Toyota Sequoia Expert Car Review: Reliable Warhorse

2019 Toyota Sequoia brings familiar face to full-size SUV dance

The Toyota Sequoia is big, comfortable, but at this point in its lifespan it is well past its prime. After letting the full-size SUV lumber on for a decade without significant changes, Toyota has added a new TRD Pro trim level, which adds new suspension and appearance goodies. If you loved the Sequoia’s design and functionality in 2008, you might still love it now, but many will find full-size SUVs from competing brands now offer more tempting tech and comfort features.

Toyota Sequoia stands pat for a decade

It’s hard to ignore the near-bulletproof reliability scores, towing ability and size of the Sequoia if you’re in the market for those things. But depending upon the size and needs of your family, it could be overkill. True, more room for kids to stretch out is almost never a bad thing, and space for carpool buddies can be useful, but the interior expanse makes it hard to hear kids in the third row, makes it impossible to fish a dropped binky out from under a seat, and will cause major difficulty vacuuming (or even finding) all the Cheerios that make their way into the cabin. Of course, these are potential issues with any full-size traditional SUV.

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There is a big upside to this big vehicle. The Sequoia is a plush cruiser with a commanding road presence. Driving is effortless, thanks to light steering and good visibility. The interior room offers versatility and the ability to tote seven people and a bunch of their gear.

The main complaints are threefold. First, Toyota hasn’t done enough to update the Sequoia over the years so the packaging feels stale. Additionally, being big for the sake of being big isn’t enough, and the Sequoia’s feature set feels like it has been built to accommodate the girth, not take advantage of it. Finally, fuel economy in the low teens will be a hard pill to swallow for most people. This is another area where the veteran SUV could benefit from a bit of 2018’s available innovation. Beyond that, shrewd buyers may include the price on that complaints list, but with an MSRP in the mid-$50,000 range, the Sequoia isn’t far out of line with its closest competition from GM, Ford and Nissan.

Design

If you’ve seen any of the Sequoia models from the past 10 years, you’ve seen this one, though the blacked-out wheels and exterior trim pieces of the TRD Pro package work well to slim down the big SUV’s silhouette.

The front LED running lights and chrome grille framing lend a more aggressive appearance to what would otherwise be a bulbous and rounded nose, and black running boards help carry a sharper look down the sides.

Seated inside the Sequoia, the sheer size of the vehicle comes into focus. The front seats are wide and are separated by a center console large enough to fit a full-size purse, diaper bag or a 13-inch laptop. The driver is greeted by a softball-sized gearshift knob and simple controls in the center stack. One interesting thing found there is another storage “slot.” It’s about two inches wide and deep enough to hold an iPad. I couldn’t find a use for it, but it’s always nice knowing you can stow tablet in your SUV’s center console.

Second- and third-row seats in the Sequoia are nothing surprising, just supersized, though the captain’s chairs in our TRD Pro model made moving around inside much easier that it would be with a vehicle-wide bench. With the third row folded, rear cargo room is surprisingly lacking for such a large vehicle, but is still plenty large enough for a full-size stroller.

Performance

The 5.7-liter V-8 looks great on paper and sounds nice roaring away under the hood, but the Sequoia’s generous curb weight is more than enough to make the big engine feel tame. Speed really isn’t the point with the massive Toyota, though, and the spec sheet makes that clear. A 7,400-pound towing capacity and 15 mpg combined fuel economy rating make the Sequoia a capable (and very thirsty) family-hauling workhorse.

Power delivery is buttery-smooth, and the six-speed automatic transmission never seemed to struggle finding the right gear. In town, the Toyota Sequoia is perfectly happy cruising at low speeds with stop and go traffic. Pulling out quickly and merging into traffic presented no challenges. Highway driving is just as uneventful. The Sequoia happily cruised from central Maine to southern Massachusetts with only a low fuel warning interrupting the ride. Sitting so high at interstate speeds creates an illusion of going much slower than you actually are traveling, so the digital speed gauge is a welcome control point here.

Tech

Toyota now includes its Safety Sense system in all Toyota Sequoia trims, which includes blind spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts among other things. Those updates greatly increase safety and convenience, and the standard safety equipment far outdistances competitive offerings. It is one point in favor of the SUV has been rolling off the Toyota assembly line without a major update for 10 years now.

Many have had gripes with Toyota’s Entune system, and the points remain valid here: It’s a clumsy interface with limited capability and requires downloads of additional smartphone apps to perform tasks like navigation. In a normal vehicle, the 6.1-inch display would look and feel proportionate, but it’s small and very hard to reach in the Sequoia’s vast expanse of an interior. That said, the infotainment system is reliable, working every time I plugged in my phone, and the audio system does an admirable job of filling every inch of the cabin with clear sound.

Comfort

Despite its utilitarian feel and underpinnings, the big Toyota’s interior is surprisingly cushy. At the same time I take issue with the almost velvet-like upholstery with the throwback feel of my 1988 Camry. We don’t get too many steamy days here in Maine, but my week with the Sequoia was particularly warm. The fluffy, black cloth interior combined with the sweaty outside temps made it feel like I was Velcro-secured into the seats. Panic slipped in as I tried to exit the seat, only to have my pants and shirt try to stay behind as I slid out. Leather upholstery has its own issues, but for a few dollars more I’d opt for it over the cloth – especially at this price point.

With an interior this vast, a real effort has to be made to keep everything in reach and usable. Toyota fell just short here, with many of the controls and the touchscreen infotainment unit requiring quite a reach, even for a “full-sized” person like me.

I also found a world of difficulty driving alone with both of my daughters, one of whom is nearly two years old. When she inevitably dropped something, I dreaded the subsequent scream “UH-OH!!!,” because there was no chance I was going to be able to reach anything over the center console between the front seats.

Something else struck me while I was driving the Toyota Sequoia: second-row captain’s chairs are an incredible benefit with kids. But someone will always be the odd man out if you’ve got more than two. Since the middle row can only accommodate two car seats or two people, any additional passengers will ride in the “way back” as my daughter calls it. And seating back there is decidedly second-class.

Read our review of the Buick Enclave 3-Row SUV

It’s anyone’s guess as to how much longer the current Toyota Sequoia will stick around with or without a major update. At this point, it’s difficult to imagine spending $50K or more for the Toyota when there are so many other options with more tech and better ergonomics. And yet the Sequoia is expected to be a very reliable vehicle, which means it’ll serve your family for several years to come. It would just be nice to know you’re getting all that 2018’s engineering can offer when you buy.



About Chris Teague 14 Articles
Chris Teague covers a variety of automotive topics from new car reviews to industry trends. With a background in business and finance, Chris’ writing is aimed at helping consumers make informed choices about what they drive and growing an understanding of the companies that make those vehicles. Contact Chris at chris@teaguecontent.com