Truck-based SUVs allow for far more capability when it comes to towing or traversing certain kinds of terrain, but their construction also introduces some detriments to ride quality, economy and other things. Hot on the heels of a new Tundra pickup, the 2023 Toyota Sequoia is a great reminder that life is full of tradeoffs, and it's up to you to figure out whether the juice is worth the squeeze.
The Sequoia was almost 10 years old when it was finally overhauled, and the quantum leap in styling certainly makes that known. Just like its Tundra sibling, the 2023 Sequoia carries some beefy new aesthetics that I really like. Interesting angles and curves abound, like the strong indentations at the fenders, or the cool shape of the headlights. It has a real presence -- and not just because it completely fills every single parking spot it occupies.
The interior looks cool, too, but it's far from perfect. While I understand the need for durable materials in something geared to be a little more rugged, I am surprised at the sheer amount of rock-hard plastic in my $70,000 Sequoia Platinum tester. Everything that looks like metal isn't, although this trim's extensive use of leather across the most common touch points does elevate things a bit. The third row's smooth plastic surroundings can leave way-back passengers feeling more like suitcases than people.
Speaking of the third row, here's where compromises really start to come into play. The Sequoia's standard hybrid system lives under the way-back bench, pushing the seats close enough to the ceiling where grown occupants will constantly graze the headliner -- and the second row isn't much better, because the panoramic sunroof's hardware creates a sizable bulge right where your head goes. The second row offers no fore-aft movement, but the third row slides to balance between cargo capacity and legroom; however, if you need to store both stuff and people, that legroom condenses down to a few barely usable inches. The rearmost bench also won't fold flat into the floor, since that's where all the high-voltage bits hang out.
Yet there are still plenty of good things about the Sequoia's cabin. It is practical as heck, with a couple tiers of storage on the door panels, a massive front tray with a vertical wireless device charger and a positively honkin' center armrest cubby with multiple moving trays and methods to access what's inside. The rear cargo area offers some clever shelving to make up for its general lack of space, but it's not going to swallow as much as, say, a Chevy Tahoe, no matter how hard you try.
The Toyota Sequoia's tech is pretty solid, as well. The latest version of Toyota's infotainment system lives on a 14-inch touchscreen, and I really dig it. The interface is fresh, the embedded navigation relies on Google Maps data and looks far more modern than before, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be enjoyed wirelessly. Perhaps unsurprisingly for Toyota, its complement of active and passive safety systems is also great, with a bunch of standard kit including full-speed adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring.
Every 2023 Toyota Sequoia is a hybrid, and a pretty stout one at that. A 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 mates to an electric motor to produce a net 437 horsepower and 583 pound-feet of torque, and all that hooks up to a standard 10-speed automatic transmission. The fake V8 soundtrack piped through the speakers sounds pretty good as the Sequoia pushes off the line with potency, and all that motive force helps the SUV achieve a damn fine tow rating of 9,310 pounds. However, my tester isn't the smoothest operator on the block, with more than a few shudders every time the engine cuts in or out. The tachometer needle also briefly disappears on the gauge cluster when the V6 deactivates, which is weird. The 10-speed's upshifts are generally pretty invisible, but certain low-gear downshifts under braking are quite noticeable. The brakes themselves are strong and plenty easy to manipulate, though.
All that complex electro-trickery results in some surprising fuel economy for a vehicle of the Sequoia's size. The feds rate 2WD models at 21 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. Those numbers aren't hard to achieve, either, and I'm regularly seeing 70-mph freeway cruising pushing toward the 30-mpg mark, an impressive feat for a Brooklyn studio apartment on wheels.
Sadly, the Sequoia's coil-spring suspension and live rear axle put to rest any notion of smoothness extending to the ride quality. This SUV drives like an unladen truck, and that is not a compliment. Every minor pockmark on the road is sent through the suspension and into the cabin, resulting in way more shuddering and bobbing than I'd like in a family vehicle. Considering the Sequoia's pricing can stretch from about $60,000 all the way up to almost $80,000, I'd really like to see some adaptive dampers or air suspension here, which would dramatically improve day-to-day use. Sure, the Sequoia is relatively smooth when the pavement is practically glass, but how many of you live in an area like that? Throw in some overly light steering and a body that's nearly as wide as most lanes themselves, and the result is a bit of a hot handling mess.
Such is the nature of a compromise, though. The Sequoia will pull half the stuff you own without so much as breaking a sweat, but so can the Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition and Nissan Armada, although their economy can't compete with Toyota's. If you don't actually need this sort of baked-in capability, you may want to consider cross-shopping with a car-based three-row SUV like the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride or Subaru Ascent, which are leagues better on the road -- and given their dramatically lower starting prices, you can equip them to hell and back and still come out on top financially. Including the $1,595 destination charge, my 2023 Sequoia Platinum 4x2 asks a yowza-inducing $72,495.
Toyota die-hards and tow addicts will find plenty to enjoy in the 2023 Toyota Sequoia. It's big, it's sufficiently quiet, it's capable and it's loaded with plenty of modern tech. But if you don't exactly need everything this three-row SUV offers, the competition will leave you feeling a bit more comfortable and composed.