Toyota Sequoia – when big is absolutely necessary

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Toyota has become well known for its environmentally friendly vehicles.

The best example is the hybrid Prius, which has become an unqualified sales success in the 21st Century. The fuel-sipping Prius is the status symbol of the so-called environmentally correct, one of only two vehicles in 2007 that exceeded 35 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving as measured by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

And Toyota can parade a wide array of fuel-stingy four-cylinder compacts and sub-compacts that come close in 2008 to hitting the elusive 35 mile per gallon average that has been mandated by legislation for the U.S. fleet by 2022.

But there’s another side to Toyota that tarnishes its frugal image.

In 2008 the dark side of the giant auto company wears the names of Tundra and Sequoia, a full-sized pickup and a full-sized sport utility vehicle, both newly designed in the Toyota lineup, both built on the same truck platform and both powered by an optional massive V-8 engine that gulps gasoline like it was hooked to an oil pipeline. 

As one of the two largest automotive companies in the world Toyota has a responsibility not only to its shareholders, but the car-buying public to build vehicles that are highly profitable and that are in demand. So we applaud a company that isn’t selling out, that can supply all things — big and small — to its customers.

Speaking of the all-new Sequoia, there is a place for a large sport utility vehicle that can carry seven or eight people and their cargo while pulling a 10,000-pound travel trailer.

We think because of high gas prices and renewed consideration of the environment and our dependence on foreign oil, fewer people will purchase the big brute. But we also think that a vehicle this good — and we think the new Sequoia is extremely well done — and this capability should be available for those who feel they need it and can afford it, even if we personally disagree with the poor example it sets in relationship to our use of fossil fuels and the potential harm to the environment as a whole.

The Sequoia is an excellent example of how to build a big, stylish SUV. It has incredible performance for a three-ton vehicle when pulled by the 5.7-liter V-8, mated to a six-speed automatic. The big engine makes 381 horsepower measured in sports-sedan-like 0-to-60 time of 6.7 seconds. It stops from 60 in an exemplary and sheetmetal-saving 127 feet.

It has a very usable interior with scads of stretch-out room for second-row passengers, easy access (perhaps most amazingly even for us wide bodies) to a comfortable relatively adult-friendly third row and a healthy 28 cubic feet of luggage space behind the seats. The spacious living area is as hushed as a Lexus, and as soothing of an experience. 
The Sequoia rides over smooth pavement as if gliding on air and acquits itself with only minimal disruptions over road imperfections thanks to an independent rear suspension. We got this impression in the base SR5 without the optional load-leveling rear air springs, which may elevate the truck’s ride quality even more.

The Sequoia features acceptable handling with well-weighted steering feel.

If there is such a thing as driving small in a very large vehicle, it’s with the Sequoia. Before the new Toyota arrived, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon had the corner on the driving small department.

But make no mistake the Sequoia is no small animal. It has to be maneuvered very carefully in parking lot situations. And when backing, pay attention to your surroundings to avoid nudging something parked behind you.

Let’s pause in our lavish praise to hit a couple of sour notes.

Gas mileage is the big bugaboo on any full-sized SUV and the Sequoia’s powerful engine with its noteworthy forward momentum and pulling power comes at a big price — a mere 13 miles per gallon city and 18 mpg on the highway in the four-wheel drive edition. Rear-wheel drive versions are rated at 14/19. On the positive side, if there can be a positive side at nearly $5 per gallon, the engine runs just fine on regular gas.

Unfortunately, the base V-8, Toyota’s veteran 4.7-liter developing 276 horsepower, is even less efficient rated at 14/17 in rear-wheel drive and 13/16 in four-wheel drive.

Pump visits to fill the 26-gallon tank will come too often.

The mileage difference comes courtesy of dual variable valve timing in the bigger V-8 and the six-speed transmission. The smaller V-8 has only variable intake valves and is mated to a five-speed automatic.

Toyota officials have said that a more fuel-efficient diesel V-8 is headed to the U.S., perhaps by the end of 2009.

Besides the anemic gas mileage, which is to be expected in any three-ton truck, we were dismayed by the rather cheap look and feel of the dashboard materials in our base SR5 trim level. Unusual as this may seem, we think Toyota should have benchmarked the dashboard setup in the Chevrolet Tahoe. Move up to the top-of-the-line

Sequoia Platinum edition at a price and the materials have a significantly upgraded appearance.

Perhaps more importantly, the front driver and passenger seats are comfortable and the driving position is good. We discovered one small aggravation in a long day of driving — the large A-pillar together with the big outside mirror created an unexpected blind spot looking to the right out the passenger window.

Prices start at $34,835 for the SR5 rear-wheel drive with the 4.7-liter engine and escalate to the four-wheel drive Platinum edition at $56,285.

Our 4X4 SR5 test truck with the big V-8 carried a base price of $39,185. With a handful of options including the tow package, roof rack and front and rear parking sensors the bottom line came to $40,904.

Our tester was devoid of the big ticket items such as leather seating, navigation, rear-seat entertainment and the JBL premium sound system, which together would have driven the price into 50 grand range.

Surprising to some, perhaps, we lived with the Sequoia quite nicely without all the expensive toys, but reality tells us that the bigger, more thrifty V-8 with the six speed automatic will be the choice of most and for what it is the Platinum edition could well be the best seller of the lot. If money is no object then money is no object.

To Toyota’s credit, standard safety is impressive. Antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and side-curtain airbags come on all trim levels. A backup camera is optional on the SR5 and mid-level Limited. We think it is a worthwhile investment.

If you don’t need a big SUV, we recommend you explore other more fuel-efficient products. But if a big truck with room for a basketball team is a necessity in your life, the 2008 Sequoia should be on your short list.


Base price, $34,835; as driven, $40,904
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8
Horsepower: 381 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 401 foot-pounds @ 3,600 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: four-wheel
Seating: 2/3/3
Wheelbase: 122 inches
Length: 205.1 inches
Curb weight: 6,030 pounds
Turning circle: 39 feet
Towing capacity: 10,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 28.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 121 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 26.4 gallons
EPA rating: 18 highway, 13 city
0-60: 6.7 seconds (Edmund's)
Also consider: Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada

The Good
• Excellent passenger and cargo space
• Powerful with 5.7-liter V-8 option
• Massive towing capacity

The Bad
• Allocate a big piece of the household budget for gas

The Ugly
• Sequoia becomes pricey loaded up with options