2020 Toyota Tundra Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | May 21, 2020

Introduction

Sometimes, you just need a truck. Something simple. Something that gets the job done. Something that can withstand significant abuse and lasts for a long time. The 2020 Toyota Tundra is that kind of truck.

Toyota didn’t intend this mission for the Tundra, but when you fail to redesign your large light-duty pickup for nearly 15 years and the competition keeps improving, well, the outcome is predictable. The flip side of building the same widget year after year after year is that you perfect the design, which might explain why the Tundra is the highest ranked vehicle in its segment in terms of dependability, according to the 2019 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study.

If you’re seeking a wide variety of cab styles, bed lengths, trim levels, and powertrains, the 2020 Tundra is not the right truck for you. It comes in extended cab or crew cab styles, and every Tundra has the same thirsty, gasoline V-8 engine under the hood. Trim levels include SR, SR5, Limited, TRD Pro, Platinum, and 1794 Edition, and prices are reasonable relative to the competition.

2020 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro Army Green Front View

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Tundra TRD Pro Crew Max equipped with all-weather floor liners, door sill protectors, tube-style steps, a spray-on bedliner, and a black tailgate badge. The price came to $56,191, including the $1,595 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Tundra, it is helpful to understand who buys this large light-duty pickup, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Compared to the segment as a whole, more Tundra owners are female (13% vs. 10%), and Tundra owners skew a little younger in terms of median age (53 years of age vs. 55) and a little more affluent in terms of median annual household income ($115,927 vs. $110,282). More than half of Tundra owners identify as members of Generation X or Y (54% vs. 48%).

Though the Tundra has been built in San Antonio, Texas since 2006, only 49% of owners agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (vs. 81% for the segment). 

Quality and reliability are important to Tundra buyers, with 64% strongly agreeing that quality of workmanship is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle (vs. 56%) and 82% strongly agreeing that reliability is a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle (vs. 61%). 

Tundra owners also more often strongly agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (65% vs. 60%). The Tundra includes two years or 25,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance. At the same time, only 38% of Tundra owners agree that a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is fuel economy (vs. 46%).

Tundra buyers appear to emphasize work over play. J.D. Power data shows that 20% identify as Working Utilitarians (vs. 13% for the segment), and fewer Tundra owners agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (77% vs. 86%). Similarly, more Tundra owners agree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (37% vs. 30%).

Owners say their favorite things about the Tundra are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, visibility and safety, exterior styling, driving dynamics, and interior design. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Tundra are (in descending order) the seats, climate control system and storage and space (in a tie), infotainment system, and by a significant margin, fuel economy.

In the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Tundra ranked sixth out of six large light-duty pickups.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Toyota Tundra measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

Army Green is the new signature color for the 2020 Tundra TRD Pro. If you don’t like it, the truck also comes in black, gray, and white.

2020 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro Army Green Rear View

The Tundra is a good looking truck in spite of its age. The TRD Pro has special Rigid Industries fog lights, a unique grille with TOYOTA in block letters, color-keyed and blacked-out accents, and TRD PRO stamped into each side of the cargo bed. It sits on black 18-inch BBS forged aluminum wheels and includes a TRD front skid plate.

If you’re wondering what onlookers thought of this rig, it certainly turned heads when I drove it in some of the rural farming communities of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in California.

Interior

If the Tundra TRD Pro’s exterior styling is special, the interior design is not. Aside from some embroidery on the leather and some red contrast stitching here and there, this truck has a plastic fantastic cabin with few soft-touch surfaces. And the glare from sunlight shining on the center console chrome trim is utterly blinding.

2020 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro interior dashboard view

One feature my entire family liked, however, was the power back window, which lowers completely for flow-through ventilation on warm, sunny days.

Seats

Big, broad, and comfortable after a couple of hours in the saddle, the Tundra’s front seats are sized like the state that produces this truck: Texas. It’s quite a climb up into the cab, though, and the test truck’s optional step bars sure did help with entry and exit. The TRD Pro comes with heated, but not ventilated, leather seats.

On CrewMax (crew cab) versions, the rear doors are massive and require a good slam to completely close. The rear seat cushion is mounted a little bit low and the seatback is reclined more than some people might prefer, but this is a comfortable place to sit with tons of leg and foot room. The rear air conditioning vents are small, though, and the test truck lacked rear USB ports and a household-style power outlet. 

Overall, the Tundra’s back seat is basic and plain – aside from the cool power back window, of course.

Climate Control System

With huge knobs and large buttons useful for when you’re wearing work or winter gloves, the Tundra’s climate control system is easy to operate. It proved effective, too, though temperatures were seasonally pleasant during testing week.

Infotainment System

While the Tundra’s 7-inch and 8-inch touchscreen infotainment systems look utterly unimpressive, every single one includes Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, USB connectivity, and free trials to satellite radio, Wi-Fi Connect service, and Safety Connect service. So, while the small recessed displays look old-school, the technology behind them is fairly up to date.

The test truck had the top system, which includes the bigger 8-inch screen along with dynamic navigation, dynamic voice recognition with point-of-interest search, expanded connected services, and a 12-speaker JBL premium sound system.

In use, the good-sized radio knobs, the sizable main menu buttons, and the voice recognition system worked quite well. That screen, though, is lost in the sea of plastic that is the Tundra’s dashboard.

Storage and Space

Open the Tundra’s glove compartment, and you might be taken aback by the lack of useful space within it. Otherwise, it seems as though bins, trays, and containers are everywhere. Unfortunately, all of them except the recessed tray atop the dashboard is lined with hard plastic, which allows things to slide, scrape, vibrate, and rattle.

Storage is far less generous in the back seat, and while the cushions flip up to help create cargo space, there isn’t any useful room underneath them.

The Tundra’s heavy steel tailgate drops in a slow and controlled way but is a tad heavy when lifting to close it. The bed itself offers nothing in the way of innovative storage solutions, and the test truck had only a bed light, a spray-in bedliner, and four tie-down hooks.

Visibility and Safety

Outward visibility is good, but the Tundra TRD Pro’s bulging hood is a liability when off-roading (as is the truck’s sheer size). Huge side mirrors help when making lane changes, especially in the absence of a blind-spot warning system. You can get one for the Tundra, packaged with a rear cross-traffic warning system, but it’s not offered for the TRD Pro.

Especially in comparison to the Tundra’s more modern competitors, this truck offers no special towing technologies that help to connect, monitor, and manage a trailer. The omission is glaring.

Standard equipment for all Tundras, Toyota Safety Sense installs adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights. In use, the adaptive cruise proved less smooth as it could be with regard to distance management. The lane departure warning system quickly becomes a beeping nuisance, making the truck better to drive with it turned off. 

Reflective of the age of the Tundra’s underlying engineering, this truck does not fare well in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests. In the small overlap frontal-impact test, it gets a Marginal rating for protection on the driver’s side and a Poor rating for protection on the passenger’s side. Roof crush strength also gets dinged, earning an Acceptable rating instead of Good. Headlight illumination scores a Marginal rating.

In tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Tundra gets 4-star frontal impact, 5-star side impact, and 3-star rollover resistance ratings.

Engine/Transmission

Toyota equips every Tundra with a 5.7-liter V-8 engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission. The engine makes 381 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 401 lb.-ft. at 3,600 rpm, and a part-time four-wheel-drive system with an electronic transfer case and automatic limited-slip differential is available.

The Tundra tows less weight than competitors, topping out at 10,200 pounds. Compare that to a Ford F-150, which is rated to tow up to 13,200 lbs. The aluminum-bodied Ford can also handle a maximum payload of 3,270 lbs., while the Toyota carries up to 1,730 lbs. Clearly, the towing and hauling numbers can’t match the competition. But, they are better than a Toyota Tacoma.

Equipped with a Toyota Racing Development (TRD) tuned stainless steel dual exhaust system, the Tundra TRD Pro chugs and bellows like only a V-8 engine can. The engine develops good power, too, and the transmission is excellent, always selecting the right gear for the job.

On a short off-road trail, shifting into 4WD was easy and the truck easily dispatched with bumps and ruts. The hood can make it hard to see when cresting hills, though, and when brush encroaches on the path – or the trail comes to an end – the Tundra’s massive proportions become a liability.

Fuel Economy

The Toyota Tundra is not a fuel-efficient truck. On the testing loop, it averaged 16.3 mpg. Over the course of a week, it returned 14.3 mpg. Average those figures, multiply by the Tundra’s standard 38-gallon gas tank, and your range is 581.4 miles.

Driving Dynamics

In spite of its lightweight 18-inch BBS forged aluminum wheels and special TRD springs and Fox shock absorbers, a Tundra TRD Pro can only hustle in a straight line. 

Taking country roads from near Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, the truck and its flat, featureless front seats simply couldn’t support enthusiastic driving on the sometimes narrow and curvy blacktop. Handling is iffy, with slow steering and tires that are disinterested in grip on pavement. In the dirt, though, in a wide-open place like the desert, a TRD Pro likely excels.

Heading back to the big city on the freeway, the Tundra effortlessly cruised on the highway, tracking true with the suspension isolating what few rumples exist in California pavement. It’s easy to unknowingly drive this truck too fast, though the amount of wind noise ought to be a signal that it’s time to slow down. And when that time comes, you’ll find the brakes to be mighty effective and easy to operate.

Final Impressions

The 2020 Toyota Tundra is a simple, old-school, nearly unbreakable pickup truck. It’s not efficient. It’s not high-tech. It’s not engineered to pull or carry the most weight. But those are probably not real problems. Instead, the real problems are the Tundra’s unquenchable thirst for fuel and its crash-test ratings.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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