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CARS REVIEW - 2007 Toyota Tundra First Drive

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It seemed like a great idea: Dress up in a rubber sumo suit and try to knock a bigger guy down three times. The bar was even chanting “GO, little man” as he chased, and fell, twice. But then he stopped. And it became clear that he would not fall again. Sadly, it turns out a small guy in a big rubber suit is still no match for a big guy in the same suit. The same goes for trucks, too, which is why Toyota turned its smallish Tundra into a big truck for ‘07, with loads of power and innovation. Like a big man in a rubber sumo suit, the Tundra may want for more subtlety, true, but it's definitely the new Mr. T among trucks.

The Basics: Origins

You've come a long way since the T100, Toyota, and it only took only 10 years or so. Indeed, what's amazing about Toyota's methodical progression has been the last six of those years: starting with the debut of the Tundra, they won an award from Motor Trend, added a double cab, entered and won the Craftsman Truck Series and reached their goal this year, with an American-made beast that matches anything the Detroit Three can build. Frankly, right now only GM can really match Toyota in the full-size truck game, which leaves one gaping question for Ford and Chrysler shareholders: What were your execs doing while Toyota methodically stole a march on your biggest source of sales?

The Basics: Model Mix – Configurations

You can buy the 2007 Toyota Tundra in more than 31 different styles. There are five basic configurations and three body styles: Regular cab with two doors, Double Cab with rear-hinged rear doors, and the massive four-door CrewMax. Of these three, the Regular Cab and Double Cab come with your choice of a 6.5 or an 8-foot bed; CrewMax models get only a 5.5-foot bed. There are three trim levels: DX, SR5 and Limited. The DX is your two-door work truck, and the Double Cab and CrewMax are available only in SR5 or Limited trims. Power wise, there's a V6 (DX only) or two V8 engines from which to choose, and either a five-speed or six-speed automatic. Four-wheel-drive is optional on all body styles.

The Basics: Model Mix – Powertrains

Toyota offers three engines across the Tundra model line: the base 4.0-liter V6 makes 236 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 266 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm; the 4.7-liter V8 generates 271 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 313 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,400 rpm, and the all-new 5.7-liter aluminum block V8 rated at 381 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 401 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,600 rpm. Compared to GM's powertrains, you'd have to buy the $39,000 GMC Sierra Denali to get more power and grunt. Transmissions include a five-speed automatic for the V6 and 4.7-liter V8, while the 5.7-liter engine gets a six-speed automatic. Back at GM, you can only get a six-speed with your Denali; otherwise GM offers four-speed automatics.

The Basics: Model Mix – DX

Just like the competition, Toyota offers a work truck with few frills. For the Tundra, that's the DX, which comes only as a Regular Cab with a nice array of standard features: fabric seats, manual roll-up windows, CD stereo with aux input, manual a/c and tilt-steering wheel. Tundra DX models wear P255/70R18 tires. Options include three basic packages: SR5, Cold Weather and Tow. The SR5 Package comes with power windows/doors/outside mirrors, cruise control, upgraded fabrics and chrome bumpers/grille surround. Cold Weather shoppers will want to check this box as it includes heavy duty battery/starter and heated power outside mirrors. Same goes for tow customers: In addition to the normal tow elements, models with the 5.7-liter engine get manual extendable towing mirrors.

The Basics: Model Mix – SR5

The SR5 comes in Double Cab or CrewMax sizes. Items such as an eight-way manual driver's side seat are standard, as are the four-way passenger controls, DX options like power windows, and the Tow Package (5.7-liter models). Other standard items include carpeted floor mats and a rear seat heater duct. Options on the SR5 include a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, a six-disc CD stereo and ten speakers, Bluetooth capability, DVD-based navigation system with backup camera, running boards and more. There's also a TRD Off-Road Package with tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks, P275/65R18 tires on alloy wheels, and fog lamps, and a Sport Appearance Package (available on Double Cab) includes color-keyed front and rear bumpers, upper color-keyed grille surround and fog lamps

The Basics: Model Mix – Limited

Now we're talking. The Tundra Limited comes standard with chrome outside mirrors, grille surround and color-keyed front bumper. Fog lamps are also standard, as is Toyota's bed deck rail system. The Limited trim rides on standard P275/65R18 tires with alloy wheels. Inside, front buckets are leather-swaddled and heated, and there's a standard ten-way power seat on the driver's side (four-way for passengers). Also standard is a center console, auto dual-zone climate control and six-disc CD stereo with 12 speakers. Buyers will appreciate the tilt/telescope steering wheel, sliding rear glass and auto-dim inside rear view mirror. There aren't many options on the Limited, but what is available includes the TRD Off-Road Package and 20-inch wheels wearing P275/55R20 tread, and a power tilt/slide moonroof.

The Basics: Model Mix – CrewMax

Available in SR5 or Limited trim, the Tundra CrewMax customers get standard features such as a vertical slide rear window, a fore-aft and reclining rear bench seat and overhead console. They also get only the 5.5-ft. bed. CrewMax options include the power tilt and slide moonroof, a rear seat DVD entertainment system and rear seat audio controls.

The Basics: Pricing

Good news! You can get a base Tundra DX for $22,935. At that MSRP you're lucky to get the steering wheel, but it does include $645 destination, as do all prices listed. Expect to pay $24,075 for the DX with the 4.7-liter V8; add $950 for the 5.7-liter engine/six-speed. The Tundra SR5 with Double Cab and V6 engine gets a sticker of $26,750; add $745, to $27,495, for the 4.7-liter V8 engine and $1,260 to upgrade to the 5.7-liter powertrain; that's the 5.7-liter upgrade price for all trims except DX. Starting sticker for the base 4.7-liter V8 Limited is $34,885, while the CrewMax SR5 stickers at $30,320. Premiums prices not covered include an additional $3,050 for four-wheel-drive and $350 for the 8-foot bed.

What's New: Outside

If you're looking for resemblance to the 2006 Tundra, forget it. There are better things to see anyway, like the coolest tailgate ever. Damped by a gas shock, the Tundra's gate swings down slowly and comes to a soft stop. As far as the rest, well, the grille is Texas strong. But when you put a chrome ring around it, it looks like a freakishly big bull's snout. Otherwise, we liked how the headlights sat away from the bumper in the front fascia, as well as the big door handles and the sloping design of the greenhouse. In the end, perhaps a few light touches instead of all Bubba would have struck a perfect balance.

What's New: Inside

It's big. It's innovative. And the materials feel cheaper than they should. In that way, the inside disappoints, but Toyota makes up for it with one of the biggest cabins available, full of some of the most innovative items inside. All controls feel one size bigger, something workers might appreciate more than commuters. The size translates into room as well: leg room and hip room are what you'd expect up front, but the back seat offers a tremendous amount of usable space. Innovation is also in plentiful supply, with a split glovebox and a center console that redefines the meaning of “work truck,” doubling as a file cabinet, laptop holder and charger. There are also lockable bins under seats and in back.

What's New: Safety

Tundra offers standard front seat side airbags and front and rear roll-sensing side curtain airbags with manual off switch on every model, as well as four-wheel disc brakes. All Tundras feature Toyota's STAR safety system as standard equipment: ABS, Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TRAC)

What's New: Under the Hood

With its Tundra advertising, Toyota heavily promotes the size and quality of the mechanicals, and for good reason. Take the brakes: 13.9 inches in diameter up front and 13.6 inches in back, both sets are discs (first time for a Toyota truck) and hooked to a host of safety acronyms: ABS with Electronic Braking Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), TRAC (Traction Control), and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). Standard base wheels are 18 inches and are fitted with P255/70R18 tires. Also available are 18-inch alloys with P275/65R18 tires, and 20-inch alloys with P275/55R20 tires (SR5 and Limited only). The suspension is an independent double wishbone front and a live axle rear, while the steering is handled by a hydraulic rack-and-pinion setup.

What's New: Under the Hood – Powertrains

Grunt and Grrrrr are important to truck buyers. Toyota has delivered both Gs in spades, especially with its newest powertrain, a 5.7-liter V8 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that makes 381 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 401 lb.-ft. at 3,600 rpm. The two other engine options are a 4.7-liter V8 generating 271 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 313 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,400 rpm, and a 4.0-liter V6 engine with a rating of 236 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 266 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. Both are tied to a five-speed automatic.

What's New: Towing and Payload

Got a house to tow? If you buy a two-wheel-drive, Regular Cab Tundra with the 5.7-liter engine, six-speed automatic transmission and tow kit, you can tow up to 10,800 lbs. That's class-leading, and with a tongue weight max of 1,080 lbs., a stat some tow professionals feel is more important that the grossly overdone total tow capacities. As for the rest of the lineup, if your Tundra has a V8 engine it'll likely tow at least 10,000 lbs. Note: during our first drive, we were unable to drive the Tundra under tow that was close to its maximum capacity. Payload, meanwhile, ranges from 1410 lbs. to 2,060 lbs. and comes with an available deck rail system. All Tundra truck beds are also an impressive 22 inches deep.

Driving: Test Car, Location

During our first drive, Toyota paid for us to stay at the exclusive Alisal Horse Ranch in Solvang, California, where we spent two days driving all over the Central California countryside, enjoying a wide variety of roads – but no traffic – and some interesting off-road trails. In terms of evaluation, it was a good opportunity to drive the Tundra on different roads, but the lack of a truck with full payload or a maximum tow trial hurt the evaluation and made us wish for another shot at the rig.

Driving: Performance

Any talk of Tundra performance must focus on its excellent new powertrain. With six gears, 381 horses and 401 lb.-ft of torque, there's plenty of low-end grunt and fast starts, thanks to a low first gear. Punch the throttle and you get what you pay for: A controlled surge of power and smooth, aggressive gearing built more for performance than for saving gasoline. To that end, Toyota reports an EPA rating of 14/18 in the 5.7-liter V8 powertrain. With so much thrust early, passing is easily handled: Goose the accelerator at speed and the Tundra sits up, collects itself and rumbles to life. Brakes are big, grab tightly and, though we felt a little too much pedal play, stop the Tundra promptly.

Driving: Ride and Handling

Yep. It's a truck, and a big one at that. We know because it drives like one, with enough bounce and jump in the chassis to keep you alert. With the competition moving to a more refined ride, it may be a disadvantage. The Tundra's rack-and-pinion steering felt crisp and offered decent feedback with the smaller, 18-inch wheels. Toyota claims that the lock-to-lock turning is 3.71, but with the big snout and long bed, turning around on a narrow road made for a few rattled nerves. Visibility is excellent throughout, however, and an especially nice feature is the Tundra's pull out rearview extenders. When towing, they easily snap out for an extended look around the trailer.

Driving: Comfort

The Tundra is comfortable like a baggy sweatshirt. The CrewMax, for example, has a back seat that would be the envy of many condos, with acreage of room for legs and plenty of shoulder and hip room. Back seats in the CrewMax recline and slide, while the Double Cab back seat is a pretty straight forward bench seat. Frankly, we found the back seat of the CrewMax to be the best place to sit inside the Tundra. Behind the wheel, Tundra offers a driving experience that features a relatively quiet cabin with broad seats that offer less than ideal bolstering, wrapped in material not exactly as good as we've come to expect. As a result, the Tundra was compromised by what we felt were flimsy materials.

Driving: Controls

This cabin is so big you have to hire a runner to change the radio station. And with all this size, just how Toyota allowed the Tundra out of the barn without power pedals, we're not sure. Perhaps interior designers got a little obsessed with building a truck for big men wearing gloves: The Tundra's layout is simple and big, as in large compartments, dials and gauges. Consider the environmental controls: four dials across the front of the center console, clearly marked and easy to manipulate. Aside from the pedals, our biggest issue with Tundra controls was in the flimsy feeling of the dials, the thin stalk of the shifter and in switches that felt as though they'd snap off with a good tug.

Advice: Selling Points

It's the only readily available full-size truck with a six-speed automatic transmission, and the result is the smooth delivery of ribbons of power. The Tundra also offers truck buyers significant innovation, such as a tailgate assist and a cabin that literally doubles as an office, not to mention an untold number of storage bins. There's the 31 different configurations available, which is a significant key to making headway against mature domestic truck lines, and, ultimately, capacities that are class-leading or close to it, including towing, payload and a 381-horsepower V8. We've yet to talk about Toyota's reputation for high quality, durable vehicles made with exacting standards and top-notch materials. But more about this on the next page

Advice: Deal Breakers

Ah, reputations. Perhaps they are only as good as your last big moment. If so, Toyota's reputation for quality materials is about to take a significant hit, thanks to knobs and materials that felt light, flimsy and somewhat less than truck-tough durable. The temperature control knob, while bigger than normal and clearly marked, feels as if it could break off with a twist. Same goes for the beefy gear selector: The handle is well designed, but the stalk is thin, and feels like it could easily snap. Other drawbacks to the Tundra are subjective: miles-per-gallon is in the low teens with a six-speed automatic transmission, the sheetmetal style is too brawny and the ride is too truck-like.

Advice: Competitors

Looking for a full-size truck? Cross shop the Silverado/Sierra with the Tundra. We guarantee that it'll be a tough choice, one based more on what you need over what's better: the Silverado/Sierra has more refinement going on inside the cabin, but lacks some of Toyota's interior innovation. The Sierra/Silverado is a nicer ride, the Tundra more powerful and truck-like. Just look at it this way: In GM's new trucks, you've got understated refinement, a fist wrapped in velvet. With Toyota, you've got a bold statement: We're here, and we're ready to play – without the velvet.

Specifications - Price, Powertrains

Test Vehicle: 2007 Toyota Tundra
Base Prices: DX $22,935 / SR5 $26,750 / Limited $34,885 / CrewMax $30,320 (inc. $645 dest.)
Engine Size and Type: 4.0-liter V6 / 4.7-liter V8 / 5.7-liter V8
Engine Horsepower: 236 at 5,200 rpm / 271 at 5,400 rpm / 381 at 5,600 rpm
Engine Torque: 266 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm / 313 lb.-ft. at 3,400 rpm / 401 lb.-ft. at 3,600 rpm
Transmission: five-speed automatic / six-speed automatic

Specifications - Weight, MPG, Payload and Towing

Test Vehicle: 2007 Toyota Tundra
Base Prices: DX $22,935 / SR5 $26,750 / Limited $34,885 / CrewMax $30,320 (inc. $645 dest.)
Curb Weight, lbs.: 4.0-liter V6 4,610 - 4,930 / 4.7-liter V8 4,850 - 5,650 / 5.7-liter V8 4,910 - 5,705
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway):4.0-liter V6 17/20 / 4.7-liter V8 15/18 / 5.7-liter V8 16/20
Max. Payload (lbs): Reg., 1,585 - 2,065 / Double 1,390 - 1,755 / CrewMax 1,480 - 1,600
Max. Towing Capacity (lbs): Reg., 10,800 / Double 10,600 / CrewMax 10,400
Photos courtesy of Toyota

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