When Toyota introduces its all new Sequoia sport-utility vehicle in late December, prospective buyers will find that it doesnt do much that it couldnt do before but they will also find that it does a lot of things better.
In its first major makeover since the introduction in 2000, the 2008 Sequoia is an inch longer than its predecessor, with a wheelbase that has been increased by 3.9 inches. The new design is less chunky than the first edition and bears somewhat of a family resemblance to its smaller brother, the Toyota Highlander.
The Sequoia, manufactured exclusively in Princeton, Indiana, was developed in tandem with Toyotas new full-size Tundra pickup truck and shares two of its engines and will be available with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
The standard powerplant will be a carry-over 4.7-liter V-8 that produces 276 horsepower and 314 foot-pounds of torque. It will be teamed up with a five-speed automatic transmission.
The top engine will be an all-new, 5.7-liter V-8 that generates 381 horsepower and 401 foot-pounds of torque. It features an aluminum block and head, variable valve timing and four valves per cylinder.
It will put the power to the wheels through a new six-speed automatic shifter with a tow/haul mode that is programmed to extend use of the lower gears.
The EPA estimates in-town fuel consumption at 14 miles per gallon for all two-wheel-drive vehicles and 13 mpg for the four-wheel-drive Sequoias. On the highway, however, SUVs with the larger engine are expected to return 19 mpg (2wd) and18 mpg (awd), two mpg better than similarly equipped trucks with the 4.7-liter powerplant.
Improved ride comfort and drivability are mostly the result of a larger and stronger, fully-boxed frame and a new all-wheel independent suspension that features double wishbones up front and a load-leveling, double-wishbone setup at the rear wheels. An optional air suspension system has three settings to maximize ride or handling.
Drivers will appreciate the giant all-wheel, ventilated disc brakes and the power rack-and-pinion steering that has a tight, 39-foot turning radius. In heavy traffic and tight parking situations the Sequoia is surprisingly maneuverable for a three-ton, 17-foot-long vehicle.
During a 45-minute stint behind the wheel of a Sequoia equipped with the 5.7-liter engine, I found the power impressive, the six-speed transmission smooth and unobtrusive, and the handling competent for a vehicle of its size. The brakes easily kept the nearly three-ton SUV under control, even when it was towing a large powerboat.
I also spent some time on the Sequoias third-row bench. There was plenty of room for three 6-foot-plus passengers, but, as is the case with all SUVs, there is a degradation of ride comfort because the third row is positioned over the rear wheels.
Ride and handling aside, its the vehicles improved roominess and accessibility that will likely most impress the 40-year-old couples with children who Toyota marketers say will be the typical buyers.
To make sure the Sequoia will have the features U.S. buyers want, Toyota chief engineer Motoharu Araya spent 2 years researching how Americans use their SUVs. He even spent time living with a family that owned a full-size sport-utility vehicle.
Thanks to that extended wheelbase, the Sequoias cabin is longer, wider and taller than its predecessor. Equipped with second-row bench seating, it will accommodate eight passengers.
The 40/20/40 second-row bench seats slide back and forth up to 5.9 inches to accommodate passengers of different sizes. The outer seats can easily be moved forward to improve access to the third row. In addition, third-row access is enhanced by rear doors that open wider than they did in the oriinal Sequoia.
For buyers who dont need to transport eight, second-row captains chairs are available.
The second- and third-row seats also fold flat. With all seats in place there are 19 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. Fold down the third row and space increases to 66 cubic feet. With only the front seats in place, available space jumps to 120 cubic feet.
All Sequoias will come with a full complement of driver, front passenger and side-curtain airbags, as well as roll-sensing side curtain airbags that extend from the front seat to the third-row seat. All Sequoias will also have stability control, traction control and antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and emergency braking assist.
The Sequoia will be available in three models. Brian Smith, Toyotas corporate manager for truck operations, said he expects 55 percent of buyers to choose the entry-level SR5, 35 percent to select the Limited and 10 percent to buy the Platinum.
Exact prices were not announced, but Smith said they will be competitive with similar vehicles produced by other manufacturers.
Among standard features on all models will be tri-zone air conditioning, eight-speaker am/fm/cd sound system with iPod compatibility and cruise control.
In introducing the Sequoia to members of the automotive press, Smith seemed unconcerned by the recent popularity of car-based crossover vehicles which have the same functionality as SUVs without the off-road capability.
We expect to see some life breathing back into (the SUV) segment, Smith recently told a group of automotive journalists.
He said that he expects large-SUV sales to be 500,000 (annually) over the next three years three percent of the automotive market.
Although his remarks were made before crude oil neared $100 a barrel and gasoline prices edged toward $3 a gallon, Smith said his estimate was based on the premise that people who buy a full-size SUV need a full-size SUV.
He predicted 2008 sales of 66,000 Sequoias, 3,000 less than the SUVs best year. In all, Toyota has sold more than 370,000 Sequoias.
Smith also said he expects 90 percent of buyers to choose Sequoias with the larger engine. The split between 2wd and 4wd, he said, will be about 50-50.
Only time will tell if large numbers of Americans will continue their love affairs with full-size, truck-based sport-utility vehicles. If they do, the Sequoia merits a spot on their shopping list.
Standard Equipment (partial list)
276 horsepower i-Force V8 Engine
5 speed automatic transmission
P275/65R18 mud and snow rated tires on alloy wheels
4 wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS
Tire pressure monitoring
Dual front side-mounted airbags
Front, rear and third row head airbags
8 person total seating capacity
8-way manual adjusted driver's seat
Remote power door locks
Tilt & telescoping steering column
3 zone automatic air conditioning
AM/FM in-dash single CD player stereo with 8 speakers
The Limited Model Adds... (partial list)
10-way power driver seat
Infrared Ray cut glass for windshield
Optitron instrument panel gauges
Dual chrome power remote heated outside mirrors
Front and rear parking sonar
JBL Premium 3-in-1 AM/FM/six-CD with 14 speakers
The Platinum Model Adds... (partial list)
P275/55R20 tires on alloy wheels
Seven-passenger seating (2nd bucket seats with center console)
Power seat memory package
Heated/air conditioned vented front driver and passenger seats
2nd row heated seats
Power rear hatch
Navigation system (JBL AM/FM four-CD with 14 speakers ) with backup camera
Power tilt/slide sunroof
Toyota Electronic Modulated Suspension (H-TEMS) Adjustable suspension
Power tilt/telescopic steering wheel
Major Available Options (Partial List, depends on model, some options are only available as part of a package, see your Toyota dealer for details)
4 wheel drive
Touch screen navigation system with JBL Premium 2-in-1 AM/FM/Four-CD with 14 speakers with back up camera
6-disc CD changer
JBL Premium AM/FM/CD with six-disc in-dash CD changer with Bluetooth, 14 speakers and leather steering wheel.
Power driver fabric seat and front passenger with fold flat table