Surviving the storm in Toyota’s steady Sequoia |

Surviving the storm in Toyota’s steady Sequoia

Andy Stonehouse

According to Toyota’s press materials, as the company made plans to undertake a complete re-do of its sizeable Sequoia SUV ” basically a Japanese Suburban, as perverse as that might have sounded a couple of decades ago ” chief engineer Motoharu Araya took it upon himself to get to the heart of the American buyers the automobile was aimed at.

Apparently, Mr. Araya went and lived with a Midwestern family who already used a enormous SUV as their principal mode of transport. One can only imagine poor Mr. Araya being dragged by the Joneses on Costco trips, stuck between Billy, Bobby and Britney in the second row on various soccer games, Friday night outings to Sonic and the family’s inevitable cross-country excursion to Mt. Rushmore.

The resulting, revamped 2008 Sequoia ” the car so big they had to name it after a Redwood tree ” is indeed built to oversized American standards; super-powerful, roomy enough for eight, capable of pulling 10,000 pounds of trailer, the whole bit.

As gasoline once again drifts closer to the $4-a-gallon range even in non-resort America, the intelligence involved in creating a generation’s worth of 6,000-pound automobiles which get, as the Sequoia does, 18 mpg, tops, will perhaps, finally be questioned.

But given the task at hand, Mr. Araya and his team did a bang-up job of crafting a massive, highly adaptable, family-friendly vehicle, even if the very same automobile would be used as a school bus in Japan.

The odd thing is that the Sequoia isn’t even the biggest of the current crop of full-sized SUVs, with the Chevy Tahoe, the Nissan Armada and the Ford Expedition all slightly larger in their own blissfully gigantic ways.

Sequoia is still huge on its own, requiring a healthy leap to access, taking up yards of space and thundering along with all of the occasionally motion sickness-inducing largess that comes with a 6,000-pound privately owned automobile.

You tower above other common cars and the new four-corner sonar parking sensors, back-up camera and tilting side mirrors all play an important role in making your way around parking lots. You can even use the air-adjustable suspension system to lower the Sequoia a bit to load up on normal-sized humans, or raise it to get a bit more clearance during off-road maneuvering. It is so large that I found it difficult to reach the top of the front windshield with a snowbrush. The rear bumper came up to my stomach; I do not know how your average American five-foot-nothing soccer mom is going to handle this beast.

I must admit that my initial reluctance to embrace the Sequoia’s hulking largess changed quite drastically a number of weeks ago when, against better judgment, I opted to drive the big Toyota from Denver to Monarch for a low-key ski trip.

Things were peachy on the way up 285, although the Sequoia’s bigness could be felt on the corners, but the larger engine, the same 5.7-liter V8 shared with the Tundra, capably demonstrated all of its 381 horsepower. A multimodal electronic 4×4 gearbox cruises in 2WD but can be easily switched to 4WD. During freeway use, you could also dial up the laser-controlled dynamic cruise control to automatically keep your distance between other cars.

I dropped down out of Kenosha Pass just as the deadly ground blizzards of early February were in full effect and, about three miles west of Jefferson, visibility dropped to less than zero ” and I spent nearly four hours in the Sequoia at the side of the road, hoping for an opportunity to escape.

The non-voluntary time in the car (or the couple of attempts I made to get out and scrape the windows, clinging for life in 90 mph-plus gusts of wind) did give me a unique perspective on the Sequoia’s comfort ” and relative safety.

The interior is Tundra, taken to the max, with bright chocolate-colored leather on the doors and heated/cooled seats, a slightly busy array of controls and buttons (I had the time and yes, there are 27 of them, minus the navigation and radio), plus the Tundra’s gigantic center console/armrest box, which can hold an accounting office worth of hanging files, or a basketball, or both. On the dash, four different heating/air conditioning knobs, plus a rear heating control system, are cumulatively overwhelming. There’s also top and bottom glove boxes, numerous side cubbies and a million or so bottle and drink holders.

Toyota’s navigation system did, however, save my butt: I was able to figure out exactly where I was in the snowstorm and how to find the nearest pull-out, plus how far it was, to the foot, back to the next town, so I appreciate that.

Prior to my trip, I’d accessed the power liftgate and used the beepy power-folding mode to drop the third row bench seat and fold two full-sized, second row captain’s seats, yielding a total cargo space (with carpet-covered plates to fill the gaps between the seats) roughly big enough for a Camry. No kidding: 120 cubic feet. The third row center shoulder belt, however, obscures your rear views and kinda hangs there in an ungainly fashion, even with the seats flattened.

If I’d planned it right I guess I could have sat there and watched DVDs or rocked out to the 14-speaker, 660-watt JBL stereo system, but this was not a particularly fun occasion to do so.

The good news was that I did eventually get back on the road and the hell out of South Park (as you remember, people were stuck in their farm houses with 20 foot drifts of snow, so I was lucky), and I enjoyed a more leisurely drive back to non-Siberian metro Denver.

Examining the beast on my return, I appreciated its Tundra-plus design ” full-sized but still gently sculpted around the edges ” although I noted that with just 470 miles on the odometer, magnesium chloride had already eaten into the Sequoia’s copious yardage of chrome.

So, Mr. Araya, wherever you are, thank you for a fine and fulsome vehicle ” perhaps it is just me who needs to live in a country where Scion xBs are considered large cars.

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