It’s not a controversial statement that Toyota has made some of the greatest trucks and SUVs of all time. The Land Cruiser is an off-road legend, the Hilux is invincible, the Tundra has historically offered extreme longevity, and the FJ Cruiser is a cult classic. But what about the Sequoia? It’s made with much of the stuff that makes other Toyota SUVs and trucks legendary, yet it’s often forgotten. It’s time to change that, and here’s why you should put the original Toyota Sequoia on your radar.
Welcome to Beige Cars You’re Sleeping On, a weekly series in which we raise the profile of some quiet greats. We’re talking vehicles that are secretly awesome, but go unsung because of either a boring image or the lack of an image altogether.
The original Sequoia was a big leap forward for Toyota, literally. Hot off the heels of launching its first dedicated half-ton truck for the American market, the Japanese giant decided it would be a good idea to print some money with a full-sized SUV. Keep in mind, this was around the turn of the millennium when the original Hummer was hot, the Ford Expedition was kicking off, and GM was treading new waters with the first Cadillac Escalade.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a whole lot of Tundra underneath the original Sequoia. The front half of the frame is identical to that of a first-generation Tundra, while the rear section incorporates a unique five-link coil-sprung solid axle rear suspension. Chuck in some additional body mounts for a massive passenger compartment with seating up to eight, and you have a time-tested formula for creating a full-size body-on-frame SUV.
Under the hood of every first-generation Sequoia is a 2UZ-FE 4.7-liter V8, the same one that’s proven to be capable of one million miles. Starting life with 240 horsepower, it gained variable valve timing for 2005 and was briefly rated at 282 horsepower before adjustments to how horsepower is calculated knocked that figure down to 273 horsepower for 2006 and 2007. Similarly, model years 2001 through 2004 got a four-speed automatic transmission, while 2005 and later models got a five-speed automatic. The 2005 model year also marked the arrival of a Torsen limited-slip center differential, a worthwhile upgrade for all-weather traction. All of these powertrain components are quite tough, and so long as you keep the body free of corrosion, this is an SUV that’s built to last.
Intriguingly, the original Sequoia slotted between the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Tahoe on size, with one big exception — this thing has a whopping 10.6 inches of ground clearance. That helps give this thing an approach angle of 28 degrees and a departure angle of 20 degrees, respectable figures for a full-size SUV. Add in a proper crawl ratio plus skid plates for the fuel tank and transfer case on all four-wheel-drive models, and the Sequoia could be a genuine overlanding contender for wider trails.
Handling? Don’t push it, as Brock Yates of Car And Driver eloquently laid out the handling limitations of body-on-frame sport utility vehicles.
As expected, its road manners are prim and proper, in the narrow context of sport-utilities. (Note: With the possible exception of the BMW X5, there isn’t an SUV built that could be described as possessing decent handling.) Our Sequoia, weighing in at 5251 pounds and standing two inches more than six feet tall, and with 10.6 inches of ground clearance, wobbled around the skidpad generating 0.71 g of cornering force. This is not a bad number for an SUV of this size, but the Sequoia cannot be confused with a modern sedan.
Just sit back, don’t get too greedy, and revel in the silky smooth ride quality. These things were built for towing more than 6,000 pounds over substantial distances, with plenty of passengers aboard. Doing so today, you’ll find yourself admiring the unusual yet nostalgic interior.
There’s a hint of third-generation Ford Taurus to the ovoid center stack, but the vast majority of switchgear is pleasantly bubbly, as only things designed in a climate of post-Cold War optimism could be. All the window switches and interior door handles feel impeccably damped in that Y2K Toyota way, and lovely, pragmatic touches are everywhere. The ignition tumbler is illuminated in a pale green glow so you can easily find it in the dark. The rear window rolls down at the press of a button for an open-air experience. There are bonus cup holders that slide out from the dashboard in case you run out of slots in the console. Toyota knew exactly what it was doing when the Sequoia was made, and the end result still holds up today.
It’s also worth noting that this rig got some reasonably fancy stuff, and I’m not just talking about available ruched leather. The Limited trim got a proper trip computer, dual-zone front climate control, heated seats, and a 10-speaker JBL audio system, even in its first year on the market. Even the base model got extendable dual sun visors, stability control, privacy glass, and a buttload of 12-volt power outlets. Over time, the options list would expand to include DVD navigation, rear seat entertainment, and load-leveling rear suspension. Handy stuff back in the day.
Best of all, the original Sequoia is one of the more affordable entry points into the Toyota truck kingdom. It’s not hard to find good examples under $6,000, like this 2004 Limited example for sale in California. Sure, it has 201,000 miles on the clock, the black vinyl decals on the rear pillars are faded, and the headlight lenses are quite yellowed, but the interior’s in solid shape, and a bit of polish and some cheap vinyl wrap will have this thing looking proper.
If you’re looking for a cheaper Land Cruiser alternative for proper off-road shenanigans, this probably isn’t it. However, if you’re looking for a higher-quality alternative to a Chevrolet Tahoe or Ford Expedition, this might just be the ticket. You get a whole lot of Toyota truck goodness without much of the Toyota truck tax, and if that isn’t proof the original Toyota Sequoia is underrated, I don’t know what is.
(Photo credits: Toyota, Autotrader seller)
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