There is an anti-SUV buzz that is just now bubbling up from the cesspool of malcontents and making its way into the mainstream. Sure, there may be some good, solid reasons for not choosing an SUV as the primary family vehicle, but that's just the point, it's a choice. Last time we checked, the Stars and Stripes were still flying over every grade school, post office and armory from Malibu to Massachusetts. As long as that's the case, we as Americans should have the freedom to choose whatever legal product we feel best fits our dietary, housing or transportation needs without fear of finger-pointing or guilt trips drummed up by glory-seeking celebrities.
That being said, it does seem reasonable that a person might ask, "Why would anyone want an SUV?" — the answer is simple; versatility. All three of the full-size SUVs featured here offer an unprecedented level of versatility and convenience, and that is precisely what has driven consumers to adopt today's SUV as the postmodern version of the family station wagon. Anyone who needs, or wants, the ability to carry more than five passengers, quickly change from people hauling to cargo hauling, tow a trailer, venture off-road or travel on-road in harsh weather will likely find the appeal of a full-size SUV undeniable.
The good news it that all three contenders in our comparison test are perfectly capable vehicles. Unlike previous tests, there doesn't seem to be one vehicle that so far outclasses the competition that publishing the results is merely a formality. Not so long ago it would be easy to summarily dismiss the American entries as crude and trucklike, but both the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Tahoe have grown and matured into very civilized and quite comfortable trucks.
Ford redesigned its Expedition for 2003, and GM's SUVs underwent a major overhaul for the 2000 model year. Introduced for 2001, the Toyota Sequoia is sort of the newcomer in this group, but it is based on the proven and solid Toyota Tundra. For our test, we selected four-wheel-drive models.
Everyone likes a fair fight, and that's exactly what these three trucks gave us. All of these vehicles are competent vehicles and would represent a fine choice for a consumer shopping for a large SUV — there is no "dog" in the bunch.
During a week of testing, all three SUVs were driven both in the city, on slow twisty back roads, open highways and off-road. The results were noted at the time, and our editors then weighed in with a scoring system so complex it left those of us without MBAs stuttering and stammering in the corner of the lunchroom. So that no one feature or attribute would unfairly skew the testing results, categories such as engine performance, interior design, build quality and cabin noise were scored separately with the final score taking price into account.
Second Place (tie) - 2003 Ford Expedition
The Ford Expedition and Chevy Tahoe ended up close in the scoring (the Ford edged out the Chevrolet by 0.3 point — a tie by our rules), and it seems as if each vehicle excels where the other fails and vice versa. For example, editors agreed that the Tahoe's strong suit is its powerful engine and smooth ride, while its main problems center around the cheap-feeling interior. Exactly the opposite is true of the Expedition — its interior won high praise for its modern design, use of quality materials and an innovative third-row seat, while the engine was a bit of a disappointment and the ride was considered too harsh on rough surfaces. Although both vehicles fell short of the Sequoia's well-rounded package, each has its advantages: Hauling people and cargo is what the Ford does best.
Inside, the Expedition sports a contemporary and uncluttered look. The abundant use of matte finish plastic and metallic-looking vent rings had most of us singing its praises. Comments ranged from "simple and clean-looking" to "quite attractive." Compared to the Tahoe's cluttered and somewhat outdated dash, the Expedition is a breath of fresh air. Although our test Expedition had leather seats, the leather wasn't as soft or inviting as the Toyota's.
Ford has taken a decidedly simple approach to the heating, ventilation and A/C controls (three large round dials are well placed and simple to understand), but some minor controls had a rather cheap feel. One editor complained that the lack of a recirculation button was irritating, the only way to keep outside air from entering the cabin is to crank the large, round knob all the way over to "max A/C" — not good. The fact that automatic climate control is not available on the XLT FX4 model was a minor irritant as well.
Like the Sequoia, the Ford Expedition offers a roomy interior. Second- and third-row seats are comfortable and both offer adequate legroom. In fact, the Expedition's rearmost seat is the only one in the group that adults won't mind riding in on long trips. The third-row seats fold flat with a quick and easy release handle; power-folding rear seats are an option on the Eddie Bauer model. The utter simplicity of not having to remove seats by hand had some editors guessing that many families will be happier with the Expedition than any other SUV simply because of the hassle-free fold-flat seats. The Expedition and its upscale Lincoln Navigator twin are the first and only full-size SUVs to offer this feature, but we'd bet that will change in the next few years.
On the road, the Expedition is noticeably more refined than the previous model. The Ford now has independent rear suspension which makes for more confident handling and a smoother ride overall. And for such a big truck, the Expedition does handle quite well. Thanks to its well-tune suspension and excellent steering, the big Ford was somewhat fun to drive on curvy mountain roads. All of our editors commented on the near perfect weighting of the steering and the truck's sharp handling characteristics. One editor summed up the Expedition's improved ride and handling quite succinctly: "On smooth pavement, it's more composed than the Tahoe but not as plush as the Sequoia."
The "on smooth pavement" qualifier was one we couldn't ignore. Yes, we were impressed by the Expedition's on-road manners, but off-road it was the worst of the bunch. Part of our test route included an off-road portion, but a portion of the "paved" road on the way to the off-road course was probably rougher and more uneven than all the dirt roads we drove on that day. Once the road became uneven, the Expedition lost its composure and felt very jarring. The vibration also caused quite a din as the skid plates (we assume) began clanking and rattling.
Further, given that our test vehicle was the "off-road-oriented" XLT FX4 model — and equipped with off-road-duty shock absorbers and the aforementioned skid plates — it was disappointing to find that it did not excel in the off-road portion of the test. The Expedition was also the only truck in our test to have a difficult time traversing our off-road course. It wasn't just the jarring ride, but several times the Expedition scraped parts of its underside as we attempted to navigate dirt hills or steep inclines. All the trucks were driven on the same course several times by different drivers, and the Ford was the only one to scrape its belly.
Like we said earlier, the Tahoe and Expedition were very close throughout the scoring process, but they achieved their scores by doing well in completely separate areas. For example, we loved the Tahoe's smooth and powerful 285-horsepower Vortec V8, but found that Ford's similarly sized V8 lacked muscle. The Expedition's SOHC 5.4-liter makes a reasonable 260 hp, but the Sequoia's 240-hp V8 felt more powerful. Of the bunch, the Expedition has the most torque with 350 pound-feet. That could explain why our editors were initially impressed with the Expedition's power, but found that it quickly ran out of steam. The 5.4-liter V8 seemed particularly taxed when trying to accelerate uphill, and more than one editor noted that Ford's motor ran out of breath above 70 mph. It's not so much that the Expedition feels underpowered, but given that it feels only adequate with just one person behind the wheel and no cargo in back, we can't help but worry about its performance when loaded with five people and their gear.
On a positive note, the revised V8 is a tenfold leap in terms of civility. Noise and vibration are way down and what noise there is, sounds like a pleasant purr when accelerating. Smoothness and low-speed responsiveness are the high points with regard to the Ford's power plant.
Finally, the Ford Expedition won top honors in terms of exterior styling. While the mass-appeal Sequoia opts for a more conservative look and the Tahoe is intended to carry the Chevy Truck's banner, the Expedition's look is totally the embodiment of the modern SUV. The sport-ute's revised front fascia somehow looks bold, rugged and classy all at once. "Clean lines — modern but classic-looking," wrote one editor. Another called the Expedition "clean and handsome," while another more environmentally concerned editor said, "I feel a bit ashamed, but I do like the way this big SUV looks."
Despite the Expedition's handful of shortcomings, it has a lot to offer in terms of style, interior space and value. The Expedition was the least expensive of our three SUVs, yet it had all the basic amenities. We'd like a little more power and a more Toyotalike attention paid to some of the interior bits and pieces, but overall, the 2003 Ford Expedition is a huge improvement over last year's model and certainly a solid buy for big families.
Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
The new-for-2003 Expedition had a few things going for it over the others in this test. One is the on-road handling; the steering feel was the best of the trio, as it was precise, had no play and was well weighted. And body roll through the turns was well controlled — of course, our test unit was the FX4 version that includes a stiffer suspension setup, which helps. And though the ride was firm, the ride on pavement was fine. The only time the FX4 seemed to lose its composure somewhat was, ironically enough (as the FX4 is essentially an off-road package), when tackling the rutted dirt trails, where it seemed as if softer calibrations would've allowed the bumps to be more completely absorbed.
The other advantage the Ford has is its independent rear suspension design, which allows the third-row seat to have a deep footwell (thus providing more legroom so that even adults can ride back there in relative comfort). It also allows said seat to fold flat into the floor, making the task of getting that big screen TV home from Best Buy a matter of flicking a few levers and plopping the seat backs down, instead of having to deal with the hassle of removing the seats.
To me, it's almost a toss-up between the Ford and Chevy for second place, but I think the Expedition would be the better choice for most consumers who would appreciate the more generous passenger and cargo capacity along with that convenient stow-away third seat.
Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:
The Ford Expedition left me in a quandary. I certainly can't deny the value that its massive, user-friendly cabin has for family buyers. The 40/20/40 second row and 60/40 third row can each accommodate three across with minimal passenger discomfort. A generous array of storage bins is ready to house toys and personal items, and a neat parabolic kiddie mirror (lifted from the Windstar) allows you to keep an eye on little ones from the cockpit. And, when you need more cargo room, those third-row seats will fold right into the floor. What could be easier?
But power from the Ford's 5.4-liter V8 was unimpressive for a $40,000-plus vehicle, and it was delivered in an unrefined manner. The Expedition is larger than the others, and it felt that way on city streets and the highway. To its credit, body roll is well controlled when rounding corners, and the steering provides excellent weighting. Inside, the Ford looks downright stylish compared with the others, and materials quality is definitely a couple steps above the Tahoe's, though not at the level of the Sequoia's. The controls were generally easy to use, but since I breathe L.A. air everyday, I can't abide by Ford's reliance on "max A/C" in lieu of a separate recirculation mode for its climate control systems. Ultimately, I decided that I'd rather have the Sequoia or Tahoe as a personal vehicle, but if someone else asked for a recommendation, I'd tell them to try the Ford Expedition (after the Toyota, of course) — it has a few disadvantages, but its intelligent cabin design could make it a satisfying choice for families.
Stereo Evaluation - 2003 Ford Expedition
Ranking in Test: Third
System Score: 4.0
Components: The base sound system for the Ford Expedition comes with a tape/CD player and four speakers sharing only 160 watts. Not a lot in a truck this big.
Performance: The familiar Ford head unit is easy to use and includes Radio Data System (RDS) which decodes song info broadcasted by some radio stations. That's about all the good news. The full-range drivers in the doors try to reproduce all types of sound, and do a subpar job with all assignments. Guitars bleed into vocals, while bass ruins everything else when it's in the mix and sounds hollow when it stands alone. With the speakers mounted low in each door, the soundstage seems stuck to the floor.
Best Feature: RDS.
Worst Feature: Only four speakers in a giant cabin.
Conclusion: Weak sauce. — Trevor Reed
Second Place (tie) - 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe
It almost seems hard to believe that the Chevrolet Tahoe (and its twin, the GMC Yukon) would come in second place in a segment it helped to pioneer. Surely the full-size Blazer, later to be renamed Tahoe, was one of the major reasons the whole SUV craze began in the first place. But while longevity is great for history lessons, it really means little to a car-buying public that simply wants the best car at the best price.
The Tahoe excels in a few very key areas. Our editors agree that one reason for the Tahoe's success is the optional 5.3-liter Vortec V8 that makes 285 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. It offers 25 more horsepower than the Expedition and a whopping 45 more than the Sequoia, and the surge of power when accelerating makes the difference noticeable. The Tahoe really delivers with a winning powertrain, so much so that the rest of the truck almost seems out of step with it. Upon delivery of the Tahoe, one editor jumped into the driver seat and instinctively turned the ignition key. Only after three attempts did he realize the engine was already running high praise indeed.
The four-speed automatic transmission earns equally high marks as our editors found it to shift properly and almost seamlessly for both up and downshifts. Further, it never gets confused and is perfectly capable of choosing the right gear in every driving situation.
The Chevy Tahoe also scored high in the on-road handling department. Editors praised it for its fun-to-drive nature and commented that it was the easiest to hustle around mountain roads while still delivering a civil ride on the highway.
Although we found the Tahoe's brakes to be fine for most driving situations, one editor noted that the ABS allowed too much wheel slippage before engaging. In fact we were unable to give the Tahoe a proper brake test as our test vehicle developed a problem with the ABS system later in the week the ABS light stayed lit and no ABS functions would work.
Despite its more street-oriented tires, the Tahoe still proved to be a worthy companion off-road. Both the Sequoia and Tahoe performed equally well on our mildly challenging off-road course (with the Expedition being the only vehicle that didn't excel in that portion of the test). Like the others, the Tahoe has low-range gearing (4 Low) for off-roading. Engine braking was adequate on steep descents, though we found the Sequoia to be slightly better in this regard.
If we had to point to one area where the Tahoe falls far short compared to the Toyota Sequoia, it would have to be the interior. Granted, the Sequoia's interior is not perfect, but when considering quality of materials, seat comfort, interior design and passenger space, the Toyota has the Tahoe beaten. We found the Tahoe to have far too much hard plastic inside, especially around the dash area. Toyota and Ford seem to use much better materials and offer a more contemporary interior design that is both functional and pleasing to the eye. One editor called the Tahoe's dash design "dated," while others agreed but found the large, almost oversized buttons very user-friendly. The Tahoe also earned praise for its ample storage areas in the cabin.
The Tahoe's front seats are fairly comfortable, but a few editors complained that the seat bottoms seemed too short. Also, the quality of the leather on our LT model paled in comparison to the soft and supple seats found in the Sequoia. Second-row seating in the Tahoe is average in terms of legroom and comfort, but the Sequoia offers more spacious accommodations. The same is true for the third row in the Tahoe, the third-row seat is for kids only.
The Tahoe's interior high points include newly available adjustable pedals, useful steering wheel-mounted audio and climate control functions and available XM Satellite Radio and OnStar telematics.
We found the rear area of the Tahoe's interior relatively easy to convert from people space to a flat floor for cargo hauling, but that process still requires you to manually remove the third-row seats. The seats themselves come with carrying handles, and three easy-to-use levers make the operation very straightforward. Each seat has small wheels to facilitate the process. Even though the Tahoe's seats were easier to deal with than the Sequoia's, the Expedition's fold-flat third-row seat is still the best solution there is just no comparison.
Despite some low points, the Tahoe is still a competent vehicle. If not for a cheap-looking and — feeling interior and lack of room in both second- and third-row seats, the Tahoe would be a more formidable opponent for the Sequoia. That said, if you're going to be doing a lot of towing, the Chevrolet Tahoe is certainly an SUV to consider.
Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
Like the Caddy Escalade that recently participated in our Luxury SUV comparison test, the Chevy Tahoe had its typical GM strengths
and weaknesses. As with the Caddy, a potent V8 and a smart and smooth automatic tranny earned the Tahoe big points in my book. The Vortec series of V8s presents a strong argument for "old-fashioned" pushrod architecture as a smooth rush of power is always there under your right foot. Drive the Ford and the Chevy back to back and you'll see what I mean. And the gearbox is never caught off guard; there's no annoying lag whether it is clicking up through the gears or stepping down quickly. Other factors in the Tahoe's favor include a pleasant ride and very comfortable seats (with four-way power lumbar adjustment for the driver).
Unfortunately, not all the driving dynamics earned a gold star. The brakes didn't feel quite as well sorted as the drivetrain: in spite of having ABS, they locked up briefly on a slick piece of pavement when I purposely stood on the pedal, as if the antilock system wasn't pulsing the brakes fast enough. Furthermore, the steering lacks road feel and seems a bit slow, especially when compared to the Expedition's superb setup.
And not to beat a dead horse, but the dull, hard plastics that GM insists on using still turn me off to its interiors; Ford made a determined effort to upgrade the Expedition's cabin this year and did a great job in terms of having an attractive and functional environment for driver and passengers. Still, when all was said and done, the Tahoe edged out the Expedition for second place in my personal picks. Seems like a great drivetrain has a way of making up for a number of petty grievances.
Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:c
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed driving the Tahoe in this test. Although it was the oldest design, it still offered a cushy ride around town and manageable handling around turns. True, it wasn't as domesticated as the Sequoia, as less-than-smooth pavement brought out some unnecessary jostling, but it was equally well suited for medium-difficulty off-roading. The steering needs some work the wheel just doesn't tighten up enough at highway speeds. The best part of the package is surely the 5.3-liter V8. This engine pulls hard at any speed and is really the only one in the group suited for serious towing.
Inside, the second- and third-row seats weren't as comfortable or as roomy as the Expedition's or Sequoia's, and there wasn't as much storage to go around. The 50/50 third-row seats were a bit easier to remove than the Toyota's, but they were still cumbersome to deal with compared with the Ford's fold-flat seats. Further, the Chevy's interior materials were terrible compared with the others, and build quality wasn't as tight. On the outside, the Tahoe looked cheap with its black plastic D-pillars and total lack of body-side moldings. While I might consider buying one as a personal vehicle (behind the Sequoia, that is), the Chevrolet Tahoe isn't well-rounded enough for me to recommend it highly as a family vehicle.
Stereo Evaluation - 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe
Ranking in Test: First (tie)
System Score: 8.0
Components: Our test Tahoe included a Bose subwoofer integrated into the center console. There are eight additional speakers. The tweeters are mounted in the pillars next to the windshield, and a couple of midtweets can be found near the back window. There is a speaker in each door, and it sounds like the front drivers are dedicated to bass while the rear speakers attempt to reproduce the entire spectrum of sound coming from the head unit. The optional in-dash six-disc changer includes a Radio Data System display, and large head unit buttons are complemented by optional steering wheel-mounted controls.
Performance: The system is very easy to use, thanks to the placement of the head unit and the buttons on the wheel. Loading discs takes a while (as with most in-dash units) but is aided by beeps and a red/green LED light. The speakers are powerful and do a good job of filling the cabin with accurate, yet somewhat lifeless, sound. Cymbal crashes and keyboard bleeps are strong, but more delicate tones such as chimes and female vocals reveal a tendency for the tweets to break up at high volumes. The subwoofer was moved to the front of the cabin from the rear for 2003 — thank goodness. Bass is no longer trapped with third-row passengers in the cargo area. It sounds much more natural in this location, and will be strong enough for most folks, but very deep tones are weak when the system is pushed.
Best Feature: Nine speakers.
Worst Feature: Needs more low bass.
Conclusion: A great factory stereo system, but low-end theorists may go searching for more bass in the aftermarket. — Trevor Reed
First Place - 2003 Toyota Sequoia
The Toyota Sequoia, the manufacturer's newest entry into the full-size SUV market, is a winner in many ways. Although each of the three trucks in our comparison has something of value to offer those shopping for a new SUV, it's the Toyota that turns in the winning score with its refined road manners and pleasant cabin accommodations. Even so, the Sequoia is an underdog of sorts. Full-size SUVs have typically been domestic automakers' bread and butter, and it's something they've been doing long before the term "sport-utility vehicle" was even coined. Sure, Toyota has had the Land Cruiser since the 1970s, but that has grown into a rather pricey and luxurious truck. Clearly, it's the family-friendly Sequoia that Toyota intends to run head to head with the likes of Ford and Chevy, and in our view, it has succeeded.
First, let's talk about everything the Toyota Sequoia does right. Without debate, the iForce V8 earned high praise for its silky-smooth character and terrific use of the available power. The Toyota's 4.7-liter V8 is the smallest engine of the three test vehicles, and as a result, it offers the least amount of power. However, more than one editor commented that it felt more powerful than its 240-hp rating suggested and more than adequate for everyday driving.
The Sequoia's transmission scored high, and it offers the best low-range for off-roading and has near perfect street manners it rarely gets confused and offers smooth but solid shifts. Off-road, the Sequoia feels the most competent thanks to very short low-range gearing. The Sequoia provided the best engine braking and left us feeling completely in control. The powertrain is clearly a reason to love the Sequoia and there is little doubt in our minds that if Toyota ups the power on this wonderfully refined motor, the Sequoia would far outclass its Ford and Chevy competition.
But there's more to a great SUV than a decent engine and transmission. Our editors unanimously agreed that the Sequoia achieves such a high level of on-road refinement, it makes the others feel more like the trucks they really are. Bumps and ruts barely upset the Sequoia's Lexuslike ride quality and it's this kind of refinement that makes the big Toyota very easy to live with on a daily basis. On the other hand, we found both the Tahoe and Expedition to be more fun to drive. One editor summed it up this way; "Totally refined but not as much personality as the Tahoe or Expedition perfect for the average buyer."
Should Sequoia owners decide to break from the mini-mall routine of everyday life and venture off-road they will not be disappointed. The same civility and refinement we found in the Sequoia on-road translates well to off-road situations. Rough terrain is effectively smoothed out by the Sequoia's suspension, and Toyota's rock solid build quality makes for a rattle-free ride even off-road. With nine inches of ground clearance (Toyota claims 10.6 inches of ground clearance, but that measurement is not taken from the lowest point on the vehicle) from the rear differential, the Toyota easily climbs hills that had the Expedition scraping its belly on the ground.
Inside, the Sequoia offers plush, almost luxury carlike leather, whereas the Ford and Chevy have hides that seem more suited to an affordable family sedan than a $40,000 SUV. We also found the Sequoia's seats to be the most comfortable. The second- and third-row seats offer ample room, and even adults can expect a trip in the third row to be bearable. The Sequoia's interior material quality ranked very high as well, and even though one editor said the interior lacked enough "soft touch" surfaces, it still earned 28 out of a possible 30 points in that area. Buttons and switches feel durable and tactilely pleasing in the Toyota, and the one-touch driver and front-passenger windows were appreciated.
We all agree that the Toyota is up to par with regard to the materials used inside, but the way all that plastic, metal and leather come together is another matter. The faux metallic surfaces work well, but some of the switchgear is placed in odd or unfriendly locations. The seat warmer buttons are both located on the passenger's side of the console, for example, and the recessed center stack was difficult to reach while driving. Next to the Expedition, we found the Sequoia's interior to be somewhat lackluster in style, one editor even went so far as to use the word "dull."
One major drawback we noticed on the Sequoia is how difficult the rear seats are to fold and remove. The third-row seats are just too bulky, heavy and cumbersome to take out and install quickly or easily. Expedition has raised the bar with its terrifically simple and convenient fold-flat third-row seats, which eliminates the need to remove or carry bulky seats altogether.
So the Sequoia isn't perfect. But even with its few drawbacks, this is the full-size SUV that we think most buyers will be most happy with in the long run. The Sequoia offers a near luxury cabin, Lexuslike ride quality and an ultrarefined drivetrain. Add to this Toyota's reputation for reliability, high resale value and the standard 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty and it's easy to see why the Toyota Sequoia is our top pick among full-size SUVs.
Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
A few years ago, my brother Joe was in the market for a large SUV (because he actually needed one, having a family of six as well as a horse and trailer). Knowing that Toyotas are about as reliable as the sun coming up, he was interested in either a used current-generation (1998 and up) Land Cruiser or the then-new Sequoia. Knowing that the Sequoia shared the same creamy-smooth and willing 4.7-liter V8 with the much more expensive Land Cruiser (at that time rated at 10 more horsepower in the Sequoia) and had considerably more passenger and cargo space, it was a no-brainer to go with it. Sure, the Land Cruiser would be more adept off-road, but that's not what he needed an SUV for. Long story short, Joe bought the Sequoia, a loaded-up SR5 (he didn't want the leather seats that came standard on the Limited), and has enjoyed its comfortable ride and trouble-free service ever since.
OK, so what does his little brother who makes his living evaluating cars and trucks think? Well, one needn't be an automotive expert to appreciate a vehicle that performs effortlessly, provides plenty of space and comfort and has a nearly bulletproof record for overall quality and long-term reliability. Toyota continues to have a level of refinement that the domestics still can't match. Everything from the cabin materials to the ease of maneuverability makes the Sequoia the most likable choice in this comparison. Even when subjected to the off-road portion of our test, the Sequoia handled it with dispatch, feeling solid as a rock the whole time. Yes, the Tahoe boasts the best performance and the Ford has that nifty fold-flat third seat, but the Sequoia is the most well-rounded truck in the class and the one I'd put in my driveway, comforted by the knowledge that the only time I'd have to bring it to the shop would be for oil changes and normal maintenance.
Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:
As full-size SUVs go, the Toyota Sequoia is my favorite it's the one I would put in my own parking spot and it's the one I would recommend without hesitation to friends and neighbors. No, it doesn't have the Expedition's roomy third-row seat or the Tahoe's torque-rich V8, but it splits the difference nicely in both areas: Its third-row bench is fully usable for kids (more so than the Chevy's) and its V8 makes up for its modest power with unparalleled refinement.
Moreover, the Toyota is strong in almost all areas. It steers, rides and brakes so smoothly and easily whether you're in town, on the highway or doing a little off-roading. The materials used in the cabin are generally of solid quality (on par with what you'd find in a midsize sedan), and most of them are carefully put together. Most of the controls are easy to use, and the Sequoia is the only SUV in this group that gives you one-touch up-and-down front windows. My only real complaints about the Sequoia involve its non-fold-flat third-row seats which I found quite heavy when I tried to remove them and the high price of our Limited-trim test vehicle. It cost over $6,000 more than the Expedition, and that's big money when you're shopping for family transportation. To make the Toyota Sequoia a good deal, you're going to have to give up the leather and stick with the SR5.
Stereo Evaluation - 2003 Toyota Sequoia
Ranking in Test: First (tie)
System Score: 8.0
Components: The Limited trim comes standard with an impressive 10-speaker JBL audio system, a CD/tape player and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Our test vehicle had the optional six-CD changer in the dash and rear-seat audio controls. Six of the speakers can be found near the first row of seats. Metallic dome tweeters are next to the side mirrors, and midrange drivers are paired with large woofers in the door panels. Second-row passengers also get treated to big woofers next to tweets in the back doors.
Performance: Not many factory sound systems use three-way speaker arrays. That's too bad. When speakers can concentrate on the sounds they are designed to produce, there's less interference, which means less distortion the sworn enemy of sonic quality. There's nothing better than crisp highs provided by tweeters, a tight midrange and woofers dedicated to bass.
The JBL units do a great job of sharing the work. The tweets sound sharp, bringing definition to cymbal crashes and guitar feedback without much distortion at reasonable volumes. The midrange is very powerful. Vocals are strong and acoustic guitars have a depth that is lacking in most factory audio systems. Basslines and drums are taut and have a nice amount of resonance, but lack the deep-down rumble that could be provided with a separate subwoofer.
Best Feature: Three-way speaker array.
Worst Feature: Not enough of that good-sounding bass.
Conclusion: A great standard stereo system for the Limited trim, but some drivers may want to add an aftermarket sub. Trevor Reed
The Toyota Sequoia offers all the luxury and refinement of a minivan or near luxury sedan but also proves its worth off-road. The Sequoia is not the most powerful, least expensive or best-looking full-size SUV, but it does offer real-world usability in a smooth and sophisticated package that will prove reliable for years. The Sequoia's few shortcomings seem to center around an engine that we thought could use some more grunt and an interior that seems oddly designed, especially in the dash area. As soon as Toyota is able to put Ford's fold-flat third-row seat in the Sequoia, it'll have a near perfect vehicle. The only downside to all this praise is that Toyota quality is no secret, so don't look to the Sequoia if you value individuality or are looking for a truck that stands out from the crowd.
With the Toyota so far ahead of both the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition, it was left to the domestics to fight for second place. Ultimately, they settled for a draw.
The Ford Expedition does several things very well but misses the mark in other areas. It handles well for such a big vehicle, but we would like to see more power maybe the Navigator's 300-hp, DOHC V8 as an option? It's not that we could say the Expedition is underpowered as the engine does offer terrific initial response, but that same motor seems to run out of breath uphill and at higher speeds. The Expedition's interior is very clean and contemporary-looking and the fold-flat third-row seat will undoubtedly become an industry standard. The Expedition was also the least expensive truck in our test and we think it's the best-looking as well. Got a family? The Expedition's got your number.
The Chevy Tahoe is also a very nice truck — its powerful and pleasant engine is what pushed it nearer the top of our personal lists. It also boasts wonderful ride and handling characteristics. However, the Chevy's interior needs some work. We feel there is just too much hard plastic and cheap-feeling pieces this is especially true given our test vehicle's $45,000 price tag. If you just love the way the Tahoe looks and you must have factory-installed XM radio and/or OnStar, the Tahoe is your only choice. Those who regularly tow a trailer and rarely have need for third-row seating should be pleased with the muscular Tahoe.