The eight-seat Toyota Sequoia is sized between the smallest and largest full-size SUVs — bigger than the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition but not as large and accommodating as the Suburban (basically a stretched Tahoe) or extended Expedition EL. Toyota doesn’t always get it right the first drive, but seldom does the company give up until it’s challenging or exceeding the class leaders — think Camry, RAV4 and Sienna. You can now add to that list the second-generation Sequoia — a roomy, refined truck that goes toe-to-toe with the Chevys and Fords.
It does still have a few shortcomings, including inconsistent cabin quality and an anomaly that might or might not be limited to my test car, involving noise at highway speeds. Read on.
Typical of its class, the Sequoia is bold in design, with a prominent grille and front bumper. The three trim levels include SR5, Limited and Platinum. The SR5 has body-colored bumpers, side mirrors, moldings and door handles, and the grille is black with a chrome surround. The standard alloy wheels are 18 inches in diameter. My Limited test vehicle added a chrome grille, chrome retractable side mirrors, fog lamps, running boards and a roof rack. The Platinum’s standard wheels are 20-inchers.
The SR5 can add the running boards, fog lamps and a rear spoiler as options. The Limited can upgrade to the spoiler and 20-inch wheels. The Platinum can have white pearl paint.
Here’s a size comparison of the major models in this class:
|Full-Size SUV Dimensions
The lengths aren’t much different until you get into the extended models. Also note the Sequoia’s turning circle, which is relatively tight for its length — a characteristic I noticed and appreciated when U-turning and parking.
The Sequoia, and the Tundra full-size pickup on which it’s based, have the kind of nice, compliant ride you wouldn’t expect from a body-on-frame truck — especially if you haven’t been in one within the past five years or so. The domestic brands, however, have made strides recently, and I can’t say I sense a dramatic difference between them and Toyota anymore. Likewise, the Sequoia’s truck-based handling is good, and maneuvering around town is effortless, but I wouldn’t choose a winner among the top models. Note that the Platinum adds an adaptive suspension system called Toyota Electronic Modulated Suspension with normal, high and low settings.
The Sequoia feels solid, and I sensed none of the shudder that plagues some trucks after they hit bumps or potholes. There was a problem, though: At and around 60 mph I sensed a fluttering sensation — a pulsation that was felt more than heard. Some cars exhibit an exaggerated version of this problem if you open a single window or the moonroof — a WAH-WAH-WAH that pummels your ears as if a helicopter were landing on your roof. The only cure is to close the window somewhat or open one of the other windows a crack. Unfortunately, this happened in my Sequoia when the windows were closed, and opening various ones didn’t help any. At first I thought the road surface might be the problem, but it turned out to be there any time I drove 60 mph or thereabouts.
This is something for you to look for if you test-drive a Sequoia — and please report your findings back to me (use the email link at the end of the review). It’s possible this is a problem like a driveline vibration that’s isolated to my Sequoia, but if it’s not, I’d find it fatiguing on a longer drive and very difficult to live with as an owner.
The Sequoia SR5 comes with either a 4.7-liter or a 5.7-liter V-8 powertrain. The $1,125 difference is worth considering. Despite its significantly lower output, the 4.7-liter and its five-speed automatic transmission get lower highway mileage than the 5.7-liter and six-speed automatic.
|Horsepower (@ rpm)
||276 @ 5,400
||381 @ 5,600
|Torque (lbs.-ft. @ rpm)
||314 @ 3,400
||401 @ 3,600
|Gas mileage (mpg, city/highway)
|Maximum towing capacity* (lbs.)
In a low-efficiency vehicle like this one, 2 mpg is significant, and the fact that there’s no penalty in city mileage shouldn’t be overlooked either. I didn’t drive the 4.7-liter, but the 5.7-liter is a rocket. There’s really no reason for a truck to be as quick as this one, but it translates to a high towing capacity of 10,000 pounds, versus the 4.7-liter’s 7,800 pounds.
In normal driving, the six-speed automatic went about its business, shifting smoothly and competently. There’s also a clutchless-manual mode you can select by sliding the gear selector left from the Drive position. It worked fine for me but was of no greater use here than it is in any car.
The standard four-wheel-drive system has just two controls: a knob and a pushbutton. The knob selects among 2WD, 4H and 4L. 2WD is rear-wheel drive, 4H is 4WD high range, and 4L is 4WD low range. The 4H setting gives you full-time 4WD, which you can drive at any speed on any road surface. The pushbutton locks the center differential, giving you what’s typically called part-time 4WD; you can’t use it on dry pavement, but it’s at your disposal if you’re stuck on ice or rough terrain. The low range of 4L gives extra torque for off-roading, pulling stumps or what have you. You could leave the Sequoia in 4H all the time and be perfectly happy. The 2H mode is intended to save fuel. How much it might save depends on how the system is constructed, but in my experience the weight of 4WD hardware — which is always present — affects efficiency far more than whether or not it’s engaged.
The Toyota Sequoia’s capabilities aren’t so much about its hardware as its interior accommodations, because it’s primarily a people-mover. In this regard it’s impressive. Though it’s not the tallest truck on the market, the running boards are a plus; they’re positioned the proper distance between the ground and the side sill, making a natural step that works for people of all sizes. There are grab handles on the A-pillars and above the passenger’s door, but not above the driver’s.
The SR5 has cloth upholstery and an eight-way manual seat. An option package adds powered, heated leather front seats. I tested a Limited 4×4, which has leather and a 10-way powered driver’s seat as standard equipment. All driver’s seats include a height adjustment. Adjustable pedals aren’t offered, but a tilt/telescoping steering wheel is standard across the board — manual on the lower trims and powered on the Platinum. Seat position memory comes only on the Platinum.
My car’s front seats were equipped with heaters controlled by thumbwheels on the dashboard for a good range of toastage — no simple on/off or low/high here. I was comfortable overall, but I found myself fussing with the cushion-tilt adjustment incessantly because it seemed like the front was too high. I reached a compromise by first raising the seat overall, but I can’t say I got exactly what I wanted. This is a very personal aspect of any vehicle, so be sure to give it a thorough inspection.
The materials are good quality overall, with low gloss and some soft surfaces, such as on the window sills and center armrest, which is enormous — enough for two burly arms or even as a place to change diapers, it seems. The door armrests and dashboard, however, aren’t soft to the touch, as they are in some vehicles. (We might be getting carried away with our soft-touch expectations these days, I must admit.) The dashboard and surrounding surfaces pass the tap test, and the controls mostly feel and sound good, too. Found on the Limited and Platinum, the brilliant Optitron gauges are classy and highly legible, but the SR5 gets the traditional plain backlit variety.
There are a couple exceptions, though. I’m no more impressed by the silvery dashboard and center console here than I was in the Tundra. Also, the glittery piano-black bezel around the ventilation controls seems out of place and the small tilt-out bins in the doors feel and sound cheap. Also, there are inconsistent gaps and color mismatches among a couple parts and panels. Even when you ignore these glitches, Toyota’s long-lauded interior quality no longer schools the rest of the market. The upcoming Venza seems to dial it up, but the Sequoia didn’t catch what might be Toyota’s new quality wave.
The Toyota Sequoia has the high-perch view SUV buyers covet, along with the close-up blind spots that come with it. Toyota kindly includes front and rear sonar parking assist standard on all trim levels. I also found the side mirrors large and convex enough for excellent coverage; I wouldn’t mention it if I hadn’t previously suffered the perilous tunnel vision of the Ford Expedition’s mirrors. (The power-folding side mirrors that come on the Limited and Platinum don’t work after you turn the ignition off, though, which they should, seeing as that’s when you think to use them.) There’s a backup camera that shows the rear view on the optional navigation system screen, but you can’t get the feature as a lower-priced, stand-alone option without navigation, as you can on the Tundra and smaller Highlander SUV. Disappointing.
The back doors open nice and wide. The second-row bench seat is split 40/20/40; each segment reclines far, with simple-to-use levers on the outboard seats. Other handles slide the seats forward and back. Even when the driver’s seat was set fully back and the second row slid forward, I had a few inches of clearance between my knees and the front backrest. There’s a standard flip-down center armrest, but it’s very droopy, with a downward tilt that wasn’t particularly comfortable to me. When raised, the center seat is workable; a center floor hump is only about ankle high so there’s plenty of legroom unless the cupholder drawer is lowered from the back of the center console (terrible design). As second-row seats go, this one is very comfy and accommodating. The Platinum trim level replaces this bench with two captain’s chairs, which is also an option on the Limited. Retractable sun shades come standard on the second- and third-row side windows.
The second row’s outboard seats tilt and slide forward quite far, easing third-row access. At 6 feet tall, I fit in the third row, though my knees were raised and I’d need the second row pushed forward as far as it goes if I were to take more than a brief ride. The 60/40-split, three-seat bench also reclines; starting with the Limited trim level, those features are powered: In addition to folding into the floor to open cargo space, backrest reclining happens at the touch of a switch mounted on a side console by the passenger’s knee. Toyota cleverly provides a separate switch from this one for the power-fold action, which is disabled unless the backdoor is open, preventing an accidental crash course in Pilates.
Clearly, a truck’s interior accommodations — especially the legroom — depend on how the available space is shared among the seat rows and cargo area. Here’s how it breaks down:
|Full-Size SUV Interiors
|(headroom/legroom/hip room, in.)
|Chevrolet Tahoe 1500
||41.1 / 41.3 / 64.4
||38.5 / 39.0 / 60.6
||38.2 / 25.4 / 49.1
||39.6 / 41.1 / 60.2
||39.8 / 39.1 / 59.9
||38.3 / 37.7 / 50.2
||41.0 / 41.8 / 61.4
||40.0 / 41.9 / 60.8
||35.9 / 32.3 / 48.8
||39.7 / 42.5 / 62.1
||39.4 / 36.4 / 59.9
||38.5 / 35.3 / 50.4
|Chevrolet Suburban 1500
||41.1 / 41.3 / 64.4
||38.5 / 39.5 / 61.8
||38.1 / 34.9 / 49.4
|Ford Expedition EL
||39.5 / 41.1 / 60.2
||39.7 / 39.1 / 59.9
||38.0 / 37.7 / 51.8
Overall, I think the Toyota Sequoia provides a good space compromise among the three seat rows, which isn’t always true in this class. The secret seems to be in the use of folding and sliding seats to account for any conceivable need. Note that the Expedition and Expedition EL kick the competition’s butts in third-row space, without sacrificing second-row legroom. This comes in small part from the Fords’ overall length and in large part from excellent packaging.
As shown in the table, the space behind the Sequoia’s third-row seat is competitive, and there’s a roomy bin under the cargo floor. The tri-fold mat in my test car is a great idea — capable of covering the floor behind the third- or second-row seats — though mine didn’t always fold easily or lay flat in the cold of winter. The 40/20/40-split second-row bench makes for exceptional cargo- and people-carrying versatility, and each segment folds flat in two easy steps. You never have to remove a head restraint, but a panel Velcroed to each second-row backrest must be flipped backward 180 degrees to bridge a gap between it and the folded third row. This accounts for the variable distance between the third- and adjustable second-row seats … and prohibits seatback pockets for third-row passengers.
|Full-Size SUV Cargo Dimensions
|Chevrolet Tahoe 1500
|Chevrolet Suburban 1500
|Ford Expedition EL
The third row’s power folding works well, though I don’t need to hear the loud warning beeps every single time. The beeps seem more reasonable for the power liftgate, which is optional on the Limited and standard on the Platinum. The Sequoia doesn’t offer a power-folding second row, but I find the one on the Tahoe/Suburban pointless; it basically pulls a lever for you twice to fold the seat, and it can’t restore the seat to its upright position.
The Sequoia’s towing capacity is 10,000 pounds with the 5.7-liter engine and 7,800 pounds with the 4.7-liter. Both require a towing package option that adds the hitch, connector, transmission cooler, heavy-duty alternator and a different rear axle ratio. The transmission’s tow/haul mode ensures plenty of towing torque without overheating, and the optional backup camera eases hookups, even for a lone driver.
The Toyota Sequoia incorporates many of the features that make minivans attractive, such as a flip-down “conversation” mirror that gives the driver a view of all three rows of seats. There’s also a seemingly endless supply of storage nooks, bins, cubbies and trays. Nooks are the new cupholders, and the full-size SUVs give up nothing to minivans in this respect. Even the third row has door pockets, and it doesn’t even have doors. Check out the photos to see the enormous center storage console/file cabinet, the modular nature of the cupholders and more.
As of publication, the Toyota Sequoia had not been crash tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Safety features include antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, and an electronic stability system with traction control. Side-impact airbags are standard for the front seats, as are curtains that protect all three seat rows in a side impact or rollover. Shoulder belt anchors are height adjustable in the front and second rows, and each seating position gets its own head restraint. All are adjustable, but the center ones in the second and third rows don’t extend quite high enough for an adult.
The Sequoia isn’t the cheapest full-size SUV, but its base price is competitive, and standard features include the most important stuff, especially safety features. Packed with every extra-cost option you can add — a Cold Area Package (heated mirrors, headlamp washer, etc.), daytime running lights, premium paint, adaptive cruise control and a rear seat DVD video system — a Sequoia Platinum tops the scales at $58,915. This is on par with a top-of-the-line Tahoe and well shy of the Lexus LX 570, a smaller model that starts at $73,800.
With the exception of the high-speed flutter I experienced, which might not be endemic, the Toyota Sequoia is a well-rounded, refined model that’s more competitive in the current market than its earlier generation ever was. The sales-leading Tahoe has exhibited dismal reliability in its current generation, which makes alternatives all the more attractive. Unfortunately, the Sequoia is too new to provide reliability data, and because of some issues with the Tundra, which underpins this model and is assembled alongside it at the same Indiana plant, it would be unwise to assume it will earn a clean bill of health. Wary shoppers will have to wait and see.