I’ve never been into trucks. If I need to haul, I’d rather haul arse, like in a 1970 Ranchero GT with a 429 Super Cobra Jet, rather than in some ponderous vehicle that continues to go straight when I turn the steering wheel. I reckon there’s some admirable traits with pickup trucks, like having durable engines that do the job but, with rare exceptions, pickup trucks were never geared for performance. In fact, they often didn’t receive the largest engines available — witness the Chevrolet C-series pickup with no 427 available. What fun is that?
It’s no secret that trucks own the industry, but they didn’t become the number one vehicle in America until 1982 with, of course, the Ford F-Series truck. Beyond topping the sales charts, trucks truly didn’t become popular with fair-weather utilitarians until the mid-1990s: in 2004, Ford built almost a million trucks … and that’s just Ford, as Chevrolet sold almost 681,000 Silverados. Yep, cowpoke, Americans seem to love their trucks the way they used to love Impalas and Mustangs.
I am unsure I have ever driven a real full-size pickup truck, with most of my truck experience being U-Haul vehicles and that doesn’t really count. I am not the target market for these vehicles, even though some of my compatriots into muscle cars enjoy pickups because they satisfy the V8/RWD need that’s fallen out of favor over the decades.
The V6-powered Toyota T100 that I remember from 1993 was slightly more than a half-baked attempt to grab a piece of the pickup pie, an effort that was fulfilled by the 2000 Tundra. This time, Toyota’s pickup was available with a V8, which made all the difference to the public, though no threat to Ford’s dominance. Now in its third generation, the Tundra makes its statement with its American big boy pants, though with the essence du Japon. Patriotic detractors will say that massive snout looks like a wildebeest, but plenty of American trucks have had their issues so I guess you can choose your continent of ugliness.
Our test truck was a 2022 Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition Crewmax 4×4 with a 6.5-foot bed. The 1794 Edition trim level got me wondering whether that’s when the first Toyota was built, but I was wrong — it simply is the year of the founding of the oldest cattle ranch in Texas, the exact same spot where Toyota’s factory now resides. This trim level made me think of Lexus more than lugging 8x4s, thanks to the premium “crafted interior” and liberal use of American walnut trim. Power came from an i-FORCE 3.4-liter twin-turbo V6 with 389 horsepower and 479 ft.-lb. of torque at 2400 rpm, somewhat ironic considering the V6 was what made the T100 uncompetitive. In today’s world twin-turbo sixes, this is the new normal, though other brands offer traditional big-block and diesel options. Shifting is managed by a 10-speed automatic transmission with Sequential Shift. It’s one of three twin-turbo V6s available (another is a hybrid that receives top billing) and likely the most popular of the bunch. GVSM is 7,375 pounds with a maximum payload of 1,575 pounds and max towing of 10,890 pounds, though other Tundras have more.
Base price is a cool $61,020, which includes transfer case and auto limited slip differential, tow receiver hitch with integrated 4/7-pin connector, Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 pre-collision system, 20-inch machined-finished alloy wheels, aluminum-reinforced composite bed with 120V/400W AC power outlet and LED lights, 14-inch touch screen control center, 12-speaker JBL audio, panoramic sunroof and more. Additional options on our vehicle included the Advance Package (load-leveling rear height control air suspension, Adaptive Variable Suspension and 10-inch heads-up display), tow mirrors and a variety of mats, locks and tie-downs. Options plus fees totaled $66,395.
Remember those York Peppermint Patty commercials? Well, when I drive a 1794 Edition Tundra, I get the sensation of manning a suburban assault vehicle able to vaporize all approaching traffic along the way. My first drive, during dusk, I played it safe and drove like a Peace Corp volunteer, maintaining my lane without fuss; soon I graduated to driving the Tundra with confidence, taking it on like Death Race 2000 without the homicide. A big contributor to that was Safety Sense 2.0, which offers the latest in intrusive technology to save you from yourself. The funny thing is that, in other vehicles, I have felt annoyed by the invisible hand that imposes its will to give me a lifeline, but this is one case where I felt the complete opposite. In a vehicle in this size, Lane Tracing Assist and Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist felt like a reasonable complement to the truck’s portfolio, no different than having side mirrors.
Hopping in this Toyota Tundra takes some getting used to because the optional power running boards will damage your shins your first time out, but not the second for me because I learned my lesson. Though of above-average height for a steer-ropin’ truck-driving American, climbing in one of these takes a person with a high dexterity score but, once you get past that threshold, you’ve entered another dimension with wall-to-wall premium leather with fancy pants stitching plus 10-way power adjustable seats for both front passengers. The interior has everything you’d ever want in a Lexus, from a gargantuan touch display to a confusing array of buttons, many that I will never use burrito joint jaunts. Nonetheless, there are some neat features, such as the optional Panoramic View Monitor that uses cameras on all four sides for a 360-degree view of what’s around you, which I found handy while backing up in a space that I had no business slotting into. The rear-view mirror also was a full digital display, though for a moment it made me think the backup camera didn’t turn off.
I threw the whole family (including Mom and kiddo in a baby seat, which was easy to install) in the Tundra and we made an ice cream run before picking up a set of chairs at my dad’s. Everyone of driving age was impressed by the interior that perfectly demonstrated how the relentless pursuit of perfection has trickled down to the utilitarian. Loading the chairs was a snap thanks to the Tundra’s quick-release tailgate and rear air suspension that can be lowered at the press of a button or raised for off-road driving. Since the only off-road driving I’ll be doing is when I’m eating my Peppermint Patty, knowing the capability is there goes a long way. Ditto the Adaptive Variable Suspension, which allows me to adjust engine and transmission performance, and front and rear shocks with the turn of a knob based on the load out back (bed or trailer) and the driving conditions.
While styling is subjective, I do think Toyota designers should receive kudos for the styling, such as its distinctive taillights to the treatment of the wheel arches. For most other vehicles, there would be a bulge or even ground effects but, on the Tundra, the bulges are inverted into the sheetmetal, fooling the eye to give the impression of a stockier stance. It’s somewhat like saying, “Does this dress make my butt look big?” when the answer is no upon closer inspection.
The Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition doesn’t play the manly man part with a ZZ Top beard, but it does work for the Boomer who has man-sized projects yet is desires something easy to live with on a daily basis. To think that pickups have gone from bouncing your way along the country road to pampering you with oyster-colored leather ventilated sears and surrounding you with wood with open-pore finish is something that couldn’t have been imagined not long ago. The truth is that trucks are so good today that sales are not going to go down in the foreseeable future. This is the reckoning we need to have with ourselves as the realignment takes place between the way things have been and the way things have been moving in the automobile world.