Before a brand new one arrives in 2022, the 2021 Toyota Tundra is here to tow mountains around with its 381 horsepower V8.
In less than a year’s time, Toyota will release the next generation of the Tundra, but today we take a look at the final iteration of a truck that cemented its parent company’s place in the full-size pickup truck market. The current Toyota Tundra gets a few new bells and whistles for 2021 and it continues to provide some of the most beneficial features both inside and out as it continues to battle rivals with newer designs. Here’s what makes the Tundra a worthy consideration for anyone in the market for a truck that can do it all.
The biggest additions to the 2021 Toyota Tundra lineup are a pair of appearance packages that go a bit beyond just the visible. First, the Nightshade Edition will come with black leather upholstery, black wheels, and black badging all around the truck. Next, a rarity in a world of “Special” editions, the Trail Special Edition will be perfect for Tundra owners with off-road aspirations. This complete off-roading package will get them as far off the road as they want to go. It comes with the same black badging and interior as the Nightshade edition, but also gets the same body-colored grille as the 1794 edition as well as special 18-inch wheels with all-terrain tires. True to its name, only 5,000 will be built.
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We love the standard safety features
The 5.7L V8 remains engaging and capable
Interior space is outstanding
Ride quality is less than impressive
Brakes are oddly calibrated
More configurations would be good
One of the most enjoyable features of the 2021 Toyota Tundra, the big V8 engine, is standard across the entire lineup of trim levels. It builds just shy of 400 horsepower and just over 400 lb-ft of torque. While certainly no drag racing monster, it can reach 60 mph in just 6.4-seconds, which puts it on par with many of its full sized truck rivals. Beyond the burly motor, it starts to show its age. Braking performance is perhaps the biggest letdown with what feels like unpredictable behavior depending on how you use the pedal. Brake hard and it seems to take an extra millisecond to really reign this rig in, but other times a quick stab of the brake to subtly slow the truck can result in bigger reactions than we’d expect.
Steering feel is somewhere between the first two attributes with solid on-center feeling that seems vaguer and vaguer the further away from center you get. That’s especially unsettling on tight roads and thin lanes as the Tundra doesn’t have the same nimble handling or visibility as basically every other truck on the market today. Of course, if its design and chassis weren’t nearly 15 years old it would likely fair better.
Again, the 2021 Toyota Tundra’s big engine is a feast or famine beast as it provides a maximum payload capacity of 1,730 pounds and a maximum towing capacity of 10,200 pounds. That keeps it seriously competitive in a field where some are only just catching up to that kind of performance. Of course, if you’re a buyer that will use the Tundra to tow often, it’s important to consider the hit that the already low fuel economy will take with a large load hitched to the back of this pickup.
While we love the engine in the Tundra there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s incredibly thirsty compared to current rivals. With a combined rating of just 14 mpg, it’s well below even middle-of-the-road trims from Dodge, Chevrolet, and Ford. In fact, it would be the worst in the segment if not for the RAM TRX, a 700 horsepower monster that still manages 12 mpg combined.
One of the best parts of the Tundra is the positively cavernous interior space found inside. Even the DoubleCab variant with the smaller backseat is big enough to transport adults on shorter drives without massive discomfort. The CrewMax with its full four doors is sincerely capable of hauling a family of 5 on a fun weekend out onto the trails without anyone suffering from being too cramped.
Over bumpy roads, it’s not as settled as its rivals, but the extra interior space makes that a little less annoying. We really like the seat cushioning that provides good support over longer trips. It’s also nice to have so many smaller storage spaces littered throughout the Tundra’s cabin. There’s even one under the rear seats of the CrewMax Tundra.
One thing we might change though, and surely Toyota will update on the next generation, is the outdated center control stack and the material quality throughout. In 2007, when this truck was introduced, this type of design and styling would’ve been innovative and cool, but today, it looks as old as it is. The SR and SR5 feel fine, but paying $45,000 or even $50,000 for this truck in its Limited or above trims feels like a questionable choice considering the offerings that rivals have provided for the same money.
The infotainment system in the 2021 Toyota Tundra is a mix of good and bad. While we don’t particularly like the Entune system itself, it’s one of the fastest to react when paired with a smartphone and on-screen touches react in much the same fashion as your personal device. The downside is that even with the upgraded JBL unit, it’s just not very intuitive or easy to use. Buyers that don’t opt for the high-end package will likely be disappointed by a system that doesn’t get very loud and doesn’t sound very good at higher volumes.
A high note of the 2021 Toyota Tundra is all of the excellent standard features including Adaptive Cruise Control, Auto High Beams, Lane Departure Warning, and an integrated brake controller. While the Tundra only received marginal scores from the IIHS and the NHTSA, these standard features are a step above many rivals.
For the money, the Toyota Tundra SR is an incredibly well-equipped truck. Start with standard features like Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Adaptive Cruise, Lane Departure Assist, and Forward Collision Mitigation. Add to it automatic high beams, a trailer brake controller, and a six-speaker sound system.
Step up to the SR5 and buyers will get an 8-inch touchscreen (one inch bigger than standard), fog lights, and a tilting, telescoping steering wheel. The best part of the SR5 is that almost any option is available at this level including the Trail Special Edition, the TRD Sport Package, and the Premium Audio package.
At the Limited level the luxury skyrockets with heated leather seats, LED lighting, 20-inch wheels, a power rear sliding window, a larger 38-gallon fuel tank, and dual-zone automatic climate control. This is also the trim level where the new Nightshade package becomes available.
The Toyota Tundra TRD Pro is a serious off-roader truck with a 2-inch lift, 18-inch BBS wheels with all-terrain tires, Fox shocks with remote reservoirs, Rigid Industries fog lights, a TRD skid plate, and a special TRD Pro only grille.
The Platinum trim is as posh as the Tundra gets with heated and ventilated front seats, a full leather interior, heated mirrors, an upgraded JBL Navigation and sound system, as well as a dark honeycomb grille.
The Tundra is covered for 3-years or 36,000 miles while the drivetrain is covered for a total of 5-years or 60,000 miles. All Tundra buyers get two years or 25,000-miles of complimentary maintenance. That’s also well above most rivals’ offers.
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Beyond die-hard Toyota fans, it’s hard to justify a 2021 Toyota Tundra over other brands in this truck segment. That is unless you’re looking at the SR or the SR5. Those two trims offer flexibility, outstanding standard safety features, and a great maintenance package for less than some competitors.