- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In its first major update since 2007, the full-size Toyota Tundra pickup truck is redesigned with a bold, American-style exterior, a refined, quieter interior and standard backup camera and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity.

What’s not changed are the engines - a V-6 and pair of V-8s, all gasoline-powered - as well as the Tundra’s two-year/25,000-mile free scheduled maintenance. Also unchanged: Consumer Reports lists the Tundra as a recommended buy, with reliability that has been above average.

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, for Toyota’s largest pickup is $27,195 for a base, 2014 Tundra SR 4X2 Regular Cab with 270-horsepower V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission.

The lowest starting retail price for a 2014 Tundra with Double Cab is $28,085 for an SR 4X2 with standard bed and V-6. The lowest starting retail price for a 2014 Tundra with four-wheel drive is $32,180, and this is the base SR Double Cab model with 4.6-liter V-8.

Meantime, the lowest starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2014 Tundra SR5 4X2 CrewMax, which has four regular-size doors and an especially spacious back seat, is $35,455 with V-6.

Toyota offers two V-8s as well, and trim levels range beyond the base SR and next-level SR5 to Limited, Platinum and 1794 Edition.

Built at a San Antonio assembly plant, the Tundra competes with America’s top-selling, full-size pickups.

The nation’s No. 1 seller, the Ford F-150, has a starting retail price, including destination charge, of $25,640 for an XL 4X2 Regular Cab with 302-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic.

Note that the base F-150 does not include power windows, power outside mirrors and power door locks, which come standard on every Tundra. These items are part of an option package on the base F-150 that pushes the price to $27,000, according to pricing on Ford’s consumer website.

Meanwhile, the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado full-size pickup carries a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $26,670 for a 1500 4X2 Regular Cab model in 1WT trim with 285-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic. Adding a rearview camera to the base Silverado boosts the starting retail price to $27,505, which is $310 more than a base, 2014 Tundra that has a standard backup camera.

The U.S. full-size truck market, inhabited by loyal truck brand buyers, is a difficult segment to crack.

Tundra sales last calendar year grew 11 percent, to 112,732. But this was far below the 763,402 Ford F-Series truck sales.

Part of the problem is the limited Tundra product line. Unlike competitors, Toyota doesn’t sell heavy-duty versions of the Tundra and doesn’t offer a diesel engine or hybrid.

But buyers who don’t want or need complicated order forms for their new trucks can find Toyota’s Tundra line to be streamlined and easy to understand.

Another plus: Toyota’s reputation for durable and reliable vehicles tends to rate highly among Tundra buyers.

J.D. Power and Associates last year named Toyota the top mainstream car brand in dependability.

For sure, the 2014 Tundra 4X2 Limited Crewmax test truck had Toyota’s standout fit-and-finish, where body gaps between pieces of exterior sheet metal were precisely lined up and where trim pieces inside and out were solidly attached.

Riding on a rugged truck platform, the Tundra had some bounciness to the ride off road and on some pavement surfaces. But it was not exaggerated up-and-down movement, and in contrast to some other trucks, there was not a jittery feel to the ride. The test Tundra, with TRD off-road package that added Bilstein shock absorbers for a firmer ride, kept the ride from feeling floaty.

Indeed, the tester performed capably and confidently, even though the rack-and-pinion, hydraulic power steering felt a bit numb.

The Tundra Crewmax is a long vehicle, stretching 19 feet in length, so a driver has to be mindful of its size or risk cutting corners too tightly.

Passengers in the new Tundra look out onto a hood that is higher than its predecessor’s. It’s akin to the feeling of sitting at the wheel of a Ford pickup with powerdome hood.

Everyone has good views out because seats are up high. Running boards on the test Tundra were essential for convenient entry and exit but didn’t interfere with ground clearance of some 10 inches.

The Tundra’s interior upgrades that include new, more comfortable seats give a quality feel.

Especially helpful is the fact the center stack - the middle part of the dashboard where radio, heating and cooling controls, etc. are located - has been pulled 2.6 inches closer to the driver and front passenger. This makes it easier to reach the controls.

Unfortunately, the full-size pickup truck segment is one place where Toyota’s reputation for fuel economy doesn’t come into play.

The best fuel mileage rating by the federal government for the 2014 Tundra is 16 miles per gallon in city driving and 20 mpg on the highway with the V-6 and two-wheel drive.

The 2014 Ram 1500 HFE and 2014 Ford F-150, both with gasoline V-6s, rate considerably higher.

And the test Tundra, with Toyota’s well-regarded 5.7-liter, double overhead cam V-8 putting out 381 horsepower and 401-foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 rpm, averaged just under 15 mpg in combined city/highway travel. It’s rated by the federal government at 13 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway.

The test truck’s powerplant, however, delivered strong performance through the six-speed automatic transmission. Even on steep mountain roads, the V-8 responded eagerly, and on flat pavement, the 0-to-60-miles-per-hour time is a commendable estimated 6.7 seconds.

Maximum towing capacity for the 2014 Tundra is 10,400 pounds.

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