Let me start this review by getting this out of the way: The Toyota Tundra is assembled at a Toyota plant in San Antonio, Texas. The ranch that it sits on was founded in 1794. Therefor the 2021 Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition is made to commemorate the ranch’s creation. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get on with the review.
The Toyota Tundra has always been a curious truck with a major cult following. You either love the Tundra or just don’t care. I don’t know anyone who actually hates this truck, they just don’t care. They prefer their Silverado, F-150, or RAM. When Toyota’s answer to the Detroit 3 arrived on the scene in 1999 as a 2000 model it started off very rocky. Truck buyers were confused at this 1/4-ton-like offering that wasn’t really a full-size pickup. Non-traditional pickup buyers seemed excited, as at the time it was polarizing to be seen with a pickup as a daily vehicle. You were either a farmer, redneck, or a skilled laborer. I was about to turn 14 when the Tundra debuted, and I remember most of the adults I knew in North Carolina were very uninterested. But then I knew more northernly people who did buy a Tundra and loved it. They raved to the diehard Ford, Chevy, and Dodge truck owners, while those people seemed bored and uninterested.
Interestingly, that first-gen truck, on sale from 2000-2006, has a truly cult following on the used market. It has always held its value, and everyone that has one raves about it. I know people who have bought multiple ’00-’06 Tundras even within the past few years. Just ask John Pearley Huffman (former contributor for Car and Driver, now with Road and Track), who has owned 3 of them at this point. First he gave the green trusty steed to his son as his first car, so then he bought another one in maroon. Sadly, his nephew wrecked that one, and so he bought another in black. Basically, Pearley is the authority. I have a good friend who had a 2005 4-door model that he sold traded for a Honda Accord Coupe. But within about 24 months he was back in a Tundra, this time a second-gen 4-door. My brother-in-law bought a 2017 that his son purchased from him.
I never disliked the Tundra particularly, I’ve just always thought it was far behind the competition. I’ve driven them before, however never as a review vehicle (I did test one at Ford’s proving grounds against the all-new 2009 F-150, as well as a Hemi Ram, and Chevy Silverado), and I’ve long thought about buying a first-gen Tundra as a beater truck. They seem to last forever. Now, though, after testing the 2021 Tundra 1794 Edition, I fully understand its charm. It’s far from the best truck in the crowded market that is the full-size truck world, but there are qualities that make me think it’s actually an old-school American truck, as weird as that may sound since it’s a Japanese manufacturer. That being said, it’s a Toyota first and foremost, but it is very American in the way it handles itself.
The 2021 Toyota Tundra that was dropped off at my house was a 1794 Edition CrewMax 4×4 in Wind Chill Pearl with Saddle Brown interior. The 1794 Edition bases out at $51,945 before any extra options or delivery and handling fees. The options my truck had were running boards with a spray-in bed liner for $795; a moonroof for $850; and the special Wind Chill Pearl at $425. Tack on the $1,595 delivery and handling fee, and the as-tested price was $55,610. That’s actually quite “cheap” in the world of trucks. But it also denotes the fact that you’re not getting some majorly technologically advanced truck. What the Tundra is is simply a good truck that neither excels or fails at any one thing. It just does what you ask of it and seems to do so reliably and comfortably.
Under the hood of the Tundra is a tried and true 5.7-liter V8 making 381 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, and 401 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. The truck will take 87, 89, 91, and 93 without any issues. The 4×2 1794 Edition gets 13 mpg city and 18 mpg highway respectively, with a combined mpg of 15. The truck I had was a 4×4, which gets 13 and 17 with a combined mpg of 17. So, yeah, the fuel mileage isn’t great… at all. But that’s what most people expect from trucks. It is rumored that the 2022 Tundra will be debuting with a twin-turbo V6 only, or possibly some sort of twin-turbo hybrid V6. Either of which would certainly see a healthy fuel economy boost to rival Ford’s 2021 3.5-liter EcoBoost at 18 and 23-24 miles per gallon (23 mpg with 4×4 and 24 with 4×2).
The 4×4 CrewMax 1794 will tow up to 9,800 lbs, and has a maximum tongue weight of 980 lbs. The base 5-liter V8 F-150 with 3.51 or 3.31 gears will tow 9,500 lbs, but with the 3.31, 3.55, or 3.73 in either the 5.0 or 3.5 EcoBoost, they will tow anywhere from 10,400-14,000 pounds. Basically, the F-150 tows a lot. A Chevy Silverado 1500 can tow up to 13,400 lbs, the GMC Sierra 1500 will do up to 12,100, and the RAM 1500 will tow up to 12,750 lbs. In other words, the Tundra has some catching up to do. The standard SR and SR5 two-wheel drive Tundra can actually tow up to 10,200 lbs, and a Limited two-wheel drive will do 10,100.
The 1794 Edition is essentially Toyota’s answer to Ford’s F-150 King Ranch, GMC’s Denali Sierra, Chevy’s newish High Country Silverado, and RAM’s Long Horn. Personally, this is the one I’d buy mainly for the interior. The Saddle Brown leather with suede-style inserts in the seats, the woodgrain on the doors, dash, and steering wheel looks really nice, too. It’s more like a wealthy man’s truck. He does some dirty work, but still enjoys some luxurious amenities. And overall the Tundra 1794 is a comfortable truck, feeling large inside, and everything seems oversized on purpose. The shifter is huge, which was annoying for my small sausage fingers. The door exterior and interior door handles are big, and all of the buttons and knobs are easily touched with gloves on. This is a simple working man’s truck that is about $10,000 less than the competition and good luxury. Oh, and it has a billion and one cubbies and places to put anything.
With that $10,000 less sticker shock does give you a few trade-offs. The Tundra doesn’t have a panoramic roof, or a load-flat floor. That rear floor actually causes the rear seats to sit higher up, which is both good and bad. I liked it as a guy sitting in the back and being able to have an easier look over the driver and passenger out the front windshield, so it’ll be great for kids. However, taller people will have to slide their butts forward on the seat a bit to not have their heads so close to the ceiling. At least there is a healthy amount of legroom. It rides more like a truck and less like the trucks from Ford and RAM, which are more car-like. Some would say that’s a good thing, like my buddy Jon who hates the way the modern trucks ride. He wants the feeling of a truck. He liked the ride of the Tundra. But because of that it means it floats more over bumps and expansions. While the steering is light and quick, the body rolls a lot, and in emergency maneuvering you will find that it pitches back and forth. Quick adjustments are not the friend of the Tundra. You need to take your time steering it; load up the suspension first. Driving it in a non-man-handling way is better for a more relaxed trip. The 1794 Edition is a large truck, but the visibility isn’t the best. In fact, it was actually hard to see over my left shoulder because of the rear passenger grab handle. And sometimes the shifter wouldn’t slide all the way to Drive and would instead sit in Neutral, embarrassing me as I’m revving the engine and just drifting. Other than that, though, I don’t really have any other complaints.
Tundra sales have been stagnant over the course of its life. In 2020 Ford sold 787,422 F-Series trucks, Chevy sold 586,675 Silverados, RAM sold 563,676 RAMs, GMC sold 253,016 Sierras, and Toyota sold 238,806 units… of the Tacoma. All the way down at 109,203 units sold was the Tundra. Hell, it barely edged out the Ford Ranger’s 101,486 sales. It did also beat the Chevy Colorado at 96,236, and the GMC Canyon at 25,191.
Arguably the greatest trick that the Toyota Tundra has that I think EVERY truck manufacturer has missed out on is the whole back glass slides down. Now this isn’t new. The 4Runner and Tundra have been doing this for forever. But I found myself actually using the back glass the whole time. It’s amazing. In my 2018 F-150 Platinum I never use the tiny middle window that slides. I forget it’s even there in every truck I drive. But the Tundra, Marone! It’s beautiful. You get some fresh air without having any rush of wind, and you get to hear the exhaust a little better, too.
None of this is to say the Tundra is a bad truck, far from it. It’s reliable, attractive, and does truck things at a reasonable truck price. It holds its value very well, even among other superior trucks on the market, and it has a following that would never, ever trade or sell their Tundra for another truck, unless it’s a Tundra. Which isn’t unlike the Chevy, Ford and RAM customers. It has a diehard base, and you can’t say anything too bad about a vehicle that still manages to sell well over 100,000 vehicles without the same American pedigree of the Detroit 3. They were all born in America, the Tundra is from a Japanese car company manufacturing it in Texas. And Toyota race the Tundra in the Camping World Truck Series. In fact, the number 4 Mobil 1 Toyota Tundra driven by John Hunter Nemecheck has won 4 out of the 11 races this season, putting him first overall in the points, and has taken first the past two races in Charlotte and Texas. The next two trucks in the standings are also Toyota Tundra racing trucks.
Now I know the truck that’s raced on an oval isn’t the same one you’re buying at your local Toyota dealer. But it shows that Toyota have nothing but commitment to selling American made trucks to good ol’ boys.
The 2021 Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition CrewMax 4×4 [wheezing, trying to catch breath] is a charming truck with good comfort, plenty of usability for damn near every truck buyer, and a very truck-like attitude. You can find better trucks for towing and hauling. You can find some that drive more like a car than a big, heavy truck. If you want a Lexus LS-like ride, then get yourself a RAM or F-150. If you want the max towing capacity, but anything but the Tundra. However, if you want a good, simple truck that does everything you’ll realistically need from it, while being large, comfortable, usable, that drives like an actual truck, and isn’t from Detroit, the Tundra is absolutely the most American truck you can buy that isn’t part of the modern truck status quo. It may not be from a company headquartered in Michigan, but it is as American as apple pie.