Toyota Sequoia in a game of numbers

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

With little fanfare, Toyota has endowed its biggest sport utility vehicle with more horsepower and torque.

The large Sequoia, which has done battle with the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Tahoe since 2001 and with the Nissan Armada since 2003, needed an injection of power. And darn if they didn’t sneak some in while we weren’t looking.

The big Toyota tree is now roaming the land with 42 more horses and 10 additional pound-feet of torque under its hood and we didn’t find out until we took possession of a 2005 model and did some necessary research.

For some reason, it doesn’t add anything to towing capacity or payload capability, but it does give the big 5,295-pound beast a little more urgency on the road. And that’s where soccer moms and baseball dads want it, and in some cases need it.

The revised 4.7-liter V-8 now pumps out 282 horsepower and develops 325 pound-feet of torque. And it’s now mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. Through the 2004 model year, the Sequoia came with a 4-speed.

Toyota squeezed out the extra horses equipping the “i-Force” V-8 with variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) system and an electronic throttle control system with intelligence. (That’s Toyota speak).

Perhaps the Toyota folks, who have watched Sequoia sales erode for three straight years, felt it was time to even up the score. Toyota lists its three main competitors as the Expedition, Tahoe and Armada. The engines in those guys generate, respectively, 300 horsepower, 295 horsepower and 305 horsepower. At least Toyota is getting closer, but unfortunately Sequoia is still loosing ground, down in sales year to date over last year by nearly 12-percent although June sales of the big SUV were flat with June 2004.

Towing capacity remains at 6,200 pounds for the 4-wheel drive model and 6,500 pounds in 2-wheel drive. And total payload — the poundage you can safely haul inside — remains at 1,305 pounds.

These, we feel, are reasonable numbers except in rare circumstances.

But again, perhaps the Sequoia suffers from these “lack of numbers,” even if the prospective buyer never needs the extra capacity. He or she may feel better just to have it available. Numbers are a real game that demands to be played.

And numbers can be gotten in the aforementioned competition.

Towing capacities for the Expedition, Tahoe and Armada are, respectively, 8,600 pounds, 7,800 pounds and 9,000 pounds. Payload for these three ranges from 1,600 pounds to 1,700 pounds.

Aside from fooling with the power numbers Toyota has also spruced up the exterior of the Sequoia, but we bet only Sequoia owners will be able to immediately tell the difference between the ’04 and ’05. Toyota says the exterior is now fully color-keyed with a new front fascia and grille, standard “overfenders” and redesigned taillamps with clear-lens covers. Pretty subtle stuff if you ask us.

Toyota has upgraded the truck perhaps in hopes of stopping eroding sales, which have slipped from a high of 70,187 in 2002 to 67,017 in 2003 and 59,752 in 2004. They are tracking to finish 2005 at less than 50,000 units. Maybe the changes made are too subtle.
But like most of the Toyota lineup, the eight-passenger Sequoia is too good to be less than successful. Buyers will find a silky smooth V-8, a luxury-like sport utility ride, comfortable seating, a sophisticated 4-wheel drive system, rugged good looks and a host of safety features, some of which are new for 2005.

The Sequoia moves smoothly and strongly right up to redline. It’s a quiet confident kind of power. And the big SUV handles as well as it accelerates. It’s a well-balanced vehicle that is as comfortable to drive as a big sedan.

The Sequoia sits up high featuring class-leading 10.6-inches of ground clearance.  It gives the driver a wonderful view of the road and actually makes the SUV feel smaller than it is.

All Sequoias come with traction control and vehicle stability control as standard equipment. While this is not particularly necessary — or perhaps even desirable — for rambles in the outback, these electronically controlled systems make the big Toyota safer in real world situations such as slick and snowy roads.

Vehicle stability control helps to maintain cornering stability in situations where the vehicle is about to lose traction and skid sideways. The system automatically reduces engine output and independently applies braking power as necessary to each of the four wheels to help maintain stability.

The Toyota 4-wheel drive system uses a lockable center differential and allows the driver to shift from 2-wheel drive high to 4-wheel drive high by a push of a dashboard button. The locking center differential can give the Sequoia the ability to wade through sand, mud or deep snow.

The interior of the Sequoia is a superb effort.

The SUV is Lexus quiet making any trip longer than a run to the corner convenience store relaxing and enjoyable.

Eight people can reside comfortably, although the third row seat is a bit tight in the legroom department for adults. Entrance to the third seat area is easy as the passenger-side portion of the second row seats folds and tumbles completely out of the way. The third row seats are split 50-50 and easily removable in less than a minute by one person.

All eight seating positions get shoulder belts. Cupholders are provided in all three rows and storage bins are situated on both sides in back. Heating vents down low and air conditioning vents up high are provided for both the second and third row passengers.
And perhaps best of all there are separate rear seat temperature and fan controls located on the back of the center console.

The dashboard is laid out in typically Toyota easy-to-use fashion. The large climate controls for temperature and fan are noteworthy.

But with the navigation-equipped models, the stereo controls and station pre-sets are imbedded in the screen.  We wish car companies would keep these controls, which are used while driving, separate.

Three powerpoints are provided up front, two on the passenger side of the console. A giant storage bin capable of swallowing up a laptop computer sits between the two front seats.

The power driver’s seat found in our Limited test vehicle allowed an excellent driving position.

Safety is a big part of the Sequoia, which can now be equipped with optional ($500) seat-mounted side airbags for front occupants and side-curtain airbags for first- and second-row occupants. The airbags deploy in the event of a rollover.

The Sequoia received five out of five stars for driver and front-passenger protection in government frontal impact testing.

The Sequoia comes in two trim levels, SR5 and Limited. The SR5 starts at $33,135 very well equipped in 2-wheel drive mode. The top-of-the-line Limited 4-wheel drive starts at $45,625. Our loaded test vehicle had a sticker of $48,006. A luxury sum indeed!

Perhaps one thing that may hurt the Sequoia, as well as other large sport utilities this year is gas mileage. It is rated at 15 miles per gallon city and 18 highway.

But if you do opt for the Sequoia, you will get a well-made sport utility with great reliability and a large amount of standard equipment. And when it comes time, trade-in value will be excellent. Maybe this is where numbers really count.