2022 Toyota Tundra Hands-On Impressions: Let’s Nerd Out With a Pre-Production Truck
Over-engineering is the name of the game, so we picked the brains of the Tundra’s design and engineering leads.
It's always a good sign to see dirt splatters and grass still hanging onto on a pre-production truck, even after it's been shined up everywhere else to be put on display. That was the case with the 2022 Toyota Tundras on display at a pre-reveal sneak peek, and every time various Toyota reps apologized for it, I was like, no way, this is great to see.
While I couldn't drive it yet, Toyota let me loose on a hockey rink full of Tundras to poke, press buttons in, jiggle and otherwise check out, and it also brought a few of the design and engineering staff to answer any questions I had about the truck. Needless to say, it looks to be pretty impressive—comfortable and logically laid out on the inside, with a focus on improving the things pickup owners actually use in clever ways. "Active aero" is a phrase I expect to hear from Toyota's Le Mans team, not from their pickup designers.
It's worth noting that these were pre-production trucks, complete with some rough edges. The luxury-focused 1794 Edition on display was missing some textured door panels that had smooth stand-ins, and the TRD Pro was missing the active air dam up front and one of the black strips for its driver's side A-pillar. It was still enough to get a good idea of what's to come when finished trucks hit dealerships later this year, and the parts that were finished out were really nice.
Here are the things that stood out from some hands-on time with the 2022 Tundra.
It Really Looks Better In Person
There's something about the photos of this truck that either flatten out all the features or worse, as Jason Torchinsky at Jalopnik pointed out, comically make the chrome brightwork on the grille look like Hulk Hogan's stupid mustache. Comerica Center's lighting for many of the press photos didn't help, either, as it's really geared more towards Zambonis than full-size pickups.
I was an avid hater of the design when it first slipped out in teasers, and thankfully, it's a lot more 3-D in person than you'd expect. It still plays into the big grille trend of the moment, and that still personally isn't my favorite. To me, the TRD Pro was the best looking of the bunch given that it lined its grille in body color instead of chrome, thus shrinking it a bit. Your tastes may vary, but either way, it's not quite the all-consuming void that it looks like in photos that angle up at the truck from below.
This is anything but a flat truck, too. It shows that off better in the video, but the headlights angle back pretty severely—to the point where Toyota was flirting with the edge of what kind of angles are legal for a headlamp—and the leading edge of the even the hood has a significant rounded edge down to the grille that felt easier to see over than the outgoing TRD Pro, for one—and that's coming from all 5'4" of me without a booster seat. Bonus: The vents in the front end are all functional this time, too. The vents under the headlights actually feed into the airbox and keep the 3.5-liter V6's twin turbos cool and happy.
I got Toyota Chief Exterior Designer Adam Rabinowitz to give me the full rundown on the new Tundra's design, and he even noted that adding some curvature into it was a big part of what the design team wanted—and got. It hasn't been watered down much from their original concept, either. So, give it a second chance when it shows up in the sheet metal.
Huge Aerodynamic Improvements Despite the Flat Front
Another thing that really surprised me was how much Toyota's designers spoke about hundreds of hours wind tunnel time. The last Tundra wasn't great on fuel economy, and while we've still yet to see the EPA figures for the new one, we at least know that improving that was a major focus in the new Tundra's design. They developed an active aero system with both grille shutters and an air dam that engage or disengage depending on different circumstances.
According to Tundra platform chief engineer Mike Sweers, just the air dam improves the truck's aerodynamics by 5%. The air dam is there to improve aero efficiency at highway speeds, but the engineering team noticed that it actually worsened the truck's fuel economy when towing. So, the air dam pops up and out of the way the second you plug in the connector for a trailer. Sweer said that pulling up the air dam improves the Tundra's coefficient of drag when towing by 26%.
The air dam is a resin part, meaning that it should both take some abuse and be fairly inexpensive to replace if you rip it off. There's a breakaway clutch that's there to prevent you from doing that, though—if the air dam bumps into something, it'll automatically pop the dam back up behind the bumper.
It isn't just the active stuff that's impressive, though. That wind tunnel time paid off all over in ways that are visible, such as in the shape of the roof and the shape of the front bumper. This is the first time I've seen a regular, non-street-truck-special-edition pickup come with a lip spoiler on its tailgate, for Pete's sake. Less visible is the reduction Sweers claims in the truck's coefficient of drag—a full 20%.
Toyota kept its popular slide-down rear window for this generation, which presented its own aerodynamic challenge. Dropping all the windows and letting the air flow through is rather pleasant on a nice day—heck, that's why I've avoided putting rear glass back onto my race car despite that being an obvious aerodynamic penalty. In the Tundra, though, that meant that stuff in the bed could blow back into the cabin through the rear window. Sweers, who uses his own Tundra to haul hay and encountered the issue of hay bits in the interior himself, put fixing this as a priority—and claims it has been, thanks to the extensive wind tunnel time that went into this new-generation truck.
Overengineering is a Theme Here
The customers Toyota's reps seemed to reference the most were the ones who complained about the Tundra's odometer not going high enough. Sweers even mentioned the fact that Toyota bought back a million-mile Tundra that worked in the oil industry, which—as anyone who's ever spent ample time in West Texas can back up here—is notoriously hard on its trucks. That truck held up pretty well aside from its beat-up steel bed, which directly influenced the switch to a lighter but more durable composite one.
Even then, Toyota tried to beef it up wherever they could. "How do we improve areas we don't have any concerns about?" Sweer asked. It's understandable—they have a reputation for reliability that precedes them, and is one of the reasons why a customer might purchase a Tundra over another pickup that tows or hauls more. There's a lot riding on this completely new design, too, especially since it's adding both a new engine as well as a hybrid to the Tundra for the first time.
One of the internal components they put on display was the new Tundra's 1.75-inch transfer case drive chain, which they brought out alongside the 1.25-inch one from an unnamed competitor's half-ton that uses transfer cases from the same supplier, Borg-Warner. They wanted key components like this to be extra strong, so it is noticeably thicker.
Toyota, of course, respectfully wouldn't name which competing truck's chain they brought to their party, but I do have a frame of reference: a 1.5-inch chain that got spat out of a Ford F-250 Super Duty—another oil and gas truck, and one in a higher class of trucks that's rated for much heavier loads. Here these chains are pictured alongside each other, because of course I had to put that barfed-out F-250 chain around my neck and wear it like a necklace for a blurry Instagram photo. This isn't to knock Ford per se because all bets are off with failures on heavily abused oilfield trucks, but it is mind-blowing that a Tundra now has a beefier transfer case chain than an F-250 Super Duty.
I got the chance to crawl under the TRD Pro with Sweers to look at exactly how beefy the most off-road-focused truck was under there, and it's damn impressive. I'm showing my inner bro here, but a front swaybar that's nearly as chunky as a standard Red Bull can is pretty impressive.
They also kept using a banjo-type locking rear differential. According to Sweers, banjo-type diffs are popular among off-road racers for being extra durable since the axle housing and the central "pumpkin" that holds for the differential's guts are one piece, thus eliminating a common failure point on off-roaders.
Even the textured "Technical Camo" urethane composite resin overfenders on the TRD Pro were thoroughly splattered in mud to see how they'd fare. The three-piece bumper also has a resin center piece because that's the section that gets damaged the most, often by towing mishaps. So, they made it out of resin to be inexpensive to replace.
The Interior Is Still Comfy
I did a lot of climbing around here to check out different components all over the truck, but that was before the adrenaline and painkillers wore off. My car had been hit in traffic the day before, and that finally caught up to me that afternoon, shortly after testing out if I could climb through the rear window. (I can!) So, I got the unpleasant surprise that my back's borked more than I initially thought. This is when I really put the interior to the test.
All of the trucks felt pretty nice and well-assembled inside, but the top-end ones—the 1794 Edition and TRD Pro—had the coolest looking interiors. Many of the interiors underlaid patterns underneath a perforated outer layer of leather to neat visual effects. On the TRD Pro, the pattern on the inside matched the "Technical Camo" pattern they used on the exterior accents. The TRD Pro interior also comes in bright red, which looks fantastic.
It was the 1794 Edition's ivory interior that looked the nicest, though, which checks out given that it's positioned as the most luxurious trim offered. That probably isn't the color I'd personally order given that I enjoy dirt a little too much, but it looked pretty swanky nonetheless. The dark brown and matte wood accents looked nice alongside the ivory leather and gave the whole interior a really upscale look.
Thus, the 1794 Edition was where I camped out for a while, adjusting the seat right where I needed it—and where I'd sit to drive if they'd have let me drive it off the stage. As with the last truck, visibility isn't bad for a full-size truck, likely thanks in part to the extra curvature at the end of the hood. It also carried over the general comfiness of the last truck, with the added bonus that both front and rear seats are available with heating and cooling. The front seat did a great job of temporarily soothing my back with both heat as well as solid lumbar support that I could place exactly where I needed it. The backseat on the CrewMax is still absolutely cavernous with tall-dude-worthy leg room.
The rest of the interior kept a lot of buttons in logical places, including the all-important volume knob for the stereo. The HVAC system and most of the drivetrain options are all buttons in easy to reach spots. The steering wheel is still full of buttons for key functions that are easy for a driver to hit with minimal distraction from the road, too. Toyota may have followed current trends on the Tundra's exterior, but the interior thankfully stuck with function over button-shedding minimalism.
The new 14-inch touchscreen sticks up out of the dash a little, but at least it's not a full tacky dashboard tombstone. There's a round search button in the bottom of his big touchscreen that feels out of place and covers part of the rest of the screen, which is pretty annoying, but that was really my only functional complaint. The more horizontal-style tablet allowed for some pretty large print, although I do wish they had used a bolder font to make it easier to see at a glance. All in all, though, it's a nice, clean looking, responsive user interface.
Regardless of whether you're down with the exterior or not—I see those takes in the comment section—the new Tundra looks and feels like an improvement over the last one, which was already a solid truck I liked. We'll find out soon if all this tech works as intended when we go for a test drive.
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