The Toyota Sequoia was completely redesigned and re-engineered for 2008, boasting impressive truck capabilities and the bold looks of the Toyota Tundra pickup. So the 2009 Sequoia cruises through that sweet spot, second year of production with only minimal change.
This second-generation Sequoia is bigger and more capable than the original, 2001-2007 version. Bigger than a Chevy Tahoe in almost every dimension, this latest Sequoia is the biggest SUV Toyota has ever made, and it has the most capability.
The Sequoia can transport eight people, plus cargo. Seating comfort for rear-row passengers was a design priority, so the more you carry full loads of people, the more the Sequoia becomes attractive. The interior is designed with generous seats, big armrests, and lots of storage for passengers, plus an optional entertainment system for long trips.
The Sequoia can be equipped to tow trailers of up to 10,000 pounds. Its optional 5.7-liter V8 makes more than 400 pound-feet of torque, while an available six-speed transmission allows for smooth cruising. Four-wheel-drive models offer credible off-highway driving capability, with easy shifting into and out of 4WD, good low range gearing, and lockable differential for better traction.
Toyota's comprehensive suite of electronic safety, stability and traction controls, the STAR system, is standard on all models, as are advanced airbag systems.
The Sequoia represents a state-of-the-art rendering of the modern sport utility vehicle. It's built to transport people and their gear, in comfort, across long distances on North American super-highways. It's all about getting people in and out easily, keeping them comfy, and making heavy loads secure and routine. It rides quietly, steers easily, and with three models, two drive trains, and a broad selection of options, the Sequoia can be configured in a variety of ways to meet specific wants, needs and price points.
The Sequoia differs from the premium Land Cruiser in that the Sequoia is larger, can carry and tow more and is designed specifically for North America. The Land Cruiser is designed to address upscale luxury car buyers in global markets. The Sequoia is more about practical utility and comfort. It is built at Toyota's Princeton, Indiana, factory and shares many components with the Tundra pickup that is now built in San Antonio, Texas.
The 2009 Toyota Sequoia is packaged in three grades: SR5, Limited and Platinum. SR5 comes standard with a 276-hp 4.7-liter V8 mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Limited and Platinum come standard with the 5.7-liter V8 and six-speed automatic. Eight-passenger seating is standard; Platinum seats seven. A flex-fuel version of the 5.7-liter engine that can run on E85 (85 percent ethanol) is available in most states.
Compared to the Chevy Tahoe, the Toyota Sequoia is longer and wider with a longer wheelbase. It's designed to look tall and oversized, so as to project strength from a distance. Larger than the previous-generation (pre-2008) model, the 2008-2009 Toyota Sequoia is a full size SUV.
Sequoia shares design features with the Tundra pickup from the front bumper to the B-pillar, along with numerous drive train components.
The windshield angle is lower than that of the previous-generation version, accentuating bulk below the hood line, and larger high-mounted headlamps add an alert look to a cabin-forward design. Exterior mirrors are large, because they have to be, but careful smoothing has reduced wind noise, as does the use of partially hidden wipers that likewise must be very large to sweep the large front windshield. The new design permits a drag coefficient of 0.35, respectable for a full-size truck.
From the side, large, strong-looking door handles are apparent, the kind you'd appreciate if you wear gloves. The rear doors open 10 degrees wider than in 2007 and earlier models, for easier child seat and passenger access, and have three detents, instead of two.
Parking sensors enable easier parking and the ability to avoid people or toys lurking in the driveway.
The Toyota Sequoia cabin is built for passenger comfort, with generous legroom and headroom. Seating is designed for long days of driving, with a comfortable, unusually wide driver's seat with power lumbar support. The seats have soft, wide bolsters and the kind of adjustability that allows a driver to shift around during long drives.
With a body longer and wider than that of the Chevy Tahoe, the Sequoia boasts a large cabin. The interior is conspicuously wide and it offers more legroom and shoulder room than that of the Tahoe or the previous-generation Sequoia.
The dash is simple and focused, with two central gauges, speedometer and tachometer, flanked by fuel, temperature and voltage gauges. Bright rings accent the instrumentation.
A very large rectangular shifter dominates the metallic center strip area, and behind it is a wide central console designed to hold 12 CDs or four DVD cases. We liked the Sand Beige interior on our test vehicle. Graphite is the other standard color. A two-tone scheme called Red Rock/Black is only available with the Platinum grade.
The four-spoke steering wheel contains controls for AC, Bluetooth-capable phones and audio functions. The steering column tilts and telescopes; our test unit had a powered memory feature.
Switches and dials are used to control windows and HVAC system. The HVAC system is designed to define and maintain three different climate zones, two in the front, and one in the back. We think Toyota does a good job when it comes to switch feel and operational consistency when it comes to dials and other touch points.
Two overhead compartments are suitable for sunglasses, and the control strip has sunroof controls. An electrochromic rear view mirror is standard except on SR5, and the mirror contains built-in garage door opener buttons operating on three different frequencies.
The sun visors are huge, and they slide on their hangers, providing effective shade for driver and passenger all day long. On the A-pillar are hefty grab handles, with grips big enough to support body weight as you swing into the seat.
The interior is notable for thoughtful features that increase utility, such as a compass, map light, automatic up-and-down jam protection for front power windows, and back door power window.
The Sequoia is especially designed to make the third-row passenger seats more comfortable, and more useful, more like real seating for adults. To that end, the third row seats have almost as much leg room as the second-row seats, and have adjustability features rarely seen in eight-passenger SUVs. For those who often make use of the third row, the Sequoia's standard interior layout is better than many SUVs we've seen, in which the third-row seats constitute emergency seating for smaller people only. Those who do not need eight-passenger capacity can configure the Sequoia with captain's chairs in the second row, which shifts the priority to second-row passenger comfort.
Sequoia is one of the very few SUVs with a retractable rear hatch window (4Runner is the other), providing flow-through ventilation that smokers particularly appreciate. It also has a closed, removable ashtray that is dish-washable, and a cigarette lighter up front.
Last but not least, the Sequoia has ample cargo room behind the third row, and even more if you fold it down. When the seat is folded flat, large baggage or cargo can be loaded without removing the seat. It is a well-organized cargo area, even having tow hooks that can hang grocery bags. The seat folds flat manually in SR5's, and upgrades to a power folding feature in Limited and Platinum models.
Driving the Toyota Sequoia is like sitting in your den, watching the world go by. It may be big, but it's not tiring to operate as the day goes on.
We had a chance to spend two days driving the Sequoia on a variety of North Carolina roads and highways. We drove the Platinum model with the 5.7-liter V8, which had every possible option including laser cruise control. Our testing included an off-road track, and retrieval of a boat we would estimate in the 7000-pound range up a steep boat ramp, and onto the highway.
After all of that, we could see the Sequoia is made with a 1000-mile day in mind. It's the kind of vehicle that an American family will want for a long, long day on the interstate. It's got long legs and an effortless cruising pace. There is low noise and vibration, so you can listen to the audio system or converse at a normal tone of voice. It gets around 18-19 mpg on the open road, so it can gobble up almost 500 miles between fill-ups on the highway. The more people, the more load, the more stuff you have, the better. No doubt about it, the Sequoia is at home on the biggest of North American roads.
In everyday driving, the suspension is surprisingly compliant for a vehicle built to carry heavy loads. There is a minimum of tummy jiggle on broken surfaces, and yet, when hard braking is called for, the front end does not dive wildly or pitch about. We had the active air suspension on our test unit, which has the ability to maintain more even ride height with heavy loads, but without a load, we're not sure the suspension would be much different. The standard setup is an independent A-arm configuration at all four corners, with coil springs and anti-roll bars.
We didn't do it, but we suspect the Sequoia would score highly in the drive-through fast-food test. That's the one when Dad, son, and half the little league team picks up shakes and French fries on the way home after the game. There are eight cup holders, eight bottle holders, console surfaces, everything you would want to eat in the car, and go. And then, lots of door pocket space for trash.
Driven empty, the Sequoia has an impressive reserve of torque. We loafed along at 2000 rpm or less all day long without feeling the need to punch the throttle. The 5.7-liter V8 makes most of its torque below 3600 rpm, so when you do decide to pass, acceleration is impressive. The 5.7-liter is Toyota's newest truck engine, so it is ULEV-II compliant. It's designed with four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust. The internals are made with high-strength materials, and a low-friction valve train is employed for better efficiency. Consistent with the internal component quality is the exhaust, which is made from stainless steel and has four catalytic converters: two for cold starts and two main.
We've driven the standard 4.7-liter V8 in the past, and it's no slouch, but the 5.7-liter shows how far engine technology has progressed at Toyota in just a few years. It's revealing that the bigger, cleaner, more powerful 5.7-liter V8 also gets better mileage.
To be fair, a good part of the mileage improvement is due to the six-speed electronically controlled transmission that comes with the optional 5.7-liter engine. Like the standard five-speed automatic, it's controlled by a shifter that allows sequential shifting, and has a lock-up torque converter for better towing efficiency and heat control. With the six-speed, there is a Tow/Haul mode that changes the shift points for heavy loads and long, uphill grades.
Just like the Tundra, the Sequoia has a two-speed transfer case with 2.6:1 Low range. We found Low range easy to get in and out of, even on ground that was not perfectly level. And enhanced gearing seemed low enough, given the 275/65 tires, that the Sequoia could crawl at speeds low enough to slog up very steep terrain. Also like the Tundra, the front and rear differentials are larger than previous versions of this platform. The lowest available gear set is 4.3:1, which comes with the towing package.
Towing capabilities are in the class of a full-size pickup. Properly equipped, the Sequoia can tow up to 10,000 pounds (compared to 6500 pounds for the pre-2008 model). A seven-pin connector and a standard four-pin connector are set up and ready to use, and there is a pre-wired brake controller connector under the dash, similar to the Tundra. The Max Gross Combined Weight Rating, the total permissible weight of vehicle and trailer, is 16,960-17,280 pounds, depending on equipment.
The brakes are consistent with full-size pickup capability. Very large discs are mounted on all four corners. In use, the brakes feel reasonably gradual, with some forgiveness at the top of the pedal and very strong response as foot pressure is increased. The brakes are enhanced by ABS (anti-lock brake system) and Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), the latter of which keeps all four brakes accurately proportioned as the vehicle stops, assuring straighter stops and better control and shorter stopping distances. Brake Assist reduces stopping distances in panic situations. These are all useful and necessary features for a modern SUV, particularly one that might be towing a boat or RV.
We still have a hard time trusting laser cruise control, but after a day in the new Sequoia it's getting easier. We suspect dynamic cruise control is one of those features that we'll all rely on before the decade is out. We switched it on and watched it work, carefully, and, sure enough, it sensed vehicles as we came up on them, slowed appropriately, and maintained the distance we selected. Then, when the lane opened, it slowly resumed speed. It's not really intended for use on a crowded highway, but it's useful on roads with just the occasional car.
In daily use around town, the Sequoia will seem big to those not accustomed to maneuvering full-size domestic iron. We notice that, like any full-size, the hood is long and tall, and the distance to the rear bumper is not easily estimated without practice.
Parking sensors front and rear go a long way toward making the best of the need to fit a big SUV into an average parking space by providing audible warnings when maneuvering in close quarters.
The rearview camera that displays a video image of what's behind you on the navigation screen is even better. We highly recommend getting this optional feature for its safety benefits. A rearview camera, in addition to the audible warnings, can help alert the driver to a child behind the vehicle or, more commonly, unseen objects you don't want to hit. It also makes the parking process easier.
Steering is fingertip-easy around town. Turning radius is just 19 feet. It avoids being boat-like by a variable system that adds more return-to-center and a firmer, more precise level of control as speeds increase. At higher speeds, we found the Sequoia easy to keep in its lane without undue attention. While this family SUV is not built to be a cornering machine on country roads, control is good enough for confident handling. The steering column actually has a floating shaft that keeps noise and vibration from coming through to the wheel.
On a vehicle this big, things like power windows and doors are more than just luxury options; they become necessities. It's an impossible reach across the cabin, and a long walk to open the tailgate in the rain. The power rear hatch can be opened using the remote fob, handy when approaching the vehicle in a downpour with a load of groceries.
The Toyota Sequoia is built in America to satisfy North American conditions: big roads, big loads, and wide open spaces. There is ample power in reserve for towing and hauling, and a roomy, comfortable interior. There are so many small, thoughtful touches, we get the sense that the Sequoia is one of those SUVs an owner would grow to appreciate more and more as time goes on. If you require capability on a full-size scale, and you'd appreciate roomy, comfortable surroundings, the Toyota Sequoia should be on your short list.
John Stewart filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after driving the Sequoia around Durham, North Carolina.