A family member in western Michigan bragged to us that Ludington is one of the three best places in the United States to watch a sunset, according to Playboy magazine. We didn't even need that much of an excuse to jump into the 2001 Toyota Sequoia, a full-size sport-utility vehicle and the biggest Japanese auto product ever offered in North America.

Be prepared to pay a significant price for such mass and muscle. Our Sequoia Limited 4x4, with options like a power moonroof, side air bags and rear spoiler, cost $44,875. But at least one of us thinks it's the perfect way to get to the best sunset of the summer.

She: What a treat it was to take a couple of days and meet up with my sister Claudia and her family in Ludington. With the eight-passenger Sequoia, we were able to cram in various family members to go to shopping in Pentwater and on a late-night run for pizza. That's the beauty of a big SUV with 10 cupholders and lots of storage pockets and bins. It gives you plenty of options, especially when you're on vacation and you want to be flexible. Even if you just want to sit on the pier and watch the sun go down. I constantly bugged our passengers about what they didn't like about the Sequoia and there were few complaints.

He: I'm convinced the Sequoia, which is assembled in Indiana, is the best-built full-size sport-ute on the market, but holy cow! It's nearly as expensive as a Lincoln Navigator or a Cadillac Escalade. Of course, it's not nearly as garish as those two luxury utes. In fact, it's kind of homely. But the Sequoia is well-engineered and solidly built. I just wish Toyota would have put a little more thought into some of the details. Like the digital displays for the climate and audio systems. They're very hard to read because they are small and dimly lit. And the location for the heated-seat switches on the center console seems foolish. I was taking the dogs to the kennel and thought my rear end was burning up, when I realized that Iacocca, our dim-witted schnauzer, had switched on the darn heated seat.

She: For once, maybe you'll get the hate mail instead of me, at least from the dog lovers.

He: But only the dog lovers who drive Cadillacs and Lincolns.

She: It's really interesting to hear the criticisms of the Sequoia. And they have more to do with expectations and price points. My sister wondered why a vehicle with leather seats, a premium JBL audio system and a big price tag lacked heated seats in the middle row. I wondered why I enjoyed lumbar support when I was behind the wheel, but not when I was a passenger in the front. Or why there were no separate climate controls for the front passenger. This is a never-ending issue in our marriage. I'm always cold, you're always hot. I hate air blowing on me. Toyota should do a marriage encounter group. They'd learn a lot.

He: Yeah, like just how much hot air that one of these columns can generate. I notice you didn't complain much about th e engine, which is a terrific twin-cam 4.7-liter V-8 that makes 240 horsepower and 315 pounds-feet of torque. The downside is gas mileage, which is a dismal 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 17 on the highway. I believe we averaged between 15 and 16 over much of our 500-mile, two-day vacation.

She: It seemed like there was limitless room in the Sequoia's cabin. We loaded up two coolers, two suitcases, grocery bags and a large dragonfly lawn ornament, and still had room to fit in a second couple and their gear. My one moment of distress in being the mistress of such a large SUV came at the gas station, when I couldn't reach all the way across the massive hood to clean the windshield. I should also mention the standard safety features, which include four-wheel disc brakes with antilock plus vehicle skid/traction control. You have to pay $500 extra for side air bags and air curtains.

He: Besides those little design flaws I mentioned, I was most annoyed by the silvery tal tone" plastic trim that Toyota uses on the top-of-the-line Sequoia Limited. It looks cheesy. And I was particularly stunned by the crummy paint job. The jet-black exterior finish showed every flaw, including acres of orange peel on nearly every panel. Definitely not a world-class finish. Knowing Toyota, most of these glitches will be resolved in short order. Until then, as good as it is, the Sequoia merits only three stars in my book.

2001 Toyota Sequoia Ltd.

Anita's rating: World class

Paul's rating: Above average

Likes: Like a rock. Powerful engine. Well engineered and solidly built. Good safety features, including $500 optional side air bags and air curtains. Roomy middle seat. Great long-distance cruiser for two couples.

Dislikes: As pricey as a Lincoln Navigator. Ugly gray plastic "metal look" trim inside (Paul). Homely exterior styling (Paul). Dismal gas mileage. Needs dual-zone climate controls in front, plus heated rear seats. Can't see digital readouts in center console. No lumbar support for front passenger (Anita). Dumb location for heated-seat switches.

Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, eight-passenger sport-utility vehicle.

Price: Base, $42,275; as tested, $44,875 (inc. $480 destination charge).

Engine: 4.7-liter V-8; 240-hp; 315 lb-ft torque.

EPA fuel economy: 14 mpg city/17 mpg highway.

12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,747 (Ratesmay be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

Where built: Princeton, Ind.