Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor
You would expect a sport-utility that measures 17 feet long, stands 6 feet tall, carries eight passengers and is hooked up to a 5.7-liter V8, four-wheel drive and 20-inch wheels to be called Sequoia. Talk about full-size! Talk about lumbering!
There was a time when the Sequoia felt like a 7/8ths-scale SUV, but now that this all-new edition is based on the full-size Tundra pickup, the 2008 Toyota Sequoia is a 6,000-pound, card-carrying member of the elite ExpeNaviBurbaLade club.
That's why we didn't expect that this 2008 Toyota Sequoia Limited 4x4 would ride so comfortably and handle so delicately, or that it would prove so quick with its 381-horsepower V8. It's a major accomplishment to get something this large to drive like something small.
The new Sequoia might have the backbone of a simple pickup truck, but it could be the perfect full-size luxury sport-utility.
Big Power To motivate the 5,985-pound, four-wheel-drive Sequoia Limited, Toyota went to the correct parts bin. Step one was to install the potent 381-hp 5.7-liter V8 and six-speed automatic from the 2008 Toyota Tundra. In fact, the Tundra and Sequoia have been developed in parallel, so nearly everything from the Sequoia's front bumper to the B-pillar is structurally identical to the Tundra.
Not only is the 5.7 a more powerful and capable V8 than the Sequoia SR5's standard 276-hp, 4.7-liter V8, but also the combination of the big V8 and its six-speed automatic is actually more fuel-efficient than the 4.7-liter V8 and its five-speed automatic. Our Sequoia Limited 4x4 (which runs on 87-octane fuel) earned a combined average of 14 mpg, backing up the EPA's official rating of 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway.
At the test track, the Sequoia astonishes with a 6.7-second run to 60 mph, quicker than the 400-hp Range Rover Sport Supercharged and virtually as fast as the 335-hp Mercedes-Benz GL450. Yet the Toyota's power delivery is smooth and civilized, with gentle throttle tip-in and a wide, manageable spread of torque.
The programming of the six-speed automatic is highly polished, so acceleration is as seamless at wide-open throttle as it is while idling around town. Moreover, this six-speed is mercifully free of the reluctance to kick down a gear with a jab of the throttle (an effort to enhance fuel economy) that we've observed in so many vehicles of late.
Remarkable Poise A fully boxed frame proves a firm foundation for this full-size SUV that's meant to carry, haul and tow.
The innovative element here is multilink independent rear suspension, and this Sequoia Limited features air bladders instead of coil springs, making it possible to tune the suspension for different loads. Even with the optional 20-inch wheels, the Sequoia barely acknowledges pavement imperfections. And the Sequoia's interior noise levels are as quiet as some luxury sedans we've tested.
Often, trucks and SUVs of this scale err on either side of the power-assisted steering equation. Some manufacturers insist on heavy, ponderous steering (Nissan Armada) to underscore the weighty task at hand. Others, like the Cadillac Escalade choose to erase all sense of mass with fingertip effort levels.
Toyota has found the steering sweet spot with just the right amount of load and response with its new variable-flow-control power-steering pump. The new friction-free steering system changes assist levels with an electric-motor pump rather than a belt-driven hydraulic pump. There are also minute fuel-efficiency gains to be had here.
The same intuitive feel carries through to the Sequoia's braking system. The effort of the brake pedal verges on being soft at first, then the resistance builds progressively. The 13.9-inch front discs are squeezed by four-piston opposed calipers, while the 13.6-inch ventilated rear discs have single-piston slotted calipers.
The brakes are not only powerful enough to assist in slowing a 10,000-pound trailer for which the Sequoia is rated, but also repeatedly stopped this test vehicle from 60 mph in the range of 130 feet with a best of just 127 fade-free feet.
An SUV With Everything on It The Sequoia Limited's list of standard features is really too long to describe. The abridged version includes a farmyard-size expanse of leather surfaces, a heated 12-way-adjustable driver seat, a 14-speaker JBL audio system, power flat-folding and reclining third-row seats, front and rear parking sensors, and toddler-pleasing second- and third-row side-window sunshades.
The generous second-row passenger area has received special attention, as the doors open to nearly 90 degrees, the seats slide fore and aft (with lots of travel) and there are dedicated HVAC controls. A lever releases either side of the 40/20/40 second-row seat to provide access to the third-row seat, which itself is fit for adults.
The $49,135 base price of this 2008 Toyota Sequoia Limited 4x4 has been inflated some $6,830 with options including touchscreen navigation with Bluetooth and a back-up camera, a rear entertainment system, power rear hatch, glass moonroof and more. The only two options our loaded Sequoia Limited 4x4 didn't have were second-row captain's chairs and special paint.
We recommend all of these convenience options with one caveat. The button for the power rear hatch is located at about eye level on the D-pillar (and not on the hatch's bottom edge) and requires a second or two of pressing to get the door to begin closing. The problem is that to press the button, you must be under the hatch. Bonk.
We also discovered to our chagrin that when a Sequoia's battery dies, so do a number of electron-consuming devices, including the door locks, power rear glass and hatch release, not to mention the power third-row seats behind which were stored the requisite jumper cables. We had to climb over two rows of seats to retrieve said cables. This isn't a failing of the Sequoia in particular, but it's a reminder of the unintended consequences that come with modern vehicles.
If This Isn't the Best, What Is? With few exceptions, the 2008 Toyota Sequoia Limited 4x4 appears to be the best all-around eight-passenger SUV available. Its roots may go back to the truck-based sport-utility vehicle, but the 2008 Toyota Sequoia has all the comfort and conveniences of a minivan and it doesn't drive like a truck. This is a huge step forward in SUV evolution.
Sure, this test truck wears a $56,000 price tag, so it will leave some people wondering why it doesn't wear a Lexus badge, and indeed maybe it should. If that's the case, keep in mind that $24,000 separates a base SR5 2WD, at just under $35,000, and the fully optioned Platinum for $58,795.
There are a lot of rings in the Sequoia's profile, with a thick stack of 2WD and 4WD options to suit many needs and budgets. But in any form, this truck stands tall among the current crop of full-size SUV offerings.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
How does it sound: A- Sound quality overall is very good. The JBL system provides excellent separation and bass that is both deep and sharp. There's just enough bass punch so that you feel it, yet it's never taxing or overwhelming. Midrange sounds good as well, and an instrument like a snare drum sounds sharp, with the appropriate snap. With a full, well-rounded sound, this JBL system is easily one of the top in-car audio systems around. In terms of sound quality and features, it's on par with Harman Kardon and Mark Levinson.
How does it work: C+ Like the Toyota Tundra on which it's based, the Sequoia's audio-navigation head unit is quite a reach from the driver seat. There are a few nice features with regard to the system's operation, however.
Once you press the "load" button on the CD changer, you can load all six CDs one after the other without pressing any more buttons. There's also an "eject all" button.
Special features: The Sequoia's JBL Synthesis stereo has Digital Signal Processing (DSP), which means it can mimic surround sound. The feature does not have a graduated adjustment like many other audio systems, yet this stereo sounds great with DSP on or off. JBL Synthesis is standard on the Sequoia Limited and optional on the SR5.
Conclusion: Sharp, well-rounded sound and terrific separation are the backbone of this JBL system. Despite the SUV's odd ergonomics overall, this audio system is worth getting even if you have to pay extra. — Brian Moody, Road Test Editor
Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath says: I thought the SUV was dead. I wished for it a long time ago, and rejoiced when crossovers nailed the coffin shut by offering more space, better economy and sportier lines. Sure, there will always be holdouts; the things can be darned useful. But the casual owner, I thought, was a thing of the past.
And then Toyota had to go and burst my bubble with the 2008 Toyota Sequoia. A truck so good and so big that it's guaranteed to draw as much hatred as glorious praise.
Designed from the ground up to fit American needs, the 2008 Sequoia didn't take a page out of Toyota's playbook; instead this SUV has the heart and soul of a Buick circa 1953. What we've got here is big V8 power, high-quality materials, a compliant and quiet ride, all of the luxury amenities one could want, and enough space to trek the entire family to the Grand Canyon. From Maine.
But if you think the Buick Enclave already has done the same, let me remind you that Buick has never built a car that can tow 10,000 pounds. Or one with locking differentials. Or even one that can devour highway miles with this kind of confidence.
So Toyota has managed to reanimate the soul of Buick. If only it could do the same for GM designer Harley Earl so we could do something about the way the Sequoia looks.
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