Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
Way back in 1993, just as good ol' Bill Clinton was getting settled into his new D.C. digs, Toyota took a bold but misguided step into the full-size truck market with an undersized and underpowered pickup called the T100. Lacking a V8 and enough interior and cargo room to sway full-size truck buyers, the T100 barely made a dent in domestic truck sales and sent Toyota back to the drawing board.
Fast-forward seven years. Bill's moving out, Hillary's moving in, and Toyota returns for another shot at the full-size domestic truck market with an all-new truck called the Tundra. This time the company does its homework and offers a bigger, almost full-size truck with a powerful V8, spacious interior and enough cargo capacity to make the Big Three stand up and take notice. Consumers notice, too, and Toyota sells more than 140,000 Tundras in its first year and a half on the market.
Confident in its ability to beat the Big Three at their own game, Toyota has taken aim at yet another uniquely American vehicle segment: the full-size sport utility. This time, however, it won't need any second chances.
Simply put, the Sequoia is the sport-ute that will force GM and Ford back to the drawing board. With exceptional road manners, a powerful but smooth V8 and a healthy dose of Toyota build quality, the Sequoia will undoubtedly cut deep into the sales numbers of its domestic competition.
Nearly identical to Ford's Expedition in exterior dimensions and a full 5 inches longer than GM's Yukon/Tahoe twins, the Sequoia is Toyota's largest vehicle ever. It claims to have significantly more cargo room and ground clearance than its Ford and GM rivals. We don't fully agree, but we'll explain later. More importantly, the Sequoia is a full 2 inches shorter than either of its domestic competitors, a noteworthy dimension when it comes to preventing your sport-ute from getting scalped of its ski rack at the local parking structure.
Built on the same platform as the Tundra truck, the Sequoia incorporates a few key modifications to help it deliver a more docile, sport-utility-like ride. Structurally identical to the Tundra from the front doors forward, the Sequoia gets additional frame reinforcement in the rear for better vibration damping and less harshness. In place of the Tundra's leaf spring setup is a sophisticated five-link coil spring rear suspension for improved ride quality and control.
Despite its imposing size, the big brute feels surprisingly agile around town, with an easy-to-drive character more akin to a Camry than a full-size sport-ute. The steering could be a little quicker and the radius tighter (both the Expedition and Tahoe turn smaller circles), but it maneuvers and parks as if it's a couple feet shorter.
Driving briskly on a winding canyon road, the 5,000-plus-pound SUV displayed remarkable dexterity, exhibiting only moderate roll despite its lofty center of gravity. Traversing over gaping potholes barely registered within the isolated cabin, and the whisper-quiet interior made for soothing highway cruising.
Under the hood rests a slightly modified version of the i-Force V8 from the Tundra pickup. Displacing 4.7 liters and rated at 240 horsepower at 4,800 rpm and 315 foot-pounds of torque, this engine lives up to Toyota's tradition of buttery smooth powertrains that deliver seamless power with minimal apparent effort. The DOHC V8 powerplant pulls hard all the way to the redline, generating full torque at a low 3,400 rpm, slightly lower than even GM's gutsy 5.3-liter Vortec V8 (325 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm). Despite the available torque, the Sequoia's maximum towing capacity tops out at 6,500 pounds (6,200 on four-wheel-drive models), significantly less than its heavier-duty competition.
Power is routed through an electronically controlled four-speed overdrive automatic. Like most Toyota units, it administers quick and precise shifts with little hesitation, handling even haphazard stabs at the throttle with little or no confusion. Full-throttle kickdowns could come a little quicker, and the shift detents could be a bit more positive, but overall, it proves itself a more than capable partner to the supreme V8.
Further on down the line rests a dual-range transfer case controlled by what has to be one of the world's most idiot-proof four-wheel-drive systems. Engaging all four wheels requires nothing more than pushing the big oval button on the dash marked "4WD." There's still a floor-mounted lever for engaging the locking center differential and low-range gears in the transfer case, but for the majority of drivers, that big button on the dash is all you'll ever need.
In addition to the added traction of four-wheel drive, the Sequoia also boasts both a standard Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) system (unavailable on either of its competitors) and an active traction control system known as A-TRAC on four-wheel-drive models and simply TRAC on two-wheel-drive models.
The VSC system is intended to maintain vehicle control while cornering by comparing steering input with the actual path of the vehicle. If it senses too much variation between the two, the system will automatically reduce engine output and apply individual brakes to restore control.
The A-TRAC system makes use of the same wheel sensors as the VSC system, but instead monitors wheel slippage only and selectively applies individual brakes to maintain proper traction. The TRAC system on two-wheel-drive models works in the same manner, but is applied to the rear wheels only. Two-wheel-drive models also have the option of switching off the TRAC system for uninterrupted power in soft sand or similar surfaces.
On bumpy backroads, the Sequoia is predictably plush, filtering out all but the most severe road irregularities with few shocks to the serene cabin environment. The incessant noise from the A-TRAC system constituted the most noticeable annoyance, emitting a strange twanging from underneath that made it sound like there was a clothes hanger stuck in the driveline. Unlike the VSC that can be switched off via a dashboard button (although only after you've engaged four-wheel drive), the A-TRAC system is annoyingly undefeatable, instantly reining in any blatant attempts at ill-advised, full-throttle power slides.
Of course, most owners will rarely venture into terrain that will require the A-TRAC system's assistance, so we won't harp on such deficiencies. Instead, we'll turn our attention to an area that will receive your undivided attention no matter where the road takes you: the Sequoia's sizeable interior.
It's here that Toyota's superiority over its domestic competitors is most evident. Whether you're talking fit and finish, quality of materials, ergonomics, passenger safety or just overall design elegance, the Sequoia has it all.
Slip into the driver seat, and you'll notice a clean, clear gauge cluster with analog dials and a nicely contoured four-spoke steering wheel. The center stack is logically arranged, with the radio placed high for easy tuning and large knobs for the automatic climate control system that comes standard on Limited models (optional on SR5).
In addition to the active safety systems already discussed, the Sequoia comes standard with front driver and passenger airbags and optional side torso and head curtain airbags. All eight seating positions have three-point seatbelts, while driver and front passenger seatbelts also get force-limiters and pre-tensioners. Four-wheel ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) is standard. Rain on testing day prevented us from acquiring braking distances, but data from other publications suggest that the Sequoia's brakes produce class-leading stopping distances.
There are only two trim levels, base SR5 and Limited. Limited models come fully equipped with a short options list that includes a moonroof, premium audio system, daytime running lights and a ridiculous rear spoiler. SR5 models can be similarly equipped, but you must specify multiple options packages to get things like the automatic climate control, roof rack and tinted windows that come standard on the Limited. The power leather seats in our Limited trim Sequoia were soft and comfortable and included an always-appreciated power lumbar adjustment. The deep center console incorporates a built-in CD rack, handy flip-up writing pad and large cupholders that swallow just about any size drink with ease. Should you decide to forego the gigantic sunroof, you'll also get an overhead console with multiple storage bins and front and rear passenger lighting.
Second row passengers enjoy many of the same creature comforts as those up front. There's plenty of leg and head room along with full climate controls (temp/fan/direction) and dual cupholders integrated into the rear of the center console. The 60/40 split bench seat can be reclined, folded or tumbled completely forward by activating easy to reach, well-marked levers. Three full-size headrests and adjustable seatbelt anchor points for outboard passengers make three-across seating a comfortable arrangement.
Although the Sequoia claims eight-passenger capacity, squeezing three into the third row bench would likely fall under the cruel and unusual punishment statutes in most states. There's significantly more legroom than the Expedition's and Tahoe's hindquarters, but the slightly narrower body of the Toyota makes three across just too close for comfort.
The 50/50 split bench in the third row does offer the unique ability to slide either back to provide more passenger legroom or forward for additional cargo room behind the bench. If you're sure you won't need the seats anytime soon, just pull a few levers and each half can be easily removed by one person, a big advantage over the Expedition's heavier one-piece bench.
As we mentioned earlier, Toyota claims that the Sequoia has the most interior cargo capacity of any vehicle in its class at 128.1 cubic feet. What they don't tell you -- and why we disagree with their claim -- is that this measurement was taken with not only the third seat completely removed, but the second row bench fully removed, as well.
Although the second row bench can be tumbled forward by releasing a few simple latches, it can't be completely removed unless you actually unscrew the seat's eight attachment bolts from the floor. Toyota claims that this is a simple 5-minute procedure, but do they really expect the average soccer mom to whip out a half-inch socket wrench when she needs that little extra cargo room? Measured with the second row seat tumbled forward, the Sequoia has 107 cubic feet of cargo space, a shade under the Expedition's 110 cubic feet. Advantage: Ford.
Toyota again uses somewhat questionable measurement techniques when it comes to ground clearance, listing the Sequoia's lowest point at a lofty 10.6 inches. The problem stems from where they take that measurement. Unlike most manufacturers that measure from the bottom of the rear differential (typically the lowest hanging point on a vehicle), Toyota measured from the lowest hanging point supported by the suspension, in this instance, the transfer case located roughly in the middle of the vehicle.
While this may satisfy official measurement guidelines, in the real world, having 10.6 inches of transfer case clearance isn't going to mean much when your rear differential (actual clearance equals 9 inches) gets hung up on a 10-inch-thick log. The strangest aspect of this whole situation is that even when measured from the rear differential, the Sequoia still beats its Ford (7.5 inches) and GM (8.4 inches) competitors when it comes to ground clearance. Kind of makes you think that Toyota really wants to stick it to the domestics when it comes to full-size sport-utes doesn't it?
Fortunately for Toyota, the Sequoia does just that by combining an ultra-refined drivetrain, great ergonomics, impeccable build quality and the latest in high-tech safety features in one roomy and stylish package. It rides and drives as smooth and car-like as any SUV on the market, yet still provides all the rugged capability of a V8-powered four-wheel-drive in an eight, ahem, seven-passenger size.
At $42,755, our Sequoia Limited certainly wasn't cheap, but compare similarly equipped Expeditions and Tahoe/Yukons, and you'll find that the Sequoia prices out almost identical to its domestic competition.
Our recommendation? If a full-size sport-utility is what you're looking for, you owe it to yourself to take a test drive in Toyota's latest entry. It may not satisfy every full-size customer, but for the vast majority, the Sequoia will prove itself a tough act to beat.
System Score: 5.5
Components. Toyota has gone to more or less a standardized head unit for its entire line of vehicles. This is not a bad thing, since the design the company has chosen is ergonomic and user-friendly. It consists of widely spaced buttons and a logical topography that guides your hand naturally from feature to feature. On top of this, the radio has a large, round volume knob (much preferred over the clunky rocker switches used in many competitive vehicles) and a round tuning knob (again, much better than a clunky rocker) for "fine-tuning" stations. This particular head unit is even better than your average Toyota's, since there's a little ledge just below the radio perfect for resting your hand as you fiddle with the controls. See, voluminous SUVs with tons of ridiculous room have some advantages over other vehicles. The radio is also in an elevated position, keeping the operator's eyes on the road and not on his navel or kneecaps. And lastly, the head unit has an integrated six-disc CD changer built in.
Speakerwise, the system is less impressive, consisting of a pair of 6-inch full-range drivers in the rear doors and identical speakers mated with 1-inch tweets in the front.
Performance. Considering how expensive this vehicle is, the sound system is mediocre. The Ford Explorer, for one, which costs thousands less than this vehicle, has a much better sound system. Bass is nothing to write home about, and the whole system sounds kind of plasticky and cheap.
Best Feature: In-dash six-disc CD changer.
Worst Feature: Mediocre sound quality.
Conclusion. Too bad about this one. The head unit is one of the nicer setups on the market, but the components producing the sound, particularly the speakers and the amp, leave a lot to be desired. There are many SUVs on the market in this price range with better sound systems, so if audio is really important to you, beware. Scott Memmer
Contributing Editor Erin Riches says: The Sequoia is a good-natured SUV that feels and drives like a much smaller vehicle (of Jeep Grand Cherokee proportions), while offering owners the dimensions and comfort of a Ford Expedition or GMC Yukon. It also has Toyota build quality and should bear the manufacturer's outstanding reputation for reliability.
A strong, smooth V8 pours out plenty of torque for confident, even exhilarating, acceleration on the freeway -- while providing Lexus quiet at idle. I expected to find class-leading brakes in this vehicle, but I wasn't holding out for progressive pedal feel -- the Sequoia appears to have both. For the most part, the Sequoia remained stable during on-road travel and absorbed road irregularities without disturbing its passengers.
So many desirable qualities for a base MSRP of $42,275 (4WD Limited) -- how is this possible? Well, explore the interior a bit and you won't find any of the Land Cruiser's fineries. The materials used are attractive (matching grain patterns), but I could do without faux chrome inserts in a vehicle with a beige interior -- and the leather on the seats seems to be Celica-grade. Center stack ergonomics are inexcusably poor, not because the buttons aren't large enough, but because the stack itself is somewhat recessed and set squarely in the middle of the car so that it is not angled toward the driver. Viewing and operating the controls requires far more attention than is necessary, and there are no satellite controls on the steering wheel. Additionally, the lack of nighttime illumination on any of the steering column stalks made it difficult to find the right setting for the windshield wipers.
The Sequoia's total package makes these interior shortcomings seem minor, though, and I would attempt to persuade anyone wavering between an Expedition and a Chevrolet Suburban to buy this one instead. Of course, not everyone is willing to pay MSRP, or perhaps thousands more.
Road Test Editor John DiPietro says: Let me say that I'm no great fan of big SUVs. I regard them as mostly unnecessary vehicular beasts, which exist due to Americans' need (or is that greed?) to have the biggest and baddest whatever in the neighborhood.
Toyota's Sequoia helped mellow my attitude toward this genre of vehicle. In spite of its bulk (admittedly handsome bulk), the Sequoia was easy to place in traffic and not a handful when parking. The truck was easy to judge and possessed quick steering, which made maneuvering it less stressful than with most vehicles in this class. Performance was refined, with the whisper-quiet V8 well-matched to an automatic gearbox that provided seamless gear changes. When prodded, the Sequoia had no trouble scurrying up on-ramps and melding with the fast-moving traffic. The ride was soft without being mushy and overall the Sequoia was easy to drive. The powerful brakes allayed a fear of rear-ending someone in the hectic stop-and-go driving that passes for freeway travel here in greater L.A. The Sequoia's ULEV rating helped to offset slightly the environmental guilt I felt while driving it.
Perhaps the highest praise I can provide for the Sequoia is that I recommended one to my brother, an avid equestrian, who needed something that could tow a horse and trailer, as well as transport his family of six in comfort and safety. At a price tag around $13,000 less than the more prestigious but less spacious Land Cruiser, the Sequoia provides the benefits of a large SUV while minimizing the typically associated hassles. This pleasant nature, along with its capable performance, standard stability control (VSC), spacious interior and Toyota heritage (excellent build quality and bulletproof reliability) make the Sequoia easy to recommend.
"We bought a Limited 4WD about eight weeks ago. This is a great SUV no comparison to the Explorer piece of crap I dumped. My 6-year old flips the seat to climb in the back with ease. My 3-year old sits in his car seat behind me. His feet can't reach the back of my seat when he doesn't like the toy in his Happy Meal. It cost an arm and a leg, but we justified it with the feeling that we will drive this one for a loooong time. We did not drive off the Ford lot five years ago with that feeling. Average mpg is 16.1 so far (mostly city). whatafeeling," Toyota Sequoia New SUV-III," #246 of 877, Dec. 19, 2000
"I've had my Limited 4x4 for five weeks now, so I thought I'd give my perspectives on driving it: Interior: All seats are very comfortable. The second and third row seats are marvels of flexibility, from the [reclining seatbacks] to [their ability to] tumble forward. I was quite surprised by the amount of legroom in the third row (I'm 6' 2"), and [it has] a better third seat footwell than in Nav/Expy (which is nonexistent).The dashboard gauges are too plain.For $45 large, and for a truck named after a tree, there should be WOOD in the car guess they were concerned with yet another Sequoia feature being better than the more expensive Land Cruiser. Overall fit and finish is superb just grab an interior door pull and feel how solid it feels. Switchgear is like every Toyota/Lexus great. Sunroof is about one-third as large as the Nav. Leather is stitched nicely but has a fairly rough feel. (3) Engine is very smooth. Much faster acceleration than I expected, not only off the line, but in passing as well. Has a very optimistic fuel computation (15.1 mpg). My experience is 13 mpg, and 10-11 with the four-wheel drive engaged. (4) Handling: MUCH better than I thought, for such a big vehicle. The steering wheel gives great road feel, and there's minimum body roll in aggressive turning. (5) 4WD operation and Variable Skid Control (VSC): Had a few inches of snow in Chicago the other day handles great. When making a tight turning circle, there's no groaning/resistance as there was in my Ford Explorer. I did like the Explorer's feature of leaving it in 4WD Auto and having the 4WD kick in only when needed. The VSC hasn't been invoked yet, but I've needed it twice in my GS400 in high-speed emergency maneuvers, and am a BIG fan of this safety feature. (6) Overall, this has to be the best large SUV on the market. Superb fit and finish, handling, power, convenience, and appearance. Lastly, just close one of the doors and hear that THUNK, and you'll know you're driving a quality vehicle." movan, " Toyota Sequoia New SUV-III," #161 of 877, Dec. 10, 2000
"I have had the Sequoia for about a month now and put on around 3,000 miles. Eighty percent or so of my driving is commuting 30 miles each way from a suburb to a large city. I also use it to drive my kids and family around locally and to go on family trips. Some aspects of this vehicle I've found to be both positive and negative from my perspective as follows: (1) Space. Ninety percent of the time the space is adequate or better than adequate. However, on family trips, such as our four-day, 200-mile drive on Thanksgiving (with lots of gear and luggage), I could use more space. On the flip side, the large size makes parking in my parking garage at work pretty challenging, as the spots are smallish and the space for maneuvering is tight. The extra size of the Suburban would make fitting into these spots even more difficult. (2) Turning Radius/Height. This is another parking garage issue. The Sequoia is not easy to park in tight places. The height is pretty close to the maximum for this garage and never fails to make me nervous driving under some of the ceiling pipes. The height however is great out on the road. I have a good view of the entire traffic situation and can see brake lights well in advance, which I think is a big safety feature. (3) Ergonomics. The radio controls are difficult to reach. I would also like a few inches of space under the second and third rows to carry long, thin objects (skis, hockey sticks, boards). The window control buttons can be difficult to find in the dark until you get used to it. One nice surprise for me was the quality of the driver's seat. It has an electronic lumbar support adjustment that provides lots of lumbar support and allows me to vary the shape of my seat which makes long trips much more comfortable. Love the engine (smooth), and the power and acceleration is nice for entering highways. hookey, " Toyota Sequoia New SUV-III," #70 of 877, Dec. 6, 2000
"I've been driving the Sequoia now for a few weeks. I have generally been very happy with it but have noticed some problems.... Negative Comments: (1) Turning radius could be better. (2) It is tall, and I have to turn off my radio coming into the parking garage or else my antenna bangs up against the ceiling. (3) My model is pretty stripped down. Not many accessories, which is a good thing in a way. But they forgot little things, like no warning chime if you turn off your ignition and the lights are still on, and I wish the steering wheel extended out. (4) They could have made the gas tank 4-5 gallons bigger. The range for me is only about 350 miles without getting the gas warning light. Positive Comments: (1) It's got the sexiest lines of any SUV on the road. (2) I like the suspension better than the new Suburban's, which is also very nice. (3) Big windows, big sunroof. (4) Quiet ride. " tfish, "Toyota Sequoia New SUV-III," #93 of 878, Dec. 7, 2000
Versus the Chevrolet Suburban/GMC Yukon XL:
"Before our Expedition got totaled, my wife was complaining that only a Burb/Yuckon XL would do for the next car. After the wreck, we were just about ready to get a Yuckon XL (down to choosing colors and such) when we caught a little newspaper blurb about the Sequoia. The usability and fit/finish of the Sequoia is so good compared to GM that as long as the demo car didn't blow a head gasket on the test drive, we decided that we were probably going to buy it. If you are a family of five to six or less and you think you need a Burb, you mostly will discover that the Sequoia will meet 99.9 percent of your daily needs without the extra fat and troubles of the GM." thirdsuv, "Sequoia vs. Suburban......Which is better????", #2 of 8, Jan. 14, 2001
Versus the Acura MDX:
Editor's Note: It may seem like a disparate comparison, but a sizeable number of Town Hall participants seem to have been shopping these vehicles against one another perhaps because of similar pricing, third-row seating and the manufacturers' reputation for build quality and reliability.
"I have driven them both over 2,000 miles apiece and can give an unbiased opinion about both of them. Yes they are both great vehicles but the Sequoia is better by a single star (five versus four). Both vehicles cost me a similar amount of money (MDX/Touring and a 2WD Limited Sequoia with extras such as moon roof, curtain/side airbags, rear spoiler, six-CD changer and other minor stuff). I was able to negotiate $2,722 off the MSRP of the Sequoia but not a dime off the MDX. This is a very important point that the public needs to consider when comparison-shopping.... The two vehicles are utilized for similar tasks. Basically in 'street' mode (grocery store- and highway-type deals). Off-roading is not a serious consideration with $40K vehicles for me and I believe the majority of SUV buyers. Now down to the reasons why the Sequoia came out ahead. FIT/FINISH: Very, very similar. For some reason the leather in the MDX is not wearing as well as the Sequoia. It may be because I'm heavier than my wife and am the primary driver of the MDX. ROAD NOISE: Big plus for the Sequoia. Hate the wind noise generated by the MDX roof rack that so many other people have experienced.I think that the Sequoia having much more ground clearance is also a help here. ENGINE NOISE: Sequoia has a small edge. Here, I think the V8 is working less hard than the MDX's V6. That or Toyota's cabin soundproofing is superior. EASE OF PARKING: MDX has it here but only because of the Sequoia's length. I am afraid that as far as vehicle width is concerned, the one-inch wider Sequoia is not an issue and hardly noticeable. Both vehicles are wide. In fact, I find it easier to park the Sequoia in my garage because of the power folding mirrors feature. INTERIOR SPACIOUSNESS: Sequoia has it here. I'm not a great believer in figures quoted by the manufacturers. I am a firm believer of getting in and trying it out. THIRD SEAT: It's a wash here. The ability to occasionally transform my MDX's seats into a flat bed is [as] important to me as the Sequoias ability to carry eight (versus seven) people on long journeys in comfort. The third seat on the MDX is really for kids where as the Sequoia's easily accommodates adults. MPG: MDX is a winner.Disappointed that I've only averaged 17 mpg with the MDX. Surprisingly I'm getting 15.5 with the much heavier Toyota. DRIVING: Surprisingly comfortable ride in the Sequoia considering it's based on a truck platform. I find it only a tad more cumbersome than the MDX. rajans, "Toyota Sequoia New SUV-III," #865 of 879, Jan. 31, 2001
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