Full-size pickup trucks are overkill, unnecessary, and wastes of precious resources. This may be my humble opinion, but it’s also quite factual. And yet, I’m enjoying myself behind the wheel of the 2019 Toyota Tundra Platinum. In spite of its massive stature, gargantuan V8, and large price tag, I’m genuinely enjoying this behemoth. It doesn’t take long to understand the appeal of a full-size pickup, even as something as old as the Tundra. The ride height, the V8, the knowledge that you could tow almost anything without a lot of trouble, having the biggest vehicle on the road, these things bring out the villain in all of us.
The Tundra may be old, but the sensation’s the same. A quick glance at the Tundra reveals only minor exterior changes from the introduction of the third-gen model back in 2007. Twelve years may not sound all that long, but a vehicle that only benefits from minor changes for that kind of time is Nyasasaurus parringtoni (the oldest dinosaur found) ancient. In Toyota’s defense, the automaker did come out with a facelift in 2014, introduced a suite of driver-assist features for the 2018 model year, and brought back the TRD Pro trim for the 2019 model year. These changes have helped soften the blow of old age.
Where the Tundra really falls behind is in the tech, powertrain, and towing departments. But is that really a bad thing? Consumers have started to ask too much from their full-size pickups and automakers have been more than happy to answer the call, at the cost of higher prices. Pickups have to be comfortable, easy to drive, efficient, powerful enough to tow, and spacious for families. What ever happened to simple work trucks? If you’re wondering the same thing, the Tundra, even in its most expensive and luxurious trim, is a simplistic pickup – for better or worse.
You could line up a 2007 Tundra right next to a 2019 Tundra and play a game of “spot the differences” and only find a handful of things that have changed. Over 10 years, the Tundra has gone from having a design that looks like it’s unsure of whether it wants to be a full-size SUV to finally accepting the heavy, oversized brute that it is. It’s not for everyone and the pickup is panned for being hideous, but I personally don’t find it that bad. I also like Hawaiian shirts, though.
As many pickups, the Tundra is available with various door sizes and bed lengths, ranging from two small doors (Double Cab) to four full ones (CrewMax) and a 5.5-foot bed to an 8.1-foot bed. The two most popular configurations most likely include the Double Cab with the 6.5-foot bed and the CrewMax with the 5.5-foot bed. The Platinum we tested is only available as a CrewMax with the 5.5-foot bed. I’m sure some would prefer a longer bed, but I struggled driving the 66.7-inch long Tundra around Baltimore, so I can’t even imagine having an 8.1-foot bed.
The Platinum’s the most expensive Tundra available and as such, comes with a lengthy list of standard features. LED headlights, heated and auto-dimming exterior mirrors, and 20-inch wheels are standard. Toyota doesn’t offer many options on the range-topping trim, besides a moonroof and running boards, neither of which our Tundra had. Get running boards, because climbing into Gargantuan isn’t easy.
You can get away with an old design on the outside, but you can’t on the inside. With a price tag that gets close to $53,000, you get into the Tundra expecting some stuff that’s at least a little luxurious. But that’s not the case. Sure, there are a few things that look and feel really nice, but it’s hard to look past some glaring issues that are indicative of an old work tool.
The first thing you notice are the quilted leather seats. They’re massive, offering enough space for two skinny people to share them, and super comfortable. Sitting in the front seats is similar to slinking into those new, fancy leather chairs movie theaters now offer. Put a kettle on, get comfortable, these seats feel more along the lines of a lazy boy. That’s not a bad thing. The quilted pattern is also found on a small portion of the dashboard, which I like because it creates continuity.
Old pickups weren’t exactly known for their spacious cabins, as even pickups from 2005 can feel cramped on the inside. This isn’t an issue the Tundra, at least in the CrewMax body we sampled, has. The back seats are incredibly spacious. We have an extra large dog mat that hangs on both the front and rear headrests for our furry friend and it simply didn’t fit, unless we wanted to make a mobile hammock with our precious pooch dangling in the air. Usually, we can pet his furry head from one of the front seats, but there’s so much space, we couldn’t even touch him. You might be able to squeeze four small adults in the back seat – it really is that spacious.
What’s not so good, and kind of inexcusable for a $53,000 truck are the cheap buttons and dials, hideous trim pieces, and laughable 7-inch infotainment system. It’s 2019, but if you were to put a scientist from the future into the Tundra and tell them to date society based on the infotainment alone, they’d put us 10 years back. It has PS2-era graphics in a PS4-era time. Asking about Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Wi-Fi hot spot? Please don’t make me laugh. 2020 brings Apple CarPlay and Wi-Fi hot spot, so save out for that one if you think those are a necessity.
Look at the Tundra from an old-school lens, and it’s not so bad. Everything you would want to work just works. The buttons that you interact with are large, easy to read, and in convenient locations. It’s not like it’s missing a lot of features, either, as the Platinum trim is well equipped with things like dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, remote keyless entry (but not push-button start), an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage opener, and a 12-speaker JBL audio system. Obviously the list could be better, but it’s not a terrible one.
Other full-size trucks are going down the turbocharged route, while some, gasp, even have hybrid options. But the good ol’ Tundra sticks to its guns with a naturally-aspirated V8. The 2019 Tundra is available with two powertrains, but that number has been cut down to one for the 2020 model year. The Platinum we drove was equipped with the more powerful 5.7-liter V8 churning out 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. It’s enough grunt to get the big truck down the road in a hurry and even fills the cabin with a decent sound. The six-speed isn’t the quickest-shifting transmission, but it gets the job done.
Maximum towing capacity won’t wow at 10,500 pounds, but let’s be honest with each other for a second, that’s plenty. Having even larger trucks that can tow in excess of 30,000 pounds doesn’t make any sense. During my week with the Tundra, none of the other pickups I saw on the road were towing anything. So those fancy figures are just that, fancy figures that few will ever get near. The way I see it, 10,500 pounds is plenty for a trailer and a race-spec Mazda Miata. In other words, it’s all I’ll ever need.
Besides its antiquated V8 engine and six-speed gearbox, the way the Tundra handles is ancient, too. Over smooth roads, the Tundra glides through the miles in a way that makes it a good cruiser. But over rough stuff, the Tundra’s suspension reveals a different side, a stiffer ride that is sure to jostle passengers on every bump. Keep the Tundra on the highway and the ride’s not something you’ll have to worry about.
The steering’s vague to the point where you’re not quite sure what’s happening at the front end. It’s super light, which helps maneuver the beast around town, but it makes things a little tricky around curvy country roads.
Fuel economy isn’t stellar, but people that are looking at full-size pickups already know they’re wallets are going to get hit hard. The EPA estimates the most fuel efficient Tundra to be able to get up to 15 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. The Platinum we tested isn’t as efficient with 15 mpg city/17 mpg hwy figures. We managed to get 13 mpg combined. But I couldn’t resist the gurgle of the V8 at full throttle. If you’re going to tow, expect to get worse numbers.
The Tundra’s old, but that isn’t a bad thing. There are consumers out there that want modern vehicles that don’t have all of the mumbo-jumbo of a modern vehicle. My dad is a prime example. Not to long ago, he purchased a brand-new Nissan Frontier, despite Nissan’s lack of updates. Why? Because he enjoys simplicity, but wanted something with that new smell. If he were in need of a full-size pickup, I’m sure he would’ve been attracted to the Tundra for the same exact reason.
Toyota’s in a tough spot, as it desperately needs to update the Tundra if it wants to hang around. Appealing to simple folk can only go so far. But Toyota’s in this weird spot where it acts like it wants to update the Tundra, but simply refuses to do a complete overhaul. I mean, the pickup comes with all sorts of advanced safety features thanks to Toyota Safety Sense P, which is standard. Apple CarPlay is also on the list of available features for the 2020 model year, as is Android Auto and push-button start. So, maybe 2019 is the last year we can all say that the Tundra was still in the prehistoric age.
If that’s the case, we should all salute a Tundra when it goes by. It’s hilariously old, dated beyond reproach, and still manages to check a lot of boxes for full-size consumers. It’s the family’s 15-year-old golden retriever that still wags its tail when you come home. Faithful until the end, here’s to hoping the next-gen Tundra can fill this generation’s massive shoes.