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2012 Toyota Sequoia Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2012 Toyota Sequoia

New Car Test Drive
© 2012

The Toyota Sequoia can transport eight people in comfort with room left over for cargo. Sequoia's interior is designed with generous seats, big armrests, and lots of storage for passengers, with an optional entertainment system for long trips. Toyota's STAR system, a comprehensive combination of electronic safety, stability and traction controls, is standard on all models, as are eight airbags. Properly equipped, Sequoia is rated to tow up to 7,400 pounds.

The 2012 Sequoia offers two engines. The standard 4.6-liter V8 is rated at 310 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque and an EPA-estimated 14/20 mpg City/Highway. Sequoia Limited and Platinum models come with a 5.7-liter V8 rated at 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque and an EPA-estimated 13/18 mpg City/Highway. Both come with a 6-speed automatic. With four-wheel drive, it's 13/18 mpg for the 4.6-liter, 13/17 mpg for the 5.7-liter. A flex-fuel version of the 5.7-liter engine is available for burning inefficient E85 (85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline), dropping fuel economy to a dismal 9/13 mpg City/Highway with E85 or 13/17 mpg with gasoline. We recommend the 4.6-liter. It's plenty, unless you have a trailer to tow, in which case we recommend the 5.7-liter.

The Toyota Sequoia was completely redesigned for 2008. The base engine got a boost in both power and efficiency for 2010. Changes since then have been confined to options and trim levels. For 2012, Sequoia Platinum models come with a blind-spot monitor, and all 2012 Sequoia models now include the Tundra's Trailer Sway Control (TSC).

This second-generation Sequoia borrows heavily in appearance from the Toyota Tundra, looking very much like the pickup from the front. Sequoia uses much of the Tundra's running gear, but with an independent rear suspension for better ride quality and room for third-row seating.

The Sequoia represents a modern take on the traditional sport utility vehicle. It's big, built to transport people and their gear in comfort across long distances on North American super-highways. It can tow a sizable trailer or continue when the pavement ends and many other SUVs don't look so tough anymore. 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 drivetrains, and a full complement of features, the Sequoia can meet a variety of wants, needs and price points. We think the Sequoia SR5 is the best model in the lineup for towing, with or without four-wheel drive.

In Toyota's SUV lineup, the Land Cruiser is a more upscale luxury vehicle than the Sequoia and offers greater off-road capability and towing capacity. Conversely, the smaller Highlander SUV and Sienna minivan offer similar features to the Sequoia, drive more like cars and use much less fuel due to their lighter weight and smaller engines.

Model Lineup

Toyota Sequoia SR5 4.6 2WD ($40,930), 4WD ($44,155); Limited 2WD ($51,040), 4WD ($54,265); Platinum 2WD ($58,580), 4WD ($61,805)

Walk Around

The Toyota Sequoia is long and wide, with a long wheelbase, and is designed to look tall and oversized, so as to project strength from a distance. It's every inch a full-size SUV. The Sequoia shares design features with the Tundra pickup from the front bumper to the B-pillar, along with numerous drive train components.

The low windshield angle accentuates bulk below the hood line, and large high-mounted headlamps add an alert look to a cabin-forward design. Exterior mirrors are large, because they have to be for towing, but careful smoothing has reduced wind noise, as does the use of partially hidden wipers that likewise must be very large to sweep the windshield. The design has a drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.36, respectable for a full-size truck, but remember that aerodynamic resistance is Cd times frontal area, so keeping highway speeds moderate will pay off in less fuel consumption for this big box.

From the side, large, strong-looking door handles are apparent, the kind you'd appreciate if you wear gloves. All the roof pillars are big as well, and the flare in the bodywork to cover the rear tires makes the area between the wheels look smaller than it is. The rear doors open wide, for easy child seat and passenger access. Parking sensors and a pair of rear camera display choices enable easier parking and the ability to avoid people or toys lurking in the driveway.

The receiver hitch is well incorporated in the rear bumper, and the bumper has decent low-slip top for loading the roof rack. To avoid damage from shopping carts or narrow tree-lined forest trails the taillights are up high and the rear reflectors are inset in the bumper where they get dirty quickly.


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, broad driver's seat with power lumbar support. The seats have soft, wide bolsters, easy to climb over getting in and out, and the kind of adjustability that allows a driver to shift around during long drives. The SR5's cloth and Platinum's perforated leather each offer two colors, Graphite and Sand Beige, each as bland as they sound; to these the Limited adds Red Rock, a still-muted but more interesting, Southwest-flavored shade suggesting of bricks or red-clay ceramics.

The Sequoia revels in bigness. The interior is conspicuously wide and offers ample legroom and shoulder room. 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. The four-spoke steering wheel contains controls for AC, Bluetooth-capable phones and audio functions, varying by grade. The steering column tilts and telescopes, and it's electrically and memory-linked on Platinum.

Switches and dials are used to control windows and the 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 of 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. If you choose a backup camera without navigation the image is displayed in the mirror.

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. There are eight cup holders, eight bottle holders, console surfaces, everything you would want for eating in the Sequoia while putting away the miles. And then, there's lots of door pocket space for trash.

Second-row seating carries two or three people; it's roomy but not as stretch-out as some other large utilities. The split bench arrangement reclines and slides fore-n-aft, and arguably makes the most sense for a truck like this. Either way, access to the third row is good enough for anyone that fits back there, and that includes adults.

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 but lose three inches of headroom. For comparison a 1.4-inch-longer Ford Expedition offers at least two inches more legroom and a bit more headroom in the back two rows. However, 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.

The Sequoia is one of the very few SUVs with a retractable rear hatch window. 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. It offers 120 cubic feet behind the front seats, 67 behind the second row, and 19 behind the third row. The Expedition has roughly the same behind the third row but less otherwise; if you need considerably more you'll be checking into Expedition EL and the Chevy Suburban. When Sequoia's third row 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 Impressions

We found the Sequoia comfortable for a 1,000-mile day. 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. It's the kind of vehicle that an American family would enjoy 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 rates 18-19 mpg on the open road, conceivably offering 500 miles between fill-ups at moderate speeds and loads. 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. The Platinum version has the active air suspension, which has the ability to maintain more even ride height with heavy loads, which we tested and found it works well. In reality there isn't much difference between the suspensions and you'll want a weight-distributing hitch for all but light trailers. The standard setup is an independent A-arm configuration at all four corners, with coil springs and anti-sway bars.

The 5.7-liter V8 has lots of power, with 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 makes most of its torque below 3600 rpm, so when you do decide to pass, acceleration is impressive. Like the 4.6 it features four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust camshafts, and a low-friction valve train enhances efficiency.

The 4.6-liter V8 is not as strong as the 5.7-liter engine, but if you use the 5.7's extra 71 horsepower and 74 lb-ft of torque (which the EPA doesn't) you will use more fuel. And the 4.6 sounds and feels like it's the quieter, smoother choice.

The 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission accounts for part of the Sequoia's decent highway mileage. The transmission is controlled by a shifter that allows manual shifting, and has a lock-up torque converter for better towing efficiency and heat control. There is a Tow/Haul mode that changes the shift points for heavy loads and gives less hunting or shifting between gears on climbs and better speed control on descents.

Four-wheel-drive models come with a two-speed transfer case with 2.6:1 low-range gearing. We found low range easy to get in and out of, even on ground that was not perfectly level. And the gearing seemed low enough that the Sequoia could crawl at speeds slow enough to slog up very steep terrain. When and if a Sequoia gets stuck, it'll likely be lack of tire traction or space for the bodywork, not for a lack of power or gearing.

The Sequoia with 5.7-liter can tow up to 7400 pounds but the 4.6 will do just 500 pounds less, so if you're pulling a bass boat across the plains or through rolling landscape the 5.7-liter engine isn't necessary. 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, trailer, occupants, cargo and fuels is 12,500-16,000 pounds, depending on engine and equipment, so any Sequoia can pull close to its maximum even loaded.

The new-for-2012 Trailer Sway Control uses the Sequoia's electronic Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) to keep the keep the truck tracking straight and true, even when a swaying trailer tries to yank it off-course.

The limiting factor towing could easily be tongue weight, and the SR5 5.7 allows the highest at 1000 pounds (960 with 4WD). Although the Platinum has air suspension in back to level things it's the heaviest model and maximum tongue weight is 910 pounds (880 with 4WD). Based on that and the 18-inch wheels we'd suggest the SR5 5.7 as the best Sequoia for heavier towing.

The brakes are consistent with full-size pickup capability as they should be; the lightest Sequoia weighs more than the heaviest Tundra, and a top-line 4WD Sequoia is more than three tons. Large disc brakes are mounted on all four corners. The brakes feel reasonably gradual; with very strong response as foot pressure is increased.

Like some other luxo-utes the Sequoia offers active speed control (Dynamic Laser in Toyota-speak). Such systems monitor the road ahead and adjust your speed on cruise control to maintain a safe following distance, and while marketed as driver-assist like other such systems they are no substitute for paying attention; there is only so much they can do if side-traffic runs a stop or a light, or oncoming traffic drifts out of its lane.

In daily use around town, the Sequoia will seem big to those not accustomed to maneuvering full-size domestic iron. It is however, reasonably maneuverable and needs only 4-5 feet more pavement to make a U-turn than the average sedan. 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 (or a smaller image on the mirror) 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 and speedier. The camera also helps greatly when hitching a trailer, eliminating the need for trial and error or a spotter.

Steering is fingertip-easy around town. 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 electronic stability control will intervene if you try anything enthusiastic.

On a vehicle this big, 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, but watch overhead clearance in garages.

The Toyota Sequoia is for big loads, big roads 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. It seats seven or eight. It's capable for traversing rugged terrain. It can tow more than 7000 pounds. The Sequoia offers full-size truck capability with roomy, comfortable surroundings.

John Stewart filed this report to from Durham, North Carolina, with G.R. Whale reporting from Los Angeles.

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