Darn near bulletproof when it comes to starting every morning, carrying up to eight people in significant comfort, hauling as much as 120.1 cubic feet of cargo, towing up to 7,400 pounds of trailer, and clearing as much as 10 inches of ground, the main reason to buy a 2018 Toyota Sequoia is for its impressive reliability record.
That reliability, however, comes at a cost, which Sequoia owners will feel with every single visit to a gas station. During a week driving a TRD Sport with 4-wheel drive, my Sequoia test vehicle averaged 16.1 mpg. That means the 26.4-gallon fuel tank drains every 425 miles, and costs more than $75 to fill with each stop.
This dismal performance, combined with the Sequoia’s advanced age, has chopped the massive SUV’s sales to less than half what they were in 2008. You may recall that year as the height of the Great Recession. Coincidentally, it is also the year Toyota last redesigned the Sequoia.
Since then, and especially during the past half-decade, full-size SUV popularity has rebounded due to a strong economy and relatively cheap gas. At the same time, though, Toyota has been moving no more than about 1,100 examples of the Sequoia each month since 2010. For this SUV, recovery never came.
Nevertheless, Toyota has updated the Sequoia for 2018.
Minor styling revisions and new Optitron instrumentation accompany major safety system improvements. Toyota Safety Sense is included with every Sequoia, installing adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights. Additionally, the SUV’s standard equipment list includes a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert.
Furthermore, a new TRD Sport trim level debuts. Based on the standard SR5 version, the Sequoia TRD Sport adds black wheels, black badges, a black grille insert, and black mirror caps. Suspension modifications are alleged to improve handling.
My test vehicle had TRD Sport trim, 4-wheel drive, and came in new Midnight Black Metallic paint, which has cool flecks of blue embedded into the color. The price was $55,835 including a $1,295 destination charge.
When I was a kid, my family traveled to Pennsylvania Amish country. Some locals had cars, but every bit of chrome was blacked out, from the hubcaps to the trim around the windows, in order to eliminate unbecoming pretentiousness.
Now, almost 40 years later, the Amish look is a hot automotive trend, as evidenced by my black-on-black-on-black Sequoia TRD Sport.
The SUV arrived clean. Mostly. It had drip streaks here and there from the car wash, plainly evident on the outer spacey paint. Within hours, a layer of dust had collected, along with tiny polka dots of yellow pollen. Within a couple of days, the Sequoia was a mess. Not because of rain, or snow, or mud, or even dirt. Just from being parked outside of my house.
Inside, this $55,000 Sequoia’s interior looked like it came out of a $35,000 work truck…because it did.
Shared with the Tundra half-ton pickup, the dashboard is an incoherent mess of ergonomic triumphs and failures. Gigantic climate control knobs are clearly designed for use by people wearing mittens, while at the same time my naked fingertips had trouble grasping the tiny nubs Toyota offers for stereo volume and tuning adjustment.
Plastic is everywhere, including the upper door panels where you might want to rest an arm or elbow on a long road trip. This hose-me-out cabin appearance, combined with the TRD Sport’s standard cloth seats, creates cognitive dissonance when viewing the SUV’s sticker price.
While the Sequoia’s roster of standard safety equipment is impressive (even if the forward collision warning system twice signaled non-existent threats), the test vehicle’s infotainment system was not. Appearing to be ripped out of a Corolla, its skimpy 6.1-inch touchscreen, stubby controls, propensity to wash out with sun glare, and next zip code distance from the driver were regular sources of irritation.
Crash-test ratings are unavailable for the Sequoia, though the NHTSA does note that all versions get a 4-star rollover resistance rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has tested a Tundra crew cab pickup, which fell short in terms of roof crush strength and small-overlap, frontal-impact, driver’s-side collision protection.
Climbing aboard a Sequoia is easy thanks to wide running boards that restrict the SUV’s breakover angle when off-roading, but at the same time are absolutely necessary for entering and exiting the vehicle with ease.
Seating is tall and wide, and everyone, including adults riding in the third-row seat, is going to be comfortable. You’re going to want to keep a lint-roller aboard, though, because just as the black exterior paint shows every speck of environmental fallout, so too do the cloth upholstery and floor mats display every piece of pet hair you may have carried into the Sequoia on your clothes or shoes.
I’d recommend getting the Premium Package ($3,810). It adds black leather with contrast stitching, which helps to add visual and tactile quality to a cabin sorely needing it. It also upgrades the infotainment system with navigation and Toyota’s Entune AppSuite, which is the automaker’s substitution for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, neither of which are available.
Storage is not an issue. The wide and cavernous cabin is loaded with it. My main complaint pertains to the second-row seat cupholders, which are inconveniently located near the floor, making them useless to children.
Like any 3-row SUV, space behind the rearmost passengers is restricted. In the Sequoia, it measures 18.9 cubic feet, but you’re likely to use no more than 15 cu.-ft. of it. Stack stuff too high, and when you open the heavy liftgate it is likely to just tumble out. The Sequoia’s rear window does power down, though, so if you’re tall enough you can pack and remove items without opening the tailgate.
With the Premium Package, the Sequoia TRD Sport gets power folding third-row seats. The ones in my test vehicle were manually operated, which was fine because they’re easy to use. Plus, manual folding is faster. With them flattened, the Sequoia swallowed 66.6 cu.-ft. of cargo, providing more than enough space for an airport run with my family as we embarked on a 9-day trip.
Maximum volume measures 120.1 cu.-ft. To put that into perspective, a Chevy Suburban supplies 121.7 cu.-ft. of maximum cargo space.
Yeah, the Sequoia is huge inside.
Based on the Toyota Tundra pickup truck, the Sequoia TRD Sport 4WD weighs almost three tons. That’s why it requires a thirsty 5.7-liter V8 engine making 381 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 401 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,600 rpm.
Unlike some of the Sequoia’s competitors, this engine has no direct fuel injection, no automatic start/stop technology, and no cylinder deactivation technology, all modern methods used to extract maximum miles per gallon. The automatic transmission has six speeds, not eight or even ten.
The SUV’s weight, combined with its old-school powertrain, is why it is rated to get 13 mpg in the city, 17 mpg on the highway, and 14 mpg in combined driving. That I wound up averaging 16.1 mpg was, evidently, some kind of miracle.
Also, I didn’t race around in the Sequoia. That’s pretty pointless, despite the TRD Sport’s specially tuned Bilstein shocks and front and rear anti-sway bars. Riding on 20-inch aluminum wheels that looked like 18s, wrapped in 275/55 tires, the Sequoia TRD Sport feels anything but sporty from behind the steering wheel.
Stomp on the gas, and the engine bellows with big V8 sound, but this Toyota isn’t fast. It lifts its massive snout a bit and gathers speed in a more dignified fashion. Around town, the Sequoia’s bulk is a liability, though a super-tight turning radius helps when making U-turns or parking. On the highway, it is unexpectedly quiet and comfortable, wafting down the road and pummeling pockmarked pavement into submission.
Steering and braking are unremarkable, except for persistent shuddering from the brake pedal as I attempted to travel down a canyon road at a pace higher than the posted limit. Given cool temperatures and nothing aboard but me, this suggests that Toyota needs to upgrade the Sequoia’s brakes.
Handling is fine, and the wider the road is, the more confident you’ll feel.
Have I mentioned that the Sequoia is big?
According to J.D. Power, reliability is one of the two most important factors that car buyers consider when choosing a new vehicle. The other one is styling.
Therefore, if you like the way the Toyota Sequoia looks, chances are good that you’re going to enjoy owning it as long as you understand and accept that it is going to get terrible fuel economy.
Looking beyond these two characteristics, the Sequoia certainly shows that it is a vehicular senior citizen. From its industrial-grade interior materials and yester-tech, postage-stamp-sized infotainment system to its aging architecture, this SUV is loaded with compromise.
Will Toyota redesign the Sequoia? I wouldn’t bet on it. I think the only reason it’s still available is because the company is consistently selling enough of them to justify its continued existence. Once gas prices rise, or an economic storm sweeps across the country, this big tree of an SUV will likely be felled.
In the meantime, if you need a reliable tool for moving lots of people, cargo, and weight, the 2018 Toyota Sequoia stands tall.
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