2017 Toyota Tundra – What to Expect
Note to the readers: you are going to see Toyota Tundra Chief Engineer Mike Sweers mentioned quite a bit in this article. Why? He is chief engineer and provides the direction for the truck as well as approves/turns down any ideas his team comes up with. In the past, some readers have said I refer to Sweers too much. Those readers don’t understand how much Sweers controls the direction of the Tundra. In order to understand the future of the Tundra, one must understand how Sweers thinks. I believe, after spending quite a bit of time with him, I have a fairly good idea. Again, a “fairly” good idea.
With the start of auto show “season” kicking off in LA this week, it is a good time to turn our attention to what Toyota has in store. This year, it is highly likely changes to the Toyota Tundra are coming at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show. What could those changes be? Here are my best guesses.
Before I get to what I think will happen, I’d like to take a moment and thank you – the readers. When I started writing here 4 years ago, I had no idea really what I was getting myself into. My early work probably reflected this with article topics on all sorts of things and wild assumptions galore (definitely wild now looking back). Along the way, I’d like to think I’ve gotten better at covering the topics Tundra owners care about and I’ve also gotten better at understanding the marketplace. I hope you agree. Again, thank you for reading, commenting and emailing me. I appreciate it.
Powertrain Changes Lead to Better Fuel Economy
If you were to step back and take a critical look at the Toyota Tundra’s strengths and weaknesses, fuel economy is at the top of the weaknesses list. When the 5.7L engine debuted nearly 10 years ago, it was at the top of the list for its design and performance. Even though, Toyota Tundra Chief Engineer Mike Sweers says it is still pretty advanced in certain ways, the reality is competition has now caught up from a consumer point of view. Consumers simply don’t care that much how many valves an engine has or how after all of these years it is still on top from an engineering point of view, it is about performance and fuel economy.
These two areas are where the Tundra MUST improve. If it doesn’t, the truck could be regulated as the Honda Ridgeline of the marketplace – an odd duckling with continual diminishing sales.
How does Toyota do it? Put in a new engine completely? A diesel? Nope. Toyota will focus on bringing improvements used on other products and adding them to their existing products. They have historically done this throughout their lineup and you can see this in the Sequoia, Land Cruiser, Tundra and even the Lexus LX 570 sharing technology. For the 2017 Toyota Tundra, they will first implement the “easy” improvements from the Tacoma. These easy improvements will likely include:
Atkinson Cycle – This engine cycle works with the Otto cycle to provide fuel efficiency. Essentially, the truck will use the Otto cycle when towing and hauling. It will automatically switch to Atkinson for day-to-day driving and highway use.
After driving the Tacoma, I can tell you the switch between combustion cycles is hard to distinguish and feels natural. Really, nothing to feel or notice. This change will likely be ignored or minimized by automotive journalists as nothing sexy, however, by improving the engine’s combustion cycle without adding any special equipment like turbochargers or messing with the engine’s operation via cylinder deactivation, is a pretty big deal for long-term reliability.
This improvement will result in a minimal fuel economy improvement.
Improved Transmission – the current sexy trend is to add multi-speed transmissions into all large vehicles in hopes of returning better highway fuel economy performance. We have seen this trend throughout full-size trucks with many consumers now thinking an 8-speed transmission is the new minimum and 6-speed transmissions are outdated. This isn’t quite accurate.
When Toyota launched the new Tacoma, they improved the 6-speed transmission quite a bit via light-weighting and its operation. These improvements helped smooth out the ride quality, yet didn’t really touch the fuel economy.
This same type of improvement could play out with the Tundra. Toyota is really faced with two choices here: improve the current 6-speed by implementing the same improvements on the Tacoma or add the 8-speed found in the Land Cruiser. While the 8-speed is the hands-down favorite for journalists looking for something “new,” it could be just that “new.” Interestingly, I drove the new Land Cruiser in Texas and the new 8-speed transmission didn’t improve fuel economy at all. Instead, engineers set it up to improve shifting patterns when hauling and driving, according to a Toyota rep on site. This was a bit of an eye-opener for me and it should be for Toyota fans as well. Just because a new Tundra could get more transmission speeds doesn’t mean it will have better fuel economy. It is all in how the engineers setup the transmission. They could improve fuel economy OR they could improve ride comfort and towing performance. I think Toyota will go with the latter for the 2017 Tundra.
Light-Weighting via High-Strength Steel – one area that will likely see improvements is the use of high-strength steel throughout the cabin and possibly in the frame. All automakers are looking to drop weight and they are largely doing this by adding in more high-strength steel. This reduction in weight improves ride quality and can slightly improve fuel economy.
Slew of Other Items – there will be a slew of other changes like adding optional safety equipment throughout the trim levels, slight improvements to the Entune system and possibly a Qi wireless charging platform.
What Not to Expect
While it is fun to speculate what will be changed in this mid-cycle refresh, let’s talk about what won’t be changed which is likely more accurate:
No Interior Improvements – with this refresh, I don’t see Toyota adding back in the storage they took out from the 2nd generation nor do I see them changing back to the slide and recline seats. Why? The timing isn’t right for one and the slide and recline rear seat change was Sweers’ idea. I don’t see him changing his mind.
No Diesel – sorry guys, not going to happen. I’m not a believer that Sweers is really sold on the diesel engine in the half-ton and without a massive investment from Toyota (also unlikely), I don’t see where they could build it.
No Significant Fuel Economy Jump – With the improvements above, I could see the Tundra improving fuel economy by 1-2 MPG. Toyota still feels they are competitive when it comes to fuel economy and they don’t see the benefit in adding a bunch of expensive equipment to chase a few MPGs.
What does all of this add up to? Another “calculated” improvement for the Tundra. While I would love to see them really “go all in,” past history and time spent with Sweers, tells me otherwise.
Stay tuned for coverage of the 2016 Chicago Auto Show in early February. This show is where Toyota will reveal changes to the Tundra.
Filed Under: Tundra News