First drive: 2022 Toyota Tundra tackles a Texas-sized problem of old age with a good new truck

October 12, 2021

The state of Texas proudly plants one boot in its independent past and its other boot in a future built on individual freedoms. It’s a fitting setting to drive the new 2022 Toyota Tundra full-size pickup truck.

Beyond San Antonio, not far from the backyard of Toyota Motor North American headquarters in Plano, I drove the new Tundra off-road, on-road, and hauled around a couple Airstreams. The first redesigned Tundra in 15 years is an evolutionary step forward for Toyota’s biggest rig, yet its big boxy bod honors pickup truck tradition. 

The evolutionary leap starts by Toyota ditching the classic V-8 for two twin-turbo V-6 options that include a hybrid option. Rear coil springs replace the old leaf springs, and five suspension options offer shoppers a much greater degree of variability and individuality. Those major changes are complemented inside by a new available 14.0-inch touchscreen designed and made in America that makes the interface something to rely on instead of something to avoid altogether. 

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

The one-time leader in hybrid powertrain development applies Ford’s strategy on the bestselling F-150 pickup truck with a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 hybrid making 437 hp and 583 lb-ft at 2,400 rpm. A motor-generator sandwiched between the engine and 10-speed automatic transmission provides boost to the engine while driving, yet the hybrid system powers engine stop/start and EV driving at speeds under 18 mph. It’s quiet at low speeds and off-road, and quick enough off the line to chirp the tires on the available 20-inch wheels. 

Standard on the TRD Pro and available on Limited, Platinum, and 1794 models, the Tundra Hybrid uses a 1.87-kwh nickel-metal hydride battery pack that sits under the rear seats, so the only loss to interior space is a lack of rear underseat storage. Toyota did not disclose pricing or EPA ratings for the Hybrid, which will go on sale in spring 2022.

The standard 2022 Tundra goes on sale late this year, presumably with a significant price increase over the $36,000 base price of the outgoing model. The power rear sliding window returns, and a new bump switch integrated into the driver's side taillight lets you fold down the gate with a hip check or elbow bump. 

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

The 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 puts out 389 hp and 479 lb-ft, compared to the outgoing 5.7-liter V-8’s 381 hp and 401 lb-ft, and it outperforms the old V-8 in the right ways. It can tow up to 12,000 lb, compared to 10,200 lb in the outgoing model. 

Paired with a 10-speed automatic instead of the old 6-speed, it’s at least 30% more efficient: the V-8 with rear-wheel drive had an EPA-rated 13 mpg city, 18 highway, 15 combined; Toyota estimates the base twin-turbo V-6 will get 18 mpg city, 23 highway, 20 combined in rear-wheel drive; four-wheel drive costs it 1 mpg across the board.

The new Tundra rides on a lighter double wishbone suspension up front and a solid rear axle with a multi-link rear suspension and coil springs that replace the old leaf springs. A wider, fully-boxed ladder frame adds rigidity for less bouncing around from the rear. It handled calmly and quietly on the road, and the lean in turns wasn’t too pronounced thanks to larger crossmembers. At about 67 mph, however, the cab vibrated with the available 20-inch wheels.

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

The load-leveling rear air suspension is one of five suspension choices. Its Low setting defaults to Normal above 8 mph, and is mainly for loading and unloading the bed; the High setting defaults to Normal above 18 mph and is meant for low-speed off-roading. A manual switch on the center stack lets you change between the three settings within the speed parameters, but the automatic setting is simpler. 

Available adaptive dampers similar to what’s used on Lexus’s performance vehicles compress or stiffen for a more comfortable street drive and more pliant off-road ride. The adaptive dampers must be paired with the rear air suspension. Models with the adaptive dampers get Sport+ and Comfort modes that affect damper stiffness and steering feedback.

Available on SR5, Limited, and 1794 models, the TRD Off-Road packages swap out the standard twin-tube shocks for monotube Bilsteins, 18-inch or 20-inch TRD wheels, a special grille, skid plates, mud guards, and on 4WD models, an electronic rear differential lock. 

TRD Pro grades get 2.5-inch Fox internal bypass shocks with a 1.1-inch front lift, a TRD-specific front stabilizer bar, aluminum front skid plate, and all-terrain Falken tires. 

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

Off-roading

I took the 2022 Tundra TRD Pro on a varied off-road course up and around Texas hills dense with trees and shrubs, then tested an outgoing 2021 TRD Pro, which proved itself to be no slouch. The mechanical advancements on the suspension as well as the technological developments in the cabin made it a far superior machine. It’s smoother, quieter, comfier, and much easier to negotiate, even though the wider proportions of the TRD Pro model require by federal law three amber safety lights on the grille.  

Standard on TRD Pro, a hill descent control button enables pedal-free driving. I was able to adjust the speed between 3-18 mph, so I kept it slow on steep descents then turned it to 11 elsewhere. It lacked the jerkiness of more rudimentary systems, and it could be overridden with the press of a throttle. 

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

The same button also enabled a Crawl mode that did the same kind of low-speed cruise control but uphill. It superseded the Multi-Terrain Select control that offers Rock, Mud, Sand, and Auto modes. It’s a neat trick that simplifies the off-roading experience.

The ground clearance of 10.9 inches and a 1.1-inch front lift made for easy climbing over fallen logs and rock ledges; TRD Pro flexes an approach angle of 26.2 degrees and departure angle of 24.2 degrees. 

The tester was equipped with side mirror cameras that project what can’t be seen between the wheels on the large touchscreen, affording a multitude of views that gave me all the eyes I needed to climb a narrow rocky ascent without a spotter. 

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

Towing

The new side mirrors also come with LED trailer lights that project rearward to illuminate the side of the trailer to ease night parking. There are other towing enhancements ranging from the helpful to the not-so-much.

Tow+ mode delays shift response and changes the throttle mapping to better tow loads more than 5,000 lb. There’s more heft to the steering, and compression is reduced on the air suspension for a steadier load. In back-to-back demos with and without the air suspension, it smoothed out occasional jitters on the same uphill loop in the SR5 without the air suspension. 

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

Towing a long 20+ foot Airstream RV that weighed more than 6,700 lb, the 10-speed automatic maintained the right gear mix for the job. The only lag from the twin-turbo Hybrid came from the weight behind the truck. 

The brake gain setting can be set in increments of .5 up to 10 to control trailer sway and apply more braking to the trailer when towing heavier loads or over long, steep downhill grades. Up to 10 trailer profiles can be loaded into the system, with manual entries for length of the trailer that can also be detected by the multitude of cameras. 

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

Toyota’s reverse trailering helper—Straight Path Assist—relied on my perception of straight, which was as reliable as my golf drive. Activate it through the cluster, put the truck in reverse, and the system uses cameras and radar sensors to turn the steering wheel and keep the trailer in a straight line from its point of origin. It’s not as sophisticated as Ford’s backup trailer assist. If you’re dead-on lining up the trailer with the boat ramp, it works well, but in demos between cones I needed to override it with a few steering corrections because our initial straight line approach was a slice. 

An available surround-view camera system projects bird’s-eye views of the truck and trailer, the cargo bed, and the hitch. It and the views on the large infotainment screen make towing and off-roading much easier than the outgoing model, and competitive with current trucks. 

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

Touchscreen

The cabin upgrades center on the available 14.0-inch touchscreen. The standard 8.0-inch system works well, too, and comes with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Either one gets a large volume dial and hard buttons for climate control, but the labels for the climate switches get lost in the recess below the screen. 

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

2022 Toyota Tundra

Available on the SR5 and standard on Limited and above models, and debuting simultaneously in the 2022 Lexus NX, the 14.0-inch touchscreen sports a bright fresh font, sharper visuals, pinch-and-zoom functionality, enhanced voice commands, and dual microphones for both front passengers. Toyota says it has five times greater processing speed than the old model. It doesn’t have the deep dives of other large touchscreens, and I couldn’t locate an energy meter as in other Toyota hybrids, but the layout is clear and easy to navigate. A left menu bar keeps the iconography simple, and though some navigation functions on the right side are a reach for the driver, they can be overcome by pinching and zooming. CarPlay takes up the whole screen and can be used simultaneously with the native navigation, so you could make a call and still have map guidance; two phones can be paired at once, for seamless switching away from bad playlists.

The new Tundra has been a long time coming, but it improves in all the key categories to stay competitive in a Texas-sized truck segment.

Toyota provided airfare, room, and board for this firsthand report. 

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