If you’ve read some of our posts before you may have seen we did one on the history of the Toyota Tacoma. We don’t want to leave the big brother out! The Tundra is and has been an extremely capable and well selling truck. From off-road, to pulling, and just driving around on the streets for business and pleasure, the Tundra is a favorite with truck owners. Let’s learn a bit about where it comes from.
The Tundra all started with the T100 pickup. The Tacoma was originally introduced in North America because Toyota realized that a lot of the North American truck market used trucks as daily drivers, and not just work vehicles. Toyota also realized that the North American market also wanted bigger trucks. In 1992, the Toyota T100 came onto the market to answer this.
While it did come with an 8 foot bed, it still was not the overall size of its American counterparts. It was larger compared to the Tacoma at the time, but this caused the T100 to fall into a strange midsized pickup class. Popular now, but not quite known at the time. This was reflected in the sales as numbers were slow at the start.
The truck was almost doomed from the beginning. There was no extended cab, and no V8 option. The biggest engine you could get would be the V6 that you found in the smaller Tacoma. Any time that a new model American truck came on the market, sales seemed to suffer more and more. Toyota was forced to go back to the drawing board.
First Generation (2000-2006)
In 1999, Toyota started announcing a better version of a full size pickup called the T150 since it shared many similarities with the T100. Expectedly, Ford stepped in and did not allow that. While some of the cosmetics remained the same, the now newly renamed “Tundra,” set records.
To get the American people onboard, the truck was to be made in America. Toyota Motor Sales group vice president and general manager Don Esmond said, “It needed to be built in America because it needed to offer better value.” Beyond that, it was the first ever full size pickup to be made by a Japanese company. Production began in May 1999 (for the 2000 model year) at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana. There is where you can see the first Tundra ever made sitting on display in the lobby.
While the T100 offered up to a V6, a V6 was the base engine for the Tundra. The V6 you could get was the 24 valve 3.4L V6 that produced 190hp and 220 foot pounds of torque. New to the scene was the 4.7L "i-Force" V8 engine that produced 245hp and 315 foot pounds of torque.
Not only was the new V8 powerful, but it was the first 32 valve V8 in its class, and it was the first V8 engine to earn a “low emissions vehicle” emissions classification from the EPA. However, if you wanted to ignore all that and focus on performance, TRD offered a supercharged version of the V6 and the V8.
All those records and numbers did not go unnoticed. Sales were double the rate of the T100, and the 2000 model received Motor Trend's Truck of the Year award and Best Full Size Truck award from Consumer Reports. Not too bad for the new kid on the block.
With the correct packages and options, the Tundra also had a towing capacity of up to 7,200 pounds and a payload capacity of up to 1,924 pounds.
In 2002, there was a bit of a front end makeover for the Tundra, and a stepside version was also released. One the more interesting models came out in 2003 called the “T3,” and it was to be a special edition related to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Black with special “T3” badges and 17 inch wheels made this Tundra look pretty darn cool. The Tundra was featured prominently in the movie as the vehicle for the Emery Animal Hospital, which took part in the big chase scene of the movie.
In 2004, Tundra went after the Honda Ridgeline and Ford F-150 by having a bed that was nearly 5 inches longer. The interior got some updates as well taking hints from the Sequoia. The next year, the powerhouses under the hood got some changes too.
A 4.0L V6 was added which was rated at 236hp and 266 foot pounds of torque. The 4.7L V8 reminaed, but it was updated with Toyota's VVT-i “variable valve timing” technology. It was bumped up to 282hp.
In 2006, another special edition called the Darrell Waltrip Edition was released. It was to honor the NASCAR driver and his participation in the NASCAR Truck Series. In that year the Tundra also received a "Good" overall in their frontal offset crash test. It was the first full size truck to receive such a score.
By the end of the first generation, the Tundra had a towing capacity of up to 7,100 pounds and a payload capacity of up to 2,025 pounds. This was not a big difference from the start in 2000, but they were respectable numbers for the time.
Second Generation (2007 - Present)
In the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, Toyota showed the world its bigger and badder Tundra. Not only did it look different and grow in size, but it was more powerful by offering a new engine option: the 5.7L V8 mated to a six speed automatic transmission. The engine made 381hp and 401 foot pounds of torque. The 4.7L V8 and 4.0L V6 were still options as well, but power didn’t change much for them.
Towing capacity was bumped up to 10,600 pounds with a payload capacity of up to 1,750. This was a huge increase from the first generation, and it made for some serious competition with the Big Three.
The second generation Tundra was released with 31 configurations. There was the option of three bed lengths, three cab configurations, three wheelbases, three engines, and two transmissions.
While creature comforts were never overlooked, Toyota knew the truck had to remain a truck at heart. While of course the power and towing was there, larger door handles, deck rail systems, an integrated tow hitch, and other features were added so the “truck” roots were not forgotten. A limited slip differential, stability control, traction control, and many other features became standard.
TRD left its mark with many changes as well, including the Rock Warrior package. While color options were limited, upgrades like the 17-inch TRD forged aluminum wheels, LT285/70R-17 BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A tires, Bilstein shocks, and color-matched front bumper and grille made up for it.
2014 introduced the platform that we are used to today. It also unveiled the 1794 Edition, which was focused on extreme luxury, for those who wanted a truck, but never intended to use it off-road. However, you could if you wanted to. In 2015, the TRD Pro was added to the lineup, and the 4.0L V6 was finally dropped.
As time went on, Tundra focused more on a “bigger is better” mantra. The 5.7L V8 was the only engine choice, and the Double Cab became the entry level size. While some fans may have been disappointed, Toyota focused on what most truck people wanted. The rest can go drive a Tacoma!
2000 Tundra - Courtesy of Consumer Guide
T3 Tundra - Courtesy of MotorTrend
Terminator Tundra - Courtesy of IMCDb
2006 Tundra - Courtesy of Kelly Blue Book
2013 Tundra - Courtesy of The Car Connection
2014 Tundra - Courtesy of Edmunds2021 Tundra - Courtesy of Car Scoops