As you might imagine, life here at Truck Trend is pretty strange. Various pickups, SUV, and vans are run through the revolving doors, barely giving us enough time to track test the vehicles, find a few good photo locations, and discern only the more obvious strengths and weaknesses. Our long-term test-vehicle program allows us to dive a little deeper into the rig--living with it for a year, exposing it to various work-duty situations, and even taking it on a few long-distance road trips.
Our long-term '01 Toyota Sequoia (last reported in the Jan./Feb. '02 issue of Truck Trend) has had an unusual life. We figure most Sequoias are put into the typical, family transportation mode and end up taking people to and from work, school, and weekend activities. Pretty boring. Our Sequoia has run the gantlet to Death Valley in mid-summer, played support vehicle for several 18-hour-day photo shoots, carried a full complement of craft services as a road-test chase vehicle, hauled half a nursery full of ground cover plants to and from a staffer's home, and been the high-abuse school bus for teens and preteens to boot.
Obviously, Toyota's answer to the Ford Expedition and Chevy Tahoe, the eight-passenger Sequoia has hulking mass, making it the largest Toyota sold in the U.S. Although the Land Cruiser offers a third row, those seats store poorly and don't provide for much real-use cargo capacity. We found our Sequoia's third row quite useable for adults, especially when factoring in the second-row flip-forward seats that make climbing into the "way back" less like climbing over monkey bars. Although heavy and awkward to carry and remove (we wouldn't mind seeing some type of wheeled mechanism), we like that the third-row seats are completely removable and make for a huge amount of cargo space in their absence. This was convenient in combination with the highly prized electric rolldown rear window when the Sequoia was used as a photo vehicle for magazine shoots and Motor Trend Television action shots. And if you've seen the size of our camera crew and the gear they haul, it's a good thing the Sequoia has a payload rating over 1300 lb.
We should note the coil springs usually found the bump stops over rough roads when we had loads at or near 800 lb -- a tradeoff for the Sequoia's softer, subtler ride when driven around town empty. Many of our testers made note of this point when commenting the vehicle looks huge from the outside, but drives and handles like something smaller in city traffic. Although the Sequoia's turning circle seems much larger than necessary, that might be a good thing for those who might be tempted to drive the big SUV as a more nimble compact.
The DOHC 4.7L V-8, according to our logbook, has quite a few fans. Clearly allowing for high-rpm horsepower, the Sequoia can easily surprise an unsuspecting driver if he's expecting a sluggish takeoff from a hulk. However, this is a 5000-lb-plus vehicle. That was most prominently demonstrated when we towed with the Sequoia or loaded it close to max payload. According to our finely tuned butt-dynos, the smallish V-8 seemed sensitive to heavy loads and high altitude, losing a noticeable amount of grade-climbing horsepower. Maybe that's not so surprising considering the dual-overhead-cam configuration at least a half liter smaller than other vehicles in its class.
We've had several opportunities to play with our Sequoia in the mountains around Los Angeles and at even higher-elevations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Sequoia uses a full-time four-wheel-drive system with a manual button on the dash to lock the center differential to split power 50/50 to front and rear driveshafts. At each corner, sensors control stability and traction. Toyota includes a VSC Off (Vehicle Stability Control) button that doesn't remove all the traction control, but does allow the driver more predictable control in extreme-weather conditions. The VSC Off button will work only with the 4x4 button engaged, a tradeoff we're willing to accept. For typical driving, especially for those surprise oil slicks or dirt patches in sharp corners, the VSC will (and our guess is has) probably saved lives.
In low range, engaged with a conventional lever, the extra gearing makes this a formidable rugged-terrain climber, hampered only by the outrigger running boards, which appear able to take quite a few punishing rock hits. Between the traction control and engine-management system run by computers monitoring wheelslip, more than a few comments were made about the VSC taking power away at the wrong times and how odd it feels to hold the gas pedal down and let the vehicle find the traction it needs for steep inclines-inching, clawing, and grabbing at the ground.
The Sequoia's interior has held up fine, still garnering praise for its thoughtful dash and console layout, many compartment storage spaces, as well as a powerful and properly vented HVAC system throughout the large space. We like the fact that separate front and rear temperature and fan controls give rear passengers a sense of independence. For something of this size and power, the interior is much quieter than you might expect, but still not as quiet as a Land Cruiser or LX 470. Overall, our Sequoia has fared well. We've got a few "personality" scratches inside and out, a few dents on the bumpers, and even a bang or two on the skidplates. With two dealer services under its belt, we've spent to date just under $500 and made almost 80 trips to the gas station for fillups, all the while closely watching fuel prices. At press time, the average price per gallon in the Los Angeles area is around $1.75. Our best mileage run came on an easy long-distance blast up the heart of California where we got 19.1 mpg. That only happened once. Our mpg average factors out between 14.0 and 15.0, with some hard-work stretches measuring near 11.5 and 12.1 mpg. All in all, not that surprising. If we had a gripe, it would be the drastic performance and fuel-economy drop when towing and moving heavy loads around for extended periods, but maybe that's not so surprising either.
With almost 18,000 ticks on the odometer, we've put a few more miles on the Sequoia than we have on most of our long-term testers-a testament to this vehicle and all the things we love doing around here.
What's that you say? You still want to know how it does after 35,000 miles? We'll see what we can do and keep you posted.