The 2016 Toyota Tundra has authentic truck talent, but ultimately its powertrain choices, fuel economy, and configurations are limited, compared to domestic rivals.
The Toyota Tundra wins over a small slice of the full-size truck market—time and time again—thanks to a strong record for durability.
It's had a hard time breaking into the big leagues alongside the Silverado and Sierra, Ram and F-150. When it comes to sales, spec-sheet stats, and real-world performance, the Tundra is routinely outperformed by those trucks—in towing ability, fuel economy, ride quality, and comfort and utility features.
That hasn't changed for the 2016 model, and neither has the Tundra. It's still offered in multiple body styles, bed lengths, and trim levels—including the base SR, SR5, TRD Off-Road, Limited, Platinum, and 1794 Edition models. For this year, it adds a bigger gas tank on some models, light styling tweaks, and an updated infotainment system.
Although the Tundra doesn’t stand out in any of the categories that pickup buyers are keen on, a range of updates in the 2014 model year have helped it compete on the upscale end of things. Styling is one way in which the Tundra's corrected its course, and now lines up more with the mainstream. It's beefy where it counts, though the body's not quite as crisply styled as the American-brand trucks. Inside, it's cleanly laid out, with chunky controls, and truly swanky trim on the Platinum and 1794 Edition models.
Performance is fine by absolute standards, behind the pack in comparison with the latest Ford, GM and Ram trucks. There's no longer any engine other than a V-8; Toyota dropped the former V-6 option for 2015. That leaves a 4.6-liter V-8 rated at 310 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque, and the top-line 5.7-liter V-8, good for 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque.
The V-8s have a similar feel in street driving; they're reasonably quick when not laden to their payload and towing limits, and have good low-end acceleration. They both tend to run out of steam as speeds rise. Laden with an 8,000-plus-pound trailer, the 5.7-liter V-8 is the one to choose; even then, it's challenged to reach freeway speeds in the length of a typical on-ramp, despite a max tow rating of up to 10,400 pounds—and close to 10,000 pounds on most models. Competitive models from the domestic automakers offer towing ratings of up to 12,200 pounds. In our experience, the Tundra, despite its J2807 and manufacturer ratings, doesn't feel as quick or as confident as the GM and Ford alternatives when towing larger loads, particularly when the larger V-8s from each brand are in the picture—not to mention in comparison with the hefty Nissan Titan XD, nearly a heavy-duty truck but in the Tundra's price class.
On the street, the Tundra acquits itself better. Ride quality is fairly good, though pavement seams and surface bumps translate into larger-than-normal impacts in the cabin, much like the latest F-150. The plush seats do a good job of keeping things comfortable, and the Tundra does handle well for a pickup driving around town. If that's not your mission, you can disrupt its tidy manners with a TRD Pro Series model, which upgrades the suspension, exhaust, wheels and tires–along with some of the styling bits–to create the most off-roadable Tundra to date.
Much-needed upgrades to the interior and equipment levels arrived in 2014 on the latest Tundra, including a new luxurious 1794 Edition. Trim levels include SR, SR5, Limited, and Platinum, each step up the ladder bringing with it more creature comforts and technology. Materials have been upgraded across the board, though it's less readily noticeable in the lower-tier SR and SR5 models. There's a Regular Cab with a long bed, a Double Cab with a 6.5- or 8.1-foot bed, and a CrewMax with a 5.5-foot bed; configurations are much more limited than on the best-selling trucks. The CrewMax is the definite choice if you want to seat 6-footers in the second row—and fortunately is standard on all Platinum and 1794 Edition Tundras. The Tundra also lacks the kind of in-bed storage and utility features of some rivals—features like in-fender bed storage, a damped tailgate, even deployable, in-tailgate steps and handrails.
The Tundra includes a very good set of standard safety equipment, and crash-test scores improved greatly for the 2015 model year, but it's still only average at best, and a good measure behind the F-150 in crash protection and active-safety features. Stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, trailer sway control, and more are all standard, as are passive safety features like eight standard airbags, pre-tensioning seat belts, side-impact door beams, and more.
The entry-level SR model is the work truck spec, and it comes standard with the 4.6-liter V-8; a choice of regular or extended cab (no crew cab option); and a long or standard bet. Standard equipment includes daytime running lights, 18-inch steel wheels, Entune Audio, 60/40 split-folding rear bench seat, power windows, and all of the standard safety equipment. Step up to the SR5, and you add fog lights, variable intermittent windshield wipers, Entune Audio Plus, and optional 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Limited kicks up the luxury and opens up tech upgrade paths, with standard 20-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, Entune Premium Audio with Navigation and Apps, leather seating, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and more. The top-tier Platinum trim adds to the Limited's spec with chrome-clad 20-inch alloy wheels, power moonroof, perforated and ventilated leather seating, and front/rear parking assist sonar. The 1794 Edition matches the Platinum trim spec, but with its own interior color theme and ultra-suede upholstery inserts as well as 1794 Edition badging.
Gas mileage isn't a strong suit of the Tundra, either. Toyota says real-world gas mileage is on par with GM and Ford trucks, but it earns below-average EPA ratings across the lineup, with combined ratings a few miles per gallon lower than comparably equipped trucks—not to mention the turbodiesel and V-6 models offered by the domestics. Our real-world experience has seen better gas mileage in other full-size trucks with similar capabilities.
The four-wheel drive with the 4.6-liter V-8 model is rated at 14 mpg city, 18 highway, 16 combined; adding it to the 5.7-liter engine yields gas mileage of 13/17/15 mpg.