By CL member request, a review of the 2008 Toyota Sequoia
In a Nutshell: A Tundra-based people-mover that repeats some of the new Tundra's mistakes and improves on others.
Toyota introduced the new Sequoia this year in a follow-up to last year's introduction of the new full-size Tundra pickup. The former Tundra and T100/150, though marketed for years as a "full-size" truck, was, in reality, a half to three-quarter size model, and did not even get a V8 engine until the 4.6L, which was Lexus-derived, was introduced as an option on the first-generation Tundra model....the former T100 and T150 had to make do with fours and a 190 HP V6. And the first-generation Sequoia, based on the first-generation Tundra, was not quite "full-size" either, but close......closer, at least, than the Tundra was.
Now, finally, after years of dragging its feet, Toyota has, finally, introduced true full-size pickups and SUV's with true full-size engines and interiors. Unfortunately, the new Tundra, while impressive in the engine, chassis, and towing department, came up short on sheet metal quality, hardware, interior quality, fit/finish, and transmission defects in some models. Some, but not all of that, has been carried forward into the new Sequoia...the Sequoia, overall, improves on a couple of the Tundra's deficiencies, but still needs work in others. But, for those looking for true Japanese competition for the domestic full-size SUV's, the Sequoia will do the job...as will the Infiniti QX56, but the QX56, built in the notorious Canton, MS plant, has been very unreliable. Time will tell if the brand-new new Sequoia will be reliable.....the previous, first-generaton model was better-than-average, according to Consumer Reports.
Three different levels of the new Sequoia are offered.....SR5, Limited, and Platinum. Two different V8 engines are offered, depending on trim line....a 4.6L or 5.7L I-Force V8. 5 or 6-speed automatic transmissions are offered, depending on the engine. The driveline comes in Rear or All-Wheel Drive versions. Initially, I had planned to review an entry-level RWD 4.6L model, but since they are hard to find at present, and the fact that most interested shoppers in this class of vehicle would be looking primarily at large engine and AWD versions, that is what I chose....a mid-level Limited with the 5.7L, AWD, and the Option C package, which incluses lot of convienence features.
Though this vehicle did have some nice points, overall, I had mixed opinions about it....and, overall, was not terribly impressed with it. I'm not saying it is a piece of junk, but it needs work in several areas. Thogh it has many power-operated comfort and convienience features, it still gives me the impression that it was subject to some cost-cutting in its design and was, more or less, rushed into production without adequate testing....Details below.
Model Reviewed: 2008 Toyota Sequoia Limited 4WD
Base Price: $48,450
Option D $4980
List Price as Reviewed: $54,115
Exterior Color: Black
Interior: Sand Beige Leather
Drivetrain: AWD/4WD, longitudinal-mount, 5.7-liter DOHC 32-valve I-FORCE V8 with VVT-i; 381 HP @ 5600 RPM; Torque 401 ft-lbs. @ 3600 RPM,
6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with manual Sport-shift and Tow/Haul mode.
VERY smooth ride by truck/SUV standards.
Relatively good accesss underhood.
Excellent 10,000 lbs. towing capacity with tow package, 8000-8300 without.
Many power-operated features for convienience and entertainmant.
Smooth, refined drivetrain.......with some minor exceptions.
Excellent, useful third-row seat......unusual for SUV's.
Fold-flat cargo compartment.
Nicely done sun-visors with 2-position vanity light switch.
Relatively large side mirrors for rear visibility.
Good wind noise isolation.
Nice, easy-to-use 2WD/4WD HI-LOW rotary switch.
Numerous dealer-installed, factory-approved accessories available.
Nicely done climate-control *****.
Complete gauge package includes voltmeter.
Nice, large, useful, multi-compartment center console storage.
Typical Toyota/Lexus Arctic air-conditioning.
Remote engine start option available as an accessory.
No underhood insulation pad.
Jumpy throttle from rest.
Generally poorly-finished interior.
Unpleasant seat leather.
Hard-to-use ignition switch.
Thick A-pillars/grab handles impede forward vision.
More orange peel in the paint than other Toyota/Lexus products.
Funeral-home paint colors.
Dash Gauges set too deeply in tunnels.
Somewhat spongy, ineffective brakes.
Pricey with options.
No protective side body mouldings for parking-lot dings.
Marginal headroom for very tall people, even with the high roofline.
Flimsy, cheap grille.
Poor gas mileage (but, of course, you will have that with any large V8 SUV).
It is obvious, as you first walk up to it, that this vehicle is Tundra-based. It is virtually identical from the A-pillar forward, and, unfortunately, up front lurks the same cheesy, flimsy, plastic-chrome grill. (In fact, Toyota is aware of owner complaints, and supposedly is working on a replacement grille of better-quality materials for both the Tundra and Sequoia). That said, this is a BIG vehicle with classic two-box styling for space efficiency. It is every bit as large on the outside, if not larger, than the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition...though not quite the length or wheelbase of the Suburban or Expediition EL. The roof and rails are so high that they are difficult to reach and clean, even for a 6' 2" guy like me, unless you are standing on something....you may be better off just running it through an
oversized car wash and then hosing it off yourself underneath to get off road salt...the relatively high ground clearance gives you plenty of room to reach underneath with a hose.
The body sheet metal, like on many newer Toyota products, is not actually tinny, but does seem to be lighter-weight than before. The doors are large, solid, and and heavy, despite the thiner sheet metal, yet still close with a rather tinny sound, and there are no protective side mouldings to ward off dings from careless people in the parking lot (those mouldings don't always protect anyway...it depends on the size and shape of the doors on the vehicle next to you). The quality of the outside hardware and trim, while OK except for the cheesy grille, could be improved a little...it is not quite up to the level of its own less-expensive little brother Highlander Limited. The twin mirrors are nicely designed, large enough for at least fairly good rear vision, and, on the Limited model, have the turn-signals embedded as well, but, like on the Tundra, could use better-quality plastic.....on most other Toyotas, they have a more substantial feel and swivel more smoothly. Standard running boards aid step-up and step-down on this large, highly-stanced vehicle.....I myself didn't need them, but they are handy for kids and shorter adults. And LARGE wheel-wheels allow plenty of space to get a hose in and clean out the inevitable sand, salt, snow/slush and dirt that will accumulate...the tires and wheels, though large, don't get in the way with a tight fit. The overall paint job is not bad, but not up to the usual impeccable Toyota/Lexus standards...the black paint on my test vehicle had a noticeable amount of orange peel, and so did other-color Sequoias on the lot. Once again, the Highlander offered a better paint job for less money. I also was not impressed with the Sequoia's choice of paint colors.........like many other vehicles nowadays, right out of Murphy's funeral home.
Open the strut-supported hood (the sheet metal for the hood is not terribly impressive, and it lacks an underhood insulation pad like most upscale vehicles), and the first thing you notice is pretty good access to the upper engine components, despite the presence of a plastic top-engine cover and a relatively tight engine fit underhood (the 5.7L V8, of course, is a big engine by today's standards). The silver plastic cover is there, just like on many vehicles today, but, fortunately, it only covers a limited part of the top of the engine, so some of the components that need service and inspection are readily available...and the north/south longitudinal mount and exposed upper-block help make spark plug access easier. All of the dipsticks and fluid reservoirs are readily accessable.
The interior, while still rather poorly-finished (with a few well-done exceptions), is definitely a step above the Tundra's. I'll start with the nice things. The twin sun visors are pleasant and well done, with nice soft-felt liners, smooth action, and a two-level vanity light for the driver (one-level for the passsenger). The gauge package includes a real voltmeter instad of an idiot light. The four climate-control ***** are superb...smooth action, solid attachment, and a classy grained-aluminum texture. There are three different climate control levels....front left, front right, and rear-seat. The front seats are relatively comfortable and multi-adjustable. The gauges are clear and well-marked. The stereo is nice, as usual with Toyota/Lexus products. And there is not only a nice, multi-split compartment under the flip-up cover on the center console but numerous other cubbyholes and cuphloders as well.
And the interior is a step above the Tundra's also in the general quality of hardware and trim, without much of the Tundra's flimsiness inside. Buttons and controls are all solid, clearly marked, and well-done. The door panels were all solid and had durable trim. But the leather on the seats had the same grainy, unpleasant look and feel I have noted....and remarked about....in newer BMWs. it looked and felt more like cheap vinyl than real leather. The painted-silver plastic on the dash and door panels has never been one of my favorites, but on the Sequoia, IMO, it looked and felt a little better than on the Tundra, which seemed to be of cheaper plastic. The gauges on the dash, while complete and without some of the usual idiot lights, are set in circular tunnels that are quite deep, so, depending on just how tall you are and how the front seat is adjusted, they are sometimes difficult to see. The second and third-row seats have power switches and fold completely flat.....more on that in the section below. The thick dual A-pillars and built-in grab bars block some of the forward view. Headroom with the sunroof housing, in spite of the tall roofline, was not as good as in other large SUV's of this type....I had to recline the front seatback a little, even with the cushion adjusted all the way down, to clear the ceiling with my ever-present baseball cap. Leg room, as expected in a large SUV, was ample front and rear. And......wonder of wonders......even the third-row seat, Munchkin-sized in many vehicles, was large and roomy enough to be useful for up to medium-size adults, though you still wouldn't want to put NBA guys back there.
My test vehicle had the rear-seat DVD and entertainment systems, with the TV screens that pop down from the ceiling, and rear-seat climate controls as well....and they appeared to be well-done with good materials. I didn't actually try out the entertainment systems themselves...that kind of high-tech stuff, like BMW's I-Drive and Audi's MMI, is a little too much for me.....I'm not into that stuff.
So I give the interior somewhat higher marks, overall, than the Tundra's it is based on, and, in general, it felt more solid, but it was, overall, still rather poorly-finished, especially the seat leather and door panels.
On this optioned Limited model, the liftgate was power-operated. Like much of the rest of the interior, the cargo area itself, behind the third-row seat, is not particularly well-finished, but it did have several cubby-compartments under the carpeted floor cover. And the aforementioned third-row seat, with its power controls, can fold, together with the second-row seat (or optional Captain's Chairs), to form a perfectly flat floor...handy when you have to haul a new refigerator or washer/dryer home from Sears. And the relatively high roofline and squared-off rear styling, while not considered trendy or fashionable in today's auto world, does have its advantages. It is space efficient, for one, and you'll be able to shut the rear hatch and fit that refrigerator in without any roblem.....something you can't always do in SUV's with wedge-shapes and slanted rear rooflines. I forgot to check where the spare tire and jack were (the literature says it is a real spare tire, not a temporary or compact spare), but, like most vehicles, it is probably under the rear cargo floor pull-out compartment.
ON THE ROAD:
Unless you get the optional (accessory) remote engine-start, you will have to put up with a conventional key and a small, hard-to-see and hard-to-use ignition switch on the side of the steering column. Depending on just how you have the steering column set, The small switch is partially blocked by the large wheel spokes, and it takes some rather awkward fumbling to line the key up and get it in the slot correctly and turned. Once started and running, the big 5.7L I-Force V8 behaves exactly the way one would expect a big Toyota/Lexus V8 to behave.....ultra-smooth/quiet, almost unnoticeable at idle, and smooth, quiet, and refined on the road as well, although a small amount of exhaust chuffle can be heard on acceleration. But, refined or not, that big engine has to drag an even bigger vehicle. Empty curb weight, on an average-equipped Limited 4WD, is roughly 6000 lbs..some three tons. That, of course, is no minicar, and it shows in the vehicle's performance. The jumpy throttle, the way it is electronically programmed, is a little hard to start smoothly from rest...it feeds too much gas in the first instant you lightly tap it, but then, after that, While not really sluggish to the point of being dangerous, you are well aware of the load this big boat puts on the engine, even in 2WD mode with less drag. You have to give yourself a fair amount of space, even with the engine's 381 HP and 414 ft-lbs of torque, to cut into fast-moving traffic. It is not exactly a slug, like I said, and is not excessively or dangerously slow, but don't challenge that Corvette or GTO at the the stoplight....you're going to lose.
And don't challenge Michael Shumacher either.....you're also going to lose when you get to the slalom or road course. The steering and handling on this vehicle, to put it bluntly, is atrocious, but of course, that is fairly typical of many full-sized SUV's. The almost completely numb power steering has about as much road feel as novocaine (I'm going to take some of its power steering fluid with me for my dentist to use the next time he has to drill my teeth), and the steering responds about as quick to inputs as a World-War II-vintage battleship. Navigating this boat down a semi-rural, winding two-lane road with sharp curves (which I tried), with its weight, sloppy steering, and soft underpinnings was like a Friday-night drunk walking out of Clancy's Bar and trying to stagger down the sidewalk. Toyota needs to do some serious work with the steering and chassis....perhaps a trip to Munich to meet with some BMW engineers would produce some results. Fortunately, body lean, despite the weight, soft chassis/tires and high center of gravity, was not bad at all....not as much as I expected with a setup like this.
With most vehicles, however, there is a ride-vs-handling trade-off, and the upside to the drunken-sailor steering/handling is, of course, a smooth, Cream-of-Wheat-comfortable ride.....and I mean COMFORTABLE. It is difficult to fault this vehicle's ride comfort, even over bumps and pavement irregularities. It's just about the smoothest ride I have tested yet on a truck/SUV type vehicle, IMO besting even that of the big full-size Ford/GM SUVs. The 3-ton weight, relatively long wheelbase, soft suspension, and relatively high-profile 55-65 series tires (depending on option and trimline) really help smooth things out....this vehicle makes an excellent Interstate cruiser as long as you don't have to drive it on winding roads. And the soft suspension even helps dampen out a lot of the ride porpoising that is common with high-center-of-gravity vehicles.
Wind noise, like most Toyota/Lexus products, was quite well-damped and sealed off; there was a small amount of road noise with these specific tires. Engine noise, despite the aforementioned lack of an underhood insulation pad, was quite low except for a slight chuffle on acceleration. The automatic transmission shifted a little bumpy the first few times when cold, but, when warmed up, was as smooth as butter....again typical of most Toyota/Lexus automatics. It has a manual-shift function with the lever (no shift padddles) and a Tow/Haul button on the dash for maximum efficiency under heavy loads (of course, there are no truly light loads with this vehicle).
Brakes, while not the worst I've seen on modern vehicles (that honor goes to some of the late-model full-size GM SUV's) are, nonetheless, not impressive. There is a significant, though not large, amount of sponginess, and the pedal is not responsive for the first inch or so...then takes hold moderately. The large wheels and brake rotors, of course, help somewhat, but stopping three tons at the drop of a hat is a job even for the best brakes. In heavy traffic, after one or two close calls, you will learn very quickly not to tailgate other vehicles in a Sequoia.
New Sequoias run a quite wide price range depending on engine, chassis, and trim line, ranging from 38-40K for base RWD 4.7L models to over 60K for loaded Platinum models. My particular Limited 4WD model, as shown above, started at 48K and listed a little over 54K. Yes, that's a lot of money....for supposedly a lot of vehicle. And it IS a lot of vehicle, if you look at the size, the engine, drivetrain, equipment, and features. But, in my opinion, is it worth $54,000? Unless you need that big, stump-pulling V8, its towing capacity, the vehicle's spacious room inside for numerous adults, and its fold-flat capacity for cargo hauling, I'd say no. The general interior finish, paint job, and some of the outside hardware are not up to what you would normally expect of a vehicle in this price class. Its numb steering and floppy handling makes it awkward and unpleasant to drive on winding two-lane roads. It will not pass up very many gas stations. And, with strong competition from the long-established Ford and GM full-size SUV's, its popularity as a used vehicle, and hence its resale value, may be questionable, should you decide to sell it.
But, on the plus side, it is very smooth-riding, generally quiet, roomy, and would make a good turnpike cruiser for the family vacation...especially a larger family. It could also make a good vehicle for ball teams that play indoors (like basketball) and have to get to games in lousy weather. Just be sure you budget enough to keep the gas tank filled.