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Review: The 2019 Toyota Tundra pickup fails to impress

Key Points
  • While competitors have undergone dramatic redesigns, the Tundra hasn't been fully redone in over a decade
  • It has a fantastic reputation for reliability
  • The Tundra feels clumsy and old. It needs an update.
The 2019 Toyota Tundra pickup truck
CNBC | Mack Hogan

The full-size pickup truck market has never been hotter, with Fiat Chrysler's Ram and General Motor's Chevy duking it out second place in sales behind Ford. All three big American companies are constantly refreshing their lineups to cling to any advantages over the competition.

That's big trouble for Toyota, which hasn't completely redesigned its Tundra pickup since 2007. It's received a slew of updates and a large refresh in 2014, but sales have always lagged behind the big three in Detroit. In a segment of six, the Tundra is the fifth-place finisher, besting only Nissan's Titan in sales.

After a week with one, it's not hard to see why. It's well built and isn't as pricey as the American trucks, but we still wouldn't recommend one.

The 2019 Toyota Tundra pickup truck
CNBC | Mack Hogan

The good

As of last week, there have now been two Toyota Tundras of this generation that have reached one million miles on their original transmissions. That's a seriously impressive feat, a testament to the reputation Toyota trucks have long maintained for unbeatable reliability.

Part of that comes from simplicity. For the buyers that bemoan Ford moving toward turbocharging, Ram putting in mild-hybrid systems and GMC offering tailgates that fold in a variety of ways, the Tundra's old-school style may be refreshing.

It's got a 5.7-liter V-8 linked to a six-speed transmission, providing 381 horsepower. It's not the most powerful engine in its class, but it offers more than enough power to work in day-to-day life without taxing the motor. There's enough reserve power that it'd be fine loaded up with gear, people and a trailer.

The 2019 Toyota Tundra pickup truck
CNBC | Mack Hogan

Plus — though Toyota still has a lot to learn from American trucks in other categories — the Japenese company has certainly matched the in-your-face, bombastic styling of the big three. The Tundra looks like a sledgehammer, with a broad and aggressive face and oversized details. Our $46,610 tester looked alright, but in TRD Pro guise the Tundra is a mean looking machine.

It also came in about $17,000 cheaper than the last Ram we tested, though it was significantly lighter on feature content and lacked the Ram's crew cab, bed liner and integrated bed cargo system. Credit to Toyota, though, for including active safety features like forward collision warning in all Tundras.

The bad

The downside of two current-generation Tundras having hit one million miles is that it draws attention to just how long the truck has been on sale. In a rapidly changing market, the Tundra feels ancient. It's by far the oldest vehicle in the segment. 

The 2019 Toyota Tundra pickup truck
CNBC | Mack Hogan

The infotainment system is far behind the competition; Ram offers a 12-inch portrait touch screen, but Toyota makes do with a screen that looks largely the same as it did in 2014. The interior materials are hard plastics that look cheap and it's behind on tech.

Most notably, the newest crop of huge trucks offer 360-degree cameras and self-parking systems to help drivers manage the behemoths. The Tundra doesn't, a shame since it feels more unwieldy than other full-size trucks.

The 2019 Toyota Tundra pickup truck
CNBC | Mack Hogan

It lumbers around without a sense of poise or refinement, making it hard to place the truck where you want it. It, of course, didn't help that the Tundra we tested was equipped with the longer bed option. Even still, the handling was poor.

Power, as mentioned, was adequate. Unfortunately, the old-school way that the Tundra makes the power isn't particularly efficient. The Tundra with the 5.7-liter V-8 is rated for 17 miles per gallon on the highway, while a Ram 1500 with a 5.7-liter V-8 is good for 21 mpg on the highway. Add the eTorque mild hybrid option and that climbs to 22 mpg.

The 2019 Toyota Tundra pickup truck
CNBC | Mack Hogan

And then it comes to luxury. Pickup truck buyers are increasingly opting for more expensive, more optioned trucks. The Tundra offers none of the refinement of the luxurious trims of the competition and the options list is significantly shorter.

Of course, longtime truck buyers might not care about tech or luxury features. Complaining about those things may come off as missing the point. And to some extent, they're right. If the Tundra was more capable than its rivals, a lot could be forgiven.

Unfortunately, it's not. The Tundra is not the most powerful, it doesn't tow the most and it doesn't have a higher payload capacity than its rivals. Rivals also offer more engine choices, more cab configurations and things like corner steps and in-bed locking storage that make work duties more manageable.

The 2019 Toyota Tundra pickup truck
CNBC | Mack Hogan

Final thoughts

The Tundra makes sense for some buyers. If your primary focus is on reliability, there's a solid argument to be made that this is the most dependable vehicle on sale. If you are fine with the options it offers, it can also undercut similarly equipped trucks from the Detroit brands.

But you'll always be aware of the lower price. The Tundra feels substantially cheaper than rival trucks. It's not as comfortable, quiet or livable. It feels clumsy, unlike the pseudo-luxury experiences offered by top-trim rivals.

It's also not the most capable or configurable truck. We can't argue that it's unbelievably reliable and extremely well built, but in a fiercely competitive segment that isn't enough to offset the Tundra's downsides.

The 2019 Toyota Tundra pickup truck
CNBC | Mack Hogan

Rating:

Exterior: 3.5

Interior: 1.5

Driving experience: 2

Value: 2.5

Overall: 2.4

Price as tested: $46,610

*Ratings out of 5

The 2019 Toyota Tundra pickup truck
CNBC | Mack Hogan