The 2021 Toyota Tundra is the oldest truck in its class, but it’s still a dutiful hauler and plenty capable when taken off the beaten path. Every model is powered by a 381-hp V-8 that can tow up to 10,200 pounds. However, its powertrain suffers from a lazy transmission and poor fuel-economy ratings. The Toyota pickup feels clumsy at highway speeds and its ride quality is choppy, but its off-road-ready options—including the lifted TRD Pro model—are bright spots that fulfill their mission. Inside, the Tundra suffers from outdated styling and mediocre materials, but the crew cab offers apartment-like room. Although the 2021 Tundra looks and feels obsolete, it does come standard with a suite of driver assists that help offset its aging design.
What’s New for 2021?
For 2021, Toyota supplies the Tundra lineup with a new appearance package called Nightshade. It’s only available on the Limited, and it includes black 20-inch rims, black exterior accents, and black leather upholstery. The new Trail Special Edition, of which only 5000 will be made, is based on the SR5 crew cab (called CrewMax) and comes with all-weather floor mats, black exterior badging, and black upholstery with tan contrast stitching. The Trail Special Edition also features the same body-color grille as the top-tier Tundra 1794 Edition, a lockable storage unit in the cargo bed, and unique 18-inch wheels fitted with all-terrain tires.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
- SR: $35,500 (est.)
- SR5: $37,000 (est.)
- Limited: $44,000 (est.)
- TRD Pro: $50,500 (est.)
- Platinum: $51,000 (est.)
- 1794 Edition: $51,000 (est.)
Even the fanciest Tundra can’t match the luxury of mid-level Ram 1500 models. However, the Toyota’s greatest virtue is its off-roading abilities, which are fully realized on the TRD Pro variant. While that model has the most capable suspension and a more distinct appearance, those aren’t quite enough to warrant an investment over a Ford F-150 Raptor. Instead, we’d choose the Tundra SR5 with the optional four-wheel-drive system. Since the crew-cab body style only pairs with the shortest 5.5-foot cargo bed, we’d stick with the extended cab and the standard 6.1-foot box. Our example would also be equipped with the base TRD Off-Road package to improve the truck’s ability to play in the dirt, mud, or sand. The improved off-road chops come courtesy of trail-tuned dampers, increased underbody protection, front tow hooks, and 18-inch wheels. In addition to those mechanical enhancements, the kit adds a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen. It also brings a larger fuel tank for a longer driving range and replaces the standard front bench seat with a pair of buckets and a center console.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
Compared with newer and more advanced powertrains, the Tundra’s engine and transmission are prehistoric. The standard 5.7-liter V-8 is good for 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel drive is standard and four-wheel drive is optional for both setups, but not for all cab-and-bed configurations. The Tundra’s engine is reasonably peppy but emits an unsatisfyingly weak exhaust note, and its six-speed automatic shifts rather slowly. While it isn’t terrible to drive, the last Tundra we tested felt archaic and a bit off the pace compared with lighter and more powerful competitors. Due to the Tundra’s firm suspension, every bump is transmitted into the cabin, which makes for a lumpy ride when driving over rough surfaces. The upgraded shocks on the TRD Pro and models with the TRD Off-Road package marginally improve the ride quality, as well as help to better manage body motions in corners. The Tundra’s light, numb steering isolates the driver from the road and requires constant corrections at highway speeds. The Tundra’s brakes are adequate and can haul the truck down from 70 mph in a so-so 190 feet, but the brake pedal returns little feedback and has inconsistent travel.
Towing and Payload Capacity
The Tundra’s maximum tow rating of 10,200 pounds will be more than most people need, and even its least capable configuration can tug at least 8800 pounds.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
While the EPA hasn’t released fuel-economy ratings for the 2021 Tundra, we don’t expect its figures to change from the previous year. The 2020 model has the worst fuel economy in its class. While its competitors don’t exactly sip fuel either, the government rates its V-8 with four-wheel drive at 13 mpg city and 17 mpg highway. The last one we tested matched its highway rating on our 200-mile real-world route, but that figure is still lower than all the other pickups we’ve tested.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The Tundra’s interior is spacious and dotted with oversized features, but it’s an outdated presentation and the materials in most models feel cheap and rubbery. Although its rear-seat legroom is among the best for crew cabs, the quality and layout of the Tundra’s cabin are unimpressive, as well as short on amenities found in the fresher competition. The only salvation is the 1794 Edition, which has luscious saddle-brown leather-trimmed seating and ultrasuede accents. The Tundra’s front roof pillars are wide at the base and create a sizable blind spot, but the large rear windows of the crew cab do offer adequate visibility. An abundance of cargo and storage space is expected with a pickup. While the Toyota is merely adequate in most areas, our testing revealed that the cavernous crew cab is able to hold 21 carry-on suitcases with its rear seat folded, two more than any other pickup. Deep but narrow door pockets prevent storing larger items, but the extended cab—called Double Cab—does have a storage compartment under the rear seat that’s not available in other cabs. The Tundra has three cargo-bed lengths. The shortest is 5.5 feet and is only available with the crew cab. The extended cab can pair with a 6.5- or an 8.1-foot bed.
Infotainment and Connectivity
The Tundra’s infotainment system is tolerable, functioning adequately and responsively but never intuitively. Fancier trim levels have an advanced package that adds more speakers for the audio system as well as integrated navigation. The Entune system will not delight users with its tiny onscreen buttons, but our testing showed that its response time is faster than popular smartphones. Thankfully, the newly available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make the system more intuitive and modern.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The Tundra has merely average crash-test ratings from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However, every model has a smorgasbord of standard driver-assistance technology. Key safety features include:
- Standard automatic emergency braking
- Standard adaptive cruise control
- Standard lane-departure warning
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
The Tundra’s primary warranties are consistent with the competition. Toyota’s two years of roadside assistance is the only part of its coverage that stands out.
- Limited warranty covers three years or 36,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for two years or 25,000 miles
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