Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Beast of the Borealis: The 2014 Toyota Tundra LTD CrewMax 4X4

In frosted northern kingdoms, 

Past the  jackpines' ragged reign,

The tundra rolls 'neath blazing stars,

Way up the line from Maine.

While here in Maryland -- the Tundra rolls onto the drive. It gleams in the dew-laden air. Alerted by the gravel crunching under its 18-inch Michelins, squirrels dart from its path. Still the Toyota rumbles onward. Its immense presence draws near. Electronically-controlled four-wheel discs bring it to a halt. Its 5.7-liter V8 idles.

From the safety of nearby trees, the squirrels watch as I circumnavigate the thing. They note its newly enlarged and integrated headlights, fashionably straight body creases and 5.5-foot bed. 

The critters return to their bullet-headed pursuits while I, bearer of the reviewer's burden, pause to blink at the Tundra's massive front end. The grille rises menacingly, its tiers of chrome bars disappearing into the maw of an integrated, yet hood-mounted, air-scoop. The effect is ghastly -- yet I cannot turn away.

 MechaToyota: The 2014 Tundra LTD CrewMax 4x4

At once I'm reminded of MechaGodzilla, deadliest foe of the One True Godzilla. It's as if the fiend has risen before me, rampant in its coat of C/TR-IG3 Magnetic Gray Metallic.
But maybe this monster comparison's a bit overdrawn. After all, unlike Japanese monsters, Texas-built Tundras don't emerge from the irradiated depths of Pacific atolls. Nor do they wade through downtown Tokyo disgorging hellfire at fleeing salary-men. Not that you could tell from the mileage they get. For whether it's wreaking municipal havoc or just coasting nicely downhill, Tundras must first secure vast quantities of Regular from the global oil patch.

Pals, really: Godzillas joke on the set of "Die, Die My Monster" 
Specifically, this means that the two-and-a-half ton 4x4 is rated at 15 miles to the gallon in combined city-highway driving. That breaks down into something like 13 mpg on business-district rampages, and 17 on highways leading elsewhere -- which just happens to be where I and my lovely companion, Miss Woo, are headed.

I can’t say how many Chevy Silverados there are in Silverado, nor count the Ram Laramies out cruising Laramie -- but it's a fair bet that Tundras are scarce on the ground for which they’re named. Fortunately, Woo and I were bound for a somewhat lower latitude -- a mountainous realm in which loons warble in the night like haunts of evil clowns. It's the kind of thing that a Godzilliac like our $46,000 Toyota Tundra CrewMax 4X4 LTD could lap up like Bunker oil.

We clambered into the thing and fired it up. Inside, the Tundra's use of high-quality materials had it resembling a Ford 150. Also, larger and better-positioned controls for such things as dual-zone climate tuning, a USB port, Bluetooth and an "Entune" multimedia system were on hand. Not that the cab lacked its share of hard plastices, but the increase in leather surfaces limited these, while and expanded rear-seat area enabled the 4x4 to accomodate five, and perhaps more if we're talking salary men. 

In high command position Woo and I wound our way through Pennsylvania's mouldering landscape of old industry and older bits of wild on our way to New York's Adirondack park Along a route familiar to faithful readers, the Tundra's 381-hp eight applied its 401 lbs. of foot-torque to the task of running the interstate in a fairly poised manner while ticking down the miles to the next gas station.

Fortunately, lots of gas-and-goes raise their canopies along Pennsylvania's Route 81. A fill-up at one of these brought us into New York's Unadilla Valley, a land of deep blues and greens that rolls amid Victorian farmsteads into Herkimer County on the Adirondacks' southwestern tier. 

The 45-mile vale is "dotted here and there
with blooded cattle grazing peacefully" wrote B.E. Chapin in an 1899 railroad promotional entitled  "Outings on the Lackawanna." Driving it today affords travelers much the same view of the valley and its eponymous river, which winds, as Chapin observed, "in and out amid the oziers and willows." 

"An osier is a kind of willow," insisted Woo, drawing upon her vast arboreal knowledge. Regardless, the MechaToyota sluiced past all willows, running the rural byways without drama. Perhaps "sluice" is the wrong word here as we found the Tundra's (double wishbone front, multi-leaf rear) suspension to transmit even small road imperfections. But that didn't keep the four-by from leaving lowlands behind for the Adirondacks' piney stands of tendril, trunk and bough -- woods that enveloped the truck's passage before parting again to present its samurai grille with broad vistas of land and water set against mountains to come.

Woo of the Wilderness
Approaching the forest, the road smoothed into an ancient silence that caused us to glance again at our gas gauge. Thus, we were prompted to stop and fill up yet another time before entering the park, which, as a partially protected wilderness, was not above presenting us with a roadside hot dog stand fashioned from a caboose. We could not do other than stop and pick up a couple of Coney Island redhots there, just within the Village of Poland, which itself lies within the Township of Russia, New York. Woo wondered if this association didn't reflect one that existed between the two so-named countries late in the 18th-century. "That was when Polish territory was absorbed into the Russian Empire," she said, eating a picklelilly-slathered dog as she drew upon her encyclopedic knowledge of the past. Intent on spotting the ratty '56 Imperial limo I remembered patrolling these parts, I barely nodded in response. But that was enough for Woo, who then concluded that the Russia thing "must've had something to do with when these towns were founded." "Yeah," I replied, figuring the Poland-cruising Chrysler Imperial had long since gone the way of Poland-absorbing Imperial Russia.

Frankly, none of us have ever faced a situation like quite like this one before ... Your courage will never be more needed than it is today. 
-- Admiral Stenz, Godzilla 

As seen on maps, the Adirondack preserve resembles a Connecticut-sized tick crawling its way to Quebec. Somewhere in that tick's rump and only about a league from the lakeside cabin that was its destination, the Tundra drove through an alpine setting in which mountains rose from beyond either side of the roadbed to peak in the radiant blue. 

Getting to where we were headed, we'd soon have to zip up one of those mountains via a dirt road, it's boulder-strewn path marked by hairy stretches of 20-degree inclines. While the MechaToyota's electronically-controlled 4WD transfer case enabled it to negotiate these without any sacrifice in speed, a truck like the air-suspension-equipped Ram 1500 would've bounced us (and the quartet of salary-men we found riding in back) around a lot less.

And the Ram isn't the only one with the jump on the Tundra.

As its competing GM and (best-selling) Ford 150 pickups have responded to the emergence of fuel economy as a big-truck selling point, the 2014 Tundra has become the victim of changing times. Like a tragic, third-reel movie monster, it screeches piteously while battling for market share against abler competitors and their direct-fuel-injected V-6s.

Now that the credits are about to roll on the current model year, we find the Tundra starkly alone on that smoking battleground. While a radically re-designed 2015 Ford 150 and a 25-mpg Ram 1500 will soon recommence this fight, whatever its flaws, the 2015 Tundra will stand its ground as a MechaToyota of strength, durability and resale value. 


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