The Tundra Limited hybrid is coming to Australia! We drive this luxurious Toyota pick-up before 300 examples arrive down under soon
That’s right: the Hilux will be joined in Toyota’s Aussie showrooms by its larger sibling, the made-in-America, made-for-America Tundra within months: the first 50 will be delivered before Christmas – perfect for picking up the tree in the long ‘bed’.
Toyota is targeting a much larger market launch probably in 2025, but before then, it’ll be up to 300 Australians to beta-test the Tundra in our market. Expert outfit Walkinshaw is converting the Limited-spec utes from left- to right-hand drive.
For the privilege of helping Toyota iron out the kinks, the chosen 300 will have to pick up the tab – in the form of a full-service lease that includes not only the Tundra itself, but registration, insurance, and maintenance.
So, do they have something to look forward to? And if you’re a Toyota loyalist, should you be pestering your dealer to be allowed to join the ‘Tundra Insider’ testing program?
To find out, we asked our man in America to test the Tundra in the spec that it’ll arrive in here in Australia.
For our friends in America needing a bigger pick-up yet craving something different than those offered by the big three– Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and RAM 1500, the Toyota Tundra has been the go-to alternative since its introduction in 1999.
It replaced the not-quite-big-enough Toyota T100 and has lived alongside the Tacoma in the US, a ute that itself has swelled since its introduction in 1995. These days, even the Tacoma is longer than an Australian-market Hilux. The Tundra is larger still.
While the smaller ‘Taco’ has established a sizable group of hardcore fans, the Tundra has been a tougher sell in the US, a market where pickup brand loyalties are passed down through the generations.
For 2023, the US-built Tundra is all-new from the platform up. The engines are new and notably include the hybrid option that will be standard in Australia – plus there is a new transmission and extended capabilities and technologies.
All that new tech hides behind a fresh, if startling, face that will be an imposing sight on Australian roads that don’t cater as naturally to vehicles of this size.
In the US, Toyota will sell you a Tundra outfitted in your choice of dozens of configuration: enough trims, cabs, engines, and options packages to dazzle the most hardened of truck nuts.
First up come the trim levels, of which there are seven:
Until its general market launch – likely to occur in 2025 – no Tundras will actually be ‘for sale’ to the Australian public. The Limited hybrid variant will only be operated under a lease structure by its keepers during the evaluation phase.
However, the significant costs of conversion to right-hand drive mean it’s possible that the retail price of a Tundra in Australia would be perhaps twice that seen in the United States.
The Tundra has three different bed lengths, the shortest being 5.5 feet (1.7 metres), then stepping up to 6.5 feet (2.0 metres), and going all the way up to 8.1 feet (2.5 metres) for those who frequently carry cargo and rarely make U-turns.
Two different cab configurations are available: Double Cab and Crew Max. The latter offers a preposterous amount of rear-seat legroom. Both are four-doors.
Finally comes the drivetrain options. Every Tundra has a 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6, which Toyota calls its i-Force motor, with dual overhead cams and variable valve timing. That engine produces 290kW and 649Nm.
For more shove – and better economy – you can step up to the i-Force Max, which adds on a hybrid system with a 1.87kWh battery pack.
While its efficiency is marginally better, the Tundra hybrid is mainly about its performance gain, with combined outputs heading up to 326kW and 790Nm.
Regardless of the engine you choose, power runs through a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic that’s new to the Tundra, directed to either the rear wheels or all four with the optional 4×4 setup.
Add the TRD Off-Road package onto the Tundra and you also get an electronic locking rear differential, plus a host of traction-focused drivetrain control modes.
The Limited has numerous upgrades over the base SR and SR5 models, including:
The Limited CrewMax with a 1.7-metre tub has a starting price of US$57,915. The one you see here stickered at US$65,798 after options, or AU$96,723.
Driving the Tundra feels a little like driving around a small building. In Limited trim, with the Crew Max cab and 1.7-metre bed, this vehicle is 5.9 metres long – much longer than the default 5.4m-long Australian parking spot.
The Tundra is a hair over 2.0 metres wide, and it’s just under 2.0 metres tall, with a vast 3.7 metre wheelbase That makes this ute 61cm longer, 18cm wider and 11cm taller than a Hilux.
Even with the power driver’s seat pushed all the way down, you’re seated in a very high position.
This does give you a pleasant view of the world around you, but visibility straight ahead over the Tundra’s boxy nose is limited. A tall child or shorter adult could easily be standing there without you being any wiser.
Thankfully, this Tundra’s bevy of proximity sensors and a 360-degree camera make it possible to avoid such potentially catastrophic situations, but it’s frustrating to open the bonnet and see plenty of space between the radiator and the block. Is the bonnet longer than it needs to be for the sake of it?
That engine is Toyota’s i-Force Max, a big V6 with a big hybrid system offering a total output of 326kW and 790Nm.
As in Toyota’s other i-Force Max applications, like the equally giant Sequoia SUV, the goal with the hybridization isn’t so much fuel economy as it is providing some semblance of throttle response while the turbo works its way up to an indicated 20psi (1.38bar).
The overall numbers are good, enabling the Limited to tow whopping 5088kg braked and haul 789kg of payload. In Australia, the towing capacity will be published as 4500kg.
The short 1.7m bed limits your hauling capability to some degree, but the optional, integrated flip-out extender here in the US makes up for some of the depth limitation.
That power goes to the ground through a rugged drivetrain with plenty enough capability to get you through most conditions.
The transfer case offers 2H, 4H, and 4L modes, and if you opt for the TRD Off-Road package, which the truck you see here has, that includes an electronically lockable rear differential.
It also adds on five so-called Multi-Terrain Select modes: deep snow, mud, sand, dirt and auto, all accessed through a little knob just aft of the shifter.
That knob also toggles through the Tundra’s driving modes, which number just three: sport, normal and eco. These seem to really just change the throttle mapping of the Tundra, and in sport it is reasonably sporty.
There’s still a good bit of lag between your foot going to the floor and the truck leaping forward, the kick of the hybrid system arriving after a moment, followed quickly by the surge of torque as the engine gets up to boost.
Outright performance is good, while consumption of as little as 11.8L/100km is respectable given the physics at play here.
But that surge is strong. The truck has a reasonably good engine note to go along with it, though there seems to be a fair bit of digital augmentation going on.
For its part, the 10-speed automatic transmission is a willing enough partner, swapping ratios quickly and seamlessly when you want to go and slipping through speeds more leisurely when you’re in less of a hurry.
On the go, the Tundra is pleasant to drive. Despite the Bilstein shocks that also come as part of the TRD Off-Road package, its ride quality is good, far from cosseting but comfortable in most conditions.
Hit some big bumps and it’ll skitter and chatter a bit, but you’ll cruise over more minor stuff without much in the way of distraction.
The Tundra is available in either the shorter Double Cab or stretched CrewMax configurations. The truck you see here is the latter, offering longer rear doors and an extremely generous amount of rear seat room for adults of all shapes and sizes.
Sitting three-abreast is no problem, and rear passengers not only have excellent visibility through the sides, but the optional panoramic sunroof just makes things more open and inviting.
The front two seats are even more abundantly proportioned, giving the driver and front passenger room to do all the man- and woman-spreading they like, separated by a large centre console with an armrest storage bin big enough to fit a roast chicken.
Smartphones are more likely cargo, and inside you’ll find USB-A and USB-C ports for charging. There’s another pair out back, plus an optional 120-volt outlet for laptops, compressors, and larger fare.
You’ll find another USB port hiding up just under the 14.0-inch infotainment screen, situated at the end of a row of big, chunky rocker switches that are a real joy to toggle.
That row is for HVAC, though another row of toggles below makes for a satisfying way to lock the rear differential, part of the optional TRD Off-Road kit installed here.
The main attraction is definitely the massive central touchscreen. Toyota’s infotainment experience is basic but intuitive and, most importantly, quick to respond.
It also features wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, though using those for navigation means you lose navigation prompts through the 12.3-inch driver’s gauge cluster behind the wheel.
Though fully digital, that cluster has limited customization.
A big tacho in the middle takes up most of the pixels, while to the left and right are smaller screens with a few options such as trip info on the left and turbo/hybrid gauges on the right, which can be replaced by a pitch/roll screen for off-roading.
Interior colors in this Limited trim Tundra were muted grays and blacks mostly, with a bit of silver-painted plastic here and there. It’s an understated look, but it works well, especially with the few crimson TRD logos scattered here and there. It’s certainly less garish than the TRD Pro.
The Tundra offers eight total airbags in the cabin, including knee, side, and curtain airbags for both driver and passenger.
When it comes to crash test ratings, since the Tundra isn’t available outside of the US just yet, we don’t have NCAP ratings to report.
What we do have are the US IIHS ratings, where the Tundra scored a “good” rating across the board, with “good” being the top possible rating in every test with the exception of two, scoring “acceptable” when it came to lower leg injuries for both driver and front passenger.
Though a hybrid, the Tundra Limited is only frugal in relative, big ute terms. EPA-rated fuel economy in the US is 18mpg city, 20mpg highway, and 19mpg combined. That works out to 13.1L/100km, 11.8L/100km and 12.4L/100km respectively.
In our testing we did slightly worse, coming in at 16.3mpg, or 14.4L/100 km. It fits a 122L tank.
In the US, the Tundra comes with a five-year, 60,000-mile (96,000km) powertrain warranty, and a three-year, 36,000-mile (58,000km) basic warranty.
Go with the i-Force Max engine and you get another warranty: eight years or 100,000 miles (161,000km-ish) on the hybrid system.
The Tundra has 5000-mile, or about 8000km, service intervals, with every alternate visit calling for an oil change.
For a segment that’s as focused on conformity and evolutionary growth, the Tundra does feel like a notably different player than the rest.
That’s the case even though the Tundra follows the likes of Ford’s F-150 for configurations and powertrain options, and falls into many of its competitors’ foibles, including what I see as an overly boxy and unnecessarily angry look.
Granted, the Limited looks a lot more classy than the war-ready TRD Pro, but that enormous grille will still take some getting used to.
Get past that, though, and you have a comfortable, luxurious, and practical truck that can even be a little bit frugal if you drive it conservatively. Well, relatively frugal, anyway.
While it’s almost been a year now since Toyota confirmed that it is co-opting with Walkinshaw Automitive Group on a RHD local release, there’s still no sign of a local release of Tundra on the near horizon.
If you’re looking for a big pickup with big style and big practicality, you might be watching this space for quite a while yet.
Ford’s mighty F-150 pick-up officially arrives in Australia soon. So we heading Stateside to sample the XLT spec due for Oz to further whet our appetite for the world’s biggest-selling truck
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