It's hard not to feel a bit melancholy about the passing of the torch from the outgoing 2021 Toyota Tundra to the next one. The current Tundra feels a bit like the thinking person's truck, forgoing many—not all, but many—of the excessively macho design flourishes, leaving behind a truck that simply works. The new one for 2022 appears to have given into some of those design trends, so here's hoping it looks better in person. Meanwhile, the less flashy '21 model is still great inside and out, towing or not, on-road and off.
After spending a couple weeks with the 2021 Tundra TRD Pro CrewMax, I can confidently say that it still holds up against many of the competing trucks out there. This second-gen Tundra has been with us since 2007, with its last significant refresh in 2014. Yet its relatively conservative updates over the years have been sensible items that just work and the 5.7-liter V8 (that's not long for this world in this truck) is a smooth, torquey wonder that makes towing—despite its sub-10,000-pound max capacity—a breeze.
Thus, towing a race car is exactly what I did with the Tundra TRD Pro. I hauled my deeply questionable 1971 Volkswagen 411 out to the Gambler 500 Mexico based out in Terlingua, Texas, near Big Bend. The 411 struggles with both hills and highway speeds, and a large chunk of Texas Hill Country and freeway stood between myself and desert Gambler glory. As much as an old aircooled VW belongs in the desert, I also didn't feel like leaving it stranded out there for the second time in a month.
A Gambler 500 run also provided plenty of opportunities for it to do actual truck stuff—not just towing, but hitting a few trails in the area. It's time to test a truck out in nature where it really belongs.
2021 Toyota TRD Pro CrewMax, By the Numbers
- Base price (as tested): $34,025 ($55,014)
- Powertrain: 5.7-liter V8 | 6-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive with selectable 4WD and low range
- Horsepower: 381 @ 5,600 rpm
- Torque: 401 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
- Curb weight: 5,640 lbs
- Bed size: 66.7" long | 66.4" total width | 50" width between wheelwells | 22.2" depth
- Ground clearance: 10.6 inches
- Maximum tow capacity: 9,200 lbs
- Maximum payload: 1,560 lbs
- Fuel capacity: 38 gallons
- EPA fuel economy: 13 mpg city | 17 highway | 14 combined
- Quick take: The Toyota TRD Pro CrewMax may have a silly fake hood scoop, but it's the real deal everywhere else.
The Yeehaw Trim
The TRD Pro is the most off-road-focused of all the Tundras, with TRD standing for the marque's Toyota Racing Development fun stuff department. It comes stock with Rigid Industries fog lights that look exactly like the kind of thing you'd impulse-buy from 4 Wheel Parts, and it rides on black 18-inch TRD Pro-specific BBS alloy wheels. TRD Pro leather-trimmed front bucket seats help hold you in place, the TRD Pro front skidplate protects the most important bits off-road and the power moonroof lets you admire wherever it is that you've ended up from inside the car.
The TRD Pro comes with TRD-tuned Fox shocks with piggyback reservoirs and three-stage compression dampening. Those fancy lil' reservoirs are designed to increase fluid capacity and keep more of it out of the main shock assembly itself, keeping said fluid cooler and enabling you to mess around on rough terrain for longer without as much shock fade or wear to the whole system. Overall, though, those three letters don't get you as much here as they do on some of Toyota's other trucks. While the TRD Pro Tacoma and 4Runner are among the most capable off-road vehicles in their classes, the Tundra TRD Pro's size, age, and lack of advanced off-road features like a locking rear differential mean its firmly in the "more capable than your average truck" camp and definitely not a Raptor hunter.
Under the hood is Toyota's beloved 5.7-liter V8 cranking out 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque that gets sent through a six-speed automatic transmission—did I mention this truck has been around since the Bush administration? The TRD Pro features a four-wheel-drive system with an electronically controlled transfer case, making it as easy as turning a dial to engage four-high and four-low. Toyota thankfully expected this 14-mpg-combined truck to do some thirsty work and gave it a 38-gallon fuel tank accordingly.
This test truck also wore TRD's trippy Lunar Rock paint, which shifts from looking bluish to greenish depending on the light. I'm generally anti-grey on cars as I miss real colors, but Lunar Rock is simply weird enough that it won me over.
The "CrewMax" part of this truck's name denotes that it's the big four-door cabin—as opposed to the Double Cab with its half-size rear doors—which sacrifices some bed space in the name of putting big old Cadillac broughams to shame in the interior space department. There's only a 5.5-foot bed to compensate for the extra people space, and while that's great for someone like me who does have a number of tools, manuals and spares for the race car she'd rather keep out of the elements, whether that's enough for you will obviously depend on your own needs.
Haulin' in the Toyota Tundra
The best toys all too often need a trailer. This is the case with the highly questionable beaters I love, including and especially a rich-running, farty, slow Volkswagen I planned on driving all over unpaved parts of Big Bend that might or might not break it. (For what it's worth, the VW didn't completely break, but my wheeling partner Charles did have to clean off fouled spark plugs with sandstone along the side of one of the longer trails. Don't off-road alone, folks.)
The good news is that the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro is a dream to tow with, comfortably appointed inside and more than capable at handling it. With a tow capacity of just 9,200 pounds, a car on a trailer won't completely disappear behind it as it would with a more heavy-duty truck. You will notice the extra weight every now and then on steeper grades, though the naturally-aspirated engine's smooth and predictable torque curve make it easy to handle.
However, Toyota does include a Tow/Haul button to compensate on the uphill climbs where you are most likely to remember that there's a trailer behind you trying (and mostly failing) to drag you back downhill. Press the Tow/Haul button, and the Tundra holds lower gears longer, adding engine braking to help slow the truck down on downhills while also giving it extra oomph for uphills. Eat turds, physics!
Tow/Haul mode comes at a price, though—at the fuel pump. Under normal, non-towing conditions, the Tundra's rated by the EPA for 17 mpg on the highway. I found that was a pretty accurate figure, even with my heavy foot. Combine that foot with a towing a car on an open trailer in Tow/Haul mode, though, and at one point on one of the gnarlier climbs out to the Gambler 500, I saw 7.4 mpg on the Tundra's dashboard. To be fair, though, that number hovered around a more generous 10 mpg on other, flatter parts of the tow where I only used Tow/Haul as needed.
There is another potential cost while towing with the Tundra, too: That 5.7-liter V8 moves, even with a car behind it. Take your eyes off the speedometer for too long, and you might start sweating buckets whenever Waze barks out "police reported ahead." You won't be wanting for power to pass slower traffic, even on uphills.
Meanwhile, the interior is particularly well-suited to a long haul. Lining up the tow hitch is a breeze with the rear-view camera, a reminder that the advanced trailering tech offered by brands like GMC is, at its core, a luxury, not a necessity. The driver's side has a heated 10-way power adjustable seat, and the passenger side gets a heated six-way power seat. Both provided plenty of support, even for sore backs. All of the most frequently used controls for the stereo and HVAC system have physical knobs and buttons that won't distract you from the road like screen-based controls do. The 12-speaker JBL audio system sounds great to my admittedly non-audiophile ears, too.
There's both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto if you want to use those instead, but honestly, the stock infotainment system in the Tundra is pretty decent and easy to use. The entire system was upgraded in 2020, and it was a much-needed one. The navigation system even displays the speed limit (which you'll need) and real-time traffic data, although the traffic information was a little paranoid at times, showing clogs that either cleared already or weren't as big a deal as the system marked them to be.
Bonus: When it's time to unload, the center console is downright cavernous, making it the perfect spot to hide valuables out of sight while you fiddle with a trailer. I was able to stuff both my small DSLR bag as well as my purse in there with a little bit of space to spare.
Pavement Is Boring, So Don't Use It
A surprise to absolutely no one, the VW that was already running rich 2,000 feet below Gambler 500's home base in Terlingua was sputtering and crapping out at elevation. So, I took the Tundra out with some Gambler 500 cars on a narrow, rocky two-track trail up Christmas Mountain. This was one of the more difficult trails they picked, and worst case, maybe a bone-stock modern truck could help out if something went wrong.
As a full-size pickup, the Tundra TRD Pro is frankly too large to compete with rigs like the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco that are built for more hardcore rock crawling, but it shines on the kinds of overland trails the Gambler 500 uses. These events expect—nay, encourage—you to bring a long lifted land yacht, after all. Case in point: The car I followed up the mountain was a Chevrolet Cavalier on fat tires and the bounciest, most worn-out suspension I've ever seen. Always be gamblin', send it, etc.
The Tundra TRD Pro was just effortless on those narrow gravel trails. 4-High was all that was needed, airing the tires down to 28 PSI gave it more than enough grip, and 10.6 inches of ground clearance plus relatively short overhangs made the rock-strewn trail a breeze. The engage-via-knob 4WD system just figures it out whenever one wheel slips, and you can feel whenever it catches and grips its way over obstacles.
The big CrewMax Tundra's biggest nemesis off-road (or anywhere) is its length. At 228.9 inches long, there were a few tight hairpins that became multiple-point turns, but it managed. It also already had a little squeak in the steering column, but then again, it had well over 8,000 miles when we got to Big Bend—and those are rough as hell press car miles, which might as well be 80,000 miles.
I did finally test out 4-Low in a different, more pedestrian place: Circuit of the Americas' unpaved parking lot after its very wet NASCAR race. 4-High wasn't enough, but 4-Low? It hooked right up in the mud and pulled the big, 5,640-lb Tundra out of there with ease.
Obligatory IKEA Run
The Tundra hauled a car and its modest load of spare parts and tools roughly a thousand miles on a heavy U-Haul rental trailer. The bed comes with handy tie-downs along the side for big stuff, and full bedliner is an option if you need it. Your furniture and/or meatballs will be fine.
Seriously, Pavement Is Boring—And That's Good
To reach the great outdoors, I still had to get out of the city. Believe it or not, it wasn't the off-road hairpins, but rather, tight city parking lots that made me wish the Tundra came with a full 360-degree camera. Sadly, it does not.
Away from those risks, seriously—the pavement is downright boring. This is a huge truck, but doesn't drive like one at all. This is one of the more easy-to-maneuver pickups I've tested, plus it wasn't super bouncy as it dealt with most of the bumps Austin's garbage pavement could throw at it. That lovely, smooth V8 gets it up to speed fast on freeway on-ramps. While I wish the fake hood scoop wasn't there, the less showy, less slab-like front end design made the front easier to see over than many other new pickup models, too.
As much as I make fun of normcore suburban dads who roll around in half-tons to drop off kids, if you do need something that can also haul big toys or head to more remote spots on road trips, this ain't a bad choice for that. Look, most of us have limited parking, and this is a good choice for a truck that can handle a little bit of everything.
The interior is downright cavernous on the CrewMax, including in the back seat. The rear doors alone are massive. This tester even came with muck-proof rubber floor mats that ran across the entire width of the rear floorboard. In that respect, it's overkill in a good way for daily-driving, so I recommend avoiding the pavement as much as possible out of principle.
A Long-Proven Truck That Holds Up
This might be a reflection of Texas more than anything, but of all the test vehicles I've driven over the years, few got as much earnest attention as the Tundra, even now with this generation on its way out the door. Supercars get an "ooh, nice" and a few raised smartphones, but it's the Tundra of all things that prompted strangers to snoop all around the interior, climb in the bed and pop the hood. Existing Tundra owners want to have a closer look at the new one.
This is a truck regular people buy, and when it comes to the general interest in this thing, it probably doesn't hurt that I live in the region where it's built. You won't see many Tundras with Calvins peeing on Ford logos or whatever, but that's part of the appeal. It's practical and useful and doesn't necessitate taking a side in America's eternal truck wars, and that reputation precedes it among people who have to use it for tougher stuff like towing a race car.
It's a truly beloved truck, and for good reason. The TRD Pro version exceeded the high bar set by its reputation. As far as higher-but-sub-Raptor-level performance trims go, I like that it's one of the less shouty looking versions—even with the fake hood scoop—as that actually makes it easier to live with than the equivalent Silverado or F-150.
A pickup doesn't need to look cartoonishly macho. It just needs to work, and at this point in its long life cycle, the TRD Pro is a combination of proven parts that does.
- Stef Schrader' />
Got more details on the '22 Tundra? Email the author at [email protected].