It took 15 years for the third-generation Toyota Tundra to arrive and throughout my time with it, one question kept recurring: “Is this the best they could do?”
It just feels like a massive missed opportunity. Toyota could’ve come out swinging with a segment-busting product like the A-BAT hybrid pickup concept from 2007, but it played follow the Ford F-150 leader instead. Nobody wins by following.
I spent a week picking up supplies at the local fleet supply store, towing boats, and hauling kids on a road trip to figure out where the 2022 Toyota Tundra fits in the truckosphere. The answer is murky, especially in the $75,000 Capstone trim.
A hybrid Tundra was long overdue for the company that made its modern-day reputation on the back of a fuel-sipping Prius. But instead of punching a hole in the market and delivering a truck with incredible fuel efficiency, Toyota aimed for power in an attempt to best the competition. Numbers on paper aren’t the same as reality.
The top-shelf Capstone trim atop the Tundra lineup pairs a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 and hybrid system to produce 427 hp and 583 lb-ft of torque. On paper this powertrain is the most powerful option in a light-duty pickup truck this side of a Ford F-150 Raptor R or Ram 1500 TRX, but it doesn’t feel as powerful. The hybrid system operates seamlessly and in the background, unlike the hybrid system in the F-150 with its clunky 1-2 and 2-3 shifts and hybrid power handoffs. Even when unloaded mashing the go pedal doesn’t provide the same forward grunt found in the F-150 Hybrid with its 400 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque, or even the outgoing high-out twin-turbo V-6 previously available in the F-150 Limited with 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque.
Four-wheel drive is standard on the $75,925 Capstone model, but despite the luxury model’s large price its four-wheel-drive system is an ancient part-time system. No full-time system is available on any Tundra, though Capstone models feature an automatic limited-slip rear differential.
The big power numbers on paper went for gold at the sacrifice of fuel economy. The hybrid Tundra horse-trades fuel economy ratings with the non-hybrid variant. Hybrid models carry EPA ratings of 19 mpg city, 22 highway, 20 combined while non-hybrids are rated at 17/23/19 mpg. In reality I saw a sad 15.1 mpg in (a rather short) 40 miles of mixed suburban driving according to the trip computer. Falling short of EPA ratings, again, the Tundra averaged 19.4 mpg over the course of 203 highway miles. With the boat (towing is an extremely inefficient activity) the truck averaged 9.4 mpg over 158 miles. None of these real-world numbers are markedly better than a V-8-powered truck from the competition, though they are better than the outgoing 5.7-liter V-8 in the second-generation Tundra, which at times would average just 14 mpg on the highway unloaded.
As disappointing as the hybrid powertrain is, the 10-speed automatic transmission delights. Regardless of whether its stop-and-go traffic, highway cruising, or towing 5,000 lb, the Toyota-built unit snaps off quick, clean shifts. This might be the best transmission available today in a light-duty pickup truck. The programming never allows the transmission to get lost in all the gears.
Hooking up the boat
The act of physically hooking a boat up to the Tundra is reasonably simple thanks to the gigantic screen and multiple camera angles. Once the boat and trailer combo is attached to the rear of the Tundra, there’s the ability to input a few key details such as number of axles on the trailer, type of hookup used (i.e. hitch), and brake type (i.e. electric brakes or surge). This information can be saved in a profile, and then the truck can do its own analysis about the trailer’s length within the first few feet of driving. It then integrates the trailer with the truck’s blind-spot monitors to take into account the extra length. It worked flawlessly and was much simpler than Ford’s input system for trailer information.
With a 5,000-lb fiberglass walleye boat and dual-axle trailer hooked to it, however, the motivation at speed was downright disappointing despite the load checking in well under the Capstone’s 10,340-lb max towing capacity. Two front-seat occupants and a 19-lb road bike in the bed also didn’t even touch the 1,485-lb max payload capacity. Passing isn’t an issue, but where the high-output twin-turbo V-6 in the last F-150 would lunge forward as if the same boat and trailer didn’t exist, no Tundra driver will ever forget there’s a trailer hooked to this thing. This doesn’t feel like 583 lb-ft of torque. And while the Capstone’s rear air shocks will self-level the suspension so it doesn’t sag, the trailer lash is present at all times unlike with an F-150.
The safety systems demand the driver be buckled during low-speed reverse maneuvers; otherwise, a chime constantly dings. Having a seat belt on makes backing up much less comfortable and in certain situations difficult. Tow mode or hooking up a trailer with the 7-pin light and brake connection does not disable safety systems such as reverse automatic emergency braking. Instead, the driver has to manually turn off the systems by digging through the menus in the gauge cluster. Should someone forget this step it will inevitably lead to the truck slamming on the brakes while reversing a trailer, which could severely hurt someone in the boat at the launch.
Attracting glares or stares?
The second-generation Tundra blended in, but no one will accuse the third-generation of doing the same. With a bold exterior design there’s no missing the Tundra going down the road.
While not for everyone, the design is distinctive. The massive grille is a bit much, but the sculpted headlights with multi-element LED units, big bumper end caps, and centrally-mounted fog lights that border on driving lights are all attractive. The vertical LED talilights feature sequential turn signals. The sculpted hood and fenders give the truck a punched-out look without adding actual width.
Unlike every other light-duty pickup on the market, the Tundra retains its short bed sidewalls that make it possible for someone to reach over into the bed to grab things. The shorter bed walls also make for a lower tailgate height when open, which translates to a lower lift-over height for loading cargo into the bed. The bed is now made of a resin composite instead of steel, which means it won’t rust, though other bits on the truck still can.
In a “I can’t believe Ford didn’t think of that” truck innovation, Toyota installed an electric tailgate release that can be bumped with an elbow while carrying something with both arms next to the driver-side taillight. Clutch.
But just like with Ram and Nissan, the rear bumper step continues to be a drop-down step. At least on the Capstone model it’s automatic and power operated. General Motors’ corner bumper steps are a much better idea.
Capstone models class up the Tundra with a satin silver grille, chrome side mirror caps, chrome trim, and attractive 22-inch wheels.
White was a bad choice
Every Tundra Capstone features a two-tone white and black black leather interior. A lot of touch-heavy surfaces including the seat backs, front center armrests, door uppers, and door pulls along with part of the dashboard are covered in white leather.
On day one it probably looked nice. Upon hooking up a boat and fiddling with the receiver for the hitch I found myself looking at the interior wondering, how in the world was I going to shut the door without ruining the white leather with my dirty hands? White isn’t a practical leather color for a pickup truck.
The massive 14.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system’s interface is easy to navigate and is augmented by hard buttons, but it lacks the ability to split the screen. When Apple CarPlay is pulled up it overtakes the entire system, and nobody needs that much Apple CarPlay.
While comfortable for five passengers, the interior packaging is compromised. The front seat occupants’ view of the road is hindered by a short windshield. This is due to a high front cowl and tall dashboard to give the Tundra its imposing look inside and out. It’s the opposite of the terrific view from the front seat of a Ram 1500 or a Ford F-150. The rear seat, which has plenty of knee, foot, and leg room, is stadium-style with the hybrid battery pack mounted beneath the seat bottom. This places the rear seat occupant higher than those in front for a weird view, and those over 6 feet tall will either run out of head room or feel as if they’re sitting on a perch.
While overall the interior feels hollow and cheap with nice materials providing a thin veneer, the gear selector is an odd high point. The beefy console-mounted shifter doesn’t wiggle like the unit in the Ford F-150, and isn’t a rotary design like most Ram 1500s. It’s instantly my new favorite shifter in a light-duty pickup truck with solid, satisfying action as it clicks into place.
Toyota continues to offer an electronic rear window that slides down into the back of the cab. It’s useful when backing up and trying to communicate with someone. It’s a truly delightful feature that only the Tundra offers.
Fails to change the game
The $75,925 Tundra Capstone is a tough sell against the nicer Ram 1500 Limited or Ford F-150 Limited.
But with a composite bed that’s easier to access than the competition, distinctive design, and neat touches like the sliding rear window and bump release for the tailgate, the Tundra might just be worth considering in a less expensive trim.
- Toyota commits additional $2.5B for new US battery plant
- Review: 2022 Lincoln Navigator’s Activeglide system cruises into second place
- Preview: 2022 Toyota Tundra arrives with new platform, V-6 power, rear coil springs, and $37,645 price tag
- Review: 2022 Bugatti Chiron Super Sport hyperactivates the hypercar experience
- Toyota BZ3 is a Corolla-size electric sedan coming to challenge the Model 3