2011 Toyota Tundra Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 3, 2011

The interior may be a letdown in quality, but the 2011 Toyota Tundra is every bit as big and tough as the other full-size trucks.

The Toyota Tundra has been a massive--some say failed--experiment in changing American truck buyers' tastes. Toyota spent a billion and a half dollars to reinvent its nearly-full-size Tundra into a true gargantuan truck with more hauling and towing capacity than any other pickup, and moved its production from the Midwest to Texas, the heart of pickup truck territory.

It hasn't worked, and Tundra sales once estimated at 200,000 units a year haven't even met half that goal.

Despite all that, the Tundra still does what Toyota said it would do, when it was redesigned for the 2007 model year. It planted the truck in the heart of the full-size segment; it won, if only briefly, the kudos for the highest towing capacity in the class; and it changed the fundamental assumption that trucks have to look completely boxy to be butch, even if the Tundra's looks don't exactly win us over.

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Since truck sales have dropped precipitously in the past few years, the 2011 Tundra is essentially the same as last year's model, with an updated base engine and now, far fewer versions to offer buyers. Once it was a poster child for do-it-yourselfers who needed a custom truck; now Toyota ships only 28 distinct versions to dealers, leaving a raft of accessories to be installed at dealers, much like the company does with its Scion cars.

You'll probably be happier in the long run with a more fuel-efficient Ford F-150, or a better-riding Ram 1500, but there's nothing perfectly wrong with the Tundra, while it does a thing or two perfectly right.

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2011 Toyota Tundra

Styling

The 2011 Toyota Tundra tries to blend in with the other full-size pickup trucks, but the gargantuan size and trendy curves aren't quite as mainstream as you'd expect.

If there's a single word to describe the styling of the 2011 Toyota Tundra, it's "imposing." Particularly from the front view, it's an immense vehicle, with tall metal panels and a vast grille that outsize even the biggest trucks from Dodge, Ford and GMC. 

That prominent, upright front grille is paired with some detailed headlights. Down its sides, the Tundra straps on bulging sills and fenders that make it seem even bulkier and taller, though the flared wheel wells keep it all tucked in seamlessly. The taillights are some of the plainest pieces of the Tundra.

In all, it's a distinct appearance that's just outside the mainstream of pickups. It doesn't owe anything to heritage like the Ram 1500, and it's not blocky for blocky's sake like the current F-150. There's an awkwardness to the Tundra that's most evident in Regular Cab models, where the glass area looks cartoon-sized, in comparison to the hugely tall sides--and that's what makes it less traditional and therefore, less appealing, than almost all its competitors.

The interior's a bit too plasticky unless you have industrial tastes. The Tundra has large swaths of matte-metallic plastic that curve over and through the gauges, and down a very wide center console with an exaggerated sweep. It's out of proportion in some ways, too, like the exterior, as if Toyota decided that "big" was the sole factor truck buyers judged when switching over from lifetime favorites.

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2011 Toyota Tundra

Performance

A strong performer with either V-8, the 2011 Toyota Tundra doesn't give most drivers much of a reason to opt for its updated V-6.

Toyota's refined the base engine on the 2011 Tundra, but there's still little reason for most non-commercial buyers to opt for it over one of the truck's marvelous V-8 engines.

The newly revamped base engine on the 2011 Tundra is a 270-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6. With an updated variable valve-timing system, it's 34 horsepower stronger than in 2010--when it already provided plenty of oomph to move the Regular Cab with reasonable authority. Since it's designed mainly for work-truck use, it's saddled with lower towing and hauling capacity, which means recreational users will want one of the V-8s unless its 16/20-mpg fuel economy is a psychological must.

Last year, Toyota replaced the Tundra's 4.7-liter V-8 with a fresh 4.6-liter eight-cylinder. The engine's stronger and more fuel-efficient than the one it replaced, with EPA ratings of up to 15/20 mpg. At 310 hp and 327 pound-feet of torque, it's the equal of many other V-8s in the class, though the Ford F-150's new base six-cylinder engine almost equals its output, if not its velvety power delivery.

If lower fuel economy of 14/18 mpg is fine by you, the Tundra's 381-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 remains the top pick. With great all-around responsiveness and strong pulling power, it has mammoth torque available just off idle and plenty of passing power on the highway, even when towing.

Across the Tundra lineup, fuel economy lags some of the newest trucks like the F-150. While both V-8s sport a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic, the V-6 still trods on with a five-speed automatic that costs it plenty in fuel economy, especially compared with the F-150's 17/23 mpg.

The Tundra's powertrain has some great companions in steering and braking. More so than other full-sizers, save for the newest F-150 and its electric steering, the Tundra feels light and precise behind the wheel, and doesn't give up much control to body roll. The brakes are among the best in the class, big and firm to the foot.

Four-wheel drive is available on every Tundra body style and powertrain combination. It's tough enough that Toyota encourages off-road use with special off-roading packages, while it doesn't disturb the Tundra's somewhat choppy ride quality any more than necessary. The Tundra does a fair job of smoothing out the road ahead in plusher versions laden with lots of passengers, but like most trucks, the lightest rear-drive Tundra without any cargo in the bed can send harsh impacts into the cabin.

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2011 Toyota Tundra

Comfort & Quality

Huge interior room and a choice of bodies and beds gives the 2011 Toyota Tundra all it needs to challenge the Big Three trucks--but its interior can come off stark.

Toyota sells the Tundra in just about any configuration you'd like to buy--Regular, Double Cab, and CrewMax cabs, available in three different bed lengths--and each and every variation is about as big as any full-size quarter-ton truck on the planet.

The Regular Cab is the workhorse of the bunch, with just a bench or a pair of buckets in front. It's most often ordered in Work Truck trim, without carpeting and with grey vinyl seats. Still, it offers plenty of room in the bed out back--and even behind the seats, where there's a few cubic feet of storage space.

The Double Cab is way more popular, since it's capable of occasional people-hauling in its flip-up rear seats. Its rear-hinged access panels aren't true rear doors, but it's easy enough to usher the kids into the space, or to fold up the seat bottoms for a nicely sized, behind-locked-doors cargo hold. Those seats aren't all that comfortable for longer trips or for anyone past puberty, though, and leg room is only barely adequate.

The CrewMax? It's essentially a roomy sport-utility vehicle with a pickup bed stitched on its rear end. It has four full-size, front-hinged doors that reveal the kind of interior space that makes it useful for full-size families hauling ATVs away for a weekend ride, or for a contractor bringing his own crew to the work site. On this version, the rear seats slide and recline for ultimate comfort, leaving plenty of leg and knee room for all passengers. Add a sunroof on any version, though, and the high-riding chairs will mean tall passengers come into contact with the headliner.

The utilitarian interior of the Tundra wears some iffy plastics. It's not a beautiful place to work, by any means, but goodness it's huge: there's a vast center console deep enough for a laptop or hanging files, wedged in between bucket seats wide enough for any size passenger. Go without the console and the Tundra's front bench truly will carry three grown adults across. All the controls are big, too, designed to be operated with a work-gloved hand, and there's a telescoping steering wheel with a long range of adjustment. Still, some of the controls are mounted so high on the wide dash, they can be difficult to reach for shorter drivers.

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.

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2011 Toyota Tundra

Safety

Its crash-test scores are incomplete, but the 2011 Toyota Tundra earns good scores from the IIHS.

In the past, the Toyota Tundra has scored well in federal and industry-backed crash tests. With both agencies changing their criteria for 2011, the ratings have changed.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't yet rated the new Tundra. In the past it's earned three and four stars for rollover resistance, and those scores carry over--but front and side impact protection hasn't yet been published. We'll update this review when the results are in.

Over at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a new roof-crush standard has been factored into scoring. The Tundra earns the top "good" rating in the IIHS tests for front and side impacts, but the roof-crush test has not been completed.

The Tundra does well in safety because it's well-equipped with passive and active protection. Dual front, side, curtain and knee airbags are standard on all versions, and so are stability control and anti-lock brakes--features often left off base trucks from the other manufacturers.

A 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.

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2011 Toyota Tundra

Features

Packages and dealer accessories let any driver trim and tune their 2011 Toyota Tundra to their needs.

Just like the other full-size trucks, the 2011 Toyota Tundra can be outfitted to your specs from a comprehensive list of trim and equipment packages, to suit all sorts of work and play duties.

Across its trim levels--everything from a Work truck with vinyl seats, wind-up windows and a basic radio, to the plush Platinum--the Tundra has been simplified for the model year with fewer packages. So while you'll want to add the basics to most versions, things like power windows and a CD player, or maybe satellite radio, Toyota is only building 28 different combinations, so you may have to accept a truck with a little more or less than you're looking for.

The Tundra is a rarity in full-sizers, in that it comes in a TRD Sport Package. Offered on the 4x2 regular-cab truck and the standard-bed Double Cab, the TRD Sport Package is basically a street-appearance package; choose the TRD Rock Warrior package and you're ready for some hard-core off-roading.

At the same time, the Tundra comes in a Platinum trim. If it sounds like the offering applied to the Ford F-150, it is: only available on the CrewMax Tundra with the most powerful 5.7-liter V-8, the Platinum package bundles up a navigation system, a premium audio package with JBL speakers, a sunroof, chrome and wood trim, and ventilated, perforated-leather seats.

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.

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2011 Toyota Tundra

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Toyota Tundra's six-cylinder isn't as efficient as those from Detroit, but the V-8s have comparable EPA ratings.

The 2011 Toyota Tundra mitigates its big V-8's low fuel economy with a V-6 option, but even that truck can't beat the domestic's best.

The base Tundra comes with a six-cylinder engine, an automatic transmission, and rear-wheel drive. It's EPA-rated at 16/20 mpg--and like other six-cylinder big pickups, it's a fleet-duty special mostly purchased by utilities and agencies.

Two different eight-cylinder engines can be specified in the mass-market Tundra. With its 4.6-liter V-8, an automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive, the Tundra checks in at 15/20 mpg. Adding on four-wheel drive drops the figures to 14/19 mpg.

The top-line Tundra with Toyota's powerful 5.7-liter V-8 earns an EPA rating of 14/18 mpg in 4x2 trim. With a 4x4 drivetrain, this Tundra's fuel economy only musters 13/17 mpg.

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Toyota has said in the recent past, that all its vehicles would be available as hybrids by 2020. There's still a decade left to go, so the lack of a hybrid option on today's Tundra isn't surprising. No diesel option is offered, either.
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Styling 7
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 8
Features 9
Fuel Economy 5
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