Pros: Excellent performance from optional 5.7-liter V8; cavernous three-row interior; lots of available features; decent ride and handling for a big rig

Cons: Predictably poor gas mileage; distant dashboard controls; so-so standard V8

The 2012 Toyota Sequoia is proof that when it comes to full-size SUVs, "Go big or go home" is the correct mantra. The previous-generation Sequoia, you see, was almost big, just like the Tundra pickup on which it was based-and Americans found this confusing. When you go shopping for a big SUV in this country, a big SUV is what you're going to come home with, not some 7/8-scale replica. So Toyota made sure that the new Sequoia would be Texas-size, the kind of beast that you can't drive into a parking garage without checking the maximum height first. And just like that, buyers weren't confused anymore. The Sequoia is now recognized as a legitimate rival to the American utes that have long ruled this roost.

But is such recognition warranted? Can a Japanese company really build a competitive American-style SUV? Yes and yes, folks. With its available 381-horsepower V8, commodious three-row seating and tough Tundra underpinnings, the Sequoia has everything it takes to play in this league. In fact, the Sequoia's carefully tuned ride and handling might even give it a subjective edge over the Tahoes and Expeditions of the world. That's for you to decide, but we'll gladly tell you more about what the Sequoia has to offer. It definitely went big, and it became one of our favorite no-nonsense utility vehicles in the process.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Toyota Sequoia comes in SR5, Limited and Platinum trim. Standard SR5 features include 18-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, running boards, a roof rack, a sunroof, tri-zone automatic climate control, a power driver's seat, eight-passenger seating and an eight-speaker sound system with iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The Limited adds 20-inch alloy wheels, a power liftgate, leather upholstery, Optitron instrumentation, a rear-view camera and 14-speaker premium JBL sound. The Platinum features adaptive cruise control, an air suspension, second-row captain's chairs for seven-passenger seating, perforated leather upholstery with driver's-side power thigh support, wood-grain interior trim, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with a nine-inch monitor and a DVD-based touch-screen navigation system. Some higher-end features are available on lower trim levels as options.

From the driver's perspective, the Sequoia is distinctly reminiscent of the Tundra, which makes sense-the two vehicles share not only the same platform but also the same dashboard. We give the Sequoia's control layout extra style points for its two-tone color treatment and stylized curves and knobs; however, the face of the dashboard is so flat and distant that the driver may not even be able to reach some of the controls. Try turning the stereo knob on the right side, for example. At least the materials are competitive by class standards.

The Sequoia's front seats are about what you'd expect: wide and largely without contour, but adequately supportive for longer trips. The 40/20/40 split second-row seat has plenty of room for adults, and it slides and reclines to accommodate various physiques. However, we give the comfort edge to the Platinum's standard second-row captain's chairs (optional on the Limited). The three-person third row is reasonably adult friendly as well-once you're situated, that is. Simply getting back there is the issue, as access is rather awkward via the Sequoia's elongated rear door and flip-forward second-row chair.

Cargo space is a Sequoia specialty. There's 18.9 cubic feet behind the third row (that's roughly a Ford Taurus trunk), 66.6 cubic feet behind the second row and a gargantuan 120.1 cubic feet with all rear seats folded.

Technology

With iPod/USB and Bluetooth integration provided even on the entry-level SR5, the Sequoia has its high-tech bases covered. It also gives up nothing to the latest minivans with its available nine-inch rear entertainment system. We can only come up with two criticisms: first, the DVD-based navigation system lacks hard drive music storage (an increasingly common luxury feature), and second, Toyota's new smartphone-based Entune mobile app interface is not offered in any Sequoia.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The Sequoia has either rear- or four-wheel drive (with low-range gearing), and it starts with a 4.6-liter V8 rated at 310 horsepower and 327 lb-ft of torque. This isn't a bad engine by any means; it just doesn't provide the authoritative acceleration that we expect in a big bruiser. Fortunately, there's a 5.7-liter V8 offered as well, and it makes a robust 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque. From the Tundra pickup to the Land Cruiser SUV, this beastly V8 is a hit wherever it turns up, and it makes the Sequoia a very satisfying vehicle when you hit the gas. Note that maximum tow ratings are very close: the 4.6 tops out at 6,900 pounds, while the 5.7 can manage 7,400 pounds in RWD SR5 form. Either way, the transmission is a six-speed automatic.

The EPA rates the Sequoia at 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway with the 4.6-liter V8 and RWD. That drops to 13/18 mpg with 4WD-same as the 5.7 with RWD. The 4WD 5.7 brings up the rear at 13/17 mpg. Pretty thirsty, yes, but that's not unusual for this type of vehicle.

Safety

The Sequoia comes standard with stability control, eight airbags (including front knee airbags), and four-wheel ABS. No crash tests have been conducted as of this writing.

Driving Impressions

The Sequoia may be the size of a small bus, but its Camry-style steering wheel and light steering effort make it feel more maneuverable than it actually is. It also has an independent rear suspension, which helps it negotiate bumps in a relatively civilized way for a truck-based SUV. In tight urban spots, of course, the Sequoia struggles, but it loves the open road, eating up highway miles with quiet composure. Four-wheel-drive Sequoias have two-speed transfer cases with low-range gearing, so if you plan to take your Sequoia off-road, you should be in good hands.

Other Cars to Consider

Chevrolet Tahoe - The venerable Tahoe doesn't have the Sequoia's thrust or interior polish, but it's a tried-and-true SUV with seating for up to nine.

Ford Expedition - The old-school Expedition is in need of rejuvenation, but, like the Tahoe, it has tradition on its side. Also, it can mostly keep pace with the Sequoia's ride and handling since it, too, has an independent rear suspension.

Dodge Durango - The recently redesigned Durango isn't as large as the others; it's a stretched Jeep Grand Cherokee, not a converted pickup truck. But it does feature a refined rear-wheel-drive platform, three usable rows of seating and an optional 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with output numbers that come close to the Toyota's.

AutoTrader Recommends

We're not usually this shallow, but what's a full-size luxury SUV without 20-inch wheels and leather seats? The Sequoia Limited would be our choice.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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