Cowboy hat not included
Blending in with the locals can give you a vastly different perspective on a city than if you were to go full-on tourist, so on a recent trip to Austin, Texas, I asked for a Toyota Tundra for the weekend. Weird choice, you say? Not to Texans.
Since 2008, all Toyota Tundra full-size pickups have been built in San Antonio, Texas. That’s a fact Toyota dealers in Texas are very proud of, as every Tundra and Tacoma sold there wears a sticker on the back window patterned after the state flag that says “Built Here, Lives Here.” You could argue that Austin isn’t like the rest of Texas, but it’s still in the heart of truck country, so our 2017 Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition was right at home in the pickup-dominated landscape.
The 1794 Edition might be the most Texan of all Tundra models—it’s named for the year the JLC Ranch, the site of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, was founded. Like all 1794 Editions, our tester was a CrewMax model with the 5.5-foot bed and came powered by Toyota’s 5.7-liter V-8, which produces 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque. Our truck also came equipped with part-time four-wheel drive and an assortment of TRD Performance parts (as part of the TRD Off-Road package) and other accessories that drove the price up to $54,796 USD. The 1794 Edition helps justify its MSRP with an interior swathed in soft, smooth leather. The seats, center console, shifter, dash, and door panels are covered in rich-feeling cowhide, which lends a Western look with its saddle-brown color and white contrast stitching.
Although the leather upholstery itself looks nice, it could be better matched with the rest of the interior, which uses silver-colored hard plastics and plasticky-looking wood trim. The door panels and dash use the same durable materials found in other Tundra models, which is probably a good thing for those who plan on actually using their 1794 as a truck. The utilitarian look does stick out against the more upscale parts of the interior, however.
After the leather, the next thing you’ll notice when getting into the Tundra is the fact that this is an older product. You can’t get a Tundra in 2017 with hands-free keyless entry or push-button start, but our truck did have a remote-start feature, which was a lifesaver in the Texas heat, as I could start the car and begin cooling down the cabin before getting in. The entire truck was heavily updated in 2014, but somehow the interior already feels dated. The steering wheel is chunky and features controls that look a generation behind, and the touchscreen infotainment system—although perfectly functional—lacks the sharp resolution and fast response customers have come to expect from new cars.
But if you can look past all that, the Tundra is a solid truck. The ride is smooth on the highway, and the interior is mostly quiet except for some noise from the TRD Off-Road package’s 275/65R18-size all-terrain tires. The Tundra handles like a smaller vehicle on twisty roads, and it wasn’t as difficult to maneuver in the city as you might expect of a full-size pickup. I was definitely glad to have the standard rearview camera and parking sensors when I had to park, though. Steering feel is on the lighter side, and the ratio takes some getting used to, but overall the Tundra is easy to drive.
The V-8 offers plenty of power, and the six-speed automatic transmission is quick to kick down a gear when trying to pass on the highway. The drivetrain also had no trouble climbing steep grades. A few minutes on a gravel road was the closest I got to off-roading in the Tundra. It wasn’t challenging enough to really test the Tundra’s capabilities, but if the road ever got rockier or more rutted, the truck would have been prepared thanks to the TRD Off-Road package’s off-road-tuned Bilstein shocks, engine and fuel tank skidplates, and the aforementioned A/T tires. The Tundra 4×4 1794 CrewMax also offers 10.4 inches of ground clearance. I didn’t have a chance to tow or haul anything on my trip, but the 4×4 1794 Edition has a max towing capacity of 8,800 pounds (3,992 kg) and a max payload of 1,530 pounds (694 kg).
Living with the Tundra day to day wouldn’t be difficult for drivers of larger stature, but if you have short legs like me, getting in can be a challenge. The driver’s side doesn’t have a grab handle on the A-pillar or above the window frame, so you end up pulling yourself up on the steering wheel or the generously sized door armrest. Checking the box for the $345 USD running boards on the options list will remedy this, and it’s recommended if you have small children so they can more easily access the rear of the crew cab. As flip-up rear seats come, the Tundra 1794 Edition’s benches are pretty comfy. The leather is soft, and there’s plenty of cushioning for long drives. There’s also more than enough legroom. I was able to fit two carry-on roller bags sideways in the footwells without moving the front seats.
Hopefully development on the next-gen Tundra is well underway, because the current model is showing its age. The Tundra 1794 Edition is still luxurious and capable, but it could benefit from another interior refresh at the very least. The next Tundra will also need to work on its efficiency, as the current 4×4 V-8 is EPA-rated at only 13/17 mpg (18/13.8 L/100km) city/highway, less than just about every other 4×4 V-8 pickup in the class. The 1794 Edition does start less than its Western-themed competition—which includes the Ford F-150 King Ranch, Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn, and Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country—at $48,375 USD for a rear-drive model. So if an ocean of brown leather is the look you’re going for, you’ll pay slightly less for it with Toyota’s version.
The Tundra still ticks most of the right boxes for today’s truck buyer, but competitors are continually raising the bar in the full-size pickup category. If the next-gen Tundra can deliver class-leading fuel economy, modern tech, and improved material quality in addition to the comfort, capability, and durability today’s Tundra already offers, then Texans will have something they can really be proud of.