It has been very interesting watching how Toyota has generally flown under the radar during the hyperventilating, publicity-seeking surge toward electric vehicles. Easily the world’s dominant hybrid-powered automaker, saving consumers untold millions of gallons of fuel (as well as excessive tailpipe emissions), Toyota has also quietly crept into the top spot for consumer loyalty among automakers, with 60 percent of buyers repeating with the brand.
With our institutions crumbling all around us, Toyota continues to emphasize proven reliability, longevity, value. Although not perfect — name a mechanical device or company that is — Toyota seems to work within its strengths and rarely overreach.
But there is a rub; there always is. When you stick with what works, for long periods of time, you often are eclipsed by other benchmarks, competitors that outshine, outperform you. Yes, your product still works well, returns outsized profits and earns good consumer scores, but you often become something other than the latest trend.
Such is the position of the Sequoia full-sized SUV.
The same basic mechanical design as the 2007-debut truck — seven-eight-passenger three-row large sport utility with rear- or four-wheel drive, 381-hp 5.7-liter V-8, six-speed automatic, 7,000-pound tow rating, 13/17 mpg, six trims, 6,025-pound weight — the Sequoia is showing greater evidence of being a 14-year-old truck against newer competitors. And there are more rivals coming, with two new large SUVs debuting from Jeep around the time you read this.
But wait. Toyota has a new Tundra full-size pickup coming this fall, which would be a strong indication that a new Sequoia will soon follow as these two vehicles share underpinnings. Toyota has killed off the Land Cruiser, at least for U.S. sales, and it has (apparently) been content with stagnant Tundra and Sequoia sales, so it will be important to see if the new Tundra/Sequoia stretch the class paradigm or hope to compete on reputation and past performance.
Consumer surveys are indicating that there are two camps regarding the latest tech sweeping the industry. One side likes the modern cabins in our new vehicles, with tons of features and entertainment screens, while the other camp is unabashedly annoyed by layers of touchscreens and non-tactile controls that erode driver confidence and increase distractions.
The Sequoia comes with all of Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 driving aids, with some able to be deactivated as needed, while the older design of the cabin provides an abundance of large, knurled knobs, prominent buttons and intuitive common-sense controls. This mix of tradition and modern seems to capture the best of both philosophies.
Second-row passenger space, large buckets here, is ample, while the split-folding third-row bench actually fits real adults. Cargo room behind the third row is modest with the seatbacks up; obviously improved with all seatbacks folded.
Unlike its Tundra sibling, the Sequoia has a double-wishbone independent rear suspension that improves ride compliance over the pickup, but when shod with the optional 20-inch wheels that come with the Nightshade trim (blackout trim, black alloy wheels, black leather) the ride suffers over bridge expansion joints and other coarse surfaces. The Sequoia’s girth, over 3 tons, is often evident in other driving motions as well, a trait that other newer large SUVs have largely tamed.
Toe the throttle and the powertrain provides strong power, with the six-speed shifting smoothly. Fuel economy, however, is the lowest in the class; our realized 15 mpg is exactly in the middle of the truck’s EPA ratings of 13-17-mpg and significantly behind the latest offerings in this segment. It would be shocking if the new Sequoia doesn’t come with a hybrid-system.
Built in Princeton, Ind., Sequoia pricing starts at $50,100 in SR5 trim with 2WD. Four-wheel drive adds $3,600, pricing higher than a comparable Tahoe or Expedition, yet the Toyota comes with the full safety portfolio standard, not optional, as it is on these rivals.
Conversely, upper level Nightshade trim ($63,345 to start, $68,309 as shown) lacks cooled front seating, a heated steering wheel and a heads-up display — all common offerings now.
During the second quarter of 2021, Toyota outsold GM in America for the first time — ever. With less impact by the computer chip crisis, the number one-selling crossover (RAV4), the top-selling small pickup (Tacoma), plus the top-selling sedan (Camry) and top-selling minivan (Sienna), we would be fools to second-guess Toyota’s emphasis and plans for the Sequoia. They didn’t get to 60 percent loyalty by making dumb decisions.