Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: December 21, 2018
Testing new vehicles every week certainly spoils us to a certain extent. We’re constantly exposed to the latest and greatest, whether it’s the newest infotainment system or an all-electric hatchback. But every time we hop behind the wheel of a brand new 2019 model year vehicle, there are certainly modern conveniences that we have come to expect.
The fact that I had to reach into my coat pocket for the key fob to unlock my 2019 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro did catch me a little off guard. I’m used to keyless entry. And this is a $63,900 truck. Bite me. As I loaded up the Tundra with my belongings, I put the key back into my pocket, expecting to find a push start button somewhere around the cockpit. Lo and behold, there was but an ignition key slot. Now that I haven’t seen in a while. For those who aren’t in the know, you put the key into this slot, and you know, turn it to start the car. What was once a daily occurrence for me has now become a nostalgic source of automotive action.
It took me ten minutes to find the heated seats button too. Well, I actually scoured around for five minutes then gave up, thinking this “new” Tundra didn’t even come with heated seats. It wasn’t until I accidentally dropped my phone onto the passenger side footwell did a tiny black button materialize in my peripheral vision. I found it. The mythical heated seat button exists, but it was recessed deep and underneath the center stack out of clear sight.
The 2019 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro is an outlier in many regards. Even in this mid-spec 2019 model, it lacks many features that even a cheaper Toyota Corolla has. So is this dinosaur any good, or has it gone extinct in a rapidly evolving truck segment currently dominated by the big three? There’s the Ford F-150, currently the best selling truck in Canada. Then there’s the recently revamped 2019 RAM 1500, which we praised for its massive 12-inch touchscreen and army of creature comforts. And then there’s the Chevrolet Silverado that we took up to the Arctic Ocean, and surprised us with its excellent manners, even on the most treacherous of roads.
There are other full-size trucks in the game as well like the Nissan Titan and GMC Sierra, and those certainly aren’t lacking in features either. The latter even comes with 4G LTE. But when considering powertrain diversity, fuel efficiency, cabin features, and technology, on paper at least, the Tundra is clearly hanging out at the bottom of the barrel, but there is more than what meets the eye with a simple spec sheet.
Following pick-up truck tradition, Toyota offers a flurry of trims for the Tundra so that there is one spec for every kind of buyer. Our Tundra was in CrewMax SR5 spec with the updated TRD PRO package that costs an additional $17,900. TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development, and you can think of it like an off-road model, which will inevitably be compared to the Ford F-150 Raptor and RAM 1500 Rebel.
Recently updated for 2019, the TRD PRO package adds new 2.5-inch FOX internal bypass shocks (instead of the old Bilsteins) that are married to large 46 mm pistons. The Tundra further gets a two-inch lift, 1.5-inches of more front wheel travel, 18-inch BBS wheels wrapped in all-terrain rubber, new fog lamps from Rigid Industries (that look really neat and are incredibly bright), fuel tank protector plates, a remote reservoir suspension, a TRD-badged skid plate, and a performance exhaust. Aesthetic wise, the Tundra also receives a hood scoop, heritage front grill with “TOYOTA” in big font, and TRD badges on the wheel caps, shift knob, seatbacks, and center console.
The Tundra may not outperform its rivals on paper but it’s hard to deny its significant road presence. And be honest, who doesn’t love a big blue truck with a paint aptly named Voodoo Blue? While the exterior sheetmetal may appear modern and up to date, hopping into the interior is like entering a time portal back to the year 2000 when the Playstation 2 was first launched and George W. Bush became the president of the United States. The barren plastic-laden steering wheel is uninspiring, the huge plastic dials covering the center dash is unimaginative, I haven't seen one of these classic PRND gated shifter layouts in quite some time, and there is no keyless entry or keyless start. The seats are wide and comfortable though and the center glovebox is massive, and the overall layout falls on the functional side of the spectrum rather than luxurious, but for a truck that buyers will clearly aim to use for daily activities that don’t require many bells and whistles. Most of them are looking for a capable workhorse to get things done and in that regard, the Tundra still succeeds.
That said, you can tell that Toyota has really tried to incorporate and modernize the interior as much as possible. You’ll find a tiny digital gauge narrowly squeezed between the analog dials in the instrument cluster, and the add-on buttons on the steering wheel for driver assistance features seem to be carved on. An odd omission is the lack of a 360-degree camera and automatic air conditioning, even on the most expensive Platinum trim, but it does come with Bluetooth connectivity, a rear view camera, and Toyota's suite of safety features like Lane Departure Alert, Pre-Collision System, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. One neat feature is that the Tundra has got a power vertical sliding rear windscreen just like the 4Runner, and it’s the entire full-width window that opens, not just the center square section like on the F-150 or RAM.
What irked me was that the fuel gauge markers that show how much fuel is left isn’t marked at one-quarter intervals. Instead, they’re marked at the one-eighth-full and one-eighth-empty points, which seems rather pointless. Jeeps do this too with a nonlinear gauge dial. It’s off putting. Luckily the Tundra’s enormous 144L tank means you won’t have to fill up that often. And with that extra suspension lift on the TRD Pro, it takes a bit of effort to hop into this high-riding truck. I stand six-feet tall and even I have to do a bit of a jump to get in. Our Tundra didn’t have any running boards either (optional for $790) but there are grab handles on the passenger side and both rear entryways. None for the driver, though you can just lift yourself up by grabbing the steering wheel.
The Tundra is only offered with one engine, an aging 5.7-litre naturally aspirated V8 that lacks any modern fuel efficiency gizmos like cylinder deactivation or start/stop technology, and it’s not even mated to an 8-speed transmission. It adorns a six-speed instead. Over our test week we averaged 18.4 L/100km, and that was on a good week with light traffic bouts. Talk about thirsty. The V8 does produce a healthy 381 hp and 401 lb-ft, and it feels just as muscular and punchy as the RAM’s HEMI V8. Just don’t expect neck snapping levels of forward thrust. Towing capacity is a competitive 4,173 kg.
What really puts the Tundra on the map is the TRD’s performance exhaust. Not only does it produce a throaty and burly soundtrack but I find it more aggressive and sonically appealing than even the burly RAM and the rather muted V6-powered Ford F-150 Raptor. There’s nothing being piped in through the speakers either, and no fancy valve trickery or overrun pops, just an organic symphony that brings back memories of high displacement muscle cars. Even on ignition, it fires up with authority, and breathes like a dragon, huffing and puffing during idle.
Unfortunately, without much snow this season, we couldn’t test the Tundra’s off-roading prowess, only its street performance and civilian mannerisms. Here on familiar tarmac, it handles vertical movements well but once the road gets patchy, the undulations and body sway become readily apparent. The Tundra leans heavily around corners, meaning your occupants will be swaying about without warning, and the steering feels too light yet needs a lot of rotation to get going. If we had to compare, the Ford F-150 Raptor rides much better than the Tundra TRD PRO, the steering requires less effort, and its 10-speed transmission is considerably smoother and more efficient You just feel more in control and confident when behind the wheel of the Ford. The same goes for the RAM. They expertly meld the best of both off-road and civilian duties, whereas the Tundra TRD PRO feels compromised by its off-road mission alone.
The Tundra isn’t a terrible truck, but it’s not a great one either. There are compelling positive attributes such as its undeniable on-road presence and goosebump-raising TRD exhaust, but ultimately its lack of modern features, aging interior, and poor fuel efficiency outweighs anything that Toyota could simply add on at this point in its lifecycle. We’re expecting a full Tundra overhaul soon, so best to wait until then. If you need a pickup truck now, check out our reviews on the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, and RAM 1500.
Model: 2019 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro CrewMax SR5 4X4
Paint Type: Voodoo Blue
Base Price: $46,000
Price as Tested: $63,900
Engine: 5.7-litre V8
Horsepower: 381 hp
Torque: 401 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4X4
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 18.4