I pulled onto the 10-mile dirt road that would take me to King of the Hammers, an off-road race that’s kind of a cross between Burning Man and Mad Max. Showing up to King of the Hammers in anything but a four-wheel drive vehicle is akin to wearing white at a funeral, so my ride for this adventure was a 2016 Toyota Tundra 4×4. And though the Platinum CrewMax trim line of my test model is built more for towing and hauling than it is for off-road hijinks, I found the Tundra to be an acceptable, though not outstanding, truck
The reason I wanted a truck for this weekend trip was space for my camping gear, food and supplies for the weekend. But the Tundra’s CrewMax cab is so spacious I didn’t even need to put anything into its 5.5-foot bed. If I had needed more space, I could have flipped up the rear seats, making the rear of the cab even more practical.
The Tundra is a large truck. I am not a small woman, but I still had a tough time reaching the center stack without stretching forward and calling upon The Force to help me push the infotainment buttons, and I had to lean way out in order to close the door. Fortunately the driver’s seat is power-adjustable 12 ways, and the steering wheel both tilts and telescopes, so I was able to find a comfortable driving position very easily.
Toyota adds convenience to the cabin with storage space in the console large enough to hold a laptop, along with spaces just below the stack and on the passenger side of the console. In addition, the Tundra’s cabin includes 13 cup and bottle holders.
Coming from a small daily driver to the full-size Tundra is a bit of a jump. I was thankful for the blind-spot monitoring system, which eased my mind when I wondered, “Am I about to hit a motorcycle with this lane change?!?” The Tundra’s backup camera and rear cross-traffic warning are also a necessity, given its size.
Still, the Tundra lacks technical features that are available on many other trucks. Ford has technology that makes backing up a trailer a cinch, while Chevrolet has wireless charging, 4G/LTE connectivity and support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Further, both Ford and Ram offer adaptive cruise control.
The throaty 5.7-liter V-8 engine rumbles off the line and produces 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. The six-speed automatic transmission easily puts the power to the pavement. It’s much better than the six-speed transmission in the Tacoma, which can’t seem to get out of its own way. Shifting in the Tundra is smooth and easy, and it holds the revs while going uphill or accelerating past slower traffic.
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EPA fuel numbers are 13 miles per gallon in the city, 17 miles per gallon on the highway and 15 miles per gallon combined. I spent about 1,000 miles in the Tundra, mostly on the highway, with an average fuel economy of 16 miles per gallon. These numbers are behind the 6.2-liter V-8 in the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (15/21) and the 5.0-liter V-8 in the Ford F-150 (14/19/16).
The news gets even more dire when you consider that, while Toyota offers a Tundra with a smaller 4.6-liter V-8, it nixed the Vp6 option in 2015. Meanwhile, Ford offers the turbocharged EcoBoost engines in the F-150, and the Nissan Titan XD and Ram 1500 both come with a diesel option. Fortunately the Tundra Platinum trim comes with a 38-gallon fuel tank, which got me from Los Angeles to Roadshow HQ in San Francisco with about a quarter tank left over.
I didn’t get to do any difficult off-roading in the Tundra. The dirt road out to King of Hammers is traversable by your everyday sedan, if driven slowly enough. Still I was happy to be in the Tundra, which soaked up the washboard-rutted road easily, and offered enough bounce over the whoops to take them a bit faster than necessary. On the pavement, that suspension tuning let me feel every little bump in the road. I didn’t find it distracting, but I have a fairly high tolerance for a rougher-handling vehicle. If you’re looking for a smooth-riding truck, the Ram 1500 is your better bet.
Inside, the Tundra Platinum gets a few luxury touches, like heated and cooled leather-trimmed front seats, a quilted insert on the dash and a 7-inch touch screen with split display. The Entune infotainment system recognizes inputs lightning-fast and connecting your phone via Bluetooth is a snap. There is a 3.5-inch LCD between the speedometer and tachometer, giving you information on fuel economy, tripmeters and technical displays.
The Tundra could use more auxiliary power and charging options. There are two 12-volt auxiliary power units but only one USB port. All three are recessed awkwardly below the center stack and difficult to access. The center armrest has one 12-volt power unit hidden inside, but no extra USB ports, and there are no USB ports for rear-seat passengers.
The Tundra shines when it comes to hauling and towing. Maximum payload capacity on the Platinum trim is 1,620 pounds and it comes standard with the towing package. A 4.3 rear axle ratio, trailer brakes, supplemental engine oil and transmission coolers, tow/haul mode switch and a transmission temperature gauge all make it possible to tow up to 9,900 pounds. These numbers are just about in line with a similarly equipped Ford F-150.
While the 2016 Tundra Platinum CrewMax certainly got me to my weekend fun in comfort, the Tundra falls behind other full-size trucks. The field is small and the Tundra lacks some of the features available on other large trucks. The as-tested price of our test model is $49,080 with a destination charge of $1,195. Toyota needs to give the Tundra a few more bells and whistles before it’s worth that kind of coin.