Test drive: The 2022 Toyota Tundra is the powerful Prius of pickups

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Somewhere on its way to becoming the best-selling automaker in the US last year, Toyota finally got around to redesigning the oldest full-size pickup on sale here.

The 2022 Tundra is all-new for the first time since 2007.

The 2022 Tundra is all-new for the first time since 2007.
(Toyota)

The 2022 Toyota Tundra is the first all-new version of the model since 2007. Toyota hasn’t had much of a reason to change it. It’s been selling as many as it can build in Texas for years and has one of the most loyal customer bases in the truck world. The Tundra is famously reliable, cheap to operate and holds its value better than any pickup in the segment, so there was a lot on the line with the new one.

Toyota was well aware of all of that and took six years to develop it, which is twice as long as some programs. Tundra executive chief engineer Mike Sewers told me he’s confident that the extra effort means customers shouldn’t be concerned about buying a first year model, because the bugs have already been worked out.

The coil-spring rear suspension improves the Tundra's refinement.

The coil-spring rear suspension improves the Tundra’s refinement.
(Toyota)

That might be of particular concern to some, because the Tundra takes a few major steps forward from the outgoing truck. Chief among them are the switch from a leaf-spring to coil-spring rear suspension for improved refinement and the introductions of the first turbocharged V6 engine and first hybrid powertrain offered on a Toyota truck. If you’ve been waiting for a full-size Prius pickup, this is as close as you’ll ever get.

The I-Force V6 replaces the V8 that was the only engine available last year and improves on its power and efficiency. Toyota calls it a 3.5-liter, but its displacement is technically 3,445 cc, so forgive it for being optimistic in the rounding department. It’s rated at 348 hp and 405 lb-ft in entry-level SR trucks, but puts out 389 hp and 479 lb-ft in higher trim, besting the V8’s 381 hp and 401 lb-ft output.

The turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 is available with or without hybrid assist.

The turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 is available with or without hybrid assist.
(Toyota)

The hybrid that you can get on several models is called the I-Force Max, and for good reason. It adds an electric motor between the V6 and the 10-speed automatic transmission that cranks things up to 437 hp and 573 lb-ft of torque, making the Tundra one of the most potent light duty pickups on sale today. Even with the extra grunt, the three new powertrains improve on the V8’s 14-15 mpg combined rating with 19-22 mpg results, but the I-Force Max trucks fall short of the similarly powerful Ford F-150 PowerBoost hybrid’s 24 mpg mark.

The Capstone is the new top of the line Tundra trim.

The Capstone is the new top of the line Tundra trim.
(Toyota)

Tundra pricing ranges from $ 37,645 for a two-wheel-drive double cab SR to $ 75,225 for a fancy Capstone crew cab 4×4 with the I-Force Max. I tested a TRD Pro crew cab that comes fully loaded with off-road equipment, the I-Force Max and all the Tundra’s electronic driving aids for $ 68,500.

The Tundra TRD Pro has underbody protection and an upgraded suspension.

The Tundra TRD Pro has underbody protection and an upgraded suspension.
(Toyota)

The new Tundras are tough-looking trucks that swap the curvaceous style of the old version for a chunky body that’s more like the Tacoma’s and accented by an oversized grill, and the TRD Pro throws in faux food vents, textured wheel arch flares and an aluminum front skid plate to enhance its rough and tumble image.

A built-in LED off-road light bar is standard on the TRD Pro.

A built-in LED off-road light bar is standard on the TRD Pro.
(Toyota)

It backs it up with a set of 33-inch all-terrain tires mounted to BBS wheels, high performance Fox shock absorbers and stout red stabilizer bars. The 4×4 system with a two-speed transfer case, but not a full-time all-wheel-drive setting, is standard, as is an electronic locking rear differential. A variety of traction control settings optimize for various slippery surfaces can be found in the drive mode selector. Toyota’s off-road Crawl Control low speed cruise control system is included, and it no longer makes the rat-a-tat noise of previous editions. A factory-installed off-highway LED light bar integrated into the grill is a very bright idea.

A 14-inch touchscreen infotainment system anchors the Tundra's cabin.

A 14-inch touchscreen infotainment system anchors the Tundra’s cabin.
(Toyota)

The Tundra’s new interior isn’t quite the best in class in size or luxury, but it’s very spacious and functional, with lots of physical toggle switches and knobs to go with the digital instrument cluster and jumbotron 14-inch infotainment system display. Crew cab models carry over the Tundra’s signature power roll down rear window, which is still the only one available on a full-size pickup. Red upholstery can be matched to a white, gray or black exterior, but choosing a black interior also unlocks a Solar Octane orange paint option.

The full-size Tundra offers plenty of room for five passengers.

The full-size Tundra offers plenty of room for five passengers.
(Toyota)

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The TRD Pro has Toyota's Crawl Control low speed cruise control system.

The TRD Pro has Toyota’s Crawl Control low speed cruise control system.
(Toyota)

As with all hybrids, the I-Force Max shuts itself off when the vehicle is stationary. The vehicle can technically drive on electric power at low speeds over short distances under certain conditions, but it never did during the time that I had it. The engine starts and stops without any vibration, and the instant electric response gets you moving with authority as the engine and turbos spool up.

The power is just ready and willing to go whenever you need it, but the transmission does wait a hair longer to downshift than I’d prefer, even in sport mode. It’s a smooth and quiet engine, but the TRD Pro is fitted with a louder exhaust system than the other Tundras and a little too much fake engine noise pumped through the speakers. An off switch for the latter would be appreciated.

The Tundra's tailgate can be opened with buttons located on the sides of the truck.

The Tundra’s tailgate can be opened with buttons located on the sides of the truck.
(Toyota)

The Tundra’s package of driver aids includes automatic emergency brakes, lane-centering adaptive cruise control and a blind spot monitor that works with trailers of differing lengths. The backup assist feature is available on other trims that can self-steer the vehicle in a straight line while reversing with a trailer attached. The TRD Pro can tow up to 11,170 pounds, which is a lot for an off-road focused truck, while the two-wheel-drive SR5 double cab with a short bed and the I-Force V6 is rated at 12,000 pounds and is the best of the bunch.

Off-road is where the TRD Pro wants to be, however, and it shines while getting dirty. It felt rock solid as I was cruising down rough gravel roads at over 50 mph as they were freshly paved interstates and didn’t flinch when I threw in a short hop over a bump or rocky outcrop for giggles. It doesn’t provide the same level of extreme capability as the Ford F-150 Raptor or Ram 1500 TRX, can dish out a lot of fun and has a 360-degree camera display on its big screen to help you avoid scratching it up too much as it does.

The Tundra's 360-degree camera system has an off-road view.

The Tundra’s 360-degree camera system has an off-road view.
(Fox News Autos)

The Tundra may not have some of the competitor’s headline features, like air suspensions and built-in generators, but what it has delivers the goods and should please the Toyota faithful.

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As for whether it lives up to the Tundra’s reliability reputation over the long haul, you’ll have to check back with me in 2037.

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2022 Toyota Tundra

Base price: $ 37,645

As tested: $ 68,500

Type: 4-door, 5-passenger, 4×4 pickup

Engine Turbocharged 3.5L V6 with hybrid assist

Power: 437 hp, 573 lb-ft

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

MPG: 19 city / 21 hwy

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