Most people around the world marvel at the American obsession with big vehicles. The most popular vehicle sold in Europe, for example, is the Dacia Sandero, a cute little sedan, while in the USA it’s a big Ford F-Series pickup truck. Dacia, in fact, doesn’t even bother selling vehicles into the American market, knowing that its compact, highly fuel-efficient vehicles probably aren’t going to appeal to our truck and SUV-mad market. Other car manufacturers have created bigger and bigger vehicles as they have entered the US market, vehicles that one imagines aren’t even for sale in their home nations. For example, the Kia Telluride, a monster SUV that rivals the Chevy Suburban in size, curb weight, and capacity.
Toyota hasn’t been able to avoid this draw either, and while the Toyota Tacoma is a tremendously popular lightweight pickup truck (my son owns one!) it’s with the bigger, heavier Tundra that Toyota has had a chance to show off its design and manufacturing skills. I spent a week behind the powerful 2023 Toyota Tundra i-Force MAX 4×4 TRD Pro – in bright “Solar Octane” orange – and enjoyed the heck out of it. Well, other than its miserable fuel efficiency, even with Toyota’s iForce MAX hybrid V6.
All our snow was melting and the roads turned muddy pretty fast, so you’ll see that all the photos feature lots of mud and dirt. But this is a vehicle ready to hit the rougher terrain too, so I feel that having dirty photos fits with the theme and probable purpose of the truck.
What most catches the attention with this particular truck is the bold, growl of its engine. I surmise that there’s some audio tuning of the piles going on a la the Dodge Challenger series, but it was so distinctive even in the driver’s compartment that at first, I wondered if it was just failing to shift gears and was revving high. Step outside with the engine idling and you’ll get a much better sense; this is a race car trapped in a truck’s body (with 437 horsepower with 583 lb.-ft. of torque) and not only does it sound great, but it also has remarkable pickup and drive performance, probably far more than a truck driver needs.
The interior is a bit clunky but big and expansive nonetheless:
The 14″ multimedia display screen was glorious too, something right outta Tesla’s playbook, and as you can see, the map display, even in multi-function Apple CarPlay mode, was big, bright, and delightful. Toyota did a pretty good job with having functional buttons clustered together too, though it was a surprise that the car seat warmer controls were located in the center console, sharing an area with the clime controls, while the steering wheel warmer button (I know, a very urbane feature) was actually tucked into the button panel by the driver’s left knee:
In fact, I appreciate that there’s a designer at Toyota puzzling through how to denote key features and functions in a completely international manner. Do you understand all the buttons? Oh, one other comment about this strip of buttons: The TRD Light Bar is a cool addition but it’s rather inexplicable how to get it to work. Turns out that you need to not just have your lights on, but your brights on for it to function. Otherwise, the button illuminates for a moment and then goes dark again, with no actual explanation appearing on the dash or notices area.
The other major button area is climate control and I found it surprisingly difficult to navigate while sitting in the driver’s seat:
The top row is up/down toggles and even as a tall driver sitting straight in the driver’s seat, I couldn’t see the actual labels for the toggles (with a camera it’s easier to get the perfect angle, as the above demonstrates). As a result, I found that I had to stop and peer at the dash closely to figure out which was the “AUTO” button for climate control. The spacing for those labels might be just a smidge off, and it’s probably worse if you’re not a tall driver too. Otherwise, notice the trailer and traction control buttons along the bottom strip too.
Note: The Tundra HV has a max towing capacity of 12,000 pounds and payload capacity of 1,940 pounds.
This Tundra features two drive modes, as is common with modern automatic transmissions, ECO and SPORT. Ya gotta love “Sport” mode on a pickup truck, but that’s another conversation. How long until we see Formula-T for souped up trucks? Or maybe that’d be more of a NASCAR thing. 🙂
The drive mode is controlled by a multifunction dial area on the center armrest, along with a nice, traditional gearshift and various other controls:
Notice the “pull on” parking brake control behind the gearshift; they really load up buttons everywhere on the Tundra, and combined with the misplaced steering wheel heater control, it seems like a major redesign would benefit the logical user experience here too. When Toyota first dropped off the Tundra, we had a couple of inches of mixed snow and ice on the roads and it was great to be able to easily switch from 2-wheel drive to 4H. I could definitely tell a difference in traction and handling, something that repeated itself on the worst of the muddy surfaces too.
As with so many modern vehicles, the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro also sports a Qi wireless charger. I have to be candid that my iPhone 14 Pro rarely works with these, regardless of how they’re designed. I know, my phone isn’t in a specifically Qi-charging-friendly case, but given how rarely they actually work for more than 15-30 seconds, I wonder how many drivers actually find these wireless charging pads useful after the novelty wears off?
The dashboard gauge display is pretty solid, with lots of information in the default layout:
One point of entertainment is that the iForce and MAX displays are related to the hybrid V6 engine, but really offered zero useful data from a drive or performance perspective. At least the MAX gauge showed the relative battery level of the hybrid battery, but I expect most drivers use the settings feature to change what’s shown to have more helpful information on the display.
Speaking of Settings, if you haven’t driven a modern vehicle, you have no idea how customizable they are nowadays. The Tundra was no different with this being just a small subset of the many, many vehicle preferences available to tweak and update:
The 2-press unlock is an interesting setting and my fellow auto reviewers often refer to this as the “male/female setting” because we find that women tend to enable 2-press unlock, while men disable it. The difference? With it disabled, pushing the unlock button on the remote unlocks all doors on the vehicle, while having it enabled means that first push only unlocks the driver’s seat. What’s your preference and how do you have it set up?
The Tundra might not have the largest truck bed – this model features the standard 6.5-foot bed, though there’s an option for a 5.5-foot shortbed or an 8.1-foot longbed – but the interior cab is remarkably roomy, with tons of legroom for the rear passengers:
You could comfortably carry five adults with lots of gear in the back, and with the oomph of the iForce MAX hybrid V6, still speed up those tough hills to get to your favorite campground, hunting spot, or construction site. This model featured a full-size cargo mat (optional) and rugged sidewalls, exterior lights, and more:
The tailgate might not have a built-in stereo system (like the GMC Sierra I reviewed a while back) but there’s a lot to like about this tough, rugged design. Close up the tailgate and the attractive design really shines:
The biggest issue I had was that the fuel efficiency was pretty miserable. I averaged 16.4mpg on about 200 miles of driving, mostly in ECO mode. The EPA estimates for the Tundra are 18/20, so it felt pretty far off. Maybe it needed some tweaking for altitude as I live at 5280 foot elevation, but with the price of gas likely to increase over time, it’s hard to get excited about the choice of a hybrid engine to offer huge power, but without any actual increase in fuel efficiency. If I were towing a trailer across the Rocky Mountains, would I be seeing single digit mpg?
Other than that consideration, however, I really enjoyed the heck out of driving the 2023 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, from its bright, bold “Solar Octane” orange to the comfort and, of course, drive experience itself. It’s big, but not so enormous that navigating parking lots was the nightmare experienced by 3/4-ton pickup drivers, and the overall comfort level was greatly appreciated by passengers more than once. It’s also definitely the XXL size when parked next to my son’s Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro in every dimension! If you’re in the truck market, this is definitely one to check out, even if it too has a fairly eye-popping price tag.
2023 Toyota Tundra i-Force MAX TRD Pro HV 4×4, with iForce MAX 3.5L Twin-Turbo V6 Hybrid engine, 10-speed automatic transmission, and 4WDemand part time 4WD. MSRP: $66,805.00. Additional Options: Premium color (which everyone seems to charge for nowadays), Bed Mat and Ball Mount for towing. AS DRIVEN: $69,185.00.
Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the Tundra for a week in return for this candid writeup. Much appreciated!