Toyota Tundra offers only V8 option in ultra-competitive segment

Credit: Larry Chen

Credit: Larry Chen

Flexing its V8 moneymaker

The full-size pickup truck segment is one of the most closely watched segments in the automotive industry. This is the “moneymaker” for automakers who have a vehicle in the segment. It’s also where big engines rule, talk of fuel economy is scoffed at and MSRP stickers carry big prices.

My tester this week is one of the stalwarts here. The Toyota Tundra has one of the most enigmatic vehicles in this segment. It gets lost in the battle of the Big Three from Detroit which includes the best-selling vehicle in America, the Ford F-150. Yet, the Tundra remains a moneymaker for Toyota and has a loyal following.

Driving the 2021 Tundra, I can understand why. Is it the most luxurious? No. That’s not to say it’s not nice inside the Tundra as it is, including a cavernous back seat. Is it the most current and updated? No way, as the 2021 F-150 has the newest offering in the segment, including a hybrid version. Is it the most fuel efficient or most powerful? Again, no.

Yet, here is the ’21 Tundra, still doing its thing as an all-around solid pickup truck. Even with just a few updates for the ’21 model year, the Tundra still feels current. New for this year is the Trail Special Edition, which comes with a $4,000 add-on to the SR5 trim. My tester came with this Trail Special Edition.

The black exterior badging and dark gray finish on the wheels looked sharp. This look is exclusive to the Trail Edition and helps keep the Tundra looking current. A special grille also makes it stand out. Within this segment, standing out is all-too-important.

New for 2021 is the Nightshade Special Edition which adds black wheels, a darkened grille, black exhaust tips and black door handles. My tester didn’t have this, but I’ve seen photos. Honestly, this is where the Tundra looks best. The Nightshade is only $1,000 more, as opposed to the Trail Edition which is four times that.

The performance of the Tundra is where it felt a little behind the competition. Having recently driven the new F-150, with the hybrid powertrain, the Tundra’s big 5.7-liter V8 engine feels somewhat outdated. Despite having 381 horsepower and 401 lbs.-ft. of torque, the capable Tundra has a solid reputation. The six-speed transmission, however, is long in the tooth and is in desperate need of an upgrade.

Having only a V8 engine is appealing to some Tundra enthusiasts, but it’s also missing out on the newer technology that exists in this segment. Smaller engines and lighter trucks are outperforming the Tundra, giving it almost an old-school vibe.

Some Trail Special Edition features make their way inside, including black seats with gorgeous tan stitching as well as all-weather floor mats. Toyota says there is extra insulation the driver’s side door as well, which helps keep the road noise down. As mentioned, the back seat is cavernous and can rival any of the other trucks in this segment when it comes to legroom and comfort.

Toyota’s infotainment system is a Steady Eddy. While not overly impressive, it does now have Apple CarPlay. My tester, which was the CrewMax, gets an automatic upgrade to an eight-inch touchscreen. This still feels small when compared to the impressive – and bigger – screens in the Ram 1500 and the F-150.

As with most trucks, there are several trim levels with different bed configurations. One of the biggest things going for the Tundra is the price point. As today’s pickups soar in MSRP, the Tundra seems to have its pricing more under control, as evidenced by my tester which was the SR5 trim with the Trails Special Edition. Starting price for the SR5 CrewMax was $41,020. With the $4,000 Trail Special Edition package, plus the addition of running boards and a deck rail system and a few other packages, my tester had a final MSRP of $48,970, making it a well-priced V8 truck.

The V8 Tundra 4x4 has an EPA rating of 13 mpg/city and 17 mpg/highway. That is pretty antiquated when it comes to some of the more fuel-efficient options in the segment. Many truck consumers, however, don’t seem to care much about fuel economy. In a week’s worth of driving, I averaged around 14 mpg.

New looks from a truck with an old-school vibe keeps the Tundra relevant. Combine that with a sturdy V8 and a loyal customer base, and the Tundra remains competitive in the most financially crucial segment in the market.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist.


  • Price/As-tested price................................................ $41,020/$48,970
  • Mileage.......................................... 13 mpg/city; 17 mpg/hwy
  • Engine............................................. 5.7-liter V8
  • Horsepower................................. 381 hp/401 lbs.-ft.
  • Transmission................................. 6-speed automatic
  • Drive wheels................ 4-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point................ San Antonio, Texas

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