In the past, things were pretty simple if you wanted a seven-passenger vehicle with room for cargo – you went with a minivan. Nowadays, even compact SUVs have seven-passenger layouts as standard. Delve further into the copious amounts of seven-passenger SUVs and you’ll see an obvious divide. There are luxury options, like the Cadillac Escalade and Ford Expedition and rugged options, like the Nissan Armada and 2019 Toyota Sequoia.
Why go with a rugged option as opposed to one that’s more luxurious? The main reason is that you won’t risk ruining those awesome 22-inch wheels and other goodies on your six-figure SUV when you decide to move away from perfectly-smooth tarmac. Plus, when’s the last time you ever saw an Escalade traversing through the wilderness?
As someone that currently owns a Toyota 4Runner, I cross-shopped the Sequoia before going with the 2002 model that I currently have. I ultimately came to the conclusion that a V8 engine and seven seats were too much for me (I know, everyone could use a V8). For others, a V8 and seven seats are exactly what the doctor ordered.
Full-size SUVs like the Sequoia rarely get updated, which makes 2019 a special one for the nameplate, as Toyota bestowed the behemoth with some new exterior styling cues. Every trim now comes with LED headlights and fog lights, a small change, but they desperately help the Sequoia look more modern. A reshaped grille is the final piece in the new puzzle.
The Sequoia and Toyota Tundra share a lot of components and that’s something that the Japanese automaker isn’t afraid to hide. I managed to find a somewhat-new Tundra to compare and even with the changes, the two looked nearly identical. It’s one of the few full-size SUVs on the road that hasn’t moved away from its full-size pickup truck counterpart in looks – for better or worse.
While the majority of luxury-based, full-size SUVs are extremely boxy in their designs, the Sequoia has some curves in its big body. I’m especially fond of the snub-nosed front end and, mercifully, the lack of chrome. Chrome: the shiny stuff that automakers usually slather on in spades on large vehicles because it’s supposed to bring a car from the bad neighborhood into the driveways of seven-figure homes. But Toyota, even on the range-topping Platinum trim, managed to keep chrome to a minimum, which I was thankful for.
Everyone that interacted with the car during my loan commented on how upscale it felt. The Platinum trim that we tested had a gorgeous dark brown interior and seating for seven – not eight– thanks to massive captain’s chairs in the back. During my time with the SUV, we took my mom and dad on a 350-mile round-trip journey to Southern VA for my sister’s wedding and forced them to sit in the second row for the trip. As much as I love annoying my parents, being their youngest child and all, there was no drama, no tension, and they loved how much room they had to spare.
And we also put the third row of seats to good use, cramming three full-size adults in the back for a few hours or so. Needless to say, the unlucky individuals that drew the short straws turned out to be not that unlucky. There’s a generous amount of space back there, and the ability to recline the seats with easily-accessible buttons allows passengers to spread out and enjoy the experience, as opposed to hating their lives for the duration of the ride.
In addition to being able to hold seven, the Sequoia managed to hold a decent amount of cargo with all of the seats in place. We crammed roughly four duffle bags behind the third row and all seven of us were impressed with the sheer amount of space the SUV offered. If it weren’t for the Sequoia, we would’ve been forced to take two cars, which helped the vehicle score extra points in everyone’s book.
While cabin space and the physical seats themselves felt upscale, the rest of the interior wasn’t anywhere as luxurious. The dashboard and buttons felt like the came straight off of an entry-level truck. The infotainment system is hilariously small, as are the buttons that control the system. There were times when I felt like it would’ve been easier to use my iPhone 8 Plus in lieu of the infotainment screen.
To make matters worse, when you program a destination into the navigation system and have music playing at the same time, the system splits the items, dividing the screen in half. When the smartphone in your pocket is larger than a touch screen on a herculean SUV, something’s not right.
The Sequoia Platinum 4×4 we drove tipped the scales at 6,000 pounds, which characterizes the way it drives adequately. It doesn’t so much as drive down the road as float on it. If ever there was a vehicle that acted like a boat on the road it’s the Sequoia. Unfortunately, the boat-like, up-and-down feeling is so immense in the large SUV that it made my wife nauseous in a matter of 30 minutes.
Interestingly, there’s a Sport mode for the suspension, which cured a little bit of the floatiness. But other than that, the Sequoia feels like a massive SUV, wafting around corners, and letting very little noise into the cabin. It’s a comfortable cruiser and, despite its size, a capable off-roader.
The 381-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 is a joy, emitting a rumble at lower revs and generating more than enough power to get the Sequoia up to highway cruising speeds. Punching the throttle and hearing the V8 come to life never got old and even with a full-load of adults and cargo, the SUV never felt hindered.
The major downside to the Sequoia is its relatively small gas tank, which only allows the SUV to cover a smidge over 300 miles on a tank. On our mostly highway trip, the best I saw was 18 mpg, which is one better than the EPA’s rating of 17 mpg on the highway. Unfortunately, around Baltimore, I was continually in the single digits, hovering around 7 and 9 mpg. That’s well below the 13 mpg city figure that the Sequoia’s supposed to get.
The Sequoia may be a dinosaur, but it’s a lovable one. I put it through one of the more in-depth test drives from recent memory and it happily obliged, ensuring everyone was having a good time. It carried a massive amount of cargo, kept four of us comfortable on a 350-mile trip, ferried seven of us over a two-hour journey, and even went off-roading in inclement weather.
The issue with the SUV, and this is something RFD’s Editor in Chief, has hit on in an article before, is Toyota and Lexus’ family of SUVs. You see, the Sequoia is the cheapest option when it comes to other siblings like the Lexus LX 570, Lexus GX 460, and Toyota Land Cruiser. But when you climb up the ladder, the lines between the four get blurry.
At $68,925, our Sequoia Platinum 4×4 wasn’t exactly cheap. While it’s an impressive machine that’s a lot more capable than its Jurassic exterior lets on, it didn’t exactly feel like a $70,000 SUV to me – but it did to others, so take my opinion for what it’s worth. Still, where the Sequoia shines over its cousins is in its price.
The Sequoia starts at $53,220 for the SR5 trim, which is a lot less than the $85,860 starting price for the Land Cruiser and the LX 570 Three-Row that’s priced at $92,125. Things get complicated, though, when you look at the GX 460, which has a price tag that’s closer to the base Sequoia – $53,180.
If it were up to me, I’d go with the GX 460. The Sequoia feels much better than the new Nissan Armada, which I got to spend a little time in when it first came out, but I think at the same price, the Lexus will feel a lot more upscale than the Sequoia. For what it’s worth, the GX 460 also has a larger infotainment screen. Where Toyota’s cheapest heavy-duty SUV shines is in its ability to seat eight (in its base SR5 form) and its spacious third-row of seats.
I will say that the Sequoia tugged at my heart. Its like the old family dog that was there when you got back from school everyday, came back to visit from college, and visited for Thanksgiving. Oh yeah, it’s old, clearly showing its gray hairs and it’s got a hitch in its step, but it’s a faithful buddy that has its spot on the timeless rug by the fireplace.
The Sequoia may be old, unattractive, and hilariously unathletic, but it’s a bulletproof hauler that can actually hold seven – and in the right trim, up to eight — comfortably. The SUV grows on you like an old friend, so while it may be outdated, it still holds its special place in the segment.