Although I'm not much of a fan of big SUVs, I do understand that there is a market for this type of vehicle. While something this big might seem out of place in today's mileage-driven environment, there are some definite advantages to a vehicle like the Toyota Sequoia.
First introduced in 2000 as a 2001 model, the body-on-frame Sequoia, based on the same platform as the Toyota Tundra, is assembled at the same Princeton, Indiana manufacturing facility that builds the smaller (really!) Highlander SUV.
Under the hood
For a vehicle that tips the scales at close to three tons (5,985 pounds for our 4WD SR5), the Sequoia hardly feels underpowered. You can chalk this up to an engine that is standard across the line for 2013 – an iForce DOHC 5.7-liter V8 gasoline engine that produces 381 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and a stump-pulling 401 lb.-ft. of torque at just 3,600 rpm while 90 percent of that peak torque is produced at just 2,200 rpm. The engine utilizes dual independent variable valve timing as well as what Toyota calls an "Acoustic Control Induction System."
This system switches the intake runner length in two stages, based on throttle angle and engine rpm, to optimize engine torque across the entire engine speed range. One big advantage: just regular-grade fuel is specified for all Sequoia models.
With this setup, the SAE J2807 tow standard towing capacity of the Sequoia ranges from 7,000 pounds (880 pound tongue weight) for a 4WD Platinum edition to 7,400 pounds (1,000 pound tongue weight) for a 2WD SR5 model.
This engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with flexible torque converter lock-up in fourth, fifth and sixth gears for better efficiency.
And while the Sequoia is based on the Tundra, it deviates from its pickup sibling in a couple of significant ways: it has a fully-boxed frame and it features a fully-independent rear suspension with coil springs and double wishbones.
Also standard on Sequoias is Trailer Sway Control, a Tow/Haul mode that modifies the transmission's shift points for better performance and a towing hitch that's integrated into the frame as a single unit. Four-wheel-drive models get a two-speed transfer case with lockable TORSEN limited-slip diff that shifts electronically and locks with the push of a button.
Although historically the Sequoia's styling has been based on the current-gen Tundra, the styling of the 2013 iteration still evokes that of the previous generation Tundra. As such I found it difficult picking it out, aside from its heroic dimensions, in a sea of similarly-sized SUVs in a crowded parking lot.
With its upright three bar grille and smallish lower air intake there's little in the way of front styling cues to differentiate Toyota's big people mover from a slew of other large SUVs.
Styling along the sides is equally innocuous and, in back, the styling remains plain and tall. Remove its badges and the Sequoia could be from any one of a number of manufacturers. But if it's not striking, at least it's not offensive – faint praise, perhaps, but it is what it is.
Inside lies the greatest benefit to its massive exterior dimensions as there's plenty of room to sit up to eight adults quite comfortably, thank you very much. Up front the leather-trimmed seats are both large and supportive, although the side bolsters were a bit soft and far between for my tastes. But in addition to being a bit long in the tooth on the outside, the interior is also showing its age: most surfaces, while nicely grained, are hard to the touch including those of the upper doors as well as the entire dashboard. The brushed silver trim also looks cheap – especially for a vehicle that comes in at over fifty large. At the same time the leather is soft and the light and dark gray surfaces contrast nicely with each other. The overall fit and finish is also excellent and the steering wheel both tilts and telescopes.
The dash instrumentation is clear and easy to read while the smooth console and center-stack buttons are very intuitive. Like Toyota's other large SUVs, the various buttons and knobs on the center stack are not only backlit and within easy reach of the driver, they're also good-size and fly in the face of current interior design that often sacrifices usefulness on the altar of style.
Our SR5 tester came equipped with the optional Display Navigation package that not only features a large 6.1-inch touchscreen but also a backup camera which is a good thing because rear quarter visibility is not only impaired by the Sequoia's size but also by its wide C-pillars.
Three center row occupants get the same kind of room as those up in front. There's also a large fold-down arm rest, while opening a lower door on the center console reveals two cup holders.
Unlike many three-row utilities, the third row is also a comfortable place to seat up to three adults. Access is from either side of the sliding center row seats and there's 34.5 inches of head room, 65.7 inches of shoulder room and 35.3 inches of leg room in the way way back. Like most three row vehicles, the headrests steal much of the rear window's available real estate. In addition, cargo volume behind third seat is a generous 10.3 cubic feet.
With the rear seats folded that expands to a more generous 66.6 cubic feet. That transforms into a cavernous 120.4 cubic feet with both the rear and center seats down.
On the road
On the road it's hard to ignore the reality that the Sequoia is both large and heavy. The good news is that the driver sits up high with an excellent view of the road. Acceleration is surprisingly brisk and the brakes are easy to modulate.
But that, unfortunately, is pretty much where most of the goodness ends. Overall handling isn't bad for a vehicle of this size, although there's quite a bit of body roll in the corners. Additionally, there is very little in the way of feedback through the steering wheel and the steering, itself, is almost too light. The ride, itself, is also not that inspiring – it can be floaty at times as though the suspension was too softly sprung and the suspension engineers were more concerned with road harshness than chassis response.
Equipment and pricing
2014 Toyota Sequoia pricing starts at $44,590, including the requisite $995 destination and delivery charge, for a 4X2 SR5 model, sans any options and tops out at $64,910 for a Platinum 4X4 with all the trimmings.
Our 2013 tester, a 4X4 SR5, had a base price of $45,680 as well as a number of options and option packages.
The Display Navigation with Entune package, aside from a 6.1-inch touch screen and backup camera, also includes iPod connectivity, hands-free phone capability and Bluetooth technology, XM satellite radio and HD radio with iTunes tagging at an additional $1,345.
The Premium Package, a $2,705 upgrade, includes leather seats, a heated 10-way power driver's seat, a heated 4-way power front passenger's seat as well as power reclining and fold-flat third row seating.
An auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and Homelink ($275), XM satellite radio ($449) and a cargo net ($49) plus destination and handling brought our Super White tester to a total MSRP of $51,498.
The Bottom Line
If they simply must have a big SUV we can see why buyers would pick a Sequoia. Although its fuel economy isn't great – we managed 15 mpg in combined driving – it isn't too shabby for a vehicle of this size. On the plus side it has a quiet ride as well as a comfortable and spacious interior that can easily accommodate eight adults.
And while the Sequoia could use a bit more style, we have a feeling that a new model reflecting changes made to the Tundra is not that far off. Besides, those shortcomings will undoubtedly be overlooked by buyers looking for a big people hauler with Toyota's legendary quality and reliability.