2020 Toyota Tundra

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A lot has changed recently – and not just Because Corona. The market for half-ton trucks is changing, too.

And just as dramatically.

For the first time in decades, the number-one best-seller, Ford’s F-150, is threatened by the truck that for decades had been the third-best-seller, the Ram 1500. Which has already supplanted the decades’-long hegemony of the Chevy Silverado as the country’s second-best selling truck.

Which brings us to the half-ton truck that may become the next second-best-selling full-size truck – if the hard-charging Ram displaces the F-150 as number one:

The Toyota Tundra.

Probably because it’s still very much a truck.

It comes standard with a big V8 – 5.7 liters – which doesn’t turn itself off every time the truck comes to a stop. No ASS.</p>

It hasn’t got got a ten-speed automatic, either. Or a turbo. No claxons going off because you got within 50 yards of another vehicle.

It does have a rugged, simple leaf-spring rear suspension and a steel (not easy to wrinkle and expensive to unwrinkle aluminum) body.

The base trim can tow as much as 10,200 lbs. with the standard engine.

The steering wheel doesn’t “assist” you, either. You drive this one.

And you’ll love doing it.

What It Is

The Tundra is Toyota’s half-ton truck.

It competes with other half-ton pick-ups like the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, Ram 1500 and Nissan Titan. Like them, it’s available in various cab/bed combinations and offers a heavy-duty 4WD system with a two-speed transfer case and Low range gearing.

It differs from its Big Three rivals in that it comes standard with a V8 – they’re available but optional in the Ram, Silverado and F-150  – and that V8 isn’t direct-injected or saddled with automated stop/start (ASS), a system that has become common in most new vehicles as a fuel-saving measure but which many people dislike because of the constant stop/start cycling.

If you don’t want that, the Tundra hasn’t got it.

God bless it!

Prices start at $33,575 for the base SR Double Cab with a 5.5 foot bed and 2WD.

Two additional bed lengths- 6.5 feet and 8.1 feet are available, as is 4WD. You can also get a Crew Max cab – four full size doors and more room for the backseat passengers. However, you can’t get a regular carb (two door) version of the Tundra – something you can still get in an F-150 and Silverado 1500.

But not in a new Ram – which is no longer offered with just two doors. The previously available Ram Classic – which did offer the regular cab bodystyle – isn’t around anymore.

A top-of-the line Tundra CrewMax with four full-sized doors, the TRD PRO off-road equipment, including more ground clearance, off-road shocks, BBS wheels with M/S-rated tires, a performance dual-exhaust system with side-exiting tips and other upgrades stickers for 48,655.

What’s New

The 5.7 lier V8 that used to be the Tundra’s optional V8 is now standard and you can get the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) PRO off-road package with either cab style. Two new matte-finish colors – cement grey and army green – are now available as well.

What’s Good

The most affordable V8-equipped/double cab half-ton truck on the market.

10,000-plus pounds of towing capacity available with the standard SR trim.

Standard V8 is fuel-injected, not direct-injected. Doesn’t shut itself off at every red light.

What’s Not So Good

Can’t get a regular cab/eight-foot-bed combo – which the F-150 and Silverado still offer.

Can’t get a Tundra for less than $33k (F-150 starts at $28,745; the Silverado’s base price is $28,300.)

Like all current 1500s, the Tundra’s bed walls are so high it can be difficult to reach into the bed to get things out of the bed . . .  without standing on a step ladder.

Under The Hood

All Tundras comes standard with the same 5.7 liter V8, which produces 381 horsepower and 401 ft.-lbs. of torque – which enables every Tundra to pull as much as 10,200 lbs. without paying extra for an optional engine – or a more expensive trim.

You can get a V8 for less money in the regular cab Silverado, which offers the option to replace the otherwise standard 4.3 liter V6 with a 5.3 liter V8. This one’ll cost you $29,695 ($28,300 for the base Work Truck plus $1,395 for the 5.3 liter V8).

But that V8 makes less horsepower (355) and if you want the extra doors, the price rises to $33,595 ($32,200 for the base Work Truck double cab plus $1,395 for the optional V8).

And you still don’t get more horsepower.

To get it you have to move up to the LTZ trim and then you can  opt for the available 6.2 lier 420 hp V8, which is the strongest in the class.

But you won’t be paying $33k for it.

Nissan’s Titan also comes standard with a 5.6 liter V8 – and it’s a strong one (400 hp for 2020) but it costs almost $37k to start and only tows 9,370 lbs.  – the lowest in the class (for a 1500 with a V8). You can get a 4WD Tundra that pulls more – through more – for less.

The Tundra’s archest rival is the Ram 1500, which can be had with a same-sized 5.7 liter V8 that makes more horsepower (395) isn’t direct-injected, tows more (12,000-plus pounds) and costs just a couple hundred bucks more so equipped ($32,145 for the truck plus $1,695 for the Hemi V8).

You can also get a V8 (5.0 liters, 395 hp) in the F-150 and for less (without four doors). A regular cab XL ($28,745) with the optional 5.0 liter V8 ($1,995) underprices the Tundra by a couple thousand bucks. But the Ford’s V8 – like the Chevy’s – is direct injected and ASS-addled. In addition, the F-150’s whole body body is aluminum – which shaves weight but makes the F-truck much more vulnerable to physical damage and more expensive to repair when damaged.

Which probably will make it more expensive to own.

Another Tundra plus is its standard  – and unique in the class – six-speed automatic transmission. All the others come with automatics that have at least eight speeds and some (the F-150 and Silverado V8s) ten. Even the otherwise appealing Ram 1500 pairs an eight-speed automatic with its optional Hemi V8.

The just-updated Nissan Titan also comes standard with a nine-speed transmission – as well as direct injection. And its direct-injected engine demands premium fuel to make its advertised 400 hp.

The Tundra’s 381 hp is delivered on regular 87 octane unleaded.

Interestingly, the Toyota’s top overdrive gear (sixth rather than  eighth or ninth or tenth) is the lowest in the class (.059) so the engine revs at highway speeds are just as low, without all that in-between shifting and without all that additional complexity.

The other trucks with the additional gears do get slightly better gas mileage because of all that gearing (and direct-injecting)

The difference is simpler – vs. more complex.

And potentially more expensive, if something breaks after the warranty ends.

Toyota doesn’t offer a diesel engine – yet  – which is something you can get now in all three of the Big Three trucks now. But the mileage difference between the gas and diesel is probably a wash because of the much higher cost of diesel fuel as well as the higher cost of the diesel-equipped alternative. For example, the Ram’s available 3.0 liter turbodiesel adds $4,995 to the tab.

It is capable of 30 on the highway – vs. a best-case 18 for the 4WD-equipped Tundra. But given how cheap gas is (vs. how expensive diesel is) it’s not likely you’ll save any money this way.

However, the diesel-equipped Ram is a hoss – with 480 ft.-lbs. of torque – and capable of pulling a stout 12,650 lbs.

On The Road

Drive the Tundra and you’ll understand why trucks sell better than cars. They are so much more fun to drive than most cars. There’s background throb of that hunky V8; the effortless pull even when six people are on board and the bed is stacked high with a pallet of bricks.

And the throbbing isn’t interrupted by auto-stop/start (ASS)which is arguably  the most annoying “feature” being foisted on the car (and truck) buying public since automated seat belts.

The reason given for ASS – fuel savings – doesn’t amount to much. The Tundra V8’s 13 city, 18 highway (2WD) is only about 5 MPG off the mileage advertised by the Silverado’s smaller 5.3 liter, 355 hp V8, which rates 16 city, 21 highway. In real-wold driving, it’s a wash – and you’ll never have to deal with the constant annoyance of stop-start cycling in the Tundra.

PS: If you’re worried about gas mileage, opt for the available 38 gallon gas tank. It’ll make you feel as though you’re driving a Prius, because even at the rate of 1 gallon converted to gas every 18 miles, the Tundra can travel farther than a Prius before it requires more gas.

Also, the Tundra’s gas neck isn’t capless – which means it won’t annoy you by shutting off the flow of gas while you’re trying to refuel, as is a common issue with capless fuel-fill rigs.

Something that amounts to a lot is the absence of buzzers and beeps. The Tundra lets you drive – without pestering you if a tire touches a painted line, much less creepily trying to countersteer in the direction a nanny thinks you need to go. It is pleasantly retro inside the Tundra, almost like 1995 again – but with almost 400 horsepower (and more than 400 ft.-lbs. of torque) at your command.

This thing can get to 60 in 6.5 seconds. Reread that. Then compare it with the 0-60 times of V8 muscle cars from the ’60s – and the ’90s. Which cars were half the size and weight and couldn’t pull a 10,000 pound load behind them.

You can also roast the tires at will. Just turn off the TCS – which turns all the way off. Hold the brake – give it gas. Let off the brakes just enough to let the tires begin to rotate. Now floor the gas, modulating the brake.

Instant Invisibility Cloak!

Another incredible thing is how fast you can drive the Tundra off-road without the rear axle doing the Moon Bounce. It probably is doing the Moon Bounce – but you don’t feel it inside  the Tundra. Maybe it’s special biscuits in between the frame and body. Whatever it is, the leaf-sprung Tundra rides as if it had an independent/coil spring suspension out back. But without the complexity and cost and inevitable down-the-road fix-it issues that comes with IRS.

At The Curb

You can still get an eight-foot bed, but you can’t get it with just two doors, which means that a long-bed Tundra is a long truck. Double Cab models with the short bed have a turning circle of 44 feet. With the Crew Max cab and four full-size doors, this widens to 49 feet.

Regardless of length, the bed is tall.

The high box thing is now a universal thing and whatever you think about the look, it makes it hard to get at the things in the bed – even if you’re a taller-than-most guy, as I am. Getting to whatever you’ve got in the bed often means getting in the bed first. Toyota does not offer a built-in step ladder (as the F-150 and Chevy do) or even a milk crate tossed into the bed by the dealer at time of purchase.

There are however some compensatory features, including configurable cleat tie-downs and lockable bins, one of which is insulated and can be filled with ice to keep things cool.

The Crew Max has more legroom (42-plus inches) than in the front seats of many full-size cars and ore head and shoulder room than any of them – unless we’re talking ’78 Lincoln Town Cars.

And the room for laptops, cinder blocks, cell phones (as many as you have pockets for) is practically limitless. Of course, other big trucks are similarly spacious but few are as wonderfully non-naggy as this one is.

The Rest

The Tundra does not have a Tee-Vee sized infotainment system – nor a digitized dashboard, either- which triggers the app-obsessed metrosexual press. Which is another reason to really like this truck.

It is a truck that does not need such distractions because it is the main event.

It’s also a more American truck than the Chevy Silverado and Ford F-150 are hecho en Mexico – while the Tundra is made in the USA (San Antonio, Texas).

The Bottom Line

Keeping it simple isn’t stupid.

It’s exactly what truck buyers want.

. . .

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22 COMMENTS

  1. One thing that people ought to know about the V8 Tundra has to do with the starter. They used to be placed UNDER the intake manifold. That means when the starter goes bad you’re looking at $2500+ to get it replaced.

    I’m not impressed with with the build quality of prior renditions. One November, I was flying down the road in the left lane at about 60 mph when some guy decided to pass me on the right. He was driving one of those brand new 4 door V8 Tundras. Right about then, I saw that 300 lb. 12 point buck come running across the incoming lanes, and that sucker jumped right over the concrete berm separating the lanes! The Toyota dude had no idea what was going on, for he was couldn’t see it. I hit the brakes and just as the Toyota sped past me, he hit that buck at over 60 mph. I never saw a front clip disintegrate like that one did. It looked like a Star Wars spaceship blowing up. I remember the whole driver side light assembly whizzing past my passenger side window with all kinds of wires hanging off of it. I ended up laughing so hard I nearly ran off the road. I was driving a 1991 Chevrolet Silverado with over 300,000 miles on it. The Tojo V8 was just a bit incapacitated.

    • Hi Dave,

      I can’t speak to the starter issue but all the modern trucks are flimsy in this respect – relative to your ’91. They – the new ones – have plastic grills, headlight assemblies and so on – as well as comparatively thin/flimsy panels for the quarters and hood. This is by design. It is done as a weight-saving measure and also because plastic and thinner metal is easier to mold/shape into the more complex … shapes typical today. A relatively minor impact can easily result in major damage.

      I found this out when a deer hit my ’02 Frontier. It took out the front plastic clip as well as the plastic headlight assembly. Thousands to fix. My ’98 – same basic truck but with metal bumpers and glass headlights – bagged a deer the same way, in the same place. I replaced the headlight for about $25 and the metal was unbent using a come-along strap and a big tree.

      I much prefer the older trucks like yours (and mine) for this and other reasons, including their more reasonable size.

      • Talking about Toyota starters, you ought to see what had to be done to replace one in a 1975 Corolla. The 2 bolts holding it on are an exercise is “WTF!” They are threaded through both the starter and bell housing, and the bolt heads FACE the firewall. I watched a buddy of mine attempt to change one out one time. He had about an inch to get an open/closed end wrench down there, and when he went to turn it- “Snap!” the head twisted off! They had to pull the motor/transmission assembly out of it just to have room to use an EZOut on it.

  2. I learned a lot about the various “issues” with some of the trucks through your site. I didn’t know a lot about the direct injection, the ASS, the aluminum bodies,etc. It took me about 2 months of research and test drives to make up my mind, but I finally settled on a 2019 Tundra, double cab, with the 6.5 bed. I do a good bit of kayaking and this configuration works out extremely well. The other thing you didn’t mention is how the Tundra holds up resale value wise. The dealer I purchased from had a top of the line fully loaded Tundra, a couple of years old, with over 100k miles that was going for over $30k.

    Thanks for the great reviews as they enabled me to make what I think was a good decision.

  3. I’m dying to get a tundra. I wrecked my sequoia and have been hankering for a big truck since.

    I’ve seen some great deals on them used (I’m to poor for a new one).

  4. Eric,

    Love my 2016 SR5 King Cab that I bought from a dealer specializing in theft recovery vehicles.
    Bought it September 2018 for 20K with 49000 miles on it and in great condition. It was only missing the truck bed, which the dealer reinstalled and painted (flawlessly) to match.

    I get about 16 mpg around town or on the HWY. Love the engine. It’s a beast and I have owned V8 Dodges and F150s.

    It just “feels” solid, well built (almost overbuilt) and I plan to run it into the ground.

    The engine takes something like 8 quarts of synthetic and supposedly is the same (or very similar) engine as was installed in the Lexus LS430. As the Germans believe, “Oil good. More oil better!”

    • Hi ndb,

      Excellent! And I can’t say enough about the excellence of this truck. The V8 is, I suspect, under-rated in terms of its power and the delivery of that power has to be experienced to be appreciated.

  5. See them all over the gas patch, usually covered in mud and often towing something. Compared to the neutered F150 and the typical RAM codpiece it’s the real choice.

    Most of the time I only really notice RAM diesels. That’s because they must have a very accessible turbo that can be swapped out for a big aftermarket blower. One who’s waste gate spends most of it’s life in the open position because it is making enough boost for a Kenworth.

  6. Good to hear from you. I was beginning to worry, (that you had a contact with an AGW, as in the Governor of Virginia, not sure of his name, decided to stop your travels, still looking for Corona installment 19). I went to the Genesys Hospital in Grand Blanc (near Flint) yesterday it did not look very busy. We also have a Democrat Governor in Michigan, orders things, and her hair is perfect.

    I do try to ignore, but have a spouse who “feels” differently. I love her so I go along. I wear the mask she made. It makes me feel like a pirate and the facial recognition systems may blow a fuse.

    A nice truck, as a Flint guy I grew up around cars. Still drive a Buick with the 3800 engine. It’s a 2007 but as a guy at the gas station across from the truck and bus plant in Flint told me it’s “the best engine GM ever made”. I have had 5 vehicles with the 3800 V6 engine. All got over 250,000.00 miles before I got rid of them The champ was a 2002 Buick LeSabre. I drove it for 350,000 miles then gave it to my son who got another 10K out of it. It crapped out on the freeway so he got rid of it. Not sure if it was really dead.

    • I told my wife that if she insists on me wearing a mask, it’s gonna be a Guy Fawkes mask. And we have to go out in public together. So far she’s been reasonable.

    • Hi Ugg,

      Amen in re the Buick 3.8 liter (3800) V6. It is without doubt one of the best engines GM ever made – and maybe generally. It was also fierce when turbo’d, as in the ’80s-era Buick GN/GNX (RIP).

      • It also did really well with a supercharger in the Park Ave. Ultra. Had a bunch of them.
        The Park Ave. was one of my favorite cars of all time, only to be recently surpassed by the 300S V8 RWD(for me), although the Park Ave. road better with the ‘touring suspension’.
        The Park Ave.s weakness was FWD, but the rest was awesome for a fast cruiser.

  7. Great truck! I had a 2014 (basically the same truck as the 2020) TRD Ltd Extended Cab with the 6.5 foot bed. Not a rock hopper, but surprisingly capable and agile off road. It replaced a sweet 2006 Tacoma because at the time, we needed more cargo capacity. That engine is strong off the line, but also loved to rev, which made it more fun than your typical torquey truck V-8. After a fair amount of hard off road running, that truck didn’t have a single squeak or rattle. Everything fit and worked perfectly.

    Only reason we sold it was because we eventually no longer needed the mega cargo capacity. In that configuration, it was a HUGE vehicle, that was really hard to park. Too big, even for a “suburban truck.” That’s not any kind of fault, because that hugeness was designed to be used.

    The Tundra got traded for a Hemi Grand Cherokee. The Jeep is REALLY Fun to drive. But sometimes, I still miss the Tundra…a lot.

    • Hi Mike!

      How much do I like this truck? I was seriously considering making Toyota an offer. The test truck will end up sitting on a used car lot as a dealer demo; Because Corona, it will probably sit a long time. How about selling it to me for say $25k? I have never used my car jockey credentials to wheedle a deal… but this time, I was tempted!

      • Tundras (& Tacomas) have been leasing very well…I would not buy one new, just least and repeat at this time if you want a new truck.

        Head on over to the forums at leasehakr [sic] dot com and you’ll see.

        I picked up a Tacoma last summer (4×4, Crew cab, Sport trim line) via one of the guys on that site.

  8. Good to see something car-related on here again. In other news, there’s apparently a new Cannonball record of some sort. We’re under 27 hours now, wonder who the first will be to go coast to coast in less than 24 hours?

    Car and Driver has been mentioning very frequently, as of late, their favorite lesser-known roads and their favorite places to find fun roads. As far as I’m concerned, this is the literal definition of “thanks, I hate it”; that sound you hear is the sound of every cop and tourist within a hundred miles of the roads they mention rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of all the fun they’re about to ruin… and that’s before you realize how many modern car enthusiasts are also cyclists, and enjoy riding their bikes on exactly those kinds of roads.

    I’m trying to start a car-enthusiast subreddit that, unlike every other car forum, will resist colonization by cyclists and environmentalists. Unfortunately, only one other person has found it so far, and they’re a bicycle defender (of the “too young to drive” type, which as far as I’m concerned should completely invalidate their opinion) from another forum who followed me there just to obsessively downvote everything I post or link to.

    • Hi Chuck,

      THere’ll be more soon; be assured I have not lowered the flag. But the Corona Thing is the most mortal threat that car culture has ever faced, for many reasons – which I’m sure you grok. Hence my writing a lot about it. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be writing a lot about cars, too. I just need to be able to get a decent night’s sleep!

  9. I’m looking at a 2016 K2500HD regular cab long bed “work truck” with 6.0 gas and 6 speed A/T, 75K miles.

    It even has a manual transfer case lever on the floor!

    Watcha think ???

    • Hi Anon,

      The K2500 HD is a helluva truck; 75k on it ought to be just broken in. If memory serves, the 2500s are still largely free of the saaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety and “assistance” tech that afflicts the 1500s.

      • Thanks! That’s what I was thinking. Basically half price for 75K miles.

        It’s not exactly “stripped” by my standards. Still has AC and power locks and windows.

        With maintenance and a little luck, hopefully it will last the rest of my life.

      • Dang! Now I’m getting all excited about it. Heart over head. But we can’t go look at / buy it until later this week.

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