I may have said this before, but I like big trucks and I cannot lie…
There were moments when I was young when I dug big full-sized pickup trucks. Heck, I even considered buying a new one before settling down to a 1991 Acura Integra. Imagine me with a full-sized 1991 Chevrolet Silverado W/T regular cab and long box? That could’ve happened…
Then again, this work has shown me how much I appreciate the automotive industry’s bread-and-butter. I also appreciate how this versatile combination of work and play has evolved into what it is today.
However, the challenge of today’s full-sized pickup truck can be found right on one of the side windows of the one you’re looking at right now – the Moroney. Prices for pickup trucks have risen to unbelievable levels. Consider the ones I reviewed in the past few years. Who would have thought that a pickup truck with all of the bells and whistles would cascade over the $70,000 threshold?
As much as I love a certain pickup truck built by an Italian-American (and, soon, French) corporate giant, I often ask myself why the Toyota Tundra would always come in second behind it.
First off, studies have shown that the Tundra is the most reliable full-sized pickup truck in this country. It is also one of the better built vehicles in the USA. In fact, my colleague Tim Esterdahl of Pickup Trucks + SUV Talk covered two Tundras that turned over a million miles on the odometer.
These are facts that "truck guys" often overlook as they continue to marry into a sense of loyalty that sustains the North American automotive industry. Loyalty that has stifled competition beyond Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, and General Motors.
These past six years have shown me what the Toyota Tundra was made of. The i-Force V8 rumbling and propelling the Tundra off of its frame. A working interior that is often discounted for not being up-to-date with the Southeastern Michigan-developed quartet of trucks. Overall, this truck gets the job done at the worksite and the boat launch.
Not convinced? Fine. Let me tell you about my latest turn in a Toyota Tundra – the 2021 TRD Pro version.
The Lunar Rock paint job of my tester starts off the conversation. Toyota will offer a very unique and fitting color for their TRD Pro models practically every year. For 2021, the Lunar Rock color gives the Tundra TRD Pro a license to explore beyond the highway. Of course, most places beyond the highway are on private property. Watch those signs, folks!
Beyond the color, the TRD Pro is a very cool package. The specific grille, front clip, Rigid Industries LED fog lamps, skid plate, back trim, and embossed logo make the Tundra pop a lot more. My favorite part are the 18-inch black alloy wheels by BBS. They are the perfect size for adventure, with the perfect amount of sidewall from the standard Michelin LTX A/T tires.
The TRD Pro package continues inside with a strong grade of leather, contrasting red stitching and TRD Pro logos on the seats and around the cabin. The front seats themselves are big and comfortable. I experience no fatigue from them at all. The rear seats in this CrewMax version are also big and comfortable. I can fit five adults inside, especially with a very low driveshaft tunnel on the rear floor. The rear seat cushions fold upwards for luggage, shopping, or to secure specific equipment on off-highway adventures.
Toyota has always given Tundra owners a functional instrument panel. The layout is straight-forward, with two big dials for the speedometer and tachometer, four smaller dials for fuel, coolant, oil, and battery, and a TFT screen for all the information you need. Various switches appear everywhere from below the beltline, above it, on the steering wheel, and center stack. Each control has excellent logic and touch.
Infotainment-wise, the Tundra has smartphone integration – specifically, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It is controlled by an eight-inch touchscreen that is easy to navigate. It is also the hub for connectivity to Amazon Alexa, an on-call Destination Assist, and an on-board Wi-Fi hot spot. JBL provided twelve speakers of very good sound throughout the cabin.
It is great stay connected. However, you have to be motivated to keep that connectivity going through these interesting times. That motivation comes from the 5.7-liter i-FORCE V8 with 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. I simply love this engine. Always have. It is loud and proud, delivering the power from the throttle with swagger. This engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly to match the engine’s natural grunt.
The TRD Pro’s standard four-wheel-drive system starts with a two-speed transfer case. You can access this system through a knob that shifts on the fly between rear- and four-wheel drive. I found myself sticking the Tundra TRD Pro in 4H (4WD High) because of the snowfall we experienced in the Twin Cities since its arrival.
Let me get one bit of data out of the way: I averaged 14.4 MPG. Obviously, this result was due to the snow and the cold that came during my time in the Tundra TRD Pro . Also, the truck was in 4H most of the time due to the weather. If it were summer, I would experience better fuel economy. It just works that way.
The real key to the Tundra TRD Pro is a set of FOX shocks all around. The rear ones have a reservoir that keeps the shocks – and the truck – floating above the surface. The benefit of the FOX shocks provided a longer suspension travel for better articulation and rough surface absorption. Therefore, the ride quality was very good on various surfaces. Not placidly smooth, but soft enough to experience comfortable bouncing on some roads.
You do get some controlled handling on the soft side. Remember, this is an off-road tuned pickup truck – not a sports car. Maneuverability is fine when in 2WD. You will experience a front axle buck when you have to do tighter maneuvers on 4H.
Which brings me to the steering system. The big steering wheel can be challenging when doing those tight maneuvers. However, it does a solid job upon turns, despite some play at the wheel. On-center feel is equally light, but controllable.
As for the brakes, pedal feel is solid. On dry roads, I experienced solid stops in normal and panic situations. On snow and icy conditions, some pre-braking was needed to ensure proper stops.
The problem was the not with the brakes. It was with the standard equipped tires. I mentioned that the Tundra TRD Pro wore a set of Michelin LTX all-terrain tires. They’re fine during the rest of the year and in warmer conditions. However, they are not that great in winter situations. Perhaps a discussion with your Toyota dealer on either getting a set of hardcore, knobbier all-terrain tires that can handle winter better or a second set of winter truck tires on another set of those great BBS alloy wheels. I can assure you that better tires will make the difference when driving the Tundra TRD Pro in the winter.
The 2021 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro comes in two configurations: the CrewMax cab with the 5.5-feet box or a Double Cab with the longer 6.5-feet box. My CrewMax tester came with a sticker price of $55,224. The Tundra TRD Pro models start at $48,775 with the Double Cab version. The Toyota Tundra itself starts at $33,675 with a basic SR trim in a Double Cab and 2WD. The i-FORCE V8 is standard across the board.
My love of big trucks was justified with this 2021 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro. It is the kind of truck that I love – something with a pulse and personality. Something that harkens back to when I was younger and in awe of the big full-sized trucks of the 1970s. I can be an old school guy and the Tundra fits right in with that part of my personality.
However, there are two trends that keep on sweeping the Tundra aside. The idea that a truck has to feel like a sedan or an SUV. And, that off-road ready trucks have to have high performance engines with incredible sticker prices to boot. What ever happened to honest-to-goodness trucks that can work hard, pull its weight, and can play when it is called to?
The word is that Toyota is about to introduce a new generation Tundra within the next year. I hope they keep a vast majority of what makes this very reliable pickup truck something worth owning for a million miles or more.
For me, I like the relative simplicity of the current Toyota Tundra. This TRD Pro CrewMax is exactly what I want, if I were in the market for a full-sized pickup truck. Mine would be in Lunar Rock, of course! Just add a set of BFGoodrich All Terrain KO2s (or a second set of damn good winter truck tires on another set of those TRD BBS wheels) and it would be spot on.
If you’re going to buy a truck for play, why not get something that is more fun to drive? Something that gives you that feeling of what an honest-to-goodness full-sized half-ton pickup truck is supposed to be.
To me, that’s the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by Randy Stern