Review: 2008 Toyota Sequoia Limited

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Gigantor. The 2008 Toyota Sequoia arrives humongously revised from the already beefy first-generation. The Timberland Mica (Metallic Green) example that Toyota lent us for a week definitely deserves whatever size-related superlatives you can dream up. It's big, it's powerful, it doesn't sip fuel. There is a need and a market for this type of vehicle, however. If Sequoia buyers don't actually utilize its considerable capabilities, that's not Toyota's fault. This year marks the migration of Toyota's full size Sport Utility to the same mechanicals that underpin the new Tundra, ladling on capability to an already fairly competent and refined vehicle.

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All photos ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

While we think the previous Sequoia was nicer to look at, at least this one is handsome than the Tundra. The change you notice first is that the grille loses its ridiculous fake scoop. Sequoias get a lower fascia that tucks the foglamps into louvered openings and uses a more subtle lower grille. The front bumper also holds sonar transponders that warn the driver if things loom too close. Drive up windows at fast food restaurants freaked out the system, but the Sonar switch is close at hand, allowing us to get our Frostys in peace. Big chrome door handles make even bear paws feel diminutive, and that's a repeating theme with the Sequoia: big. The mirrors are big (and chromey), running boards make it easy to climb into this big thing, the wheels are big and handsome - big abounds. Brake rotors as big as manhole covers do their best to stop this thing in a big hurry. The overall shape is kind of warthog-ish to our eye, with a short hood and hulking everything else. The two-box form serves up a lot of extremely flexible interior space; you can argue form following function if it helps take the sting out of parking this ugly duckling between an Expedition and a Denali.

If true beauty is on the inside, then the Sequoia starts looking better when you open the doors. Aesthetic bliss might be a little stymied by Toyota's choice of materials, but we liked it better than the Tundra Limited that visited the Autoblog Garage. The colors and conservative design of the interior are handsome and functional, but the inscrutable attention to matching textures and sheens that you'd expect from Toyota isn't present here. There's one type of plastic that makes up the dash panel, another for the center console, and there's smooth metallic silver, rough metal-look, a lot of brownish-black, and mica-infused black for the driver to take in. The variety is not discordant, and the feel is even luxurious, though the Sequoia's interior lags behind the competition.

Functionally, the Sequoia is a champ. Just concentrating on the driver's environment for a moment, everything you need is right there and easy to use. The controversy over the split design of the center stack has died down; the setup's studied ease of use quiets dissent. A little size differentiation for the HVAC mode, temperature, and fan speed controls might have avoided the occasional tendency to grab the wrong knob, however. The sheer size of the Sequoia makes the controls on the far side of the integrated navigation and audio system a bit of a stretch, too. If that part of the dash angled toward the driver, it would make life easier for us little guys. The navigation system is easy to use, but frustrating that radio presets aren't intuitively found. Less reliance on the LCD would make operating the entertainment and navigation systems easier. Some ancillary controls on the dashboard were hidden by the steering wheel, too. The same massive center armrest with storage canyon carries over from the Tundra. Big, deep cupholders handle bladder-busting coffee mugs, and there's several other storage cubbies on the center console.

Behind the front seats, there's enough room to hold a dinner party. Both the second and third rows of seats fold down easily - the rears even power themselves - and leave an airplane hangar of a load area. For passenger hauling, as well as flexible family use, the Sequoia has been meticulously crafted. Legroom? We've got legroom. Only third row passengers might brush seatbacks with their knees. There's acres of second row space, and those seats fold with an easy tug on a lever with their split folding function adding lots of versatility. Getting into the third row involves the aforementioned lever, and access is quickly and easily granted.

Buttons to power the third row into the floor are located in the cargo area, as well as on either side of the rear doors. It's those types of details that Toyota always pays attention to, and they makes its vehicles a joy to use in the field. Speaking of details, there's also flaps included on the seatbacks for covering the crevasses left in the floor after folding down all the seats, another thoughtful inclusion. Just as in the front seats, there's storage all over the place for the second- and third-row passengers in the Sequoia, there's even covered bins for third-row inhabitants. Another nice bit of Toyota detailing: the center seatbelt for the third row has its very own storage slot in the headliner. Again, exceptionally well thought out.

Cargo space when using all of the seating positions does take a hit, though there's also a deep bin in the floor of the cargo area. The limited carrying capacity might be an issue if you're taking the high school band to Disney World, but that's where the trailer hitch and towing capacity come into play. The Sequoia strikes a good balance between a manageable length and cargo volume, and that third row we bet will be occasional seating in a lot of instances.

So, once you've loaded everyone and everything into the Sequoia and you're ready to depart for Peoria, how's it drive? Not as big as you'd assume. The size is an ever-present aspect of the Sequoia, that's for sure, but the experience behind the wheel is about as carlike as one could hope. The body-on-frame quivers are exceptionally well managed. The Sequoia feels tight and solid, even on very rough pavement. The seating position makes you feel like Jean-Luc Piccard with its high vantage point, and the Limited's leather-trimmed 10-way power front seats, themselves not the thrones found in some of the competition, are comfortable. An optional cold kit was a perfect foil to the snowy conditions we had for the Sequoia's visit. Included are deicers for the windshield wipers, pop-up spray nozzles to keep the headlamps clean, and a heavy duty battery. The powered rear hatch also helped us keep our hands clean when loading up, lots of winter road filth always collects on liftgates, and the Sequoia collected a healthy glaze.

There's only so much ponderousness you can tune out, and while the Sequoia is well behaved, it reminds you of the physics at play when bending into a turn. Overly light and fast steering doesn't help, either. Highway cruising would be more pleasurable with a helm that knew how to relax, rather than requiring frequent minute corrections. The powertrain, however, is incredible, making the big Sequoia feel like a drag racer. The 401 lb/ft of torque served up by the 5.7 liter iForce V8 certainly facilitates rapid attainment of highway velocities, and will barely flinch when hooked up to any trailer a sane person would feel comfortable hauling. With three differentials and such cavernous accommodations to haul around, the V8 also has a serious appetite for fuel. We saw between 12 and 15 mpg during the Sequoia's stay, and while there is a two-wheel-drive version with a smaller V8, you're not likely to do much better.

On the plus side, the Sequoia is quiet at speed. The JBL premium stereo is great and a rear seat DVD system is optional. The ride is comfortable, and the driving is easy. Safety has been attended to with stability control, a backup camera, and the proximity sensors that help you avoid docking by feel. The family-vehicle appeal of the Sequoia is quite high with its well considered details, and its real truck platform allows it to shrug off most terrain challenges as long as a capable driver is behind the wheel. With an as-tested price of $53,184, the cost is as hefty as the rest of the vehicle, but for that sum you wind up with an accommodating, capable vehicle that's overkill for the suburbs, but at home on the range.

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All photos ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

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