Over the years, Toyota hasn't been the first name to come to mind for most shoppers of full-size sport utility vehicles. Ford and Chevrolet, yes. Toyota, no.
But the 2001 Toyota Sequoia, the first mainstream, full-size SUV from the automaker, could easily change that.
Heavier than a 2-plus-ton Chevrolet Tahoe and nearly as long as the ample Ford Expedition, the Sequoia is designed to compete against both.
As Toyota's biggest SUV ever -- yes, it's bigger and has more usable room than the long-running Toyota Land Cruiser -- the Sequoia comes with the V8 power, three rows of seats, no-nonsense, big-SUV looks and push-button four-wheel drive that shoppers in this segment demand.
But it also has a noticeably quiet interior, capable, bump-absorbing suspension, silky smooth engine performance, 10 cupholders, four power points and more than just a few safety items.
In fact, if I didn't know better, I wouldn't have guessed the Sequoia is only Toyota's first major attempt at getting into this lucrative -- read that profitable -- part of the market where buyers typically pony up some $30,000-plus for their vehicles.
Sure, Toyota has sold the Land Cruiser in this country since the late 1950s.
But the pricey Land Cruiser, with a suggested retail of $53,000, has tallied sales of less than 18,500 a year. That compares with Ford's Expedition, priced at $30,910, which sold more than 213,000 vehicles in each of the last two years.
Toyota expects sales of the Sequoia, with a starting price of $31,595, to reach 60,000 a year.
It's easy to understand the optimism of Toyota's executives.
Statements like "Boy, it's quiet in here," and "Hey, love that smooth V8," and "Wow, what a nice ride" peppered the conversations during my test drive of a Sequoia Limited 4X4.
Based on the Tundra, Toyota's full-size pickup truck that debuted for the 2000 model year, the Sequoia is surprisingly quiet inside, rides comfortably and has decent road manners for a vehicle weighing more than 5,000 pounds.
I heard some tire noise and, when at highway speed, some wind noise while driving the tall, boxy Sequoia.
But none of it was enough to interfere with conversations, even with someone sitting in the third row seats. The sizable, optional moonroof didn't appear to create the normal buffeting wind sound when opened, either.
On occasion, as the Sequoia accelerated hard, I also heard the deep, satisfying growl of the Sequoia V8. It's the same 4.7-liter, double overhead cam, 32-valve, i-Force V8 that's in the Tundra, mated to the Tundra's four-speed automatic transmission.
But here, the engine management system is updated and the catalytic converter is revamped to allow this big "ute" to qualify for ultra-low-emission vehicle (ULEV) status. As a result, horsepower is down a tad, from the Tundra's 245 to 240 at 4,800 rpm in the Sequoia. The Tundra ranks as a low-emission vehicle (LEV), not ULEV.
Peak torque in the Sequoia is just 315 foot-pounds at 3,400 rpm. I say "only" because the up-level, 260-horsepower V8 in the Expedition delivers 350 foot-pounds of torque at 2,500 rpm and the Tahoe's up-level, 285-horsepower V8 has 325 foot-pounds of torque.
Thus, both the Expedition and Tahoe can tow heavier trailers and boats. Their maximum tow capacities are 8,100 pounds and 8,700 pounds, respectively, compared with 6,500 pounds for the Sequoia.
Fuel economy is nothing to brag about, of course. The Sequoia is rated at 14 mpg in the city and 17 mpg on the highway.
Note that the transmission gearshift is on the steering column and not floor-mounted. This is despite the fact that all Sequoias come with front bucket seats.
Still, the Sequoia's V8 does work smoothly. Even with all the bulk it has to move down the road, the engine gave me enough "oomph" to get around left-lane hogs several times during the test drive. And that was with the left-laners speeding up to try to prevent me from getting by them.
I can see why they didn't want the hulking Sequoia in front of them. Like others in this segment, the Sequoia can block the view of the driver behind.
But at the wheel of the Sequoia, I found the vehicle's high ride height gave me great views out front and out the big side door windows.
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