2012 Toyota Tundra

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
January 15, 2012

Buying tip

If a full-sizer like this big boy is just a little too large, the Tundra's little brother--the mid-size Tacoma pickup--makes an excellent substitute for all but the hardcore users.

features & specs

CrewMax 4.6L V8 6-Speed AT
CrewMax 5.7L V8 6-Speed AT
CrewMax 5.7L V8 6-Speed AT LTD
15 city / 20 hwy
14 city / 18 hwy
Coming Soon

Just as tough as the competition, the 2012 Toyota Tundra isn't quite as rugged-looking, as fuel-efficient, or as strong in the towing department.

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It's not outdated like today's Nissan Titan, but the Tundra suffers from some of the same problems as that other Japanese pickup.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.

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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.


2012 Toyota Tundra


The Tundra's eccentric looks don't always read "truck"--and isn't that what truck buyers look for first?

The long history of pickups in America boils down to two important lessons: it has to be tough, and it has to look tough. Maybe the latter is where the Tundra's been led astray?

The disappointing sales of the Tundra can't be from its lack of performance, as we've told you elsewhere. But even though it's as big as ever, and looks particularly imposing parked next to the other full-size pickups on the market, the Tundra doesn't always look "truck" enough.

It's all in the details. The Tundra has just as much visual heft as any other pickup, with lots of big sheetmetal panels and a grille big enough for a cookout. The pieces don't add up, though. Some of the Tundra's curves and sheetmetal bulges look more carlike than they ought to, and even the muscular fenders and pronounced sills that make it look tall and bulky, don't read as simply, or as straightforwardly, as the tractor-like Ram or the Tonka-ish F-150. It's outside the mainstream, and the awkwardness of the details makes it cartoonish, in a segment of vehicles that have all grown into cartoonish proportions, excepting the GM trucks.

It's true inside, too. 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.

Swoop aside, the cabin's so plain, it's as if Toyota decided that "big" was the sole factor truck buyers judged when switching over from lifetime favorites. 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.

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2012 Toyota Tundra


A big performer with either V-8, the 2012 Toyota Tundra gives drivers every reason to abstain from six.

Last year the Tundra adopted a new base engine with more power and more refinement, but there's still not much reason to buy it instead of one of Toyota's two great V-8 engines.

The base six-cylinder is a 270-horsepower, 4.0-liter piece with variable valve timing and 34 horsepower more than the V-6 in the 2010 Tundra. It's not as much a gas miser as, say, Ford's new V-6, and not as powerful, but it can be a reasonable way to keep the Tundra's pricetag low when it counts--mostly in fleets. That's its intended mission, anyway, and it's available in the Regular Cab for a reason.

The Tundra swapped out its mid-line V-8 last year as well, replacing a 4.7-liter design with a revised 4.6-liter eight. This one's more powerful and easier on gas than the engine it replaced, and it earns EPA ratings of up to 15/20 mpg. With 310 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque, it equals some other V-8s in the segment, though the F-150's base six-cylinder engine nearly makes the same power, though it lacks the Toyota's utterly smooth power delivery.

For the most luxurious, Lexus-like experience in a Toyota truck, there's the 381-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8. A strong engine with sharp all-around responsiveness, the big V-8 twists out enormous torque just off idle and has passing power to rival some luxury sedans, even when towing. A gas-mileage rating of 14/18 mpg isn't exactly overwhelming, or surprising.

Toyota still uses a five-speed automatic in base Tundra pickups, but the V-8 versions have six-speeds, with smooth shifting. Manual transmissions disappeared long ago from the lineup.

Steering and braking are still a highlight of the Tundra, though we prefer the quick electric steering in the F-150 and the smoother hydraulic responses of the latest Ram 1500. 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.

Toyota offers four-wheel drive on every Tundra, and it's rugged enough to get its own off-road package. Top towing capacity is 10,400 pounds, very capable, though a thousand pounds or more off the mark set by some of the domestics.

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2012 Toyota Tundra

Comfort & Quality

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

As huge as any full-size truck on sale in the U.S., the 2012 Toyota Tundra comes in nearly any configuration you can think of--from Regular, Double Cab, and CrewMax cabs, to a choice of three different bed lengths.

On the people side of the Tundra equation, the Regular Cab has the least going for it. 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 Work Truck form, with just rubberized trim where carpeting would otherwise be, and with grey vinyl covering its seats. There are a few cubic feet of storage space behind, but only two doors, so access to that space is somewhat limited. The best bet for carrying stuff? The bed out back, which can be had in extra-long.

A more mainstream option is the Tundra Double Cab. With a pair of rear-hinged doors behind the front-hinged ones, this Tundra can haul more tools under lock and key in the cab, which doing double duty for people with its flip-up rear seats. Kids will fit well enough in there, though no one's really assessed the safety of these kinds of seats. They're not at all comfortable either, and leg room is barely adequate.

If you're really needing a truck that does every job in mind, you're looking at the CrewMax. But 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. This Tundra has rear seats that slide and recline for comfort almost equal to that found in the front seats, with plenty of leg and knee room for all passengers. As tall as it is, though, this Tundra and other versions don't have much head room when an optional sunroof is fitted.

While Ram 1500 and Ford F-150 trucks have made huge carlike leaps inside their very upscale interiors, the wave of design that refashioned this Tundra a few years back left it with some lesser-grade trim. It's not a beautiful place to work, but by God, it's huge. The center console can hold hanging files or a laptop out of sight, and the front buckets themselves will contain any backside we'd care to give a lift. Go without the console and the Tundra's front bench truly will carry three grown adults across.

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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.

2012 Toyota Tundra


The available ratings from the NHTSA and IIHS suggest the 2012 Toyota Tundra is one safe truck.

The 2012 Toyota Tundra is mechanically unchanged, but the crash-test scores it once had aren't. That's because both the Feds and the insurance industry changed their methodology for the 2011 model year, and we're just now getting updated Tundra ratings.

It's good news, what's there. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Tundra four stars overall, but technically, the ratings only apply to the two-door models. The four-door Tundra CrewMax wasn't included in the testing.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has factored in a new roof-crush standard into its rating, and here the Tundra earns a Top Safety Pick award. In this case, only the four-door was tested, leaving the two-door versions unrated.

Well outfitted with active and passive safety gear, the Tundra meets the competition head-on for the most part. 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.

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.

2012 Toyota Tundra


A huge range of features gives drivers a choice from stripped Tundra work trucks to lavishly equipped Platinum editions.

Like every other full-size truck on the market, the 2012 Toyota Tundra gives owners the chance to build what's essentially a custom truck, from a range of drivetrains, body styles, and bed lengths.

It doesn't stop there, though: 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.

The standard Tundra Work Truck has it all--if by all, you mean a wash-and-wear truck made for years of hard labor. With wind-up windows and a basic radio, it's mostly made available to power companies, contractors, and the like. From that edition, the Tundra dolls itself up all the way to Platinum trim, with leather upholstery, satellite radio, a sunroof, power features, and Bluetooth connectivity. A note: Toyota's streamlined its already simplified features packages, so at some dealers, you won't be able to find, say, a long-bed 5.7-liter V-8 with only a CD player, but with upscale interior trim.

You will be able to order a sporty TRD hardware package, so long as you're willing to stick with the 4x2 regular-cab truck or the standard-bed Double Cab. The 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.

Up at the pinnacle of the Tundra lineup is the Platinum, a name we've seen before. As with the F-150 Platinum, this Tundra is the one for drivers who want all the luxury features from a Lexus. The Platinum gets the biggest V-8 and the four-door CrewMax body, and adds on premium audio, a navigation system, a sunroof, wood trim, and ventilated front seats.

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Other features available in packages or as dealer-installed options on the 2012 Tundra include a rearview camera, driver-seat memory, 20-inch wheels, a DVD entertainment system, a power sliding rear window, and a large sunroof.

2012 Toyota Tundra

Fuel Economy

Full-size pickups aren't good on gas as a rule, but the V-8 Tundra is competitive; V-6 versions aren't up to the latest from the domestics.

Big V-8 engines have been the domain of full-size pickups, but that's changing somewhat as gas prices stay high and as domestic automakers put more effort into improving gas mileage.

Those moves, particularly by Ford, put the 2012 Toyota Tundra behind the eight-ball when it comes to gas mileage. The big V-8 versions are at least competitive with Ford, Chevy, GMC and Dodge trucks, but the six-cylinder models are a few miles per gallon off the new normal.

As a work truck, the basic Tundra gets a V-6, an automatic gearbox, and rear-wheel drive. This model's rated by the EPA at 16/20 mpg. A comparable F-150 gets a couple more miles per gallon on the highway side--and that better gas mileage is turning more casual drivers on to six-cylinder trucks, which used to be the fleet-duty specials purchased primarily by governments, utilities, and agencies.

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.

Toyota has promised hybrid technology for all its products by 2020, but as yet, no hybrid Tundras have been announced or confirmed for production.

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This review is for my Tundra Limited 4 x 4. Purchased it used 25000 miles. It has all the " Bells and Whistles " you could want. First owner added running boards that extend and retract when the doors are... + More »
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