Perhaps because they’re almost synonymous with immobility, there’s just not many cars named for trees. I mean, there are some, like the Dodge Aspen, Nissan Cherry, Oldsmobile Power Oak (fine, I made that one up), and the one I want to tell you about today, the Toyota Sequoia. The Sequoia, Toyota’s biggest, fanciest, spendy-est full-size SUV hasn’t had an update since 2008, so this all-new 2023 version is almost a complete re-introduction of the name, which has been languishing, unloved, for quite a while. Toyota is doing a lot to make up for lost time, and has clearly put enormous effort into the Sequoia, so let me tell you all about it.
[Full disclosure: Toyota flew me out to their headquarters in the glistening, sun-baked sprawl of Plano, Texas, fed me good food and didn’t say anything when I stole several bags of expensive beef jerky from the hospitality table, even though I’m pretty sure they saw me. I had access to several 2023 Sequoias of various trim levels throughout a day, and it was on these drives this review is based.]
First, An Admission
I should be up front about something here, right off the bat: the Sequoia is firmly in a category of vehicles that I, generally, am not fond of. It’s a body-on-frame, full-sized, four-wheel-drive expensive luxury SUV, which is a category of vehicle very far removed from my own tastes and interests. These tend to be highly capable vehicles on- and off-road, but at the same time they’re expensive, have costly bodywork and interiors, and as such tend to be almost never used up to their potential.
Because they’re body-on-frame they tend to be very rugged and robust, while at the same time sacrificing a lot of interior space that a unibody design would provide. To me, they seem like a strange contradiction, providing potent off-road capabilities that cause a number of driving, handling, and packaging compromises while simultaneously being too expensive and nice inside and out to actually make use of those abilities. Plus, even if you really were okay with off-roading a $70,000 SUV with lots of easily-damaged trim and bodywork, they’re really too damn big for any serious off-roading.
I don’t really get the point of them, but at the same time, I realize that many, many people do and desire these vehicles a lot.
People like them because they’re highly capable tow vehicles, and tend to be comfortable road-trip cruisers. Plus, their sheer size means they can have three rows, providing seating for at least seven in most configurations, and, of course, there’s the irrational but terribly real status and look factor, where people just want to be seen in something simultaneously tough and expensive looking, like putting a saddle on Duane “The Rock” Johnson when he’s wearing an expensive suit and riding him around like a horse.
These big, luxury SUVs don’t have to be for me, because I know there are people who absolutely want just this very thing. So I’ll do my best to try and keep the mindset of someone who actually desires one of these bloated, technology-stuffed, leather-slathered beasts without prejudice.
How’s It Look?
Toyota’s design language over the past few years has been sort of a complicated, busy mess, full of folds and creases and vents, false and genuine, slits and lights and all just too damn much. I’m happy to say that the new Sequoia has a design that seems to have reigned in most of the madness, and the result is something that looks handsome and purposeful, if massive.
I think the Sequoia is strongest in profile, where the intaglio fender-lines are best seen, cutting into the body to give some definition to the otherwise slab-like massive sides. The window/door line is a little busy, with the jog down from the upper rear door corner to the rear side cargo-area/third row window being sort of clunky.
The proportions are generally pretty good, with a decently-sized greenhouse and wheels and wheelarches that give a muscular look without quite slipping into caricature. Of course, it’s a pretty huge overall package: about 17 feet long, six and a half feet wide, and over six feet tall. There’s a lot of Sequoia here.
That bit of wraparound window on the D-pillar is fake, by the way, so don’t be fooled and go looking inside for that inverted triangle of rear window.
Around front, every trim level seems to have its own signature grille, and they’re all massive expanses of slats or beehives or some other kind of mesh that dominates the front end, a gaping, hungry maw that varies from industrial HVAC unit intake-chic to downright garish. I think I like the classic TOYOTA-lettered grille from the TRD package, which also includes an integrated light bar and three amber clearance lights, since the width of this edition with its fender flares pushes it just to the line of requiring those three amber position lamps.
The lighting design is bold, with the headlights having an angular, techy theme incorporating 45° angles and a shape sort of like an old school Star Trek phaser. The taillights are simpler in design, clean, but a surprisingly small, right-angle-shaped section of them actually illuminates for the brake lamps, which I find puzzling.
Happily, Toyota’s lighting designers have understood the value and joy that comes with sequential turn indicators, so we do get those, front and rear:
I always like to see that. Would have been nice to have amber ones at the rear, but well, you can’t have everything.
Overall, I think the people that are interested in a vehicle like this should find the massive, imposing qualities appealing, and it’s just understated enough that the higher tier trims, like the Capstone top-of-the-line model, have enough extra bling to adequately convey to everyone else in the Whole Foods parking lot that, yes, you have disposable income that you’re more than happy to dispose of.
What Makes It Go?
The most significant thing about this new Sequoia, and, really, what makes it stand out in its class is the fact that every Sequoia is a hybrid. There’s no engine choice here, no hybrid option, it’s baked right into the fundamental design: the engine/motor assembly, named like a bootleg Avengers-like superhero collective, is called i-FORCE MAX, and consists of a 3.5-liter aluminum-block twin-turbo V6 internal combustion engine, with an electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission.
The engine and electric motor combined make 437 horsepower and 583 foot-pounds of torque, with the electric motor contributing 48 hp/214 lb-ft to the equation. This is essentially the same hybrid engine we’ve seen in the Tundra, and Toyota engineers provided me with these diagrams from the Tundra, since they didn’t have Sequoia-specific ones yet, but they give you a good look at how this powertrain is set up:
In the Sequoia, the hybrid’s battery is located a bit further back, underneath the third-row seats. The battery pack uses Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) cells, 240 of them, and puts out 288 volts, with a total capacity of 1.87 kWh. The hybrid’s inverter and other hardware is pretty accessible right under the hood, and you can see the high-voltage cables are all colored orange, as a warning to not bite or cut through them:
Either the ICE engine (which, by the way, is a regular Otto-cycle engine, not an Atkinson-cycle like some of Toyota’s other hybrids) or the electric motor, or both can drive the wheels (either just the rear on the 2WD version, or all four) via the 10-gear transmission.
Want to know a bit of trivia about that 10-speed transmission? The gear with the 1:1 ratio is 7th, so it has three overdrive ratios. Aren’t you happy you know that?
Hey, want to see what the fuse box looks like?
Mmmm, look at all that forbidden candy.
The whole point of the hybrid setup in the Sequoia is so that you could get the power you need while maintaining fuel economy, something that likely wouldn’t have been terribly good with, say, a big V8 engine pushing around a vehicle that ranges from about 5,600 to nearly 6,200 pounds. Sequoia is chonky.
The result is that power actually is quite good, with the electric motor giving some welcome torque even at low RPMs, but I have to say I was kind of disappointed with the fuel economy numbers I saw, which ranged from 14.something to 15.something.
Official EPA estimates haven’t been released yet, but I drove about four of these, and they were all within the 14-15 mpg range. It’s not great, but it does seem to be on par with other SUVs of this general size, like the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, which gets 14 city/20 highway. Still, the Jeep manages that without a hybrid, so I still feel like we should be seeing something better out of the Sequoia.
Perhaps the EPA numbers will be significantly better? I am comparing not just real-world numbers here, but real-world idiot automotive journalist numbers, not a group well-known for a delicate throttle foot or, you know, much sense at all. Perhaps that Jeep’s EPA numbers are overinflated, and the Sequoia’s will be, too? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Okay, So How Does It Drive?
If I were forced at sickle-point to pick one word to describe the driving experience of the new Sequoia, I might pick substantial. Because while it’s actually quick, surprisingly quiet, and buttery smooth and comfortable, you’re never not aware of just how much mass you’re slinging around, or how tall that pile of mass is.
This is hardly shocking; it’s big and heavy. We all know that. Nobody is going to buy a Sequoia to autocross it. Or, if you are, then you have my respect, you loon. You feel all that mass in turns, as it’s a tall body on big tires, and you feel it a lot during braking. The brakes always seem to stop just fine, but the gut-level sensation you get is one that really telegraphs the three tons of Toyotathon whose motion you’re transforming into heat. I sometimes found it a little unsettling, but you do get used to it.
The Sequoia is most at home driving fast on long, straight highways, and in those contexts it’s a quiet, rock-solid brick fecalhome, barreling along like a happy juggernaut. You could take this thing on a road trip with six of your besties and I’m pretty certain they’d arrive at their destination fresh from all the naps they enjoyed.
The all-new frame, shared with the Tundra pick up and the Lexus LX and global Land Cruiser, is fully boxed and said to be stiffer yet lighter than before. I don’t think I’ve driven the preceding chassis since 2016, and I wasn’t a fan of that overall package in Lexus form, so I think it’s just as well it was that long ago so I won’t influence my feelings on the new setup.
I think the Sequoia would become a frustrating city car, again shocking nobody, and I could even see it feeling like a bit too much in suburban contexts. If all you want to do is drive to Target and restaurants, you’d likely be happier with something a bit less massive. But if you go on road trips, especially in groups, or like to tow big things, then I’d guess this could make sense.
Speaking Of Towing
The new Sequoia can tow an impressive 9,520 pounds in its lowest-spec trim (2WD, SR5 edition) and even in the highest-spec Capstone variant, laden with all the goodies Toyota could throw at it, it comes in 20 pounds shy of 9,000 pounds.
You could tow about 38,000 Quarter Pounders or about five air-cooled Volkswagen Beetles or a female adult African bush elephant riding in my Nissan Pao, if you wanted to. All Toyota had for me to try towing was a big-ass boat:
There are also a number of tools to help make towing less of an ass-pain, including a trailer back-up guide system that makes backing up a trailer vastly easier. You can see how this works in this video from Toyota showing it on the Tundra, which works in essentially the same way:
Of course you can feel the weight of a 7,000+ pound boat when you’re towing it, but the Sequoia handles the load with relative ease, and if you’re on a nice stretch of highway, you can easily forget that you’re towing a boat until you glance in that rearview mirror and are surprised at the sight of your figurehead.
Your boat does have a figurehead, right? A mermaid or dyad or something? It better.
How About Driving Where The Roads Aren’t?
Toyota was understandably proud of the Sequoia’s off-road chops, with the TRD Pro version having up to 9.1 inches of ground clearance and respectable 23/20 approach and departure angles (15/20 on the non-TRD 4WD versions).
Unfortunately, the test vehicles we had were only shod with all-season tires, and I’m pretty sure the last thing Toyota wanted was video or photos of a Sequoia stuck, so the off-road trails provided for our testing were really mostly just very muddy roads, with some nice whoopses and a few rocky areas that looked a bit like very crude cobblestone roads.
You can see the mud and whoops area up above there in that video, and here’s a tire-watcher’s view of some of the muddy and rocky bits:
There was plenty of mud, and it’s definitely not a paved road, but these were really pretty basic and unchallenging off-road situations, so of course the Sequoia dealt with them just fine. It’s capable of a lot more.
At the same time, despite its capabilities, the target buyer of a Sequoia is not likely to do much harder off-roading than what I experienced here, so in that sense, I think their little course was just fine, and the Sequoia handled it, again, just fine.
If you actually do want to use a Sequoia off-road, then the TRD Pro kit is the way to go, with better approach and departure angles and this mighty fine-looking skid plate that you can show off to all the people you want to impress as you run them over:
What About The Inside?
While it may be more exciting to pore over engine and drivetrain specs or squint your eyes and rub your chin and generate opinions about the external design of a car, the truth is that how the inside is packaged, what materials are used, how the seats are to sit on, how the controls feel to use, and so on are some of the most important aspects of choosing a car. The inside is where you’ll spend nearly all of your time when using the car, if things are going well, at least.
In a Sequoia, the interior is a generally roomy place, comfortable and designed with a good amount of cleverness. All of the ones I was in were also nearly monochrome gray, which, frankly, I’m sick of in cars, though it does appear that if you get the TRD Pro package, you can specify an unapologetically blood-red interior:
That’s nice and vivid and perfect for pretending you’re driving from inside a whale.
Because the Sequoia is a body-on-frame, front-engine, rear-drive vehicle as opposed to a transverse-engined, FWD unibody design, you’ll note some packaging compromises, the most obvious of which is up front: the massive transmission tunnel.
Sure, there’s large storage cubbies and cupholders and whatnot, but because the hybrid’s electric motor is sandwiched between the engine and gearbox, there’s just no way around a large, wide, substantial center console. The Sequoia is wide enough that you don’t feel cramped in the driver or passenger seats, but you’re still very aware of a large something in the middle of the car. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s definitely there.
Behind the front seats, though, the packaging is, I think, unusually good for this sort of vehicle. The second-row seats have great legroom and a fairly flat floor, and you can choose between a bench seat or (non-swiveling, boo) captain’s chairs.
But what really impressed me was the implementation of the third row seating, which is built atop the hybrid battery. This third row has a very flat floor, and the seats, split 60/40 are able to move independently up to six inches back or forth, adding or removing legroom to add or remove cargo area.
The rear bench is wide and pretty comfortable, and has HVAC vents (with a strangely loud fan) and USB ports, just like the second row. Legroom is good for a third row, though using myself as an example is a little deceptive, as we have already established my stature is close to a Shtetl Hobbit.
Also noteworthy, and often an afterthought on many three-row vehicles, is the access to that third row, which I’m happy to say is good in the Sequoia, thanks to the second-row seats flipping up and out of the way:
There’s a good assortment of USB ports around the interior, both A and C varietals, along with 100V wall-style outlets, and full rear-seat HVAC controls.
Oh, and abundant cupholders, too.
But I think the interior detail I like best is something that’s hardly high-tech, but still very clever: a shelf.
Yes, the cargo area comes with its own little adjustable shelf system, and what I like about this is that it’s honest about the sort of space available in a tall, three-row SUV, which is vertical space. Which is not really as useful a kind of space, thanks to the cruel realities of gravity. But a shelf helps mitigate the problem and opens up so much more useful space.
The shelf allows a lower and upper compartment, at one of three levels, the middle of which lines up with the folded-down third row, as you can see above.
You can’t stack a duffel bag on groceries, but you absolutely can shove luggage under a bunch of grocery bags on an upper shelf. Unlocking this vertical space makes for a much more usable cargo area with all three rows up.
Even with the shelf in the lowest position, there’s still some basement room there to shove laptop bags or tools or whatever. It’s a good solution for the cargo area.
Oh, and speaking of the cargo area, the Sequoia does offer something I like a lot, access to the cargo area via an opening rear window:
This is extremely useful, especially in situations where there may not be room to open the entire, frankly huge, tailgate. But it also begs the question of why doesn’t this SUV have a tailgate instead of a hatch?
An opening window and tailgate combination would be much more useful than a hatch; a vehicle like this is the kind you take to places, remote or otherwise, and then do things outdoors, around the vehicle. A tailgate gives a place to sit, an ersatz table, would turn the rear of the Sequoia into a usable, multipurpose space. A hatch can’t really do that nearly as well, though it could offer some rain protection.
Electronics And Screens And Whatever
The 2023 Sequoia uses Toyota’s all-new interface design, which is nice and modern and clean-looking, on an (optional; there’s a smaller one, too) 14-inch touchscreen, and the UX seems decent, though I kept getting an annoying request for some PIN code that I knew nothing about, as you can see above.
The Sequoia has a wireless charging pad and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as the now-expected suite of automatic headlights and XM radio and WiFi connectivity and 360° camera views and a color HUD and on and on.
There’s also Toyota’s lane keeping/dynamic cruise/pre-collision warning/etc. system called Safety Sense 2.5, along with blind spot monitors and cross-traffic monitors and, again, all the electro-candy people looking in this segment have come to expect.
The UX design is generally clean, with the instrument cluster having a somewhat more dated look than the very clean and elegant center-stack display, which also includes voice commands, and you can ask it to tell you a joke, even, should you be so starved for companionship and entertainment.
There is one bit of tech that I absolutely can’t stand that is available optionally on the Sequoia: an LCD interior rear-view mirror.
I genuinely hate these. They’re strangely hard to use and focus on, so much so that I’m in the process of writing an article to determine just why they suck so deeply and profoundly, so expect that soon. If you buy a Sequoia, my advice is to save your money and avoid the Digital Display Rearview Mirror, which unfortunately seems to be part of the Tow Technology Package.
How Much Is It, And Is It Worth It?
I’m going to tell you something kind of obvious once again here: these aren’t exactly cheap. They start at $58,300 and can be optioned up to $75,300 for the luxurious and flashy Capstone edition, or up to $76,900 if you want a tougher TRD Pro version.
Even in today’s inflated market, that’s a lot of money. For example, another full-size luxury SUV in this segment, the Genesis GV80, starts at about $50,000 and I think is a much more striking-looking machine with a great interior, though it offers a bit less power.
A Jeep Grand Wagoneer, on the other hand, starts in the high $80,000s and offers similar power and MPG, so I’d be inclined to say in that case the Sequoia seems like a better deal, especially with Toyota’s well-earned reputation for quality and durability.
Toyota doesn’t build crap, that’s for sure, so if the particular type of non-crap you desire is a large, comfortable, brutish-looking SUV that you’re unlikely to actually take off-road, and you want to shut people up who give you shit for buying an SUV by telling them hey, it’s a hybrid, then maybe the Sequoia is worth a look.
Besides, what other car is named for a person that invented a whole syllabary?