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2009 Toyota Tundra – Double Cab 5.7L 4X4 Limited – All Guts, No Glory

Humble Beginnings
The first-generation Tundra (like the T100) had been caught between mid-size and full-size pickup trucks. It was economical, reliable, and easier to park, but didn’t sell as well as the Detroit threes offerings. The 1999-2006MY Tundra (not coincidentally) built as a 7/8ths truck, was always perceived to be more of a grocery getter than an outright, knock down, drag-out, work-ready truck. This perception was reflected in Tundra sales volumes.

Rumors even circulated that Toyota didn’t want to build a direct competitor to the Ford, GM, and Dodge offerings for fear of stepping on Detroit 3 toes. Toyota was simply not ready to be overtly competitive in the full-size pickup truck segment. Consequently, it offered less towing and hauling capability than the competition (e.g. fewer bragging rights).
Many thought of the last-generation Tundra as a city slicker truck. If you lived in Suburbia and went to Home Depot on the weekends for potted plants, aprons, and a trowel you were earmarked for a Tundra. The real cowboys who haul concrete and steel for a living, know how to operate a nail gun, and understand the properties of tungsten carbide drove real full-size trucks like Ford F-Series, GM Silverado/Sierras, or Dodge Rams. One could understand Toyota’s hesitation. After all, this is where the Detroit 3 made their gravy and this segment has arguably the most patriotic and loyal following of any segment in North America. If Toyota were to build a successful full-size Tundra Americans may cry foul play.
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The Gloves Come Off As Toyota-ness Drops Off
With the 2007MY Tundra the gloves came off and Toyota now offers a truly competitive truck. Or do they? We had the chance to drive one recently, and were pleasantly surprised in some areas but unexpectedly disappointed in others.
After driving a mid-size Toyota Tacoma double cab 4X4 for two years, walking over to this new Tundra double cab 4X4 was almost like walking over to a coal-mining dump truck. Toyota clearly doesn’t want any snide comments about size anymore. The exterior door handles measure nearly 5″ around and 10.5″ long, the bed rails are too tall to easily access or deposit anything, and it looks as if the truck is on steroids or a regiment of botched Botox injections. Nevertheless, much of this can be chalked up to personal preference, especially if you’re Paul Bunyan.
The Tundra’s mechanical performance pleasantly surprised us. The power and acceleration from the 5.7L V-8, which give the driver 381 horses and 401 lb. ft. of torque, is more than adequate. The engine was responsive and pushed the truck with muscle to spare. Toyota’s six-speed transmission with sequential shift and tow/haul mode backed up the engine with smooth and predictable engagements. A solid powertrain, we give it top marks – except of course for fuel economy (averaged 14.5mpg – EPA estimates 13city/17hwy). It felt as if it could tow its rated 10,300 lbs. with ease and its rated to haul up to 1560 lbs. in the bed.
As an aside
We appreciated the transmission downshifting going down hill on steep grades as we depressed the brake, this probably helps save the brakes. We would also like to make special mention of the Tundra’s turning circle which was much better than we expected… which may have to do with the Tundra’s width.
Inside: Positioning and Ergonomics
The forward visibility and seating position is definitely a strong suit for the Tundra. The seats were wide and comfortable. We also enjoyed having the massive center console, two guys could sit up front and rest their arms comfortably without rubbing elbows, and you could stow just about anything short of a suitcase.
As attested to by other colleagues, some interior ergonomics fell short. We don’t think anyone has long enough arms to adjust many of the controls in the center stack without leaning forward out of their seat. Some controls were offset by the integrated steering wheel controls, but complaints persisted. If your Tundra has the optional DVD navigation system (which includes backup monitor with four-disc changer in place of the standard six-disc system) changing temperature or destination is a chore because it is so far out of reach.
The build materials in the interior are adequate and on par with the competition, but we expect more from Toyota. Our Tundra had four of our favorite colors of hard plastic scattered throughout the interior; silver, dark tobacco, black and tan. We understand that Toyota builds vehicles to a price point and these pieces help cut costs, but it can be done more tastefully than this example of a non-cohesive smattering of various shapes and colors.
We appreciated the Tailgate Assist, which allows the tailgate to drop, unassisted, slowly and predictably. The bed-mounted tie-downs in the optional Deck Rail System were substantial and come in handy. The fuel door and side doors fell a little short of perceived Toyota standards. They seemed to open and close with a less substantial thud than expected. We were expecting a better sound quality with respect to the body closures; from door handles and doors to the fuel filler door and tailgate.
Perception May Be Part of the Problem
At times it felt as if we were evaluating a Dodge Ram pickup. Maybe if we were evaluating a Dodge Ram with a 5.7L V-8 (that can be had for thousands less than the Tundra), we would have cut the truck a little more slack. But from a $42,500 Toyota Tundra, we expected a product befitting both the vehicle price and brand. For better or worse, Toyota has the precarious position of being on top in terms of build quality, durability, and reliability. And when you’re the best and have been for years, consumers come to expect perfection. Could it be that the bar is simply higher for Toyota and thus harder for Toyota to maintain? Or maybe the latest Ford F-150, GM Silverado/Sierra, and Dodge Ram have all raised the product bar while Toyota is focused too heavily on price.
The Tundra has the guts of a great work truck, but lacks some of the Toyota-ness that we have come to love over the last few decades. Maybe it simply lacks the Toyota glory. The better build materials, the attention to fit, finish, and minute details. On the other hand maybe the current Tundra is what the American consumer wanted: A full-size truck built in America with American qualities by a Japanese brand. With the market collapse of 2008-09 complicating the truck market, it is more difficult to determine, but Tundra sales seem to be gaining no significant ground versus the competition.
Plenty of Power out of the 5.7L V8 – 381 horsepower and 401 lb ft. of torque
Expect a 310hp, 327 lb.ft. of torque 4.6L to replace the old 4.7L in 2010
Heated seats stay set at your favorite temperature!
Low grade interior build materials
Quality of sound when operating body closures (doors, door handles, fuel fill door, tailgate, etc.)
Hard-to-reach center stack controls (thank goodness for steering wheel controls!)
Abysmal fuel economy (averages ranged from 14mpg to 15mpg – window sticker suggested 13city-17highway mpg)
When rear seats are in their folded up position, seat frames on the floor impede loading cargo into the cab.

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