings are larger than many full-size SUVs
The truck market is a funny one.
You have the Chevrolet Silverado, Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 that are just so dominant in their segments—the F-150 has been Canada’s bestselling car for something like 1,000 years—that you wonder why anyone bothers trying. People have their brands, they’ve had them for years, and they’re unlikely to change now.
If that’s what you believe, then this Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition shouldn’t exist. It’s not American, for one. For two, it’s a light-duty truck from a company whose small truck, the Tacoma, is just so darn popular that I’m sure there are those who don’t even know Toyota makes anything else. Thirdly, not only is it not American, but it’s from a Japanese company better known for making practical, mid-level management chariots than big rigs with massive chrome grilles and 20-inch rims.
That’s a little unfair, though, because this particular Tundra is a fine truck. Not only that, but its “1794” designation is steeped in American lore: 1794 is the first year a ranch was officially registered in the US, and the factory where the Tundra is built in Texas just happens to be on the same plot of land. Take that, F-150 King Ranch edition.
Today, though, “1794” designates the most luxurious Tundra you can get, and a look inside confirms this real quick. The leather/suede interior’s saddle brown finish would look as at home in a luxury sedan or SUV as it does here. The same can be said for the contrasting white stitching, as well as the walnut wood inserts on the dash, doors, steering wheel and gearlever. The steering wheel isn’t heated, though, which is a bit of a shame. Other than some exterior badging, that’s where the “1794” conversion ends; everything else can be had on the Platinum trim level.
That means 12-speaker audio to go with your touchscreen, heated and cooled front seats, satnav, Sirius radio, dual-zone climate controls and keyless entry. That’s a pretty good set of kit, and I guess the only thing I’d really wish for were some heated rear seats, especially in a luxury edition like this. A keyless/push-button start would be nice, too.
The centre stack is finished in a lookalike brushed aluminum; it looks OK, but it’s plastic and there’s lots of it so that can be off-putting. I do like the bright, seven-inch infotainment screen, though. It’s a touchscreen affair, but there are plenty of redundant controls for those times where big work gloves make using a touchscreen tough. The buttons are huge, too, further adding to their ease of use.
You can only spec the 1792 Edition if you start with the Crewmax cab style; I would say that “Crewmax” designates “four-door”, but that’s only half the story. There’s also a double cab, which is also a four-door cab. The Crewmax, though, is a luxury SUV to the double cab’s mid-size sedan; I have never seen rear doors with as big an opening as these, anywhere. They appear better fit for the Tundra’s Sequoia SUV cousin—both vehicles share the same platform—than they do a pickup.
Not only does that make it easy for your crew to clamber in, but it makes it easier to load, too. The rear cabin floor, meanwhile, while not fully flat like what you’d see in a F-150, gives a large enough flat space to load items. Provided, of course, you’re willing to flip up the bottom seat cushion, done by pulling a lever on the cushion’s side. Better still is that the b-pillars didn’t have to be pulled forward in order to fit larger rear doors, so drivers get the same visibility as they would in the other two cab styles.
Of course, all that interior room (that’s 1,075 millimetres of rear legroom, and 989 mm of rear headroom) has to come from somewhere. So, of the three bed lengths Toyota offers for the Tundra, your only choice is the shortest 1,695 mm option if you select the Crewmax. That, however, is more than what you get with the F-150 SuperCrew.
What I do wish, however, is for Toyota to develop some form of easy bed access. Chevrolet has the Corner Step system, Ford has Integrated Stepgate and the Ram 1500 can be spec’d to lower its rear air suspension to make loading easier. With the Tundra, all you get are some rubber grip pads on the rear bumper. The tailgate does swing down in a nice, smoothly damped motion, though, and all manner of accessories can be added to make arranging your payload (it’s rated a 590 kilos max, with a 9,490 kg tow rating) that much easier.
Helping haul all that mass is a 5.7-litre iForce V8 engine, rated at 380 horsepower and 401 lb.-ft. of torque, fed to the wheels via a six-speed automatic with a locking differential. Other additions include a limited-slip rear differential, trailer sway control, stability control and traction control. A transmission cooler and fluid warmer are also included on all Tundras.
What this all means is that—like those ads for American trucks love to demonstrate—is that the Tundra feels as at home on a rough, muddy, slippery job site as it does on the open road. Yes, a hill-descent control system would be nice—the F-150 has one, as do the Silverado and Ram–but the locking differential and two-speed transfer case do help in this regard.
Suspension duties, meanwhile, are handled by a double wishbone set-up in the front, and traditional leaf springs at the rear. I didn’t encounter as much bob and bounce from the rear as I often have with a leaf set-up, but I do wish the front end was actually just a little softer. A simple tuning of the dampers would make the 1794 Edition ride much more like the luxury vehicle it purports to be.
Power-wise, while the Tundra is down a little on the hp front to the V8-powered F-150s, it makes more of both than do Silverados equipped with the 5.3L V8 Chevy offers (you can spec a bigger engine for your Chev, though). It doesn’t feel slow by any means, and unlike the Tacoma I recently sampled, the gutsier engine means I didn’t get the feeling that the Tundra was constantly sniffing for the right gear on climbs.
What I would like to have seen, however, is some form of cylinder deactivation similar to Chevy’s Active Fuel Management system. Such a system allows the Chevy truck to run on half the cylinders when under light loads around town or during highway cruising. It would’ve helped lower the 16.4L/100 km we averaged during our week with the Tundra.
So, as far as the Tundra’s “tough-truckness” goes, I’d say it has all the boxes checked off. It’s got a big V8, off-road capability and room for everyone and their gear. It looks the business, too, with just the right amount of chrome to draw your eye without blinding you. All good stuff.
The strange thing, though, is where it starts to fall off the pace. You’d think that Toyota, with all its techy knowledge of hybrid systems, active safety and shiny infotainment, would deliver a suitably high tech truck.
In contrast to what you’d expect, though, the Tundra is actually pretty low-tech compared to the competition. No air ride suspension like a Ram, no trailer hook-up aid via the infotainment screen à la F-150 and no cylinder deactivation like you find in those pesky Chevys. There are also only two engine choices, and they’re both big V8s as opposed to not one but two turbocharged options offered—at a premium, mind you—by Ford. The real kick in the teeth there, though, is that the more powerful of those two turbo sixes makes more power than the larger of the two V8s offered for the Tundra.
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So, really, the Tundra is endearing because it nails the old-school truck points, which could be enough to charm the blue-jeaned and work-gloved among us. Still, with winds of change blowing through the light-duty pickup world—the resurgence of diesel power at Nissan, and the arrival of turbo power at Ford—Toyota will have to modernize the Tundra in order to keep up with the Joneses. Expect that to happen sometime soon, with rumours swirling that the Tundra will be getting Cummins diesel power soon. It’s a start, and it will be interesting to see where it goes from there.
Toyota Tundra Platinum Crewmax 1794 Edition 2016 at a glance
BODY STYLE: Five-passenger light-duty pickup
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, four-wheel-drive; six-speed automatic
ENGINE: 5.7-litre V8 (380 hp, 401 ft.-lb.)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular) 18.2/14.1 L/100 km city/highway
Towing capacity: 4,305 kg
Payload: 590 kg
PRICE: (Starting price) $56,845