This is a brand-new, full-size pickup truck with a factory-installed white leather interior.
Is there now, you may ask, at this very moment, another new and full-size pickup on the American market with a factory interior in blazing white cow-jacket?
Answer, dear reader, after much research: As far as we can tell, no.
Those seats look like cocaine disco. Like a genetic splice between Teddy Pendergrass and Build-a-Bear. Like those snazzy tweed pants you bought years ago while living in the moment at some local store, standing at the register with a look on your face that said, HOW HAVE I NEVER CONSIDERED THE GLORY OF TWEED PANTS? I WILL WEAR THEM EVERY DAY LIKE SOME KIND OF FUTURISTIC SPACE GATSBY AND SEE ALL YOU TWEEDLESS BASTARDS IN HELL.
Years later, of course, you stumble onto those pants in your closet, virtually unworn. Most people simply won’t get regular use from hot and itchy pants in high-maintenance material, just as most folks won’t buy a work vehicle with an interior like a Pottery Barn dipped in bleach. (The “you” in the pants analogy is me, for the record. Worn once. No shame.)
Critical note: The 2022 Toyota Tundra is not a truck for most people. Ironically, what it is, is a full-size pickup aimed at how most people use the breed. Consider the available white leather a nod to that idea—and to how dolled-up pickups are now the only American luxury cars that really sell.
Since American truck sales live and die on numbers, we might as well start with the basics: This Tundra is a fresh design, all-new for the 2022 model year. It also represents the badge’s third generation.
The previous Tundra bowed for the 2007 model year. That truck ran until 2021, gaining only a few light updates. Its most desirable engine was a thirsty but thoroughly competent 5.7-liter V-8 with 381 hp. As of 2022, the standard powerplant in base Tundras is a smooth and quiet 3.5-liter V-6 making 348 hp and 405 lb-ft with the help of two turbochargers and an intercooler. Order your Tundra at anything above entry trim and you get that engine with slightly more boost, 389 hp and 479 lb-ft.
Both of these sixes are bolted to a 10-speed automatic that goes about its job with a minimum of fuss and a decent amount of situational awareness. Shifts are slick and quiet and pretty much always doing what you think you want. Either engine sits its torque peak at a relatively low 2400 rpm. The curve that follows is long and flat and happy.
As with most full-size pickups, the order sheet is a wealth of choice. The Tundra comes in two body styles (extended cab or crew cab), three different bed lengths (5.5, 6.5, or 8.1 feet), two- or four-wheel drive, and ten available trim levels. Five of the those trims are hybrid models—a 48-hp, 104-lb-ft AC drive motor in the bellhousing and a 1.9-kWh nickel-metal battery under the rear seat. (Hybrids were not available for testing at press time.) Our test truck, a 4×4 1794 Edition crew-cab 6.5, represents the sixth-most expensive trim and the priciest non-hybrid. The 1794 badge brings extra chrome, weathered wood interior bits, and saddle leather in white or brown.
What the brochures don’t tell you: Every other full-size pickup on the American market offers a V-8. The Tundra’s V-6 gives respectable power and torque but is far from a class king. There is no diesel or three-quarter-ton option. The Toyota’s 11,000-pound tow rating and 1940-pound payload cap are fine by current standards, but some half-ton Big Three trucks best each by more than a thousand pounds. Finally, while the Toyota is often better equipped than similar Michigan offerings, it’s also generally more expensive.
This is all on purpose. Toyota has been building sensible trucks for so long that the process no longer reads as gross market misinterpretation. Walk into a bar in the American middle and ask who makes the best big pickups, you get an argument. Ask that same room about the best small or light-duty trucks, or resale? Someone will grumble that you can’t find a good used Tacoma or Tundra for cheap, and certainly not without a million miles on the clock.
This approach gives odd bits of trivia: How the current Tacoma has gone almost 20 years without a ground-up redesign but still flies off dealer lots. How the Ford F-150 has been redesigned twice since the Tundra last got new sheet metal. And so on. The Japanese company remains content to sit a distant fourth in the sales race. More important, it seems perfectly happy to save the bales of R&D and marketing cash necessary to battle Ford, GM, and Ram.
With all that in mind, I used my test Tundra not as car magazines do, but as most people might. The bed lugged shop trash to the dump. The rear seats carried my kids to summer camp. I knocked mud off my sneakers before stepping on those woven floor mats. There was no real off-roading, no benchmarking, no 10,000-pound trailer up the Ike Gauntlet in a 40-mph crosswind. I even left the DSLR at home and photographed the Toyota with an iPhone, because that is how your average American Jimbob takes pictures of his commuter truck while doing average-Jimbob things.
In that light, the Toyota was quite good. Outside that oddly off-putting leather, the interior felt all of a piece. Do you need a Lexus-grade dash in your pickup truck? Probably not, but this one is nice enough. More important, feels as nice as the competition, unlike the inside of the last Tundra. The center stack gives sensible switchgear and clear screen, with seamless integration of wireless CarPlay and logical UI. Unlike the old Tundra, the transmission does not hunt and peck or slam out hard shifts. The steering is weighty but quiet—real feedback is virtually nonexistent, but as with so many new cars these days, at least that lack of a muchness never gets annoying.
Pleasant differences from the Detroit regular: Bed height is so low that you can climb into the Toyota without fear of throwing a back muscle. On the road, the cab feels smaller than it looks. The large sunroof and retractable bed window—the latter a Tundra trademark—keep the interior from feeling like a tomb. (An industry friend recently noted how most modern truck interiors are dark caves. Thick body pillars to help meet rollover standards with ever-larger gross weight ratings, he suggested.)
Finally, real-world fuel economy was better than the last Tundra we tested. Test mileage hovered near 20 in-town, up from around 16. (The EPA reported 13/17 mpg for the old 4×4 V-8 Tundra, 17/22 for the ’22 model.)
The suspension was interesting. Our test vehicle wore the optional Advanced package ($1645), which includes load-leveling rear air springs and Aisin/Hitachi solenoid-orifice adaptive dampers. The former can be manually adjusted to aid trailer hook-up or off-road departure angle. The shocks offer a few different modes, their adjustments tweaked on the fly as the truck’s software consults various chassis sensors. In full-lux mode, those dampers are nauseatingly soft in rebound and bump; in full sport, rough back roads are a nasty ride. Happily, the middle is a nice balance.
Trucks are a unique part of the market. On one hand, the Big Three do land-office business trying to out-spec and out-boast each other year after year. On the other hand, each of those companies owns decades of customer data suggesting this chase serves only ad copy. Engineers and PR people will tell you that few truck buyers leave their family’s favorite badge just because the guys across town found more ponies. Similarly, although it’s neat to imagine a half-ton pickup towing 14,000 pounds, research shows that most people never tow more than 5000. Those who do mostly buy three-quarter-ton trucks to begin with.
You know the rest: Solid rear axles are great for grunt work, but most truck owners would be happier with an independent rear suspension. Low beds are easy to live with, but taller ones aid a host of metrics, and they let Ford and GM try to outdo each other with silly folding tailgate ladders. Sports cars don’t need to get faster every year, but they do. Blah blah blah. So the car industry goes, as Vonnegut never said.
This Tundra is a fine truck. It’s a great match for those who use full-sugar pickups for diet, caffeine-free work. What the Toyota can’t do is trump that oldest of new-car saws: how every customer thinks long and hard about what they need, then turns around and buys exactly what they want. Which is rarely the same thing.
By the numbers, that means an F-150, a Silverado or Sierra, a Ram. The Toyota is simply playing a different game. The difference is refreshing, even if you know deep down that you, too, would probably buy Detroit. But then, pickups have always been an irrational rational purchase. Intangibles like story and status carry outsize weight. Even if you already own the pants to match.
2022 Toyota Tundra 4×4 1794 Edition Crewmax 6.5
Price: $62,715 / $66,240 (base/as-tested*)
Highs:Comfortable ride, great visibility, pleasant interior, excellent gearbox, sensible telematics. Turbo V-6 offers appropriate grunt at a substantial thirst improvement from the old V-8.
Lows:Not the truckiest truck that ever trucked, and not aimed at heavy work. No V-8 option, no diesel or three-quarter-ton version.
Summary:A thoughtful redesign, and closer to the pickup most casual truck people need. Just maybe not the one they want.
*Power running boards, a few small bed accessories, tow mirrors, and the Advanced package ($1645). The latter includes load-leveling rear air suspension, adaptive shocks, etc.