It’s no secret that the 2021 Toyota Tundra is the oldest pickup in the segment, but that has not stopped it from still being a severe threat to the American big three pickup offerings. Toyota is not content on resting on its laurels, though, and is continuing to deliver strategic updates to the Tundra in an attempt to help it stay fresh and posied. But can the Tundra still hold down the fort until its revamped replacement arrives?
Aging Styling Is Still Burly and Tough
When our SR5 Trail Edition tester arrived at the Metro Detroit office, it was on the tail end of a blast of winter weather that made its way through the state. But Jack Frost did not stop our tester from making a good first impression. The exterior styling is aging, but the Tundra still does a good job of projecting a certain sense of toughness and puts function over any sort of form.
A welcome change for 2021 is that the popular Army Green hue (formerly a TRD Pro exclusive) gets promoted to the main color lineup but remains exclusive to certain packages. This slick shade of green gave it a military-centric look and helped our SR5 Trail model look even more imposing. However, look past the vibrant paint and the splashes of chrome trim, and it’s very apparent that the Tundra is rapidly aging in the face of its competition. The 2021 Ford F-150 recently received a major update that included fresher exterior styling. It’s an evolution over the old model and, in the process, raises the bar for many of its rivals, including the Tundra.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad news for the Tundra, especially since there are still some gems to be found here. We liked the darkened wheels that the Trail Edition brings to the equation and the bed-mounted cargo rails, which proved very handy in securing bulkier items, including a wheelbarrow.
Tundra Interior Retains Spacious Vibe, But It’s Showing Its Age
While the exterior styling of the Tundra is facing an uphill battle against the rest of the pack, the interior is still one of the unsung heroes in the Tundra’s attempts at wooing the masses. The cabin is very spacious, and while our tester swapped out the higher grade leather thrones for a simpler set of cloth-appointed seating, the truck still proved to be a very comfortable place to spend time in. Leg and headroom are very abundant, with the Crewmax cab allowing passengers to have plenty of room to stretch out and relax.
However, space is also marred by some signs of its age, with hard cheap plastics and rubbery materials being present throughout the cabin. Customers looking to solve some of these ills will have to go all the way up to either the Platinum or 1794 Edition models, which swaps out some of the low rent stuff for higher quality plastics and leather trim. The Tundra also benefitted from some welcome updates to the infotainment system. At the same time, it’s still no match for some of the slicker units that Ford and Ram have in their trucks; the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability is a welcome change. The Android side of the equation helps eliminate some of the frustration that the Entune software is known for.
Visibility in the Tundra remains a mixed bag. The windshield gives you a commanding view of the road ahead, but the front pillars create very prominent blindspots. Thankfully the rear window delivers adequate visibility, and our tester also came equipped with a suite of standard driver-assist features, including blindspot monitoring.
Eight Cylinder Performance or Bust
As mentioned in some of our other encounters with the Tundra, the performance hardware here is politically incorrect and proud. With other rivals offering six or even four-cylinder engines, the Toyota’s V8-only lineup continues to be a very prominent quirk. The V8 is no slouch, though, with the burly eight-cylinder producing 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque. A rear-wheel drive is standard, but an all-wheel-drive system can be added as an option. A six-speed automatic serves as the other main indicator of the truck’s age and is a few cogs behind other transmissions that we have seen in the full-size pickup segment.
As a whole, the setup does fairly well, with the engine having a reasonable amount of eagerness and the transmission helping you get the right gear for acceleration runs. But once you get the Tundra up to speed, the transmission’s faults become evident with slow shifts and equally haphazard downshifts. Our Trail Edition’s off-road suspension helps smooth out ride quality when the Tundra is tasked with urban commuting, but sharp ruts do remind you of just how firm the suspension really is.
As expected, our tester’s power steering was over boosted with the sheer amount of numbness making itself felt during freeway speeds. Our tester had solid braking behavior, but the pedal is a bit mushy and delivers inconsistent feedback. While the Tundra will never be the most dynamic offering on the planet, the truck prefers to show its chops in towing. Toyota claims that properly equipped models can tow up to 10,200 lbs, with lesser models retaining a still-impressive 8,800 lb limit.
Pricing for the 2021 Toyota Tundra starts at $33,825 for a base SR model. Step up to the SR5 model, and you are greeted with a $35,515 base sticker. The SR5 is also where you will find the bulk of the Tundra packages, with each one adding to the sticker price. In our case, the Trail Edition package helped the base price go up to $41,020, with a mixture of other options helping the final sticker ring in at $48,970. That’s slightly less expensive than some comparable rivals, and the setup is a value-focused alternative to an all-out TRD Pro model.
But this figure also requires you to sacrifice a lot of the flexibility that some other trucks take for granted. You get one engine choice, you miss out on some crucial equipment, and there are rivals out there that have better technology and fuel-saving alternatives. That’s especially apparent if you slip into a new F-150 hybrid equipped with the on-board generator. The hybrid gets better fuel economy (the Tundra’s 13/17mpg figures are the worst in the full-size pickup class), and the generator has emerged as an unexpected star item for Ford with the setup not only allowing you to power your accessories but even your home as shown with recent events in Texas.
The 2021 Toyota Tundra is still an excellent entry for buyers that need a strong towing vehicle that’s not afraid to get its shoes dirty when it’s tasked with trail busting duties. However, it’s rapidly eclipsed by rivals in other areas, and when viewed in the bigger scheme of things, it’s falling rapidly behind. Here’s hoping that the next generation Tundra can fix some of these flaws and bring some new features into a segment that has exploded in popularity over the last few years.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.