2013 Toyota Tundra Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 12, 2013

The 2013 Toyota Tundra is tough and able, but its overwrought styling, subpar interior appointments, and unimpressive fuel economy could be cause for hesitation.

Toyota once had big plans to conquer the big truck market, just as it had done in sedans and economy cars. Now, the Toyota Tundra is clearly a glass half full for Japan's biggest automaker. Years later, it sells far fewer than Chrysler does its Ram 1500, as well as the big sellers from Ford and GM.

It's not that the Tundra is feeling outdated, but that it suffers from some of the same problems as that other Japanese pickups. In a market where image is everything, the Tundra has always looked a little overwrought--almost cartoonishly brawny--on the outside. Meanwhile, the interior grasps for carlike cues, misfiring on both the look and finish.

The Tundra's base V-6 is neither as strong nor as efficient as the latest base engines from Ford and Ram, but its big V-8 powertrains have more than a little Lexus in them, in terms of smoothness and power delivery. Towing capacity has stayed the same over the years, with some of the domestics now outclass it by a thousand pounds or more. Ride quality can be somewhat choppy, but CrewMax models have a very well-designed interior, with plenty of legroom plus real back-seat space that makes it a viable family-vehicle option.

Review continues below

The 2013 Toyota Tundra is big and brawny, no doubt. And it offers impressive occupant protection. It meets the competition head-on for the most part, with a solid array of active and passive safety features. Though there aren't advanced options for technology like blind-spot monitors, the Tundra does comes with standard dual front, side, curtain and knee airbags, as well as stability control and anti-lock brakes.

The pinnacle of the Tundra lineup is the Platinum, which is the one for drivers who want all the luxury features from a Lexus; and while last year it was only offered in CrewMax guise, for 2013 it's a full-fledged model grade--with the three grades for the Tundra now base, Limited, and Platinum. Like last year, the Platinum gets the biggest V-8 and the four-door CrewMax body, adding on premium audio, a navigation system, a sunroof, wood trim, and ventilated front seats. And this year, a new Display Navigation with Entune system is optional on the Tundra, adding things such as Bluetooth music streaming, a backup camera, and voice controls. .
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2013 Toyota Tundra

Styling

The Tundra looks buff and brawny, but it also looks like it's trying a bit too hard.

In America, for a truck to be taken seriously, it has to be tough, and it has to look tough. And in the latter respect, Toyota might have landed a bit off the mark with the current Tundra.

With its last redesign a few years back, the Tundra took another step up in size, and it looks particularly imposing parked next to the other full-size pickups on the market. Yet it could be argued that the Tundra is overly complicated in its design, and it lacks the straightforward, rugged look that to Americans, makes a truck a truck.

We suspect it's all in the details. While all the visual heft is here, just as much as any other pickup, with lots of big sheetmetal panels and a grille big enough for a cookout, the pieces don't add up, and some of the Tundra's curves and sheetmetal bulges look more carlike than they ought to. From the muscular fenders to the pronounced sills that make it look tall and bulky, the Tundra don't read as simply, or as straightforwardly, as the semi-inspired Ram or the Tonka-ish F-150. The proportions are almost cartoonish, the details awkward--and they could use some kind of 'reset.'

Inside, some of the same overwrought-and-exaggerated flaws are just as apparent. The Tundra's dash takes a step backward in finish where the Ram and F-150 have made big strides forward. At the same time the Tundra's cabin is split by an arc dividing driver controls from the rest of the cabin--a touch that seems too sporty and not hearty.

What makes all the design glitz and flexed muscles feel odd--in the truck as a whole--is that the cabin's so plain, and mostly ignores the rapid progress made by all of its competitors in terms of upholsteries and trims. The controls are big, designed to be operated with a work-gloved hand, and there's a telescoping steering wheel with a long range of adjustment. But some of them are out of reach for shorter drivers as they're mounted so high on the dash.

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2013 Toyota Tundra

Performance

Performance is strong with either V-8 in the 2013 Toyota Tundra, and pricing is the only reason to get the V-6.

The Tundra is offered with a V-6 at the base level, but there's really no good reason to choose it instead of one of the available V-8 engines, which are far stronger and, at least for the smaller V-8, nearly as efficient.

The base engine is a 270-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 with variable valve timing; it's not as much a gas miser as V-6 models of the Ford F-150 or Ram 1500--not as powerful either--but it can be a reasonable way to keep the Tundra's price tag low when it counts. Fleets are the intended mission for this model anyway, and that's why it's available in abbreviated Regular Cab form.

A couple of years ago, Toyota replaced the mid-line (and middling) 4.7-liter design with a revised 4.6-liter eight, and this one's not only stronger but better on gas (with ratings of up to 15/20 mpg). Its 310 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque match some other V-8s in the segment, although those new V-6 engines from Ford and Ram come close to it. This V-8's strength is its utterly smooth power delivery, however.

The 381-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 provides the most Lexus-like driving experience--if you don't mind a little more bassy exhaust note than the other models. It's a sharp, responsive engine, twisting out enormous torque just off idle, with the passing power to rival some luxury sedans, even when towing. And it's no surprise that its gas-mileage rating is just 14/18 mpg.

There are no manual transmissions here; base Tundra pickups get a five-speed automatic, but you get a six-speed with V-8 versions; in either case it's a smooth-shifting, responsive transmission.

Overall, the Tundra feels light and precise and quick to take direction, and controls its body roll very well, especially for its size, though ride quality is choppy when the truck's running a light payload. The brakes are among the best in the class, big and firm to the foot. Dynamically we can't say the Tundra is at the top, however; the quick electric steering in the F-150 and the smoother hydraulic responses of the latest Ram 1500.

With the available Tow Package--offered on all V-8 models--the Tundra can tow up to 10,400 pounds. While impressive, that's more than a thousand pounds off the max for some of its rivals.

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2013 Toyota Tundra

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Tundra has vast space for people and cargo, with the usual choices of doors and beds, but the materials inside can feel a little stark. .

If you're still thinking that the Toyota Tundra isn't quite as large as the domestic full-sizers, you need to get up to speed; this is a model that's as huge as any full-size truck on sale in the U.S., and it comes in three different cab lengths, and in Regular, Double Cab, and CrewMax cabs.

The Regular Cab has the least going for it, if you need space for people. It's a three-seater at best, with either a pair of buckets or a classic bench seat across the cab. You'll see it most often in fleets, in Work Truck form, with just rubberized trim where carpeting would otherwise be, and with grey vinyl covering its seats. The bed in back is your best options for carrying things, as there are just a few cubic feet for storage behind the seats.

With its pair of rear-hinged doors behind the front-hinged ones, The Tundra Double Cab can haul more tools under lock and key in the cab, which has flip-up rear seats in back. Kids will fit well enough in there, though no one's really assessed the safety of these kinds of seats. Don't expect much comfort (or legroom) either.

The Tundra CrewMax is really the model to get if you have every task in mind. For the open bed, it's a roomy SUV, with four front-hinged, full-sized doors that open up to the kind of interior space that turns this Tundra into a legitimate family vehicle--especially for families that tow weekend fun behind them, or depend on a truck for work during the week. These rear seats slide and recline for comfort almost equal to that found in the front seats, with plenty of leg and knee room for all passengers. One note: Despite all the Tundra's height, it doesn't leave much headroom when you get the optional sunroof.

Inside the Tundra, the center console can hold hanging files or keep a laptop out of sight, and the front seats are supportive enough for American-size backsides. Go without the console and the Tundra's front bench truly will carry three grown adults across.

In all Tundras, the lack of wind noise and the refinement of the powertrain are a step ahead of every other full-size, light-duty pickup truck on the market. But what lags is the materials used for door panels, the dash, and trims. While the Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 have made huge carlike leaps inside their very upscale interiors, the wave of design that refashioned this Tundra somehow omitted finer sensibilities.

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2013 Toyota Tundra

Safety

As verified by U.S. safety agencies, the 2013 Tundra is one safe truck.

The 2013 Toyota Tundra is big and brawny, no doubt. And it offers impressive occupant protection.

The Tundra meets the competition head-on for the most part, with a solid array of active and passive safety features. Though there aren't advanced options for technology like blind-spot monitors, the Tundra does comes with standard dual front, side, curtain and knee airbags, as well as stability control and anti-lock brakes.

Options you'll want is the rearview camera and parking sensors are optional on the Tundra, and that's good, because its high tailgate and overall size mean visibility isn't always the best--though the seating position is high, and outward visibility ahead and to the sides is good.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Tundra four stars overall, including four stars in frontal impact and five stars for side impact. And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Tundra its Top Safety Pick award, with top scores in frontal, side, and rear tests, as well as roof strength.

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2013 Toyota Tundra

Features

From stripped work trucks to lavishly equipped Platinum editions, the Tundra comes equipped to meet your wants and needs.

Full-size truck shoppers are a spoiled lot, used to driving away in what's essentially a custom truck, with choices from a wide range of drivetrains, bed lengths, and cab styles. And that's before even counting all the appearance and cargo options, as well as the special-purpose packages, that are typical.

The pinnacle of the Tundra lineup is the Platinum, which is the one for drivers who want all the luxury features from a Lexus; and while last year it was only offered in CrewMax guise, for 2013 it's a full-fledged model grade--with the three grades for the Tundra now base, Limited, and Platinum. Like last year, the Platinum gets the biggest V-8 and the four-door CrewMax body, adding on premium audio, a navigation system, a sunroof, wood trim, and ventilated front seats.

The TRD Sport Package is basically a street-appearance package; or choose the TRD Rock Warrior package (this year offered with the mid-level Limited as well) and you're ready for some hard-core off-roading. Other features available in packages or as dealer-installed options include a rearview camera, driver-seat memory, 20-inch wheels, a DVD entertainment system, a power sliding rear window, and a large sunroof.

If you simply want a wash-and-wear truck made for years of hard labor, the Tundra Work Truck will fit the bill. With wind-up windows and a basic radio, it's mostly made available to power companies, contractors, and the like.

Moving up the model line, the Tundra also starts in vinyl-seat work trim and moves steadily and expensively up the features ladder, the same way the Ram, Silverado, Sierra, and F-150 do, with just a few tech gadgets left on the domestics' table.

New as a regular option for the 2013 model year is a Display Navigation system with Entune multimedia package, which includes a 6.1-inch high-resolution touch screen with split-screen capability, an integrated backup-camera display, SiriusXM satellite radio capability, HD Radio with iTunes Tagging, a USB port with iPod control, hands-free calling, voice controls, and Bluetooth music streaming.

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2013 Toyota Tundra

Fuel Economy

The V-8 Tundra is competitive, but V-6 versions aren't as frugal as the new generation of domestic V-6 trucks.

The 2013 Toyota Tundra hasn't kept up with other full-size pickups in fuel-efficiency, and it's enough to matter if you're cross-shopping them all and care about mileage numbers.

It's Toyota's V-6 model lags the most; its big V-8 versions are at least competitive with Ford, Chevy, GMC and Ram trucks, but with the 2013 Ram 1500 reaching up to 25 mpg highway with its new eight-speed automatic, the Tundra V-6's 16-mpg city, 20 highway ratings are far enough behind to leave a dent in your fuel budget.

The Tundra offers a choice of V-8s, with decent fuel economy for the class. The mass-market Tundra, with a 4.6-liter V-8, an automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive, checks in at 15/20 mpg, according to the EPA. Topping it off with four-wheel drive lowers those figures to 14/19 mpg.

If you opt for the most powerful Tundra with the 5.7-liter V-8, you'll see 14/18 mpg at best--that's with a 4x2 drivetrain. As a 4x4, this Tundra manages just 13/17 mpg.

Hybrid models aren't in the near-term plan for Toyota; neither are more economical diesels.

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