Bigger is always better, right? Who wants to visit the world's second-grandest canyon or the second-tallest building in Paris? Picking your pickup's engine has always been a similar exercise. The biggest, most powerful V8 engine gets all the headlines, is capable of towing and hauling the most and earns the most respect from your friends. All those other engines are just footnotes in truck reviews. That was especially true of last year's Toyota Tundra and its 4.7-liter V8 engine, a weak-sauce alternative for the big-boy 5.7-liter that actually matched the lesser V8's fuel economy. The 4.7 was uncompetitive and choosing it was a budget buy only.
The 2010 Toyota Tundra is a different story, with a new midgrade engine choice that makes opting for something other than the biggest engine a reasonable choice (even if those friends disagree). Although displacing 4.6 liters, the Tundra's new entry-level V8 produces 310 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque, compared to 271 and 313 (respectively) for the 4.7, while improving fuel economy by 2 mpg. There's still a substantial power drop-off from the 5.7, but as we discovered in our time with this Tundra Double Cab 4.6, most people won't really need all that extra muscle and will appreciate the gas mileage advantage.
Even though the full-size truck market is taking a hammering these days, the trucks themselves are better than ever. Picking among the Tundra, Chevrolet Silverado, Dodge Ram and Ford F-150 isn't an easy decision, as each excels in its own specific ways. Among midgrade V8 engines, though, the 2010 Toyota Tundra 4.6 has a slight power-to-fuel-economy advantage. But the biggest news is that it can put up a fight rather than being nothing more than the underachieving second fiddle of the Tundra band.
While the Tundra's new 4.6-liter V8 is the main story here, its six-speed automatic certainly deserves a few words, replacing a five-speed unit that did the old engine few fuel economy favors. However, there's more to this transmission than its mileage gain. The six-speed exhibits outstanding grade logic; you're never in the wrong gear and it downshifts readily. It also means Toyota doesn't have to offer the three or four different axle ratios that other truckmakers do, which is done to improve towing capacity at the expense of fuel economy (despite what the window sticker may say). The Tundra gets an altered ratio when equipped with the tow package, but its fuel economy doesn't suffer to the same extent.
When equipped with that tow package, the 2010 Toyota Tundra Double Cab 4.6 has a maximum tow rating of 8,300 pounds. That was well above our needs for this test, which consisted of lugging a 5,000-pound car trailer 1,200 miles. The 4.6 took it all in stride, with plenty of surplus power for passing and pulling grades thanks to ample torque, spread across a broad engine speed range. Indeed, it's very reminiscent of the colossally strong 5.7's power delivery, only dialed back a couple of notches. If your routine towing is in this five-grand range, we'd strongly consider saving some money and going with the 4.6.
The same argument applies when the trailer hitch is unemployed. The 4.6 provides ample passing power and plenty of pull off the line. Our 5,469-pound SR5 Double Cab test truck went from zero to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, which is precisely 1 second slower than the last SR5 Double Cab we tested with the 5.7-liter (but actually 0.5 second quicker than a top-of-the-line Ford F-150). On the other end of the dynamic spectrum, the Tundra came to a stop from 60 mph in 134 feet. This is slightly below average for this segment, but with no fade after four consecutive runs, at least you won't find yourself searching for runaway truck ramps on steep downgrades.
In terms of handling and maneuverability, the 2010 Toyota Tundra is a mixed bag. Its low-effort steering is nice in parking lots and when negotiating tight city turns, but its numb on-center effort doesn't instill much confidence on narrow country roads.
Much of the Tundra's impressive tow rating comes from its heavy-duty suspension engineered to accommodate the crushing loads of a trailer. Unfortunately, that means the Tundra suffers from the sort of choppy ride usually experienced in 3/4-ton pickups. When it's driven on rough roads, the truck's bobbing and jiggling gets to be quite extensive. You certainly won't encounter this all the time, but the Tundra's rivals — the Dodge Ram in particular — are still more compliant in terms of suspension tuning.
Inside, the Tundra offers one of the more comfortable cabins in this admittedly small class. The front seats are supportive and comfy, while the Tundra's optional telescoping steering wheel allows tall drivers to avoid the long reach typical of pickups, while shorter folks can avoid sitting with the wheel in their chests. The Double Cab's backseat delivers more space than you'd expect from an extended cab, while its front-hinged doors offer easier access to the rear compartment compared to the rear-hinged doors in the F-150 and Silverado. Given the Double Cab's spacious cabin, we'd question why anyone would require the even larger Crew Max cab's limolike accommodations (and put up with its smaller bed).
The reach to the telescoping steering wheel may be a short one, but everything else requires Go-Go Gadget arms. To press the buttons for radio presets 4 through 6, you'll need to lean far forward, use a pen or ask your passenger for help. The reach to the jumbo volume knob is only slightly easier, but was still irritating given our test truck's lack of steering-wheel audio controls. On the upside, the humongous climate control knobs can be operated with bomb squad gloves. The door handles and tailgate latch are similarly jumbo.
As in other full-size trucks, the 2010 Toyota Tundra's backseat bottom folds up to provide plenty of cargo room, safe from the elements and thieving hands. It was here where our normal golf bag and suitcase tests were conducted — the Tundra passed both easily. When lowered, the backseat proved to be well-suited for child seat use thanks to ample space, wide-opening doors and easily accessible upper LATCH points.
Despite the big cab, the 6.5-foot bed is equal to others in the class (an 8-footer is optional). There was no bedliner or nifty features like Dodge's RamBox cargo cubbies, but the sliding tie-down rails along the sides and forward portion of the bed were certainly useful. Another nice touch is the damped tailgate that gently glides down rather than crudely slamming open.
Design/Fit and Finish
When it comes to pickups, we think simple and practical is better. But the Tundra's interior suffers from overstyling. It looks nice, but it comes at the expense of functionality. In particular, the hooded dials look odd and are difficult to read — the fuel gauge looks like it's at the end of a periscope.
Interior quality is quite good, but no better than the other trucks in its class. The cloth upholstery is very soft, but it feels a bit like a hotel towel. It seems like it might wear out prematurely, but we never had any problems with the same fabric in our long-term Tundra.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Toyota Tundra 4.6 is a good choice for someone in need of a truck for medium-duty towing for such things as motorcycles, cars or personal watercraft. Those in constant need of the backseat in their extended cab will also be well served by the Tundra Double Cab. However, its rivals from the good ol' U.S. of A. are quite appealing, so trying them all is certainly advised.