Tundra’s V-8 improves

The Toyota Tundra has emerged from a fresh makeover to tempt truckers with more content, updated styling and a more fuel-efficient engine added to the roster.

Breaking into the full-size pickup category has been a tough haul for nondomestic-based brands as Toyota’s product planners would likely attest. However, after years of effort, the automaker appeared to have finally devised the correct formula upon launching the Tundra for 2007. After all, its imposing design statement plus the inclusion of a class-topping 5.7-liter V-8 on the option sheet made this rig a key player in a segment where brute force wins plenty of respect, not to mention eager customers.

Following an auspicious debut, the Tundra seemingly hit a brick wall last summer when pump prices soared and fuel efficiency became the order of the day. The difficult economic state that followed further reduced demand for such vehicles, adding to the Tundra’s troubles.

To its credit, Toyota appears to have reacted in a timely manner to these challenging times by adding a smaller and more efficient V-8 engine capable of handling most everyday hauling and towing chores.

The base 236-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 and top-tuned 381-horsepower 5.7 V-8 carry over untouched, however Toyota has tossed aside the midlevel 276-horsepower 4.7-liter V-8 in favor of a 310-horsepower 4.6-liter unit. Along with the horsepower surge, the 4.6 carries a fuel-economy rating of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 20 on the highway. By comparison, the best that the outgoing rear-wheel-drive model with the 4.7 could muster was a 14/17 mpg city/highway rating, which was nearly identical to the 5.7 despite a 105-horsepower deficit.

Both V-8 Tundras operate using six-speed automatic transmissions, while the V-6 version uses a five-speed unit. Four-wheel-drive will be optional on V-8-powered trucks while the V-6 models are rear-wheel-drive only.

For 2010, the Tundra receives a redesigned grille and height-adjustable headlights. Base trucks now sport two horizontal grille bars (instead of three), while the Limited series shows off with a bolder and much classier chrome nosepiece.

The roomy cabin features plenty of stowage via a laptop-computer-swallowing console plus a two-level glove box, with the lower level redesigned for improved organization. Also added are segment-first driver- and front-passenger knee air bags.

Tundras will continue to be available in Regular Cab, extended-length Access Cab and four-door Double Cab configurations with its extrasized rear doors, which means plenty of combinations of trim/cab/drivetrain to choose from.

For 2010, the Tundra slides under the $24,000 price point, including destination charges, with a no-frills Work Truck Package. Here you can expect a vinyl-covered bench seat, rubber floor mats and a simplified instrument panel. The exterior displays an all-black bumper and grille as well as nonpower mirrors.

That price is based on V-6 regular cab units, but the Work Truck Package of nonfeatures can be applied to all engines and cab sizes.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a new Platinum Package is offered only on CrewMax Limited pickups equipped with the 5.7-liter V-8. Along with a full load of luxury content, there are heated and ventilated seats, power sunroof and a surfeit of simulated wood trim.

The adjustments to the Tundra will likely not result in any immediate spike in sales, but the new fuel-sipping engine choice allows this truck to more directly compete with the popular home-grown haulers, especially General Motors Corp. with its broad array of engines. That fact, along with an economy that will hopefully soon rebound, should have the Tundra working harder than ever as well as well as indulging in fewer pit stops.

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