Payne review: Toyota's Sequoia warhorse is aging well
The Toyota Sequoia is aptly named. It’s yuge.
Pre-COVID economy, Mrs. Payne and I rolled into Birmingham one Saturday night for dinner and a movie. But the 6-foot-9½ tall Sequoia wouldn’t fit in the Birmingham theater’s adjacent Peabody Street parking garage. Height limit: 6-foot-5.
I tried the nearby Pierce Street garage. Height limit: 6-foot-3. Hmmm. I finally found parallel street parking nearby. The end space, naturally — you don’t think I was gonna try to park this 17-foot cruise-liner between two cars, did you? I’d need a tug boat.
If we still had kids in the house, I suppose we’d go to the movies in shopping malls where sprawling lot parking is more appropriate for Brobdingnagian SUVs.
Then again, maybe this isn’t an urban SUV at all. My 2020 Sequoia was dressed in off-road TRD Pro trim with big, knobby tires, roof rack, intimidating grille, black highlights and a coat of Army Green.
“Henry, did you join the Army?” shouted my neighbor as I rolled by.
With its huge roof rack and 66 cubic feet of space with third-row seats folded, I could clean out the local Costco of toilet paper, bottled water and other essentials — then haul the family to a rural cottage and wait out the coronavirus.
With is impressive, 10-inch ground clearance (my 5-foot-5 wife needed a roof ladder to climb in), 27-degree front approach angle, skid plate and off-road-ready Fox shocks, the Sequoia seemed tailor-made to live out by the sequoias anyway. Far from the fancy-pants Chevy Tahoe that dominates its segment.
By dominates, I mean crushes.
The stylish Tahoe (and sister, stretched Suburban) swaggered to over 160,000 in sales last year compared to Sequoia’s 10,289 — and that’s even before the new-generation 2021 SUVs hit the market. The new versions will put increased pressure on the Sequoia in addition to ganging up on the Toyota with two available models.
The Tahoe takes aim at the aging Sequoia’s segment advantages — like my adventure-equipped TRD Pro. The Tahoe will offer its own lifted, skid-plated all-wheel drive version called the Z71. The Tahoe will leapfrog the Sequoia’s yawning 19 cubic feet of rear cargo space (behind the third row) with 25 cubic feet of its own. And Tahoe will match the Sequoia with an independent rear suspension for the first time.
Chevy’s catch-up is a reminder of the Toyota’s value these many years even as the interior and exterior design shows its age.
I folded my 6-foot-5 frame into the Sequoia’s driver seat with some difficulty. Despite the big ute’s size, front headroom is 35 inches — a significant 7 inches less than its Chevy and Ford Expedition competitors. Other interior dimensions, however, are competitive, and front and rear legroom will easily accommodate the average 250-pound American. And the easily accessible third-row bench seats can swallow adults, too.
Based on the same ladder frame as the Tundra pickup, the Indiana-made Sequoia’s dashboard space will be familiar to pickup owners. Covered in acres of black plastic, the big ute may not win any style awards but there is storage aplenty including twin gloveboxes, a bottomless center console and even a clever, hidden center-console slot for valuables or a laptop.
I had to squint at the puny 7-inch infotainment screen, but Toyota counters with its typical, class-leading suite of standard safety features including emergency braking, lane-keep assist, high-beam assist and adaptive cruise-control.
A word about Toyota’s adaptive cruise-control. Like the Sequoia’s 2008 chassis, it’s a bit dated.
Cruising along Telegraph in the big behemoth at 55 mph, the system began to brake as it sensed traffic ahead at a stoplight. But whereas modern adaptive cruise-control. systems brake to a stop, Toyota’s system works until 30 mph ...
. . . then it gives up. Whoa, Nellie!
I quickly stabbed the brakes to keep from running over the top of the poor sedan in front of me. It’s a general rule of self-driving systems these days — you need to know what the car can’t do.
General Motors prides itself in engineering taut, lean truck chassis that consistently lead the class whether owners ever notice it or not. You’ll notice it in the Sequoia.
The big ute leans this way and that around corners as if bobbing on waves. Maybe the TRD PRO badge on the rear should read LAND YACHT. Happily, the truck’s big 5.7-liter V-8 engine comes to the rescue when the road straightens out.
The console shifter is from your grandpa’s generation with its clunky, gated track, but the driveline underneath will make you smile. The 6-speed tranny smoothly downshifts to engage the mighty eight and pull the TRD Pro’s 4,900-pound hull out of the waves.
Keep your foot in it and you can watch the fuel gauge needle move. I got just 10.8 mpg in my week behind the wheel — and the Toyota’s optimistic EPA-rated 14 mg is still 20% less fuel-efficient than Chevy’s top dog 6.2-liter V-8 despite giving up 39 horsepower. Ouch.
The Sequoia will have to ride its ol’ V-8 nail for another two years before it gets updated off the Tundra’s coming new platform. That’s a looooong time given that current offerings from Chevy and Ford are already a generation ahead — and the Tahoe-Suburban coming later this year are even better.
Like plucky Americans holding out for the coronavirus to pass, the Toyota will be doing the best it can with what it has. Namely value.
While starting at just under $50,000 like the Tahoe, the base V-6 Sequoia offers good ol’ Toyota durability — and standard features the Chevy can only dream about. Adaptive cruise, for example, isn’t optioned in the all-wheel drive Tahoe until it hits $68,000, the price of my TRD Pro tester.
Speaking of TRD Pro V-8, the new rugged-appearance package allows Toyota to compete at the high end of the market against Tahoe’s head-turning RLT Edition (soon to be the Z71 package of the 2021 model) — but for much less. Apple to apples, my TRD Pro tester clocked in at $67,078 — or about $8,000 less than a comparable Tahoe.
You can buy a lot of toilet paper to wait out COVID-19 with 8-grand.
2020 Toyota Sequoia
Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear- and four-wheel drive, 7- to 8-passenger SUV
Price: $51,305, including $1,395 destination charge ($67,070 4x4 TRD Pro as tested)
Powerplant: 5.7-liter V-8
Power: 381 total system horsepower, 401 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Single-speed direct drive
Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.7 seconds (Car and Driver); towing: 7,400 pounds
Weight: 5,730 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA 13 city/17 highway/15 combined
Highs: Go-anywhere family beast of burden; standard features galore
Lows: Aged interior; ancient adaptive cruise-control
Overall: 3 stars
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.