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Why Detroit pickups leave Toyota Tundra in their dust

2011 Toyota Tundra

Chris Nefs/Toyota

Overall Rating
7.5
Overall
Toyota gets a B- or a C+, at best. As one university professor told me years ago, if you want an A in this class, surprise me with something brilliant that I haven't seen before. There are no surprises in the Tundra. You will like this vehicle if: you are a Toyota brand loyalist.
Looks Rating
7.5
Looks
There is absolutely nothing unpleasant or blatantly wrong about the Tundra's design - but it does not break any new ground, either. Bland.
Interior Rating
7.5
Interior
What we have here is a perfectly nice interior. But in this market, nice is like kissing your sister. You have to be much better than nice to stand out.
Ride Rating
7.5
Ride
The Tundra is not unpleasant, but it feels BIG - bigger than any of its rivals. This is not good. Pickup truck makers are working hard to make big rigs drive like small ones.
Safety Rating
9
Safety
A Top Safety Pick from the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Green Rating
4
Green
The fuel economy is distressingly poor even for something this large.

Here in Canada, where the three top-selling vehicles are full-size pickups, a burning question, no two: Who is buying the Toyota Tundra pickup and why?

I mean, Toyota Canada's truck sales were up nearly 9 per cent in October, and while never a spectacularly hot item, the Tundra putters along, filling a mainstream hole in the company's lineup.

I can't imagine a Ford guy, or a Chevy guy, or a Ram guy or a GMC guy waltzing into a Toyota dealership to add a Tundra to his barn. (Honestly, I can't imagine any of these guys waltzing at all, but that's another story.)

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But Camry owners? Sure, and I am sure some of them are brilliant ballroom dancers, too. And that's what the Tundra does – fill a hole in the garage of a Toyota owner who needs a big rig to take to the dance. But surely we can count on one hand the number of really serious, long-term pickup buyers who own a Tundra.

Yes, of course Toyota once had grand dreams of conquering the full-size pickup world. Nissan imagined the same when it launched the Titan. Neither has grasped the depth and breadth of pickup truck owner loyalty.

Toyota and Nissan have had to scale back their grand hopes and dreams for pickup success. Dramatically. Really dramatically.

The thing is, neither has given old-school pickup buyers a reason to make a change. Take the Tundra. It doesn't have any big advantage over any of the Detroit-based pickups – not in towing capacity, horsepower, ride comfort, fuel economy and all that.

The Tundra, like the Titan, basically comes in one flavour, with a few variations along the way. You can get a small V-8 or a bigger one. Toyota offers a couple of different cab and box variations, too.

But if you want a diesel or a dually, if you want an endless array of configurations and options, then you shop a Detroit product.

What's more, the traditional reasons for buying a vehicle from a Japanese car company don't exist in the pickup world.

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Quality? In J.D. Power and Associates' short-term Initial Quality Study, the Ford F-150 ranks first in its class, with the Tundra a runner-up. The Tundra won the longer-term Vehicle Dependability Study for big pickups, but the F-150 and the Ram were right there, runners-up.

Power also does a so-called "things-gone-right" study called the APEAL and again, the F-150 won that, too. The Tundra was not to be found among the top three, which suggests limited APEAL.

Crash safety? Both the F-150 and the Tundra are Top Safety Picks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But the Ram and the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra generally have done pretty well overall in crash testing – and they're all equipped with a full roster of safety gear, both passive and active.

The Tundra is not any cheaper than the big sellers from Detroit, either. Toyota Canada has up to $5,000 available in sales incentives on the Tundra (2011 models) right now, but that's nothing compared to what the Detroiters are throwing around.

If you have an old clunker to trade, Ford has something like $11,000 in sales sweeteners in play. At GMC I found nearly $12,000 in obvious incentives and it's a similar story for the Silverado and Ram. There is a reason why light-truck sales are dramatically outpacing passenger cars – deals, deals, deals, not to mention some post-recession pent-up demand.

So…

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After a recent week living with a Tundra, I discovered nothing much in the way of a supremely compelling reason to rush down and spend $40,000 or $50,000 on this rig. And yes, that's what you might end up putting out if you want every bell and whistle Toyota has for its Tundra.

The ride quality is just fine, but the F-150's is better. The Tundra's design is plain-Jane, rudimentary pickup all the way. If you want the most daring design in the segment, go Ram. If you want a solid, traditional look with a bit of chrome to set off the overall package, then it's the F-150 for you. If you want a killer deal, then it's a Silverado or a Sierra.

Truth is, the Ram probably has the best overall braking, the F-150 the best overall powertrain lineup. Ford's EcoBoost V-6 is selling like mad because it delivers a unique combination of fuel economy and power. The Ram's 5.7-litre Hemi also offers a very solid combination of fuel economy and power. GM's engines are perfectly fine, too.

Again, there is nothing in Toyota's 5.7-litre V-8 – which is your pickup engine of choice here – to drag anyone away from a Ford, Ram or GM store. It's a decent engine, but certainly not as fuel efficient as you might expect from a Toyota.

Interiors? The Tundra's is nicely done and if you are a Toyota loyalist, you'll feel right at home. Right now, though, I'd argue Ford has the best pickup interior – and the F-150 is available with a long list of extra comfort and convenience features that together take the Mickey out of any other pickup.

Why buy a Tundra, then? Because you believe in the Toyota brand. But it's not the best pickup out there and it's not the best pickup deal, either.

Tech specs

2011 Toyota Tundra Double Cab 4x4 SR5

Type: Full-size pickup

Price: $37,220 ($1,560 freight)

Engine: 5.7-litre V-8

Horsepower/torque: 381 hp/401 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Rear-wheel and part-time four-wheel drive.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 16.7 city/12.1 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Ford F-10, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Ram, Nissan Titan

jcato@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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