The 2018 Toyota Tundra feels a lot like throwback Thursday.
Refreshed for 2018, the Tundra offers two thirsty V8 engines and an outdated six-speed transmission. Its 7-inch touchscreen is small with poor resolution. It has three cigarette lighters but only one USB port. Compared with fully modernized trucks like Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ 2019 Ram 1500 that has a 12-inch screen and five USB ports, the Tundra feels more like a horse and buggy.
Safety is one area where the 2018 Tundra is ahead of the game. Every trim, from the base Tundra SR to the fully loaded Platinum, comes standard with automatic emergency braking and the Toyota Safety Sense P package.
Known as TSS-P, the package pairs radar with an exterior camera to provide the 2018 Tundra with advanced collision avoidance features.
The safety technology is simple to operate. And it works. The Tundra easily follows the car ahead at a set distance, nudges itself back into its own lane and applies the brake when it senses slowing traffic or pedestrians.
Toyota’s decision to apply TSS-P to the Tundra and other vehicles will lower the cost of those systems and improve its brand image, said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst at IHS Markit.
Others are likely to follow in its footsteps.
“Safety feature availability rarely moves backward,” Brinley said. “We should expect continued availability of the features.”
Pricing is another strong point. A base 2018 Toyota Tundra with the extended double cab (single cab Tundras are no longer available) starts at $31,120. That’s less than a comparable 2018 Titan at $32,750. It’s also less than a double cab Ford F-150 with a V8 engine at $33,690.
But Toyota still trails other full-size trucks where it counts.
Ford, General Motors and FCA accounted for nearly 93 percent of sales in the full-size pickup truck segment in 2017, according to industry research firm Autodata Corp. Without heavy-duty variations to offer, Toyota captured less than 5 percent.
The engine in the 2018 Toyota Tundra that Trucks.com tested is a 5.7-liter V8 with 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. It is gutsy, powerful and fun to press to the floor. But it is far from efficient. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 2018 Tundra with a 5.7-liter engine at 13 mpg in city driving, 17 mpg on the highway and 14 mpg overall.
By contrast, the Ford F-150 offers five engine choices with a turbodiesel option that is expected to reach 30 mpg on the highway. Most of the F-150 engines are more powerful than the Tundra’s big V8. All of them are more efficient.
Other trucks are also debuting efficient technology. The tech-heavy Ram 1500 has a mild hybrid system. GM revised its 2019 Chevrolet Silverado with three engines, a 10-speed transmission and up to 450 pounds of weight reduction.
Still, the Tundra has been a success, said Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights for auto price forecasting firm ALG.
“It conveys ruggedness, durability and capability in a sector of the industry where these factors heavily influence consumer sentiment and demand,” Lyman said.
Those attributes lend the Tundra a tough image that trickles down to Toyota’s other light trucks, a category that includes pickups, crossovers and SUVs.
Toyota sold more than 1.2 million light trucks in 2017, a 10 percent lift compared with 2016. That is a significant achievement, Lyman said, especially since trucks and SUVs generate higher profit margins than smaller cars.
The 2018 Tundra enters a rapidly growing truck market with a slight refresh rather than a full makeover. When it debuted at the 2017 Chicago Auto Show it did not appear to be much different from the previous version. Small exterior design changes mark only a slight departure. The TripleTech frame that is part fully boxed and part open C-channel, as opposed to the fully boxed frame its competitors use, remains unchanged.
Though its engine will not save any gas money, the Tundra provides the grunt necessary for job sites. Its maximum payload capacity is 1,730 pounds, and maximum towing is 10,200 pounds. The ride is comfortable with little outside wind or road noise.
Inside, the Tundra Platinum trim comes with perforated leather front seats that are both heated and cooled. Double-stitched leather adorns the dashboard and door insets. The Tundra offers a pleasant blend of premium materials — despite an antiquated interior design — that help it keep pace with the ultra-luxe trucks on offer today.
And the Tundra has a sterling reputation for resale value. Citing its reputation for quality and durability, ALG named the Tundra its Residual Value Award winner in the full-size pickup truck segment for the sixth consecutive year.
“I think the Tundra has a huge opportunity to continue to appeal to the casual truck owner,” Lyman said.
To do that, the Tundra will need to fend off growing Nissan Titan sales. Nissan sold nearly 53,000 Titan and Titan XD trucks in 2017, a 142 percent increase compared with 2016. That contributed to Tundra’s market share slip from 5.1 percent in 2016 to 4.9 percent last year.
Jack Hollis, sales chief of Toyota in the U.S., told Trucks.com at the Detroit auto show that Toyota is looking to the future of the Tundra.
“With the next-generation truck, we will grow our business, we will grow the footprint, we will grow in volume,” Hollis said.
Until then, the 2018 Tundra will be expected to hold its position in the full-size pickup wars. Standard safety equipment presents a strong opportunity to lure buyers in a segment that saw 2.37 million sales in 2017.
“I believe they need to lean in on those attributes and intercept first-time pickup truck buyers,” Lyman said. He added that Toyota has made impressive progress since entering the full-size pickup market in 1999 and won’t back down now.
“Continued reinvestment in the Tundra is a no-brainer,” he said.