We recently visited Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas (TMMTX) in San Antonio, where the Tundra and Tacoma pickups are built, and were surprised by how many full-size Detroit-bred pickups filled the employee parking lots. Ram 1500s seemed to outnumber Chevy Silverados and Ford F-150s slightly in our unofficial tally, but the sight of all these newish competitors illustrates the extent to which Toyota’s own full-sizer, the 15-year-old second-gen Tundra, has become uncompetitive. The completely new TNGA GA-F platform-based 2022 Toyota Tundra aims to win back buyers—with or without an employee discount. Does it have what it takes to dent the market penetration of America’s perennial best-selling vehicle from Ford or Ram’s multiple Truck of the Year winner?
It’s worth reiterating that Toyota has never sought to counter every powertrain, cab/box combination, or price point the Detroit automakers offer, choosing instead to target the heart of the retail market. For 2022, however, the Tundra is adding a second powertrain option and a third wheelbase that allows both its shorty Double Cab and its CrewMax to be had with a choice of pickup boxes—6.5- or 8.0-foot on the former, 5.5- and now 6.5-foot on the latter.
How Do the Powertrains Stack Up?
Here Toyota takes direct aim at Ford’s twin-turbo V-6 EcoBoost engines. Toyota’s 3,445cc i-Force V-6 bests Ford’s entry 2.7-liter EcoBoost by 23 horsepower and 5 lb-ft in the entry-level Tundra SR, which produces 348 hp and 405 lb-ft. All other trim grades come standard with the higher-output i-Force, rated at 389 horses and 479 lb-ft (11 fewer hp but 69 more lb-ft than Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost).
The new powertrain option scootches the 10-speed automatic 9 inches rearward in the chassis to make room for a beefy 48-hp/184-lb-ft permanent-magnet electric motor that earns the moniker i-Force Max. This setup’s combined output of 437 hp and 583 lb-ft trumps Ford’s PowerBoost hybrid by 7 hp and 13 lb-ft. (Toyota cedes the power-outlet war to Ford, offering only 400 watts of 110-volt juice in the bed, versus the 2 kW available in the Ford.)
Specify Toyota’s JBL premium audio system, and either engine will pipe extra fourth-order soundwaves through the speakers to make this Alabama-built V-6 impersonate a V-8 as convincingly as Texan Renée Zellweger sells her Bridget Jones accent—especially when the throttle’s cracked open in one of the Sport modes. An SR5 we sampled without the aural enhancement sounded considerably more industrial.
The 10-speed automatic helps either engine achieve acceleration rates that seem quite competitive with the Ford EcoBoost and Ram Hemi V-8s. Our only complaint with the gearbox is that when slowing for curves in Sport mode, the transmission upshifts only to downshift again at the exit. The engineers explained that it is programmed to hold gears when an abrupt lift of the throttle is sensed, but that’s not how driving schools taught us to enter turns, and the right way prompts unwanted upshifts. This truck-optimized twin-turbo engine gets an indicated 5,800-rpm redline, but the i-Force Max upshifts out of first gear at just 4,200 rpm to preserve the differential. (The base engine shifts at a more typical 5,000-plus rpm.)
The i-Force Max manages auto-stop restarts smoother than most by launching the truck on electric power as it restarts the engine. The electric torque, which gets multiplied through the torque converter, is particularly helpful when launching a heavy load—as when pulling a boat out of the water. And while no hybrid is rated to tow the Tundra’s max 12,000 pounds (only the rear-drive, short-box, SR5 Double Cab is), hybrid tow ratings roughly mirror those of equivalent configurations with the gas-only engine.
Both powertrains offer strong, smooth acceleration from nearly any speed. The Max hybrid’s 12 percent horsepower advantage didn’t blow our proverbial skirts up. The performance difference—at least unladen—feels vastly less compelling than, say, the 61 percent power jump from the second-gen Tundra’s original 4.0-liter V-6 to its 5.7-liter V-8. Hopefully the price premium will be similarly modest, then.
Hybrid enthusiasts may be disappointed to find no info screen graphics depicting power flow, no gauges showing energy regeneration and EV mode, and no soft launches on electric power (though we did manage to creep slowly along a gentle downslope for a few hundred yards under electric power).
Factor in the added weight and complexity, the hybrid’s overly touchy brake feel, some odd hesitation we occasionally experienced when suddenly transitioning from coasting to full throttle, and the loss of stowage space under the rear seat to the battery pack, and a reasonable case can be made for spending a skosh more on gas and banking the i-Force Max’s (as yet unknown) price premium.
How Does the Tundra’s Ride and Handling Compare?
In terms of ride and handling, Toyota targets Ram by trading rear leaf springs for a choice of coil or air springs and locating its live axle via four links and a Panhard rod. Front air springs are not offered. Toyota felt these primarily benefited fuel economy (by lowering the truck at highway speeds), and hybridization is the Tundra’s eco play.
Two rear air suspension options are offered, and both allow the driver to manually lower the rear of the truck 1.2 inches to ease cargo loading or trailer connection, or raise it 1.6 inches to improve departure angle. On SR5 and Limited models they’re packaged with passive twin-tube shocks, and on Platinum and 1794 they’re bundled with Bilstein monotube Adaptive Variable Suspension damping (plus a 10-inch color HUD). Note that the range-topping TRD Pro off-roader sticks with steel springs all around.
Of the 21 new Tundras on hand for our drive, only a handful had the rear coil setup, and the only two of those we sampled were a TRD Pro constrained to the off-road course and an SR5 hooked to a 3,500-pound trailer for towing demos. All Tundras except the SR get three drive modes (Eco, Normal, and Sport), to which AVS adds Comfort, Sport S+ and Custom. Sport S+ firms the damping, and Custom allows individual tailoring of powertrain, suspension, and steering systems between Sport or Normal.
Dropping the rear leaf setup greatly improves ride quality, as amply demonstrated by a few second-gen Tundras on hand for comparison. Sadly, no Rams were provided to assess class competitiveness with the class leader on the same surfaces. Forced to recall previous time spent in Ram 1500s, many of the gathered journalists on hand felt Ram still holds the edge in ride quality.
The Tundras suffer some secondary vibration we don’t recall in the Ram. That’s where road inputs end up jiggling your torso, often because the unsprung mass of a suspension corner excites a natural frequency of the frame or body. Top Tundra variants with the AVS damping (which also get hydraulic cab mounts) ride the best, and the best of these was a Platinum model towing a giant tandem-axle Airstream.
Hustling several rear-air/AVS Tundras through various twists and turns in the Canyon Lake area outside San Antonio revealed class-competitive levels of grip, body roll, tire noise, etc. The steering felt unremarkable in Normal mode (Sport makes it feel gluey), and the brake pedal felt linear and predictable, notwithstanding the touchy initial bite of the hybrid’s regenerative brakes.
How Does the Tundra Work Off-Road?
Toyota and Nissan only offer part-time four-wheel drive on their pickups, while the Detroit Three’s half-tons all offer an auto-4WD mode. So engaging Tundra’s 4WD on dry pavement will cause binding between the front and rear axles that results in tire scrubbing. Part-time is great for off-roading, but an auto mode offers more security in rapidly changing conditions at the expense of hardening the full-time center differential to withstand a pickup’s max payload and towing capacities.
We sampled the mighty TRD Pro and a 1794 model equipped with the TRD Off Road package on a mildly technical course set up to demonstrate Toyota’s various new trail-running tech. Note that a 3.0-inch lift kit will be offered as a dealer-installed accessory (one of 115 available at launch).
The Off-Road pack, also available on SR5 and Limited models, includes 18-inch TRD wheels, Bilstein monotube shocks, dual-rate front springs, skidplates, mud guards, an electronic rear differential lock (4Lo mode only), and Multi-Terrain Select. Engaging MTS’ rock, mud, sand, and auto terrain modes is less intuitive than in competitive vehicles because it’s not ringed by the typical set of off-road icons. The same knob also controls towing and crawl modes, and options get displayed on the instrument cluster screen after pressing the appropriate hard button.
The trickiest obstacle was a steep shale and rock grade, which we first attacked in the 1794 set to 4Lo and MTS rock mode with the rear diff locked. The truck climbed it fine, but with considerable engine rpm and wheelspin. In the TRD Pro truck, we engaged 4Lo and engaged Downhill Assist Control/Crawl mode, an off-road cruise control offering five speeds adjusted by that same knob: Low 2, Low 1, Mid, High 1, High 2. The last two maintain 2 and 4 mph, respectively; the others maintain slower walking speeds. In Low 2 the Tundra simply idled up and over the hill with minimal wheelspin or revving, actuating the brakes in ways MTS did not. Clearly the TRD Pro’s Falken Wildpeak tires helped, but Crawl mode would have reduced the revving drama in the 1794 too. (We had no opportunity to assess the desert-running chops of the TRD Pro’s 2.5-inch Fox shocks and all-steel springs.)
Toyota fits state-of-the-art cameras to the Tundra, providing useful views of what the front tire sidewalls are experiencing, what’s immediately in front, a 360-degree field, and the wondrous “invisible hood” image of what is passing directly under each front tire, as computed by images the camera just recorded.
How Is the 2022 Toyota Tundra as a Tow Vehicle?
Self-leveling air springs and modern electronics up the Tundra’s towing game significantly. Press the Tow button, and the rotary controller offers a choice of Tow and Tow+ modes. The latter optimizes the Tundra for towing loads above 5,000 pounds, activating more aggressive throttle and shift schedule mapping. A lighter SR5 hooked to a 3,500-pound camper felt somewhat lethargic in Tow mode, but a Platinum edition with the same i-Force engine hooked to a giant tandem-axle generated wheelspin and felt lively in Tow+ mode. We only ever noticed turbo whistle when the engine was loaded at lower rpm when towing (or perhaps because the V-8 sound enhancement gets dialed back in the tow modes).
A new Trailer Backup Guide system with Straight Path Assist (SPA) promises simplified trailer reversing. The idea is that if you can get your trailer pointed in the direction you want it to go, no matter how the truck is oriented, it will steer as needed to keep the trailer going straight back. Toyota reckons this is simpler than steering the trailer via a knob, especially when you may not be able to see where the trailer is going. The system requires some initial programming of the trailer length, number of axles, weight (above or below 5,000 pounds), hitch type, and braking type if any. Once it’s programmed, with the transmission in Park, select Trailer Backup Assist, accept the trailer profile, shift to reverse, line up the trailer, and then toggle “Steer assist” on the central screen.
Out on the road, both trailer setups we tried tracked straight and true, and cruise control effectively maintained the rig’s speed up and down hills (with the info cluster display indicating trailer braking levels). We even induced a trailer sway with some back and forth on the wheel to watch the trailer sway control system straighten the rig out after a single tail wag. And it’s all easy to monitor via the optional power-extending tow mirrors.
How Does the Interior Compare With Ram?
Here again, we get the impression Toyota is primarily concerned with impressing its most faithful customers. The fanciest 1794 model represents a quantum leap in opulence, with matte-finished genuine American walnut veneers replacing shiny fake Louis XIV burled nonsense and generally improving all the materials. Is it as nice as the Ram Limited grade? Close, but not quite, and the gap seems to widen as you walk down the trim grades, with the mainstream Tundra Limited getting an upper dash surface of hard, scratchy plastic that seems a marked step down from the equivalent Rams.
The storage solutions in the center console also lag Ram for innovation. There’s a nicely angled charging mat that allows you to monitor your device’s screen, but it lacks the rubber retainer that holds phones in place in the Ram. Then there’s just a dual cupholder and a single stowage bin with a bump up in the front left corner to clear the mechanical shift linkage (yes, you read that right). The lid includes a very shallow bin and a tray that retracts to allow stowage of a tall 1-liter bottle protruding from the console bin. There are USB-A and -C ports in the console, but only a single older USB-A on the dash.
That big, beautiful 14.0-inch screen on all the top models is great for displaying camera views, cloud-based navigation maps (which supposedly offer automatic traffic rerouting), and large album art images, but there’s not much other info available for display besides basic trip stats, like speed and economy averages. There’s no hybrid driver coaching, ancillary gauges for towing, etc. One novel interior feature: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can accept voice inputs and read your messages without totally muting the audio.
We love the cab’s full-width roll-down rear window, though its ceiling-mounted switch operates backward (this is per Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards mandate, as pressing a button must always open a window, even when up means down). The CrewMax rear seat is commodious, and its seat cushion seems deeper than most, providing extra thigh support. Legroom is borderline laughable in the Double Cab; shortening that bottom cushion would certainly add leg clearance. Non-hybrid models get a bin under the rear seat with a fixed perimeter and two divider panels that can partition the space, but here again, competitors offer greater innovation in this spot.
Should I Buy the 2022 Toyota Tundra?
Toyota works hard to maintain its quality/dependability/reliability (QDR) reputation, and this has undoubtedly attracted many of the roughly 100,000 annual buyers still opting for the old truck. Major improvements in ride quality, performance, efficiency, and design will undoubtedly boost demand, and buyers coming out of any 5- or 6-year-old pickup will undoubtedly be wowed by the Tundra. But if there exist any truly unbiased truck buyers (first timers?) capable of conducting an open-minded back-to-back comparison, we think they may find features they prefer at Ram and Ford.
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