An all-new third-generation of Toyota’s American-built Tundra pickup debuted in the 2022 model year with minor trim level refinements jumping onboard in 2023. This beast competes in the full-size, light-duty category, a hugely popular segment for the U.S. market and enticing profit center for participating manufacturers.
Toyota invited a dozen or so Chicago-area auto writers to its expansive Midwest parts and distribution campus on Aurora’s far west side just south of I-88 in August of 2022 for a quick spin behind the wheel, before arriving on cue in the driveway a month later for a full week of testing. The sprawling parts center opened in the early 1990s, one of a dozen or so such logistical centers sprinkled throughout the country.
Tundra debuted at the turn of the century as a 2000 model year product. It replaced the Japan-built, T100 (1993-1998) lacking a V-8 engine, making it an outlier at the time (or maybe too forward thinking for its time). Fast forward two decades and V-8’s are slowly fading into the background as a new generation of ultra-potent and at times electrified V-6s take center stage. In 2023, Tundra lists as one of the few half-ton pickups sans a V-8 option.
Tundra underwent a second-generation redo in 2007; unveiled with much fanfare at the Chicago Auto Show. Both Tundra and Toyota’s brisk-selling Tacoma mid-size pickup assemble at a facility in San Antonio Texas, opened in 2006, just in time to start production of Tundra’s second wave.
Even within the domain of pickups where next-generation makeovers happen less frequently than sedans or crossovers, the 15-year gap between Tundra Gen 2 and Gen 3 represents a remarkable stretch of time. But then again, Tundra round three was worth the wait.
One of the first eye-openers Tundra provides is its smoother-than-expected ride experience as it nicely tames the bounce factor so often associated with body-on-frame style work trucks. Thanks in part to a calming multi-link rear suspension, ride comfort and handling dynamics greatly improve, notable when tooling around town or during long highway stretches. This coil-spring design replaces bulky leaf-springs, a main culprit of the trampoline effect. Braking is solid for a vehicle of this girth with good foot feel and predictable pedal activation depth.
While domestic light-duty pickups from Ford, GM and RAM offer a dizzying number of powertrain options, Tundra keeps things simple with one V-6 twin turbo-charged engine available with two formats.
The 2023 Tundra welcomes back from the 2022 model year a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 generating a workman-like 389 horsepower and marketed as the ‘i-Force.’
Major chatter since its 2022 arrival centers around this newer turbo V-6 mating with self-charging, (no extension cord or plug-in outlet needed) parallel gas-electric hybrid technology. This enticing ‘i-Force Max’ combo jolts horsepower upwards to an impressive 437 with low-end torque upgraded to 583 lb.-ft. Both engines mate to a 10-speed automatic transmission.
The i-Force Max design stores a self-charging, 1.87-kilowatt hour, 288-volt Nickel-Metal Hydride Battery (Ni-MH) pack under the well ventilated second row bench seat. This 240-celled sealed pack motivates a 48-horsepower single unit electric motor/generator with an open-close clutch slotted between the engine and transmission/torque converter. This parallel design achieves peak torque at very low revolutions per minute (RPMs), resulting in smoother, quieter experiences while pulling upwards of 11,300 pounds. It’s not quite class leading, but Toyota’ own research indicates a majority of users tow an average of 5,000 pounds.
The inline vision allows Tundra to operate solely with electric power in certain circumstances, but the computer’s brain decides when, not the driver.
Tundra’s beefier hybrid-electric design prioritizes performance enhancements, most notably low-end torque needed for a workhorse vehicle. Smaller, lighter, all-electric vehicles construct with ultra-high mileage as final destination (although Tundra i-Force Max tweaks up mileage a couple notches compared to its non-electric variant). Our 4x4 trim garnered 19 miles per gallon city and 22 mpg highway. The V-6 engine utilizes regular, 87-octane fuel.
The Nickel-Metal Hydride Battery is an outlier of sorts but a Toyota favorite. Smaller, pure electric vehicles (EVs) often opt for lighter lithium-ion style battery packs. While heavier in weight, Ni-MH retains cold-weather charges longer, recycle easier and historically have proven durable with two decades plus of data to mine through. In a non-plug-in gas-electric hybrid environment with a sizeable frame, Ni-MH makes perfect sense.
The twin turbo V-6 returns for 2023 again in SR, SR5, Limited, Platinum and 1794 trims. The hybrid boost finds its way into TRD Pro and Capstone trims. Toyota estimates a healthy 25 percent take rate for the i-Force Max hybrid boosted engine.
Think of Capstone (our tester for the week) as the crowning achievement of the 2023 Tundra trims replete with walnut woodgrain interior trim, leather-trimmed front bucket seats and ear-pleasing 12-speaker JBL audio system. Outside, 22-inch dark chrome alloy wheels add splendor.
Our 2023 Tundra Capstone tester with standard 4 x 4 and 5-foot, 5-inch cargo box starts at $73,530. The only extras were a recommended load-leveling rear air suspension ($1,045), special white exterior ($425) and ball mounts ($65) for a $76,760 bottom line after adjusting for a rather pricey $1,695 destination charge. Tundra starts at $36,965 for a SR 4 x 2.
All trims include a huge front grille each tweaked slightly depending upon the trim, flanked by a tiny block of LED bejeweled lighting arranged in a 2 x 2 pattern. Capstone features a color-keyed outer frame and chrome inner grille pattern. Front A and middle B pillars employ a solid black hue, contrasting with Tundra’s chosen exterior color.
The jolt of electric-hybrid energy in i-Force Max editions may also be
identified via the front grille as the center, circular Toyota logo
includes a blue hue, indicating a hybrid assist, a wink and nod to those
in the know.
Cab configurations include a double cab or full-length Crew Cab with four standard size swinging side doors with thick grab straps. No single row regular cab is sold. Bed lengths are dependent upon the cabin selected with double cabs opting for six-foot, five-inch or eight-foot bed lengths. Crew Cabs shorten things up a bit with five-foot, five-inch or six-feet, five-inch choices.
No matter the bed length, the inside includes a composite liner upping the durability factor and utilized with success in Toyota’s mid-size Tacoma. Our Capstone trim included a 120volt/400watt AC power outlet and LED lights within the bed for working well into the night. Tundra’s V-6 turbo engine must be engaged and active to utilize these outlets.
Power side running boards also come standard with Capstone, motoring out and back each time a side door opens/closes assisting riders through 10.6 inches of Capstone ground clearance (a number that varies depending upon the trim selected).
Fenders include character creases positioned above the squarish wheel wells. Front fender creases start along the ends of headlight housing with an arch-like appeal. The same design finds its way above rear wheel wells.
Inside, an optional, supersized, flat, 14-inch wide (8-inchers come standard) center dash multifunction touch screen grabs visual attention with sizeable air vents framing each side. Large icons and a logical design help users along with built-in pinch, zoom and spin features. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Smartphone interaction come standard with this 100-percent cloud-based design, as does satellite radio. Below is a row of up-down tabs monitoring ventilation functions; and below that, a row of push buttons commanding front/rear defrosters and heated/ventilated front seats.
The vertical-arranged mechanically sliding transmission shifter resides between the front buckets with a dial aft to select one of a half-dozen drive modes. Also nearby, an electronic selector for choosing between 4 x 2, part-time 4 x 4 high or 4 x 4 low easily sliding within a rail-like track.
During an informal Tundra walk-around inside the Aurora campus where a white Capstone CrewMax and red TRD Pro were stationed for morning viewing, a little-known Tundra perk was shared. While many pickups now offer tamed tailgates gently gliding down rather than opening with a jolting thud, Tundra features a long side fender power activation bar accessible with a simple hip check to spur the process.
If hands and arms are occupied, a kiss from one’s own tush not only drops the gate slowly and predictably, but a welcome footstep glides out from under the cargo hold to assist with bed access. Close the gate, and the foot assist automatically retracts out of sight. 2023 Toyota Tundra
Price as tested: $76,760
Engine: 3.5-liter twin turbo hybrid
Total Horsepower: 437
Wheelbase: 145.7 inches
Overall Length: 233.6 inches
Overall Width: 80.2 inches
Overall Height: 78 inches
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Hybrid Warranty: 96 months/100,000 miles
Curb Weight: 6,010 pounds
Assembly: San Antonio, Texas