2014 Toyota Tundra First Drive

"So, are you calling this the third-generation Toyota Tundra?" We're asking the nearest marketing guy whilst hiking our thumb in the direction of a spanking-new 2014 Toyota Tundra pickup, specifically a 4x4 CrewMax with the TRD Off-Road package stickers on the bed.

There's a pause, a wry smile and the response: "It's the new Tundra."

"Yeah, but does that make it the third-generation one?"

Another pause. "It's the new Tundra." We can almost hear the "Trademark R" in his voice as he repeats himself.

We're asking because from certain angles, and especially from the point of view of many technical specifications, it's hard to tell if the 2014 edition of Toyota's full-size truck is all-new or not. It's recognizable as a Tundra across the parking lot, but at this distance the differences are hard to pinpoint. All we can say is it looks tougher, more chiseled.

New Suit of Clothes
A closer look reveals the forward edge of the hood has been hiked up some 1.5 inches. Enlarged headlights melt into the fender along a straighter arc. The more-prominent grille has expanded in all directions, and a handsome new modular three-piece front bumper underlines it all.

2014 Toyota Tundra

Chief Engineer Mike Sweers tells us he wanted to counter the impression that the Tundra was too "rounded and bubbly" by going to a more traditional squared-off truck look.

The wheel openings have been flattened on top, looking more like the crown of a mushroom than the perfect arc made by a draftsman's compass. Straight creases above suggest boxed fender flares.

But this new 2014 Toyota Tundra looks most different from behind, where more traditional rectangular taillights flank a new tailgate with a spoiler built into its upper lip. All-American red turn signals replace the previous amber ones. And the word "Tundra" is permanently embossed into the metal.

Interior Overhaul
What isn't different at first glance is the cab and door sheet metal. From the outside at least, the bits in the middle appear unchanged. But that's not true once we open the door and climb aboard.

Right away we're relieved to see the "series of tubes" instrument panel has been replaced with a traditional cluster of gauges that are far more handsome and readable. A 3.5-inch color display sits among them, though the level of information it can reveal isn't as detailed as the competition's recent efforts.

2014 Toyota Tundra

The heroic reach to the Tundra's radio and climate knobs has been remedied by sliding the whole center stack a full 2.6 inches closer to the driver. It's centered now; last year's odd asymmetrical cockpit theme has been scrapped for something far more attractive and functional.

Structurally, the cab has been beefed up in ways that aren't visible, and larger side airbags have been fitted to the front seats, which are just as comfortable and supportive as ever. There's a bit more downward seat travel, and our resident tall guy reports the driving position feels better in the seat's lowermost position.

Ranch Dressing
There are now five grades of the 2014 Toyota Tundra if you include the SR, which almost doesn't count unless you're a contractor looking for a pure work truck.

Most of us will be looking at the SR5, with cloth seats and a standard bench; the Limited, with 20-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, heated leather buckets and navigation; or the Platinum, with more sumptuous pleated leather, ventilated front seats and a JBL premium audio system.

New for this year is the 1794 Edition, Toyota's entry into the cowboy-themed luxury truck market alongside Ford's King Ranch, Ram's Longhorn and Chevrolet's upcoming High Country. The name refers to the founding date of the JLC ranch, a fraction of which was bulldozed to build the San Antonio plant in which all Tundras are made.

2014 Toyota Tundra

Like its competition, the 1794 is only available as a crew cab, the one that 60 percent of Tundra buyers choose anyway. Also like the others, the environment is that of a saddle shop, featuring rawhide and leather accents dyed for that natural look.

All of the new Tundra interiors are a clear step forward, though the carpet comes across as disappointingly thin if we peel back the mats. And we're not sure the rubber-carpet hybrid floor mats of the 1794 Edition are upmarket enough, even if they do have bullet-themed rivets.

Familiar Chassis
Underneath, the 2014 Toyota Tundra's chassis remains largely unchanged. The most significant development is the elimination of the 126.8-inch-wheelbase model and the regular cab/standard bed setup that rode on it.

Few changes have been made to the suspension apart from a bit of shock absorber fine-tuning and other tweaks. The ride is smooth and secure, but the rear suspension still makes itself known when bumps and lumps enter the mix. The effect may well be more subtle than before when it cost the Tundra the win in our last four-way truck comparison test. We won't know for certain until we drive one on our test loop back home.

2014 Toyota Tundra

The steering remains hydraulically assisted. We'd like to say that automatically makes it better than the Big Three's electrically assisted systems, but it's a close-run thing. Truck EPS systems have improved of late (except for the F-150, which has backslid), and the new Tundra's steering, while pleasingly accurate in corners, feels a bit thick in the middle.

New 18-inch Michelin LTX AT2 tires have been rolled out for the popular TRD Off-Road package, replacing last year's BFGoodrich rubber. Heavy overnight rains and the knowledge that someone else will wash this truck allow us to conclude these new shoes provide excellent off-road grip in gooey mud.

Familiar Powertrains
Little has changed under the hood, where the same three engines carry over along with their smooth and well-calibrated six-speed transmissions. None of them has made the switch to direct injection, but they do benefit from independently variable intake and exhaust valve timing.

The entry-level 4.0-liter V6 remains just that. It's available only in the two-wheel-drive work truck. Toyota engineers have not jumped on the fortified V6 bandwagon just yet because they don't think enough customers have bought into the concept.

And so the Tundra's base engine is essentially the 4.6-liter V8, which makes 310 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque. Introduced in 2010, it's still quite new and is very smooth and capable. Sounds tough when we open it up, too.

The stellar 5.7-liter iForce V8 returns intact with 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque. It's just as powerful and drivable as ever, and there's little reason to expect the 2014 Tundra won't match the 6.9-second 0-60-mph run we recorded in 2009. It comes standard in the Limited, Platinum and 1794 Edition.

The big risk associated with standing pat on the powertrain front is fuel economy. The competition has introduced a flurry of new engines and transmissions, and their ratings have surged ahead.

Toyota's 5.7-liter V8 is good for 15 mpg combined. But on a similar EPA combined basis, GM's direct-injected 5.3-liter V8 serves up 19 mpg, Ford's EcoBoost turbo V6 delivers 18 mpg and the Ram 5.7-liter Hemi with its new eight-speed is rated at 17 mpg.

Better Numbers?
Chief Engineer Mike Sweers isn't yet convinced of the long-term durability of these approaches. He also says the Tundra's calibration can deliver in the real world, not just the EPA test dyno. "Under-promise, over-deliver" is how he summarizes it.

Meanwhile, the Big Three play games with axle ratios, usually offering three choices. The lowest serves up the advertised fuel economy while the highest delivers the maximum tow rating. You must choose accordingly when you buy, and it can be tricky to determine the performance of a given truck on the lot.

2014 Toyota Tundra

Toyota avoids this by pairing each engine with a single axle ratio. Any 2014 Tundra equipped with the 4.6-liter V8 can tow between 6,400 and 6,800 pounds depending on cab (double or crew) and drive (4x2 or 4x4) configuration. This year all 5.7-liter Tundras come with the Tow package, so any 4x4 can tow at least 9,500 pounds and any 4x2 can tow 10,000 pounds.

And Toyota is the only manufacturer that uses the SAE J2807 tow rating procedure that all parties created together. This methodology creates a lower-appearing yet more realistic tow rating, but the Big Three have retreated behind their own secret internal procedures in the interest of maximum marketing flexibility.

Pricing on the 2014 Toyota Tundra has not yet been announced, even though production starts in August and 2014 Tundras will hit showrooms in September.

The lack of wholesale mechanical changes leads us to believe base prices won't move much, even though a newer generation of the Toyota Entune infotainment system has been rolled into the mix. A 5.7-liter CrewMax SR5 4x4 like ours will probably start at $36,500.

But the price of the 1794 Edition is anyone's guess and all-new options like blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and an integrated trailer brake controller will likely push the ultimate fully loaded Tundra price higher than ever.

Eventually we find someone who will confirm that the 2014 Toyota Tundra does indeed represent the dawn of the third generation of Toyota's full-size pickup. The revised sheet metal and revamped interior are welcome sights indeed, and the outright performance of the carryover 5.7-liter V8 does not disappoint.

But we wonder how that lack of progress on the fuel economy front (perceived or otherwise) will get shoppers into dealerships. A typical truck generation lasts six or seven years, and that's a long time to wait for the needle to move. Something big has got to drop in the next year or so.

Or at least we hope so.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.