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It's been a big, expensive experiment, and the Toyota Tundra is clearly a glass half full for Japan's biggest automaker. Toyota had plans to conquer the big truck market just as it had done in sedans and economy cars. Almost $2 billion later, and the Tundra sells about a third as well as the Ram 1500, and far off the pace of the big GM and Ford pickups.
It's not outdated like today's Nissan Titan, but the Tundra suffers from some of the same problems as that other Japanese pickup. Like the Titan, the Tundra doesn't quite look like the other full-size pickups, a liability in a market where image is second only to outright capability. Even the Tundra's interior grasps for carlike cues, misfiring on both the look and finish.
On performance, the Tundra isn't very far behind the competition. Its big V-8 powertrains have more than a little Lexus in them, in terms of smoothness and power delivery. But the mainstream V-8 Tundra barely outpaces the base Ford F-150 now, and the Tundra's towing capacity has stayed the same, while some of the domestics now outclass it by a thousand pounds or more. The Tundra has a sometimes choppy ride, though, like the smaller Tacoma pickup. And gas mileage has been on the rise in Detroit, but it's lagged in San Antonio, where the Tundra is built.
Of course, the Tundra meets the big guys head to head for choice in drivetrains, body styles and bed lengths. It's also up to the task in safety, where it has a share of the lead, and in the outright span of its lineup, which covers all the ground between work trucks and pseudo-luxury-SUV trucks, with only a few of the latest tech features left on the table.
If anything, the Tundra still looks a little too imported, and drives a little too big, even for the people who dream about hauling capacity and off-road capability. Truck sales are down sharply, so it's hard to judge the Tundra a success or a failure, since the last few years don't give suitable comps. Toyota has plenty at stake in the truck market now, and for sure, the rapid, yearly improvements in the Ford and Ram trucks don't make the Tundra's job any easier.