If bigger is better, then the Toyota Tundra must be the best Toyota ute available in Australia.
The very large Toyota Tundra is built solely in left-hand drive in the only market in which it is officially sold, the United States. Unofficially, it's imported and converted by Queensland specialists Performax International.
In terms of size it’s a step up from the country’s best-selling ute, the Tundra’s smaller sibling, the Toyota HiLux, but not quite as big as the Ford F-250 Trent drove a few months back (which is also sold by Performax International).
The Tundra measures 5.81 metres long, 1.93m tall and 2.03m wide, some 55 centimetres longer, 7cm higher and 20cm wider than the HiLux. The Tundra rides on a 3.70m wheelbase, a full 61.5cm longer between wheels than the ‘Lux.
It’s a big thing, with a big price.
The Tundra Platinum model is priced at $120,190 plus on-road costs – that’s a full $64,200 more than the recently introduced HiLux Black flagship model. Other than the Tundra and HiLux, the next highest-priced Toyota truckster is the LandCruiser 70 Series, which has a 4.5-litre turbo diesel V8 and is priced at $67,990 for the top-spec GLX dual-cab.
But it packs more fruit than any HiLux or LandCruiser ute sold here, including those 20-inch alloys, power folding side mirrors, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, heated and ventilated front seats, 10-way electric seat adjustment including under-thigh support with driver’s side memory settings (for seat, steering wheel and mirrors), dual-zone climate control and a powered rear windshield.
Some of those safety extras are exceptional in this class of vehicle, as is the standard eight airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain, and driver and front passenger knee airbags). As Toyota says, “no other truck has that”.
The interior is beyond spacious, accessed via very broad doors up front and enormous rear doors that make loading littlies simple, and there are two outboard child seat anchor points.
When it comes to larger occupants, several 190cm-plus occupants found it to be profoundly roomy for leg-space, though headroom is still somewhat low due to the body-on-frame construction of the Tundra.
The leather-trimmed seats are enormous – made for those larger US frames – and while they are flat, there’s a certain lounge-like comfort to them. There’s a great amount of practicality in the rear, as the bases of the back seats split-fold to allow for luggage if the weather is bad or you wish to keep your valuables inside.
There are small bottle caddies in the front and rear door pockets, plenty of other storage options and one of the biggest centre console bins of any vehicle CarAdvice has ever tested.
The standard infotainment system is a colour touchscreen unit with satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and a 12-speaker JBL sound system.
It also has something a lot bigger under the bonnet.
The Tundra is powered by a 5.7-litre V8 petrol engine, producing 284kW of power at 5600rpm and 544Nm of torque at 3600rpm.
While a turbocharged four-, six- or eight-cylinder diesel would likely be the engine most would choose, the petrol-fed V8 is a willing and powerful engine.
It hauls the Tundra dual-cab’s 2660-kilogram mass without fuss, though when you put your foot down you can almost hear the unleaded being guzzled.
At freeway speeds the V8 ambles along with a distant rumble and idles comfortably, though if you tramp the accelerator it roars towards the redline, with the nose lifting and the 20-inch rubber (Bridgestone Dueler, 275-aspect, 55-profile) occasionally squealing under pressure.
The six-speed automatic gearbox is a quick-thinking unit, swapping between cogs and keeping the engine working in its ideal range depending on the situation. We noted some lurchy shifts on occasion – usually under light throttle – though for the most part it did what we wanted, when we wanted.
While it’s hardly frugal, the Tundra’s claimed fuel use of between 14 and 15 litres per 100 kilometres (according to Performax International) is matchable – we saw an average of 14.6L/100km.
Given its size and heft, the Tundra drives extremely well.
Many dual-cab utes feel unsettled and wobbly over bumps, as the usual leaf suspension is focused on offering load carrying capacity – usually more than 1000 kilograms – rather than cossetting those in the cabin from the crudities of the road.
The Tundra’s live axle rear leaf setup, however, isn’t as much aimed at carrying a large load. Its payload is only 642kg, less than all of its rivals a class smaller – but it is a large tray, measuring 1.68m wide at the tailgate and 1.27 between the arches, easily wide enough for a standard Aussie pallet.
What it lacks in load carrying capacity it makes up for it with its superior ride comfort.
Over crunchy country road surfaces the big rig coasts along smoothly, only exhibiting a slightly unsettled nature over consistent potholes, mainly due to its large, heavy wheels. It is, however, more settled than almost all the utes in the class below, perhaps with the exception of the Volkswagen Amarok (fitted with the Comfort suspension setup). You will notice a lot of wind noise at speed, though, as the bluff front-end parts the air in front of it and its enormous wing mirrors cut through the wind.
The steering is light and accurate at speed, making it feel smaller than its size when you’re piloting it through traffic. It can get heavy and is slow to react when you try to park, and its turning circle means a standard three-point turn will likely require five or seven manoeuvres.
Thankfully, outward vision is acceptable for a vehicle of this size, with large wing mirrors and lots of glass complemented by a standard reverse-view camera along with front and rear parking sensors. Over the shoulder vision could be better, though, and the conversion team hasn’t managed to switch the grab handles over: currently the A-pillar handle impedes the driver’s line of sight, and the passenger has nothing to hold on to – not even a roof-mounted handle.
Speaking of off-road driving, the Tundra strikes a great balance between capability and comfort, dealing with divots, deep ruts and steep sections easily. It has a switch-on-the-fly all-wheel drive system, with high and low range settings and a clever automated limited slip differential.
The Tundra's broad track (1.72m) and its long wheelbase (3.70m) makes it feel settled and planted, while its 26cm of ground clearance means it won’t be troubled by bumps. Its 26-degree approach angle and 21-degree departure angle means it can clamber up sharp inclines and descents with ease.
Over a mixture of surfaces – from slippery creek crossings to sandy tracks – and a range of speeds, the Tundra never felt out of place.
Buyers wary of the notion of purchasing a truck from left- to right-hand drive should note the Tundra is backed by a four-year, 100,000km warranty.
After our time in the Tundra, we think that in spite of its size it is the best Toyota ute money can buy. It’s just a shame about the price.