2008 Toyota Tundra: First Drive

Illustration for article titled 2008 Toyota Tundra: First Drive
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When we talk about how modern trucks tend to smack you in the face with their machismo, the 2008 Toyota Tundra is what we're talking about. It's big, it's burly, it's got incredibly aggressive styling and it lavishes the driver in all manner of gadgetry. For good reason too: Toyota has forever been known as an also-ran in the full-size truck market. The plain old Pickup model has proved popular with the AK-47-toting crowd worldwide, but trucks like the Toyota T100, and the original Tundra just didn't connect with buyers here in the States. For this go-round, Toyota made sure the Tundra put all its chips down and made a run for the big leagues.
Argue if you will at the over-the-top styling, but the numbers on the 2008 Toyota Tundra SR5 Crew Max 4x4 don't lie: A 5.7 liter V-8 packing 381 HP and 401 lb-ft of torque, a six-speed auto, a 4.30 rear axle ratio and a 10,800 lb tow rating — you have to take this truck seriously. That power and the high final drive ratio make for a truck that's surprisingly quick off the line, so much so that if you've got buddies with old muscle cars you can offer to drag race them and then blow their doors off. The transmission shifts smartly and delivers some serious speed through all the gears. Launches are nicely controlled without a hint of wheel hop, even with the solid rear and leaf spring design — of course, that could also be due to the truck's considerable 5685 lb. curb weight. Even loaded down with a test trailer, the Tundra pulled off the line like an ox. That sprightly performance off the line doesn't translate at all to the road course. The Tundra wallows around corners like a drunken pig and at the slightest hint of wheelspin, the traction control system beeps at you incessantly, critical of the beating it's getting. No amount of traction control adjustment, manually controlling the transmission, or attempting oversteer will result in what could be considered "fun." The truck obliterated the sidewalls of the BFGoodrich T/As, totally wearing the tread shoulder and sidewalls down after only a few passes on the course. But that's not what trucks are meant to do right? They're supposed to haul stuff and carry people comfortably right? Well, that "hauling stuff" part they've got down, with a big bed and nice tie downs, though we feel the liftover height on the tailgate is a bit extreme. When we drop 800 lbs of ballast in the back and head for the road again, the cornering manners improve quite a bit; the steering feels more confident but the truck still pushes through corners and beeps its distress at you. So much effort is required in spirited driving, the only way to describe the experience is 'exhausting.' It's on the inside where things get funky. Imagine taking the Toyota Camry interior, stretching it vertically, and putting huge, flimsy silver knobs on the dash; that's the Tundra. There are tons of places to store your stuff, and ours came with a center console with a semi-hidden compartment next to the shifter, but the whole effort just feels outdated. The back seats don't even fold up and back — the back folds forward and leaves you with a four-foot liftover with a slippery surface. It's a poor solution which takes up valuable floor real estate should you want to carry things in the cabin. Despite the big numbers and rightfully impressive performance, the Tundra feels like a 15-year-old kid wearing his dad's suit and pretending to be Mr. Big Shot. The thing is just a monster, like a cartoon version of a truck where everything is exaggerated for effect. The knobs are big, the tires are big, the hood is big, the cabin is big, the power is big. But, in this case, big doesn't necessarily mean good.


So is this where we bring out the standard Toyota hate? Besides the Toyota badge, what makes this less-suited for truck-like work than any of the offerings from the Big 3?