The Camry of Tahoes is a big, bad mother.

by John Pearley Huffman

For a Japanese company, Toyota sure has a lot of chutzpah. Fearlessly wading neck deep through a river into which no other import brand dared even dip a toe, they introduced the Indiana-built Tundra pickup last year, assaulting Detroit's full-size pickup monopoly. Emboldened by the sales success of that truck, this year Toyota turns to Detroit's other beloved profit bloc, full-size SUVs, with the Tundra-based Sequoia.

To put the V-8-powered Sequoia's in perspective, its 118.1-inch wheelbase and 203.9-inch overall length put it squarely between Chevy's 116-inch wheelbase and 198.9-inch long Tahoe and Ford's 119.1-inch wheelbase and 204.6-inch long Expedition. Toyota says a Sequoia SR5 4x4 will weigh in at 5270 pounds, which puts it smack between a similar Tahoe's claimed 5050 and a 5.4-liter powered 4x4 Expedition at 5447. That's a neat splitting of differences where the differences aren't perceived as all that great. Expect the price to fall right amid those two as well.

Gall, cojones, arrogance, nerve, temerity, balls... whatever you want to call it, Toyota's got a lot of it.

Usual recipe

The Sequoia emerges from a sport-ute tradition well proved by Detroit - a tradition which at one time didn't amount to much more than taking a corporation's pickup and adding what amounts to a really bitchin' shell. Back when Chevy sold only a few thousand Suburbans every year to road construction companies and university geology departments, they could get away with that. Today however, the customer expectations have risen as the market has grown and the number of competitors has increased exponentially. So now instead of just plopping the SUV body on the pickup's chassis, there's actually some engineering involved.

Like Ford's Expedition and GM's latest Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, the Sequoia is essentially identical to its pickup cousin from the B-pillar forward (including the double wishbone and coil spring front suspension) and is its own creation from that pillar back. With a wheelbase that's just more than 10 inches shorter than the Tundra's, the Sequoia's frame rails are fully boxed and support a solid axle on five-link coil spring rear suspension rather than the pickup's leaf springs (again similar to the Expedition and Tahoe).

There's no surprise in the engine bay either, where the 240horsepower, 4.7-liter, DOHC, 32-valve V-8 found in the Tundra (and Land Cruiser and Lexus LX470) roosts. The adoption of a more advanced engine control computer frees up five more horses than in the Tundra, but the engine is the otherwise familiar i-Force iron-block V-8 that derives its architecture from the all-aluminum V-8 found in Lexus luxury sedans. Behind sits the Tundra's four-speed automatic transmission and behind that in 4x4 models a two-speed electronically selectable transfer case.

If there's one controversial element in the Sequoia it's the four-wheel drive system. Instead of lockable differentials or even limited slip diffs, the Sequoia relies on Active Traction Control (A-TRAC), which electronically relies on sensors and brake application to distribute torque to wherever there's some traction for the vehicle to make progress. It's similar in many ways to the system Mercedes uses on their M-Class SUV and hardcore off-roaders are sure to despise it. However, the vast majority of SUV putterers will be happy campers with the A-TRAC doing the thinking. Two-wheel drive Sequoia get their own form of traction control (merely TRAC) and all get Vehicle Skid Control (VSC, duh!) which uses engine output restrictions and brake application to avoid any sideways stupidity. With all those electronic doodads frittering with the brakes, that ABS is standard on the four discs can't be surprising.

Big outside and in

While the Sequoia's sheetmetal looks like the Tundra, in fact the only shared metal stamping is the hood (the grille hole is different) and the only shared glass is the windshield. The big four-door body feels typically Toyota tight and the accommodations are, as they should be in a vehicle this big, this generous.

The front seats feel better padded than those in the Tundra, but the dash shape itself is very familiar. However, while the Sequoia dash is shaped like the Tundra's it changed in almost every subtle detail. Particularly nice is the center console which can swallow 1.5 liters of flotsam and has dual front and rear cupholders which can adjust to hold any beverage container from small to bladder buster. Two 12-volt outlets are also incorporated into the console and buyers who don't opt for the sliding-glass moonroof get a parallel console on the ceiling with five separate storage compartments and four reading lamps.

Second row seat passengers will find their 60/40 split seat rather flat but the leg room competitive with similar vehicles. A separate rear air-conditioning system is standard on upscale Limited models and optional on the SR5. And of course there are cupholders all over the place and big door pockets which can hold years and years worth of McDonald's wrappers. Third-row passengers aren't so well treated and getting back there will take a bit of mountain goat scrambling. We figure most Sequoia owners will remove and store the 50/50 split third-row seat.

There are seat belts enough for eight passengers in the Sequoia. Beyond the legislated airbags for driver and front passenger, Toyota has filled its big SUV with side airbags and curtain-shield head-protection airbags to further protect those two.

Behind all the seats is a storage area that again about splits the Expedition/Tahoe difference, and includes yet another 12-volt outlet. One difference between the Sequoia and its competition is the presence of a roll-down rear window in the tailgate. This power-operated window can be controlled by controls at the driver's fingertips, by the key in the rear door or with the remote key fob.

Living large

In the thin air of Montana's mountains, the great weight of the Sequoia doesn't mix well with the reduced output of the V-8. But what's clear is that, as in the Tundra, this drivetrain clearly has the competition covered in the smoothness and refinement department. The engine is practically silent, it takes an MRI to detect the transmission's shifts, and tire noise is almost non-existent. For a mainstream, not-a-luxury-brand SUV, the Sequoia is easily the quietest and most refined.

The Sequoia's steering and responses feel very similar to the Tundra's though tamped down by the extra mass; where the Tundra feels light and quick to react, the Sequoia feels big, sometimes recalcitrant and occasionally ponderous. But the ride motions are outstanding; even big pavement heaves are sucked up easily, and after a bump the truck quickly settles down without any secondary porpoising or goofy hiccups.

But it's probably not the best SUV for many of the tasks SUV owners regularly ask their trucks to perform. For instance, with 315 lb-ft of peak torque available from the engine and a maximum towing capacity of 6500 pounds, the domestic brands have the Toyota covered in both torque production and towing. The Good Sammers probably still won't be shopping Toyota.

With the Sequoia, Toyota has produced an expectedly solid competitor; not a world changing, paradigm shattering machine, but thoroughly competent. It's just the sort of vehicle to which a 4Runner owner would want to upgrade with the arrival of kid number three. But it's not a substitute for the slightly smaller, much more expensive, lavishly over-engineered and comprehensively brilliant Land Cruiser.

Just being Toyota's version of the Tahoe ought to have buyers lined up outside dealers hundreds deep.

2001 Toyota Sequoia

Base price range: $33,000 (est.)
Engines: 4.7-liter V-8, 240 hp
Transmission: four-speed automatic, with rear-wheel or four-wheel drive
Length: 203.9 in
Width: 76.4 in (2WD)/78.0 in (4WD)
Height: 73.0 in (2WD)/74.0 in (4WD)
Wheelbase: 118.1 in
Curb weight: 5070 lb (2WD)/5270 lb (4WD)
EPA (cty/hwy): 14/18 mpg (2WD); 14/17 mpg (4WD)
Safety equipment: Dual de-powered airbags, side curtain airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, traction control, Vehicle Skid Control
Major standard features: power windows, mirrors and door locks, three-in-one AM/FM/Cassette/CD with six speakers & power antenna, cruise control, anti-theft system with immobilizer, auto-off headlights, and automatic climate control
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

© 2000 The Car Connection

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