Smaller, carlike sport-utility vehicles are getting hotter. But Toyota's new Sequoia sport-ute is almost big enough to have its own ZIP code.
Based on Toyota's rugged full-size Tundra pickup truck, the four-door Sequoia is the largest vehicle ever sold in this country by a Japanese automaker.
Toyota long has been pressured by dealers to make big, powerful pickups and sport-utes to match such high-profit vehicles from U.S. automakers. The large, rugged Toyota Land Cruiser hasn't counted because it's a $50,000-plus low-volume sport-utility.
Toyota believes in eventually covering all bases. We thus get the well-executed Sequoia, which is larger and roomier than the Land Cruiser and should make Toyota dealers very happy. The Sequoia has conventional styling but features the Tundra's 240-horsepower V-8 and a standard third-row seat that allows seating for eight.
The made-in-Indiana Sequoia was designed for the U.S. market and competes with sport-utes such as the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Tahoe. It comes in SR5 and higher-line LTD trim levels.
Base prices range from $30,815 for the entry rear-drive model to $42,275 for the top-line four-wheel-drive version.
Few Sequoias are likely to be driven off pavement, but this truck is fully capable of handling tough off-road driving with its four-wheel-drive system, which can be engaged by pushing a dashboard button. Toyota knows that few costly, snobbish Range Rovers are taken off road, but their producer sells many of them by emphasizing off-road prowess.
Environmentalists may throw rocks at the Sequoia, so it has been given the first Toyota sport-ute engine to earn EPA ultra-low emissions status.
In response to charges that big sport-utes are prone to roll over more easily, Toyota has given the Sequoia skid control and traction control systems for better stability.
Also standard are anti-lock brakes and Electronic Brake Distribution, which tailors braking to the load carried. For added safety, side impact air bags and curtain-shield side air bags are offered as options for front-seat occupants.
The smooth V-8 works with an efficient four-speed automatic transmission. Like the Tundra, the shift lever is on the steering column; most upscale sport-utes have a console-mounted lever.
The steering is rather heavy, but quick. It enables this 5,200-pound vehicle to be steered like a car. Not that the high, heavy vehicle handles like an auto, but it's easy to maneuver the Sequoia when away from tight areas. It has a generally trucklike ride, but stops confidently.
The engine is noisy when pushed but propels the Sequoia to 60 mph in a fairly quick (for a big truck) 9.4 seconds and allows supremely relaxed highway cruising. Not that fuel economy is anything to brag about on or off the highway: an estimated 14 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway with rear-drive and 14 and 17 with four-wheel drive.
Towing ability is average for a big sport-ute because the Sequoia's 4.7-liter V-8 isn't especially large.
Extra effort is needed to climb into the tall, aptly named Sequoia's soothingly quiet, nicely designed interior, where you'll find comfortable seats, high-quality materials and smooth controls. There also are plenty of big cupholders and a large front storage bin. Ashtrays even are in the rear doors, which have windows that roll all the way down.
There is decent cargo room even with the third seat in place, along with supreme seating versatility. Second-row seats are 60/40 split/fold/recline and tumble units. The third-row 50/50 split seats also fold, recline and tumble--and can slide forward and back to adjust either passenger leg room or rear cargo area. Each rear seat half weighs 52 pounds for fairly easy removal.
The whale-size Sequoia will be a tight fit in many garages, and potential buyers should seriously ask themselves if they really need such a big sport-ute. If so, the Sequoia is one of the better ones.