TRD Spells Capability for Toyota’s Latest Tundra

The new Tundra packs an impressive array of engineering, including a twin-turbo hybrid powertrain, available air suspension, and active aero.

SAE Media tested the latest Tundra’s off-road prowess on the Holly Oaks off-road course in a TRD Pro model. (Toyota)

When Toyota decided it was time to update their capable but aging Tundra, the company knew that the new truck needed to be far more than just a quick reskin. To stay competitive in the domestic full-size truck market, the latest Tundra needed to pack modern tech inside and out along with a healthy dose of ruggedness both in practice and perception.

Tundra’s new rear suspension replaces leaf springs with coils. (Toyota)

SAE Media was on hand for an off-road ride and drive at the Holly Oaks ORV Park in Michigan to sample the latest Tundra’s capabilities both off-road and when hauling. Our time with the 2022 model provided several revelations aimed at satisfying the contemporary pickup buyer on many fronts.

A Force to reckon with

One of Tundra’s centerpieces is the i-FORCE 3.5-L (85.5mm x 100mm bore and stroke) twin turbo V6. The all-aluminum design features a chain-driven 24-valve DOHC valvetrain with dual variable valve timing (VVT). Compression is relatively high for a turbo engine at 10.4:1, but Toyota’s D-4ST fuel injection system ensures that it’s perfectly happy with 87-octane (R+M)/2 fuel.

Fans of the outgoing Tundra’s 5.7-L V8 may bemoan the lack of a traditional engine configuration for a full-size pickup, but they needn’t worry. Available grunt from the smaller force-fed engine in even the lowest output variant is 348 hp @ 5,200 rpm and 405 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm for base SR.

Higher trimmed Tundras are blessed with a more powerful version rated at 389 hp and 479 lb-ft. Worth noting is that the intercooler system for the turbos is of the water-to- air variety, a design choice that certainly added cost, but also boosted performance from the smaller-displacement V6. The charge cooling system for the turbos features a dedicated closed loop system.

The biggest news on the powertrain front is the addition of a hybrid option, dubbed i-FORCE MAX. This Tundra combines the higher output V6 with a motor generator unit (MGU) in the P2 configuration, sandwiched between the engine and the transmission. The MGU generates 48 additional hp and 184 lb-ft. Combined output for the system is 437 hp @ 5,200 rpm and a stout 583 lb-ft.

2022 Tundra TRD Pro cabin. (Toyota)
The high-out variant of the Tundra’s twin-turbo 3.5L V6 is rated at 389 hp and 479 lb-ft. (Toyota)

The hybrids’ battery pack resides under the rear seat. When functioning, the permanent magnet synchronous motor in the MGU provides direct drive in tandem with the gasoline engine. Combined EPA figures for the hybrid and non-hybrid variants of the Tundra hover around 19-20 mpg, a 4-5 MPG improvement over the outgoing V8 Tundra.

All new-generation Tundra powertrains are backed up to a 10-speed Aisin automatic with a wide ratio spread. First gear is a low 4.92:1, while the top overdrive gear is a deep .61:1. All Tundras are equipped with a 3.31:1 final drive. The low gear for the two-speed transfer case in four-wheel drive models is 2.64.

Riding high

The suspension and chassis of the Tundra also saw significant improvements over the old model. Gone are the previous Tundra’s rear leaf springs, which have been replaced with a four-link system that features either coil or optional air springs. The move to coils in the rear enabled Toyota engineers to widen the rear suspension pickup points for improved stability on and off-road.

The latest Tundra’s frame also saw substantial improvements courtesy of the company’s patented Dejima laser welding process. The process fuses plates of metal as a way of strengthening specific points on the frame. The fusion process is so elegant that the strengthened points of the frame are difficult to spot without having them highlighted.

The additional reinforcements are only a few millimeters thicker than the non-strengthened portions of the frame, but those additions add up to a 20% increase in torsional rigidity while reducing overall mass by 10%, Toyota engineers claim.

“We have very specific thicknesses varying throughout the frame in certain locations,” Jay Sacket, executive program manager, told SAE Media. “If you think about the frame like a match box, a match box will want to fold across the corners, so we really want that strength up in those edge sections. We can (also) make the frame move and not move where we want it to, which makes a major difference in the ride quality.”

The new Tundra’s frame was strengthened using Toyota’s patented Dejima laser welding process. (Toyota)

Assisting with ride quality is the Tundra’s new adaptive suspension, which reads the road and adjusts the dampers to what inputs are coming toward the vehicle. The system can either soften of stiffen the ride depending on the drive mode selected and road conditions.

A new electronically assisted power steering system was a necessary change to accommodate advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as lane centering and other aids. Toyota engineers also stated that the new system is capable of compensating for trailer behavior when towing.

Chin up

The new Tundra’s frame has several selectively strengthened sections and is both lighter and stiffer than the outgoing model. (Toyota)

Fuel economy, or lack thereof, was one of the few complaints voiced by owners of the previous generation Tundra. To that end, Toyota looked to optimize every aspect of the new truck to make it less thirsty.

The wind tunnel provided solutions in the form of a new active aero system. A chin spoiler located on the front of the truck automatically deploys under certain conditions. The spoiler is actuated by solenoid automatically when the truck is traveling at speeds above 37 mph (60 km/h).

Below 37 mph, the spoiler automatically retracts to add ground clearance. The spoiler is also automatically stowed when the truck is in 4WD and will not deploy in temperatures below 36 deg. Fahrenheit (2.2 Celsius) to ensure that it will not freeze in the down position. TRD Pro models are not equipped with this wind cheating system in favor of increased front ground clearance.

Toyota showed off several of the new Tundra’s components, including composite skid plates and thicker chain-drives for the transfer case. (Toyota)

Toyota also performed wind tunnel testing with a trailer attached. In doing so, engineers discovered that increased airflow under the truck helped to stabilize the trailer by to reducing the vortex between the truck and the trailer. When the truck detects that there is a trailer attached, it will automatically stow the spoiler to compensate. In addition to the active front splitter, the new Tundra features active grille louvers like those used in the Prius hybrid.

Hitting the trail

SAE Media was turned loose (with supervision) on the Holly Oaks off-road course in a Tundra TRD Pro model to evaluate how the new truck copes with rough terrain. The course at Holly Oaks is a mix of steep climbs and drops with plenty of undulations and slick patches that tested our truck’s four-wheel drive system and suspension articulation.

It’s apparent from the driver’s seat that Toyota’s engineers have worked their magic on the new Tundra’s ride. Even on the roughest sections of the course, the Tundra rode smoothly and competently without any of the bucking or axle tramp common to its leaf-sprung competition. In our view it’s among the best-riding full size pickups.

Also apparent is that the TRD logos are more than just marketing. While Holly Oaks isn’t the world’s most challenging course, it has more than enough obstacles to show off just how capable the new truck is. Despite the Tundra’s hefty dimensions, it feels nimble and lively with plenty of stability on off-camber turns and descents.

The truck flatters even the most ham-fisted driver’s ego with visions of tackling Moab. The full array of exterior camera also provide useful assistance with traversing tight turns and provide plenty of warning before the truck’s skid plates make contact.

And that new turbo V6 powertrain? It generates torque that can propel the truck up any reasonable grade with power in reserve. One trip through the woods or down the road with a trailer in tow should win over even the most ardent V8 fan.

The 2022 Tundra breaks a lot of new ground both for full-size pickups and for Toyota. While some may still prefer the simplicity of older pickups, there’s no denying that third iteration of the company’s full-size offering is an impressive effort and should continue building on the success of its predecessors.