A big dog that's as nice as a Lexus.
by Mike Quincy
Base Price (MSRP) $30,815
As Tested (MSRP) $45,602
To give you an idea of the amount of space the new Toyota Sequoia takes up, it's actually bigger than a Chevrolet Tahoe and about equal in size to a Ford Expedition. That's a big dog. Not quite Ford Excursion or Hummer proportions, but still a near-monster truck.
However, the Sequoia is also very civilized, quiet, comfortable, and, in the Limited version we drove, very luxurious. Over and over we had to remind ourselves that we weren't driving a Lexus, as our test model was filled to the brim with sumptuous leather seats, automatic climate control, and a killer JBL stereo that had an in-dash 6-CD changer.
Perhaps the best feature of the Sequoia is its ability to function as an awesome family vehicle. With standard eight-passenger seating in three rows of seats, the Sequoia can haul a boatload of kids (with or without the big dogs in tow).
The Sequoia is bigger in nearly every interior and exterior measurement than the Toyota Land Cruiser; however, the top-of-the-line Sequoia Limited is more than $10,000 less expensive.
The Sequoia is offered in SR5 and Limited trim lines.
The SR5 comes standard with power windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, automatic climate control, and an AM/FM stereo with both cassette and CD players. The Limited version adds leather upholstery, front and rear air conditioning, heated outside mirrors, JBL stereo, roof rack, and alloy wheels.
Both trim lines come standard with skid control to aid handling and traction control to help in slippery driving conditions.
The standard engine is a 240-horsepower 4.7-liter V8, which is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Both rear- and four-wheel drive models are offered.
The front end of the Sequoia borrows key styling elements from Toyota's full-size Tundra pickup. That's no surprise considering they're both built in the same assembly plant in Princeton, Indiana. The front and rear doors are nicely integrated and fit proportionally with the rearmost seating and cargo area.
Our Limited model came with fog lights, side running boards, attractive five-spoke alloy wheels, and a rear spoiler. The overall look is clean, purposeful, and, above all BIG. One unique feature: The Sequoia comes with a liftgate rear window that actually rolls down (just like those wood-paneled station wagons of the '60s and '70s).
The first thing you notice about the Sequoia's interior is the attention to detail embedded in its design. For example, we appreciated the extra front seat visors; while the primary visor is deployed above the side window, an additional visor can be extended down from the headliner to block the sun streaming into the windshield. Plus, there's a terrifically large bin between the front seats, which is split into two levels. The top level has a notepad holder and a place for coins. The bottom level has a molded, bookshelf-like CD holder to keep up to eight CDs from rattling around. There's also enough room left over to hold a six-pack or a moderately sized purse. Further, there's an overhead console that holds sunglasses and an information center that gives readouts for vehicle direction (compass), outside temperature, and fuel economy statistics, such as miles until empty, and overall and instant mpg.
Our Limited model was fitted with comfortable (and heated) leather seats, an enormous moonroof, and every power-operated convenience feature you could imagine. Other items make family outings a snap: multiple cupholders and storage bins scattered throughout the cabin; large openings for the rear doors which make installing child safety seats a breeze; front and rear air conditioning controls; and flexible seating arrangements. The third-row seats are easy to tumble forward (or remove, as they only weigh 52 pounds each) to expand the cargo area. In doing this, we could fit both a jogging stroller and a baby backpack, plus all the rest of the gear you need for a day's worth of hiking, in the cargo area with ease. For maximum cargo carrying, you remove the third-row seats and fold and tumble the second-row seats behind the two front seats. There's enough space back there to clean out Toys 'R Us during a clearance sale.
However, all is not perfect. Toyota has a tendency to make its adjustable intermittent windshield wiper controls the opposite of what we would call intuitive. You'd think that if you want to turn up the tempo of the wipers' frequency, you'd twist the wheel on the wiper control stalk up (as in "turn it up"). But it's the other way around, a minor nit, we admit. Also, the clock is mounted far too low in center of the dash and is obscured by the climate control switches. And not all of us are enamored with the Hammertone trim in the Limited model.
Piloting the Sequoia on the open road is a pleasure. We loved the smooth and powerful V8 engine. It's a marvel of a power plant, and this truck needs all of its 240 horsepower. The transmission, too, was seamless in operation. With such a long wheelbase and overall heft, the Sequoia delivers a comfortable ride on all types of road conditions. While our Limited model was almost as luxurious as a Lexus, it wasn't nearly as quiet. Wind noise at highway speeds wasn't obtrusive, but the cabin wasn't as hushed as Lexus LS 430 sedan we recently drove.
But all of this luxury and comfort come with a price: The Sequoia is an absolute pig at the gas pump. EPA says to expect only 14 mpg in city driving and a paltry 17 mpg on the highway.
Braking, while never nerve rattling, takes a little getting used to. Stopping a vehicle the size of a Sequoia takes planning ahead, and you shouldn't wait until the last minute to apply pressure to the pedal. Technically, the brakes work fine (and ABS is standard); just don't forget that you're not driving a lithe sports car.
The Sequoia is not, however, a joy to get in and out of. Although the Limited model comes with side running boards (optional on the SR5) and grab handles mounted inside of the doorframes, you must be prepared to lift yourself up and into this vehicle. In contrast, a regular car allows you to literally drop into the seat. A big beast like the Sequoia requires some physical dexterity and for its occupants to be unafraid of heights: A commanding view of the passing scenery is guaranteed from every seat.
As you'd imagine from a vehicle of this size, the Sequoia is not an easy barge to park. Parallel parking this hulk in downtown Austin, Texas, proved to be a humbling experience.
The Sequoia is a champ if you have to transport lots of kids to and fro on a regular basis. We say "kids" because they're the only ones with the agility to hop over the middle-row to get to the three-person rear seats. Asking full-sized adults to crawl back there will likely cost you a few friends.
There are two controls to activate the optional four-wheel drive system. The first is a simple button, located fairly low in the center of the dashboard. Punching it will put the vehicle in four-wheel high, which is good for driving on snowy or slippery roads. Engaging this extra traction can be done on the fly without having to stop the vehicle. You'll also find a traditional-looking shift lever located between the front seats to activate four-wheel low; also known as the creeper gear, this is only for more extreme off-road use, such as descending a very steep hill.
Speaking of steep hills, the Sequoia's active traction control, called A-TRAC, which comes standard on four-wheel-drive models, made it easy for us to drive straight up a set of moguls on a dry, gravel-covered ski slope at Big Sky, Montana. Instead of modulating the throttle, we simply held the gas down, and it walked right up the hill, transferring torque to the tires with the best grip. Drop it into the low range, and the system automatically locks the center differential for go-anywhere traction capability. Two-wheel-drive Sequoias also come standard with traction control, though, obviously, they won't offer the mogul-climbing abilities of the four-wheel-drive models.
The skid-control feature, which comes standard, helps the Sequoia maintain stability should the vehicle lose traction and begin to slid sideways. Like other electronic stability programs, it selectively applies braking force to individual wheels to stop a skid, and it can really help you avoid an accident.
A two-wheel-drive Sequoia is rated to tow up to a 6500-pound trailer, while a 4x4 is rated to pull a 6200-pound trailer.
Is the Toyota Sequoia the ultimate family vehicle? Look at the score sheet and you'll find that it has seating for up to eight (or five and have LOTS of room to bring the dogs); Toyota's legendary reliability; a smooth, comfortable ride; towing capacity for a 6200-pound trailer; and lots of safety equipment, including traction- and skid-control, available front side- and head-level airbags, three-point seatbelts for all seating positions, available on-demand four-wheel drive, and the secure feeling that comes with driving a vehicle that weighs more than 5,000 pounds.
Even though family life implies a certain amount of restraint and sacrifice to not follow what's trendy, most of the young families I know would still rather die than be seen driving a minivan (despite the fact that most minivans ride and handle better, sip less fuel, and cost less than many SUVs - - especially those that offer third-row seating).
Overall, though, the Sequoia is a marvelous truck. Perhaps not the best day-to-day family taxi in congested, urban areas, but certainly unbeatable for family road trips.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.