published Saturday, September 1st, 2012

Test Drive: Toyota Tundra: A working truck with refinement

The Toyota Tundra's available 5.7 liter V-8 engine makes the truck capable of towing more than 10,000 pounds. 
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
The Toyota Tundra's available 5.7 liter V-8 engine makes the truck capable of towing more than 10,000 pounds. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

Model: 2012 Toyota Tundra 4X4 CrewMax

Exterior color: Pyrite Mica

Interior color: black

Engine: 5.7 liter V-8

Horsepower: 381

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 18 mpg highway, 13 mpg city

Dealer: Capital Toyota

Price (as tested): $40,325

Today, we look at a sturdy work truck with the heart of a Lexus.

The 2012 Toyota Tundra competes in the half-ton pickup segment, one of the most hotly contested in the automotive business. Ford's F-150 and Chevrolet's Silverado are perennial best-sellers and fierce foes in the pickup wars.

With the latest-generation Tundra, Toyota has signaled it's not about to concede such a lucrative market entirely to American automakers.

Today's Tundras have all the grunt you'd expect from a blue-collar work truck, plus the amenities to make the cabin a rolling office. Toyota even touts the Tundra's interior isolation as a way to escape the sound of circular saws when talking on a mobile phone to a customer.

Our test truck from Capital Toyota was a Tundra 4X4 CrewMax four-door with a powerful 5.7-liter, eight-cylinder engine, which inherits some of its engineering richness from Lexus V-8s.

STYLING AND COMFORT

Styling for modern half-ton pickups can be summed up in two words: muscle and mass. The Tundra has a raised nose that suggests a snarl; not a bad thing in this brutish segment. A hood bulge provides the vertical contours for a prominent grille, another common design cue on pickups. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels on our tester are a $910 option.

Our truck came in SR5 trim, which includes front bucket seats with eight-way power on the driver's side. A power moon-roof boosts the bottom line by $910.

The center stack has a storage bin deep enough to accommodate hanging vertical files and a laptop computer.

Our truck came with a 5.5-foot bed, although six- and eight-foot beds also are available. Our truck's shorter cargo area makes room for a huge back seat with limousine-like knee room.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Fitted with the biggest available V-8 engine (a V-6 is the base power plant), the Tundra can tow more than 10,000 pounds. The engine comes from the factory with synthetic oil, which only needs to be changed every 10,000 miles. It makes 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque.

Capital Toyota sales associate Mike Bawgus also noted that the Tundra comes with a sealed transmission that never needs to be flushed, a nice cost-saving feature.

On our test drive on Interstate 75, the Tundra was king of the road, towering over sedans and mid-size SUVs. Acceleration was more than adequate and visibility was first-rate.

The truck has oil and transmission fluid warmers to make cold starts easier in winter months. Our test also had shift-on-the-fly four wheel drive for times when traction is iffy.

BOTTOM LINE

A construction boss driving a Tundra projects an image of practicality and good taste. He also proves that he values top-notch build quality and a modicum of refinement. Next time I need a kitchen remodeled, I might give the bid to a Tundra driver on general principles.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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