For the last two decades, full-size pickups have been getting bigger and bigger. And through all that time, Toyota has been playing catch-up. First with the T-100, then with the original Tundra. Finally, the all-new, U.S.-built (in Texas, fittingly), 2007 Tundra achieved truly American-style hugeness. Then gas hit $4 a gallon.
Of course, it has since come down, only to be replaced by the recession as a new and even more leaden drag on big pickup sales. One can’t help but get the sense that the trajectory of ever-bigger pickups may at last have reached its zenith.
At least that’s the sense I got after spending some time in a new Tundra. It was a four-door (DoubleCab, in Toyota-speak), four-wheel-drive model, which is the new normal among big pickups. Certainly, the cabin space is vast, an impression made more so by my test truck’s three-across, bench front seat (with center three-point seatbelt!), which allows three adults to ride together up front, Joad-family style. The Tundra’s hood is actually pretty short, but it’s so high that forward visibility still suffers; and the high tailgate makes a rear-view camera a virtual necessity. Without one, parking in an urban area requires a spotter.
One consequence of a the pickup migrating from being a work vehicle to a lifestyle statement is that automakers have, of necessity, invested considerable effort in making these massive haulers as refined as the cars they’re replacing. In the Tundra, for instance, the 5.7-liter V-8 is so quiet at idle you can’t tell it’s running. I was even more impressed with the truck’s ride quality. With their tall sidewalls, the tires on most big pickups take much of the edge off sharp potholes, and that’s the case here too. However, many 4×4 pickups still suffer shuddering body motions as the cab and the cargo bed react independently to impacts; but the Tundra all but glided over the nastiest, torn-up streets. One suspects that the feather-light steering is another attempt to civilize the beast, but in practice it just requires all the more concentration to keep the wide-body pickup within the confines of narrow highway lanes.
So although the Tundra is a very well done huge pickup, it still left me feeling that equaling the domestic pickups’ epic proportions might not have been such a wise goal after all. Perhaps Toyota would have been better to continue serving up a 7/8th-scale big pickup; the market might have come to them. It also might be time to lavish the same degree of love and attention the company visited upon the Tundra onto the midsize Toyota Tacoma—and get to work on an even smaller hauler—because the evolution of big pickups seems like it has gone about as far as it can reasonably go.