Written by Stirling Matheson (@SZMatheson)
2014 Toyota Tundra
Engine: 4.0L V6, 4.6L V8, 5.7L V8
Horsepower: 270 hp, 310, 381
Torque: 278 lb-ft, 327, 401
Fuel Economy: 16/20 mpg, 15/19, 13/18
Last week Toyota flew a flock of journalists out to the Nemacolin resort/summer camp for grown-ups. We ate, drank (a lot), played with shotguns at the shooting range, watched two pro shooters pull off a ton of trick shots before shooting the crap out of some produce like rednck Gallaghers, and drove some 2014 Toyota Tundras both on and off-road ... not in that order, the drinking came after the trucks and shotguns, thankfully.
Before we first took to the vehicles there was the requisite presentation in which we were told exactly how wonderful the new vehicles are—they're very wonderful, according to Toyota—all while sitting in very comfortable armchairs right after an early breakfast. A number of people fell asleep.
It was engineered in Michigan, designed in California and Michigan, the engines are made in Alabama, the transmissions are made in North Carolina, and it's assembled in Texas.
Those of us who were conscious were caught off guard by the assertion that the new Tundra is going to be the most American truck on the market. It was engineered in Michigan, designed in California and Michigan, the engines are made in Alabama, the transmissions are made in North Carolina, and it's assembled in Texas. Hell, they even give them to ranchers and famers as a temporary replacement for even bigger trucks for feedback during the development process. Just a few weeks ago, however, I remember reading that the F-150 is the most American car out there for 2013. Going by the Kogod Made in America Index, the 2013 Tundra is only three points behind the F-150 for R&D, which was strictly American for the new generation, so this claim seems like it might indeed hold water.
Can it be that Toyota has made a truck that's not just economically the most American, but also spiritually?
Ram no longer makes a small truck and Ford refuses to sell the Ranger in the USA. This paints a clear picture of the USA's truck market: size matters. If your truck isn't big, it's not a real truck. We're talking about a land where there are people who daily drive commercial trucks just because they can. As a result, the new Tundra isn't almost illegally huge, but it's designed to look huge. It does. It also looks badass, more so than the GM trucks and the perennial American best-seller, the F-150, but less so than the intimidating Ram 1500. If you took the badges off, nobody would think it to be Japanese.
We began with a drive on some fantastic roads that begged more for a GT-86 than a truck that is "as wide as allowable by law" to get an initial feel for the vehicle. What's amazing is how planted the Tundra feels at speed. It's not as grounded as a car, by any means, but it doesn't have much of that unnerving body roll in a corner that most trucks have. That said, a vehicle this wide has to be guided very carefully, as in some places you can be very close to the center line of the road and obstacles on the right at the same time.
Once the front wheels were pointed straight ahead, however, haste could be made. All of the engines are carried over from the previous Tundra, but I didn't want to hold this against the truck because they're great. They're powerful, torquey, and efficient, so why put millions of dollars into new engines. If Toyota hadn't told me that they weren't new, I'd have assumed that they were, simply because they hold up so well against the current competition.
And that brings me to the only major flaw of the Tundra: the steering. It's wafty and vague in a way that reminds me of the 15-year-old Buicks and Mercurys that can be seen slowly cruising down highways by blue haired retirees making the octogenarian pilgrimage to Florida. Now it's recalling Americana in a bad way. I didn't feel like I was steering, I felt like I was turning the wheel and merely hoping that the truck went where I wanted it to. It was like using a cheap USB wheel on a computer, the kind that has little to no force feedback.
Amazingly, when the truck was put into 4WD-Low and the road turned to a muddy labyrinth of trails at Nemacolin, I forgot all about how the steering felt on the twisting back roads of Pennsylvania, because, when crawling over mud and rocks, or plowing through feet of water, or climbing what felt like a vertical wall of mud, the Tundra quite simply kicked ass.
It tows a few tons, it's almost hilariously large, it's 100 percent badass, and it can be loaded full of leather and toys.
I'm not good at off-roading, my ideas of automotive recreation all involve going quickly, so I tend to tackle every obstacle on an off-road course with too much aggression. Slow is good, and even though quick is bad, the Tundra made its way over every mound of freshly drenched soil smoothly and efficiently; my ham-fisted input just caused the skid plates to take a few more hits than they probably should have, and to upset one of the spotters whose hand signal made little to no sense. To me it looked like he was saying "wheel to the right, slow down, slow down, straighten out, slow down, get road head from the dude in the passenger seat (no thanks), slow down, wheel to the left." "Mocha Dad," Jeff Bogle, my co-pilots at the time, and I were both very confused and not in the least bit amorous.
It tows a few tons, it's almost hilariously large, it's 100 percent badass, it can be loaded full of leather and toys so that it can function as an upscale family vehicle, it's made in Texas, it was designed and tested by actual American farmers, not just people who portray them on TV, it can handle extremely rugged terrain, and it comes with huge engines. Except for the Japanese name it's just about the most American thing I can think of.
PS: It's not like names really matter anyway. Chevrolet is named after a Swiss dude from a French family.