Canadians love their trucks. Take a gander at the parking lot of your local hockey rink on a frosty winter morning and you’re likely to find more open beds than at an abandoned hotel. In fact, roughly 1 in 4 new vehicles sold in this country through the first half of 2021 is a pickup truck, despite the calendar remaining firmly entrenched in yet another supply-constrained pandemic year. When a major segment player completely revamps its offering for the first time in almost 15 years, the industry (and customers) sit up and take notice.
Performance, Ride, Handling
Such is the case at Toyota, where the Tundra half-ton pickup truck finds itself with a new structure and fresh engines for 2022. All V8 engines have been tossed in the bin, replaced with a choice of twin-turbo V6 mills. Both options displace 3.5L and are harnessed to a ten-speed automatic, but only one receives Toyota’s expertise in hybridization. That powertrain, fitted to our pre-production tester, belts out 437 horsepower and 583 lb-ft of torque, numbers once reserved for heavy-duty diesel trucks.
If those specifications sound familiar, it could be because you’ve been browsing the Ford catalog. F-150 shoppers can also opt for a 3.5L twin-turbo hybrid V6, good for 430 ponies and 570 lb-ft of twist. If it was ever in doubt what truck was being benchmarked by Team Toyota, there’s your answer. A ten-speed automatic is on tap here as well.
Toyota says the Tundra’s hybrid torque comes on line in full force 600 rpm sooner than the Ford, an assertion that’s easy to feel at the seat of yer pants in a back-to-back drive. Tundra’s powertrain snaps to attention more quickly than the F-150, especially in passing situations. The ten-speed downshifts like a quiet butler going about his work, serving up the right gear before you even know it’s needed. This is a pleasantly smooth drivetrain and will surely please even those customers trading out of an expensive SUV.
Long gone is that V8 baritone of what was once a Nipponese NASCAR, now replaced with a vexed Cuisinart blender. It took Ford the better part of a decade to sort out the EcoBoost’s exhaust note to resemble something more than a broken Shop Vac; hopefully it won’t take Toyota as long to do the same. To this jaundiced ear, the Ford sounds better.
One will not find any old-school leaf springs appended to the new Tundra’s fully boxed frame. Instead, coil springs now reside on either side of the live rear axle, unless the optional air suspension system is selected. This setup improves ride comfort over rough roads and straight-line stability in general when compared to the leaf-sprung Ford, whose rear end tends to skitter about slightly especially when its bed is empty. This is no small consideration since these trucks generally spend most of their lives hauling only sailboat fuel. With more and more customers choosing to rock a full-size pickup as a proxy for the family sedan, ride comfort is important – especially to the aforementioned folks trading out of an SUV.
All of which brings us neatly to the interior. Showing up for duty in the half-ton truck game with a set of leather seats and a smartphone-sized infotainment screen is no longer adequate (just ask General Motors who installed a new cabin in their pickups three short years after debuting an all-new machine). While our tester was the off-road focused TRD Pro trim, its interior is representative of the form and function across Tundra lines.
This is good news. The available 14-inch landscape-oriented touchscreen dominates the centre stack, flanked by large vents, which promote good airflow. It’s laden with new graphics and operating guts, meaning there is finally a modern Toyota with infotainment better than an Etch-a-Sketch. Here’s hoping it spreads across the rest of its lineup. Standard with the hybrid powertrain and on all top-shelf trims is a 12.3-inch digital gauge display with acres of customizable content. We’ll note our truck was an early pre-production model, so ignore any warning lights or error messages on this screen. Other gadgets like the smartphone chargers are well thought out, while the secondary controls are mostly rocker-style switches with a rubberized feel, chunky, and easy to use. Its seats are comfortable and wide, pairing well with the new coil suspension to create a remarkable cabin experience.
Ford imbued their best-seller with a host of interior changes for 2021, many of which were detailed by our own Norris McDonald in a preview earlier this summer. That new screen is a beauty, one which can be populated with infotainment details or important trailering data depending on driver commands. Jumbo ventilation dials are easy to use while wearing gloves, and this year’s refinement of button placement finally puts the Pro Trailer Backup Assist knob where it belongs. Save for the new power retractable shifter which sounds like its moving through grainy sand, the entire cabin is well-crafted, sumptuous on this Lariat trim, and free of gimmicks.
But the F-150 takes this new Tundra to school in the cargo and innovation departments, areas that are critically important in the half-ton pickup truck segment. Ford made good use of its investment into hybridization by creating the Pro Power Onboard system, an integrated generator, which seamlessly lives in one wall of the truck bed and provides a multitude of power outlets for work or play. This tester had the mighty 7.2kW generator, more than enough to power a bunch of tools and half your house. Despite having similar electrical powertrain gubbins, Toyota only includes a simple household outlet in the bed, something that’s been available for years on gasoline-powered trucks. Their official reasoning for not doing so is weight and complexity; I think they just ran out of development money.
It’s the same story in more simple and practical areas. Excepting the cleat system which lines the upper walls of the box, Tundra has but four tie downs in its bed, all of which rudely stick out like a spoilt child’s bottom lip. There are no clever storage solutions like at Ram, nor origami tailgates like at GM. Innovative bed steps like on the Ford? Forget it.
In fact, about the only two gee-whiz moments in Toyota’s business end are the tremendous fully-retractable rear window (which every truck maker should copy post-haste) and a very handy button invisibly integrated into the driver’s side tail lamp which, when pressed with an elbow or toe of a work boot, drops the power tailgate. The lack of cargo bed innovation is a missed opportunity for Toyota; perhaps added practical features will be introduced in due course.
Looks are a highly subjective but is a topic which is often discussed quite loudly and with some vehemence. While the Tundra’s grille does indeed look as big in person as it appears on your screen, and several people opined it had a face only a mother could slug. However, seeing the thing in three dimensions somehow manages to temper its over-the-topiary personality; in short, it looks better in person. Those sequential turn signals (front and rear!) are a delight and the TRD Pro light bar is a neat addition. The Ford, for better or worse, is simply a handsome pickup truck.
Toyota has yet to spill the beans about 2022 Tundra pricing, but a sticker hike should be expected. Until now, the company has been able to undercut some of its half-ton competition – particularly at the top end of its range – at least in terms of asking price if not incentives and interest rates. The highest price one could find on last year’s Tundra was about $65,000; a hefty sum, to be sure, but about $20,000 south of the costliest Ford.
This will surely change in 2022. Toyota is not known for leaving money on the table and while mid-range trims will probably not see exorbitant increases, there’s a decent chance top-spec models like this TRD Pro will bump up against the $80,000 mark. Incidentally, that’s roughly the price of our Ford test truck, which rings in at $83,175.
Will the new Tundra steal a few F-150 sales? Probably, especially with customers who are jonesing for an expressive off-road themed rig (some may think that integrated TRD Pro light bar is annoying but extroverts like your author will think it’s cool) and it’ll certainly have a solid shot at retaining existing Tundra owners. David won’t knock Goliath off his perch atop the sales column, but the giant is likely to feel some nibbling at his ankles.
In other words, look for a few of these things at the rink this winter. After all, Canadians love their trucks.