Review: 2011 Toyota Tundra CrewMax “Rock Warrior” 4×4
By Roger Boylan
Get out of my way, you worms, I am the mighty Rock Warrior. Or rather, my truck is, I’m just the old coot behind the wheel. The manly moniker was invented by Toyota Racing Development, otherwise known as TRD (another mellifluous name, I think you’ll agree), Toyota’s manly—and sporty—performance research team, one of whose chief functions seems to be to supply Toyota trucks with nifty decals. My Rock Warrior certainly had them: red on black, one on each side of the cargo bed. The truck was a normal Tundra CrewMax–pretty imposing to start with, especially in basic black—replete with a special off-road package, at an extra $4,560 on top of the sticker price of approximately $32K, featuring those great-looking decals, very nice 17-inch alloy wheels, B. F. Goodrich All-Terrain tires, Bilstein shocks, and a part-time 4-wheel-drive system underneath, controlled by a mere flick (for 4-Hi) or two (for 4-Lo) of the switch on the dashboard.
Under the bonnet, hitched to a smooth six-speed automatic, burbled a big 5.7-liter V8 with 381 hp and 401 lb.-ft. of torque and, with the optional tow package with which my tester was equipped, capable of towing up to 10,400 lbs. It was capable, too, of quite a burly sprint from 0 to 60: I got a hair below 7 sec. twice, and once, possibly aided by a powerful tailwind, what looked like 6.5 on my venerable Omega. It’s a brisk beast, for sure, and the big eight induces the appropriate chills when you lower the boot. Ah, but–fuel economy, you ask? Not really, I’m afraid. EPA figures are 13 city, 17 highway, 14 combined, and although I estimated my average to be more in the 15-gal. range, they’re still pretty dismal numbers. Fortunately, the truck drinks regular; equally fortunately, the fuel tank has a 26-gallon capacity. This meant that I never needed to get a maximum refill, but could resort to merely topping it off. That’s definitely the major drawback of this truck. Otherwise, having it in my driveway for a week impressed my neighbors (remember, I live in Texas), and it was a blast on the road.
Last June, Autosavant Editor-in-Chief Chris Haak engaged in these pages in a spirited debate with Jason Lancaster of TundraHeadquarters.com, a fan site, about the relative sales figures of the Tundra and its main rival, the Ford F-150, the main point being (as I understood it) that Toyota’s full-size pickup wasn’t making the inroads into the U.S. pickup truck market that the manufacturer had hoped for, and indeed counted on, by opening, with much fanfare, a second Tundra-dedicated plant here in Texas. I was interested to read this, because here on its home turf, as it were, just 50 miles north of the San Antonio plant, the Tundra is very nearly as ubiquitous as, say, the Dodge Ram—sorry, Ram Ram?—or the GMC Sierra, if not the F-150, ownership of which in Texas is practically a requirement at some stage in your life. Purely on the basis of casual observation, in other words, I’d have thought Tundras were selling like hot cakes. The fact that they aren’t can be attributed to a number of things, and Chris pointed them out in a previous piece: lack of a heavy-duty option; residual public wariness of the “unintended-acceleration” phenomenon; high gasoline prices; etc. Yet another, in my experience, is good old partisanship, not to say prejudice. “Hey, nice truck. Is that yours?” hollered a local acquaintance of mine, a building contractor and owner of a huge F-250, on seeing the Tundra in my driveway; “oh, it’s a Toyota,” he sneered, upon closer inspection, losing all interest. “I stick to American trucks.” “But it is an American truck,” I protested, pointing to the Lone Star sticker (“Born in Texas / Built by Texans”—hell, yeah) on the back window. “OK, it’s assembled here, but it’s still Japanese,” he said. “I mean, come on. It looks Japanese.” End of discussion. As a token of respect, he and his Ford left behind a small archipelago of oil stains on our otherwise-pristine driveway. (I know, that says more about his lack of regular maintenance than the quality of his truck.)
Another, more cogent reason for the discrepancy in sales might be the continuing dramatic evolution of the F-series, Ram, and co., and the comparative stasis of the Tundra. It hasn’t had a redesign since the latest generation came out in ’07, and it’s beginning to show in small but distinct ways. The dashboard, for instance, although reasonably coherent and user-friendly, has an annoying array of mini-controls around the display screen requiring too much attention from the driver. It’s less than intuitive, and the ensemble has a dated feel. However, the gauges are big and easy to read, and are housed under deep cowlings that keep out the glare; unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the display screen, which gets washed out in all kinds of light, rendering the backup camera worse than useless. The frustrated driver, trying to reverse this behemoth out of a tight parking place, might be tempted to lean over and shade the screen with his hand, thereby distracting himself from his all-important task. They could definitely use an upgrade there. Actually, so could the sound system, which was the factory unit in my truck, and decent enough, but a far cry from the Bose and (admittedly costly) Mark Levinson systems available in other Toyota products.
Happily, though, the HVAC controls, directly below the fiddly buttons of the display screen, are logical, large, and foolproof, and could be maneuvered by a gloved hand, if necessary–say, the hand of the construction-site foreman or rancher who would need a vehicle like this on the job. Such movers and shakers would also appreciate the center console’s vast expanse and depth, easily able to accommodate a laptop and/or hanging files (if any of the latter still exist). Other nooks and crannies abound: there are three overhead consoles and “auxiliary boxes” tucked under the armrests on the doors. In fact, the Tundra CrewMax excels in sheer overall capacity, with 44.5 inches of rear legroom and a reclining seatback. Under the rear seats is more storage space, and out back of course is the standard-size 6.5 ft cargo bed with tie-down system, big enough to hold lots of mulch, potting soil, gravel, dirt bikes, a couple of statues of George Bush, and what not. (But please: no dogs. There’s ample room inside the cab for them. Or at home.) And the comfort of the well-upholstered front seats is no disadvantage while you’re speeding across the back forty.
Once you get over the slightly bulbous aspect of the exterior, you’ll probably agree the Tundra, at least in its CrewMax iteration–the double cab version with the long (8-ft.) bed always reminded me a bit of a gigantic guppy–is one good-looking truck. With all due respect to my contractor friend, I see nothing specifically Japanese in its design (and I’ve made a close, if informal, study of what makes Japanese car designs unique). It’s getting on in years, but it’s aging well, and all versions have presence, even charisma.
This is especially true if you opt for the Rock Warrior package, which, of course, as an actual functioning off-road system, is more than skin-deep. I tried it out, but, unfortunately, never had the opportunity to fling my brute against the sides of a box canyon, to see how much of a rock warrior it really was. Still, I found some pretty hair-raising back roads that hadn’t been repaved in decades, flicked the switch to 4-Hi, and the Tundra dipped and climbed and bounced along with equanimity, even handling bends with some flair. The steering is a tad too twitchy, and of course you won’t be taking corners at high speed, but overall I was impressed by how easy the big rig was to live with, and how nimble it was on a curvy stretch. It’s a great highway cruiser, too, fast and comfortable, although the ride is a little jittery over expansion joints and the like.
Safety features, apart from the sheer size of the vehicle, are numerous, as you would expect. They include front- and side-impact airbags for driver and front passenger, side-curtain airbags with rollover sensor, driver and passenger knee airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, and electronic stability control with traction control. The Tundra qualifies as a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and those guys are notoriously miserly with their kudos.
All in all, I’ve changed my view of trucks since I moved out here nearly two decades ago. Then, I equated them with rednecks and guys with a self-esteem deficit, and indeed those gentry do constitute a large part of the market. But I’ve also come to realize that there’s a strong argument for regarding full-size pickups as 2/3 SUVs at almost 1/2 the price, especially for small families and empty nesters; there’s room in the back of your average extended cab for luggage and/or two passengers, and you always have the cargo bed and the option of a camper top. There’s the same toughness, ride height, and size, and the clincher is that you can get (say) a double-cab Tundra for around $25K MSRP, whereas the Tundra’s SUV sibling, the Sequoia, starts at $40K.
But the main question is: Why buy a Tundra, when the F-150 has so many more trim levels and options, and the recently redesigned Ram boasts more power and, with a coil-spring suspension, one of the cushiest rides in pickupdom? Answer: Because the Tundra’s a fine truck on its own merits. Oh, and because Toyota really, really wants you to buy one. If you can parlay that into a few grand off sticker, you might discover you always wanted one, too.
Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.