Toyota Changes the Rules in the Full-Size Class -- Again
During a day in the 2008 Toyota Sequoia, we end up visiting every small town within 100 miles of Raleigh, North Carolina. We're shooting a video of Toyota's redesigned full-size SUV as it motors along in suburban America. But it's easier said than done on roads dotted with housing subdivisions, school buses and even logging trucks.
Finally, with dusk falling, we point the Sequoia back toward the city. We're tired of each other's company after a long day, but as we look around at the cavernous interior of this new full-size Toyota, we remain in agreement on one thing.
The 2008 Toyota Sequoia is still as quiet, comfortable and pleasant to drive as it was eight hours ago. As large, truck-based, eight-passenger SUVs go, this is a good one.
Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. As Motohara Araya, the Sequoia's chief engineer, told us when he described this SUV's mission, "Americans pack everything they need, and usually a little bit more. Within the cabin, they want to be comfortable, safe and well-fed, and require personalized entertainment for all aboard. Most importantly, they are fearless in their attempts to cover as much ground as possible in a single day — and a thousand miles translates to about 14 hours behind the wheel."
This Is Getting Serious
Sold from 2001-'07, the first-generation Toyota Sequoia was a good one, too. But since it was based on the platform of Toyota's downsized Tundra pickup of that time, it wasn't as roomy or powerful as its chief rivals, the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition.
Now that there's a full-size platform available from the all-new 2007 Toyota Tundra, the Sequoia has grown to comfier proportions while picking up Tundra's torque-rich 5.7-liter V8, too.
With a wheelbase that's 4.0 inches longer and a track front and rear that's 2.0 inches wider, the 2008 Toyota Sequoia is a bit larger than the Tahoe and about the same size as the Expedition. The Sequoia's cabin has grown noticeably larger, as there's a huge increase in shoulder room and significantly more third-row legroom.
Maximum cargo capacity has declined slightly compared to the previous generation, although this isn't an apples-to-apples comparison, because the redesigned Sequoia has a fold-flat third-row seat made possible by a new, independent double-wishbone rear suspension. The second-row seats fold flat, too, so there are now 120 cubic feet for non-human cargo — more than 11 cubic feet more than the Chevy or Ford.
From SR5 to Platinum
There are presently no plans for a Lexus-badged twin of the Sequoia (the upcoming LX 570 is derived from the Land Cruiser), so Toyota has been free to expand the Sequoia range upward. In addition to familiar SR5 and Limited trim levels, there's a new Platinum model loaded with kit you might find on a Lexus.
The company expects 55 percent of buyers to choose the sensible Sequoia SR5, which is outfitted with cloth upholstery and seats for eight, triple-zone automatic climate control, a CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack, stability control and front and rear side airbags as well as three-row curtain airbags. Another 35 percent will opt for the Limited, which adds front and rear parking sonar, leather upholstery, power seats, upgraded instrumentation and a JBL sound system.
Ten percent will take the Sequoia Platinum like the one we're driving, which has 20-inch alloy wheels instead of 18s, Toyota's driver-adjustable suspension, a power rear liftgate, heated/cooled front seats, second-row captain's chairs (dropping capacity to seven) and a navigation system and backup camera. A rear DVD player is optional across the board, and adaptive cruise control is available on the Platinum.
Fast, Yet Fuel-Efficient — for a Big Truck
Although the Sequoia SR5's standard engine is the familiar 4.7-liter V8 rated at 276 horsepower and 314 pound-feet of torque, it's expected that 90 percent of buyers will choose the 5.7-liter V8 introduced by the new Tundra pickup. The new V8 is optional for the SR5 and standard for other 2008 Toyota Sequoias.
We can't argue with that choice. Not only does the 5.7-liter have impressive specs — 381 hp at 5,600 rpm and 401 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm — it manages to help disguise the second-generation Sequoia's massive weight gain, some 500-600 pounds (depending on the trim level). This big V8 and its six-speed automatic transmission add only 50 more pounds over the 4.7-liter and its five-speed auto.
Toyota claims a two-wheel-drive Sequoia 5.7 will hit 60 mph in 7 seconds flat. After driving around in a fully loaded, four-wheel-drive Platinum model, we believe it. Low-end engine torque is abundant, and passing maneuvers come and go in an instant. Exhaust tuning is quieter for the Sequoia than the Tundra, and it leaves you with the impression that the big V8 isn't even breaking a sweat.
Plus, the six-speed automatic always seems to be on its game with gear selection, something we noticed even while towing a 24-foot boat. We scarcely noticed the load, though with a gross combined weight of 12,565 pounds (against a 17,280-pound GCWR) and flat roads with a speed limit of 55 mph, this wasn't an extreme test.
Buyers have a choice between 2WD and 4WD on every trim. Engaging all four wheels is as simple as twisting a dial. The default torque split sends 60 percent to the rear wheels, but depending on traction, the ratio varies between 30/70 and 50/50. Four-wheel-drive Sequoias again have Toyota's four-wheel traction control system, but we're told it has been reprogrammed to allow more wheelspin in off-road situations.
Fuel economy is not as terrible as you'd think. The 5.7-liter V8 is the more efficient option, thanks to its dual variable valve timing (the 4.7-liter only has variable intake valves) and extra overdrive gear. In 2WD form, the Sequoia has a rating of 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway — second only to the Tahoe (14 mpg/20 mpg). The 4x4 Sequoia's 13 mpg/18 mpg rating is better than all its SUV rivals except the Tahoe (14 mpg city/19 mpg highway) and GM's two-mode hybrids (20 mpg city/20 mpg highway).
Like all SUVs in this class, the Toyota Sequoia uses body-on-frame construction, and just as on the first-gen truck, the 2008 model's frame is fully boxed. It's stiffer, though, and Toyota says it's 70 percent more resistant to bending flex, while lateral and torsional rigidity increase 20 and 30 percent, respectively.
The Sequoia's front suspension remains a double-wishbone design, but the mounts and bushings are new, and wheel travel has been increased. In addition, Toyota has repositioned the antiroll bar and steering rack in front of the wishbones to shrink the Sequoia's turning circle to 39 feet, a reduction of 3 feet. It's a difference we felt immediately on the country roads outside Raleigh, and what could have been three-point turns were simple U-turns.
Even in the firmest (Sport) setting of the three driver-selectable suspension modes, the ride quality of this Sequoia Platinum felt downright luxurious, regardless of its P275/55R20 tires. North Carolina highways are wickedly smooth, though, so we'll reserve final judgment until we conduct a full test.
Our verdict on the Sequoia's handling abilities will also have to wait, but the Platinum we drove was extremely well mannered. The suspension did a beautiful job of managing this SUV's weight around turns, so much so that this 3-ton Toyota reminded us a bit of the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class.
Functional, With Few Flaws
There's only one significant shortcoming in the 2008 Toyota Sequoia's cabin. It has Tundra-style audio and navigation controls that are impossible to reach when you're behind the wheel, which forced us to indulge our driving companion's fondness for 1980s hair bands.
Not only do the second-row seats adjust fore/aft regardless of whether your Sequoia has the 40/20/40 bench or the captain's chairs, we counted 11 separate detents. This allows you to get pretty specific about the amount of legroom allotted to each of the rear rows.
The cupholder count in the Sequoia just might cross the line to insanity. We counted 19 in our Sequoia Platinum. The thought of that much liquid in the vehicle at once makes us shudder.
A Sequoia Instead of a Douglas Fir
The 2008 Toyota Sequoia meets the Tahoe and Expedition on their own terms for interior room and engine size, while setting new standards for performance, handling dynamics and seating flexibility.
Toyota expects to sell 65,000-66,000 Sequoias in 2008. "This puts it back with its best sales year in the past in a segment that's declined quite a bit since then," Brian Smith, Toyota's corporate manager of truck and SUV operations, tells us. For comparison, GM is on pace to sell about three times as many Tahoes and GMC Yukons before 2007 is over.
Pricing won't be released until early December 2007, but Toyota says '08 Sequoias will show up at dealerships in time for Christmas. For people whose needs can only be met by a full-size sport-utility, the 2008 Toyota Sequoia should make a great (big) gift.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.