Toyota Tacoma is one of the best selling mid-sized trucks on the market. It’s affordable, has a great aftermarket, plenty of options from the factory, and it is a very capable and dependable truck both on and off-road. What if you need something a little bigger? Toyota is no slouch to that market either, and can offer you the Toyota Tundra. It carries over many of the same attributes as its little brother, but bigger!
However, does bigger mean better? Let’s take a look to see how these two compare to each other. While I know there is a class difference between these trucks, it’s worth taking a look at in the event you can’t decide between which you want.
While both trucks have been on the market for some time, and both have undergone many changes over the years, we’re going to focus on the newest models as of writing this article. All of the information is based on the 2021 models listed on Toyota’s website and other sources.
* Options not available on all models
** Up to, with applicable packages/options
Trims, Sizes, and Prices
The Tacoma offers six trim levels (SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, Limited, and TRD Pro) and the Toyota Tundra offers six as well (SR, SR5, Limited, Platinum, 1794 Edition, and TRD Pro). Overall, each trim level offers the same amount of options for each truck. For example, the SR is going to be able to have the extra durable “work truck” features. The SR5 is where you can really build almost any truck you want, and you have the most options at your disposal.
Beyond that, things get a little different in terms of the type of options, but not amount of options. What does that mean? From the factory, the Tundra gives you more unique trim levels and is very TRD friendly. For example, TRD Sport is a trim level for the Tacoma, but only an option for the Tundra, and only available on certain trims. The more you look into it, the more you realize the Tacoma trims are more “playful,” while the Tundra ones seem more “sophisticated.”
The Tacoma offers the same Limited trim level that the Tundra does, but that’s where the luxury trims stop. If you want more luxury in the Tundra, you have to look into optional packages and features. The Tundra ups the luxury with two more trims: Platinum and 1794 Edition. The caveat is that it drops more of the sporty and off-road abilities as well. While Tacoma can tackle the wilderness in almost any trim with certain options, some of the Tundra trims seem best on the wild highways instead.
However, size and luxury comes at a price. Base models are almost $7,000 apart, and the highest priced models (without options) are about $9,000 apart. However, almost all trim levels can be drastically increased in price with Toyotas healthy amount of options (depending on the trim), but generally speaking, the Tundra will be more.
Toyota offers two well proven engines for the Tacoma that make respectable power, and are known to be quite reliable. The Tundra limits your options to one big and bad V8.
The Tacoma allows you to select the 2.7L four cylinder, or the 3.5L V6 depending on the trim. They make 159 and 278 horsepower and 180 and 265 foot pounds of torque respectively. The Tundra comes out swinging with 381 horsepower and 401 foot pounds of torque.
However, the bigger engine kills the mileage of the Tundra. While to be fair, you’re generally not buying a big and powerful truck to save the trees, it still could be a bit of a shock to your wallet. The four cylinder in the Tacoma allows up to 20 MPG in the city and 23 MPG on the highway. While not Prius numbers, that is very respectable for a truck designed to do hard work. The massive V8 in the Tundra only allows 13 MPG in the city and 18 MPG on the highway.
Tacoma offers a six speed manual and automatic transmission depending on the model. The Tundra only comes with a six speed automatic. While some are complaining that six speeds are now becoming outdated for automatics, the transmissions in the Toyotas are tried and true.
Towing and Off-Road
The Tacoma is known for being able to tow and carry pretty much anything, as well as being able to go anywhere. Tacoma and off-road go hand in hand. The TRD Pro is built for it, and there are package options for the other trims as well. Not enough from the factory? The aftermarket for the Tacoma is extremely vast. With the Tundra, the numbers may be bigger up front for towing and hauling, but off-roading the big brother is limited by being most feasible in only certain trims.
To take a look at the basic numbers again, the Tacoma can tow up to 6,700 pounds while the Tundra can tow up to 10,200 pounds. Payload capacity for the Tacoma is up to 1,685 pounds, and the Tundra is only a little more at 1,730 pounds.
If we really want to get carried away with the math, the Tacoma can tow 1.5 pounds for every pound it weighs, while the Tundra can tow 1.8 pounds for each pound of its curb weight. What’s even more impressive is that the 3.5L V6 in the Tacoma can tow about 24.1 pounds for every horsepower it makes, but despite the Tundra having a much larger V8 making 103 more horses, it only tows slightly more per horsepower at about 26.8 pounds for each pony.
As mentioned before, packages and options can make these trucks what you want, so you can make each do what you want. However, the Tacoma gives more off-road options compared to the Tundra’s more luxury options.
Colors, Interior, and Wheels
Both trucks can be pretty basic, or feel like a million bucks. If you want durable and plain materials on the inside, you can spec out the SR for that. The SR5 will be your all around “basic” truck, but both allow almost all of the options, aside from the premium ones. For those, the Limited and fancier trims give you access to the leather and an abundance of speakers standard. The higher the trim, the less options available because of so many high-end features being standard.
The TRD Pro models for each (and the other TRD models for the Tundra) actually limit the amount of luxury options, despite the high price. The TRD models come with their own unique colors, trims, and logos, but focus more on performance compared to absolute luxury.
Almost all trim levels come with a wide assortment of familiar Toyota color options. More premium models (such as the 1794 Edition) limit your options, but offer more exclusive choices in place of that.
Trucks have always had an element of style to them, and Toyota knows that. Wheels are the best way to show off your ride, so they made some great factory options. Each truck offers different size options depending on trim and packaging. Unique options come with TRD models and luxury models like the Platinum and 1794 Edition Tundras. 20 inch wheels can be found on more street and luxury oriented trims, while slightly smaller ones will be used on off-road packages. Both apply to each truck.
Let’s face it… Both trucks are fantastic. They work well, are dependable, are reliable, have plenty of factory options, and both have healthy aftermarkets. If you’re concerned about gas mileage, but still want to be able to tow your boat on the weekends, the Tacoma is for you. While luxury is a possibility, sport is the main focus of any trim above the SR on the Tacoma.
If you need to tow a lot, like big trucks, and/or want extreme luxury, the Tundra is for you. While being off-road is no problem for the TRD Pro trim, most of the Tundra trims are for utilitarian work and luxury. Both trucks prove that “go big or go home” doesn’t always mean that size is the main focus! Think about your needs, check out the options and prices, and get the Toyota that works for you.
2021 Tacoma Exterior - Courtesy of Car and Driver
2021 Tacoma Interior - Courtesy of 2021Tacoma.com
2021 Tundra Exterior - Courtesy of Car and Driver
2021 Tundra Interior - Courtesy of Car and Driver