Look on the side of a road during a snow storm, and you’ll almost always see many more trucks than cars. As a product of a stubbornly car-loyal New England family, I’ve long assumed this was further evidence — as if any more were needed — of my superior driving ability. If I can pilot a front-wheel drive sedan down a slushy highway then surely that four-wheel drive GMC Jimmy should’ve been able to avoid the ditch, right?
Well, not exactly. Take, for instance, this Toyota Sequoia, which I drove during a long, snowy weekend. I expected the Sequoia to be a snow-dominating monster, and in many respects, it was. On twenty-inch all-season tires, I was able to rumble through local roads buried in more than six inches of the white stuff, power up hills, and bull through drifts. All from the comfort of a very well laid out, attractive interior, though I had a hard time reaching some of the radio controls.
It wasn’t so great, though, when I got on the highway. There the Sequoia’s four-wheel drive barely compensates for the sheer inertia created by its heavy weight and towering physical size. Keeping up with traffic moving about 50 mph required incredible focus, peering through the falling flakes to make out the end of banked turns that had derailed several of my fellow SUV drivers. Was it better than a little sedan? Of course, but I’d never describe it as “easy” to drive through these conditions, which is the impression most people get from SUV advertising. Several crossovers and even a few all-wheel drive cars I’ve driven have performed much better in similar conditions.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
My household owns a 2008 Toyota Tundra Double Cab pickup with the 5.7-liter V-8, so when I got into the Sequoia and fired it up, it sounded nearly identical. This V-8 revs so noisily on start-up, but it’s a great engine. The Sequoia and the Tundra drive in very similar fashions, also; they feel stout and heavy and well screwed together.
The Tundra and the Sequoia have similar, no-nonsense, ergonomically correct instrument panels and center stacks. The Sequoia cabin is old-school Big SUV, with a huge amount of cubic air space behind the front seats and a commodious third row that folds flat to create a huge cargo area. There’s nothing new or different here; this is just a well-engineered, big lunk of an SUV that can carry seven passengers and tow about seven thousand pounds. It’s a formula that works for plenty of people.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
A few years back, a public service announcement campaign humorously referred to the SUV as a species of dinosaur. I found the metaphor fitting — not because the full-size SUV is on the verge of extinction (although rising fuel costs may change that), but the basic formula hasn’t changed much in the past decade or so.
Such is the case with Toyota’s Sequoia. Although it launched in 2008 as an all-new design, the model doesn’t really break new ground. Like most of its competitors, it’s a large, three-row body-on-frame SUV derived from a full-size pickup, in this case, the Toyota Tundra.
The Tundra’s 4.6-liter V-8 is standard on the entry-level Sequoia SR5 model, but a 5.7-liter V-8 is available, and it’s standard on the higher-trim Limited and Platinum models. If you can stomach the extra cost (roughly $1300 on the SR5), the larger eight-cylinder is the way to go, as it adds an extra 71 horsepower, an additional 74 pound-feet of torque. Better yet, the extra power only carries a mild fuel economy penalty, as the EPA rating falls from 14/19 (city/highway) for a four-wheel-drive 4.6-liter model to 13/18 mpg.
Still, the Sequoia fails to truly break any new ground (apart from a 4Runner-like roll-down rear window) in an arguably tired segment. That said, the Sequoia’s solid construction, civilized on-road manners, and refined cabin might be enough to woo buyers, particularly those who still revere the Toyota name.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
Toyota’s expansive truck lineup has a lot of dead weight, but the Sequoia is not among that list. While oversized, cumbersome off-roaders like the 4Runner and FJ Cruiser have a limited lifespan, the equally massive Sequoia adds a dose of civility that makes it significantly more palatable on the road. The typical family will still be better served by a more efficient, more comfortable unibody, six-cylinder crossover, but the Sequoia offers the complete package for those with big toys to tow. Our test car was equipped with the strong 5.7-liter V-8 with a claimed a 7100-pound towing capacity. Inside, the six rear seats fold to create a cavernous cargo hold.
As Evan says, the entire large SUV segment is stale, and sales are a fraction of what they once were. The Sequoia behaves decently on the road, but it still leans and dives like the big, soft SUV that it is. While crossover sales are exploding in the economic recovery (Toyota Highlander sales are up 139 percent), the large SUV is growing at a relative trickle (Sequoia sales up 38 percent). Those percentages also don’t reveal that Toyota sells more than eight Highlanders for every Sequoia. It’s comfortable, pleasant, and powerful, but the Sequoia and its large-truck brethren are niche products these days.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2011 Toyota Sequoia Limited V8
Base price (with destination): $53,890
Price as tested: $57,426
5.7-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
Multi-mode 4×4 with locking differential
Tow hitch with pre-wiring
20-inch alloy wheels
Vehicle stability control
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Tilt/slide moonroof with sunshade
Automatic three-zone climate control
JBL AM/FM/XM radio with 14 speakers
Power sliding rear window
Leather-trimmed heated seats
40/20/40 folding second row seats
Options on this vehicle:
Rear-seat DVD entertainment — $1670
2 wireless headphones
115V power outlet and RCA jacks
Voice-activated touch-screen DVD — $1460
Navigation system with integrated backup camera
JBL synthesis AM/FM 4-disc CD changer
XM satellite radio
Glass breakage sensor — $165
Wireless headphones (2) — $82
Wheel locks — $81
Cargo net — $49
First aid kit — $29
Key options not on vehicle:
Platinum trim package — $7040
Size: 5.7L DOHC V-8
Horsepower: 381 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 401 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
Curb weight: 5985 lb
Wheels/tires: 20-inch alloy wheels
275/55R20 Dunlop SP Sport 5000M all-season tires