2023 Toyota Sequoia First Drive Review: A 3-Row Hybrid SUV Has No Right To Be This Fun
The 2023 Toyota Sequoia may just be the king of Toyota’s body-on-frame parts bin, and that is far from a bad thing.
The 2023 Toyota Sequoia is a great big three-row family hauler that’s obviously formulated for the American market. That might sound like every other new car being revealed today, but this one may just be the most well-rounded member of Toyota and Lexus' impressive body-on-frame truck lineup. The Sequoia is plenty plush inside and its peppy, more powerful hybrid drivetrain makes it drive like a smaller truck than it is. It might not be a new 300 Series Land Cruiser, but having driven the new Sequoia, I don’t think it has to be. It’s plenty of fun in its own right.
The Sequoia really feels like a rolling highlight reel of the best stuff from Toyota's other recent body-on-frame vehicles, and that’s more than welcome after the last generation hung around for 15 years. It’s a little larger to fit our wide open highways, and it has a sizable performance bump over the likes of the Lexus LX 600 and the Land Cruiser to compensate for the extra heft.
The Sequoia's party piece is the i-Force Max powertrain it shares with the Tundra pickup, which packs a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 mated to a hybrid system good for a combined 437 horsepower and 583 pound-feet of torque. Because it's electrified, you get a ton of torque at low revs that enables you to rush out of corners like a bit of a hooligan. (Which you will—often.)
2023 Toyota Sequoia Specs
Base price: $59,795 (including destination)
- SR5 as tested: $62,795
- Limited as tested: $69,195
- Platinum as tested: $72,395
- TRD Pro as tested: $78,395
- Capstone as tested: $79,795
- Powertrain: 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 hybrid | 10-speed automatic | two- or four-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 437 hp @ 5,200 rpm
- Torque: 583 lb-ft @ 2,400 rpm
- Seating capacity: 7 or 8
- Wheelbase: 122 inches
- Cargo volume: 86.9 cubic feet (max) | 49 cubic feet (behind second row with third row down) | 22.3-11.5 cubic feet (behind third row, depending on how seat is adjusted)
- Max towing capacity: 9,520 pounds
- Off-road angles: 23° approach, 20° departure (TRD Pro) | 15° approach, 20° departure (all other trims)
- Ground clearance: 9.1 inches (TRD Pro) | 8.6 inches (all other trims)
- Curb weight: 5,620 to 6,185 pounds
- Fuel economy: TBA
- Quick Take: Toyota took the best parts of its body-on-frame lineup and combined it into one stellar SUV that's plenty capable on-road and off.
- Score: 7/10
What's Finally New
This is the first all-new Sequoia since the 2008 model year, so it's about time. With it came the move to the new TNGA-F body-on-frame platform, which is shared with the Tundra, Land Cruiser, and Lexus LX. It also has a similar front end design to the Tundra, which I think works better on the SUV. Judging by the reaction of internet commenters after the Sequoia was revealed, I'd say I'm not alone in that.
The biggest upgrade outside the new standard hybrid drivetrain is in the suspension, which moved to a new rear multi-link design with coil springs and outboard-mounted twin-tube shock absorbers as standard. This was all done in the name of improving the truck's ride and handling, and in my day of experience, I’d say it worked.
With the 2023 Sequoia being the last of Toyota's new large vehicles to launch, it benefits from what works so well elsewhere. That's true of its styling and performance, and it was the right move to make the hybrid standard. Sure, you could sell a cheaper gas-only model, but everyone including Toyota knows that entry-level trims with relatively basic equipment don't make all the money in the world.
Hustling and Cruising in the 2023 Toyota Sequoia
While you certainly won't mistake the Sequoia's ride for your mom's Sedan de Ville, the 'Yota is pretty comfortable, even along seam-filled concrete roads. While this is the first Sequoia I've tested, I rode with The Drive's Kristin Shaw on my test drive, who said it was a noticeable improvement over the old Sequoia. What's more impressive is the Sequoia's handling, something that's no doubt helped along by the battery for the hybrid system sitting down low and towards the middle of the truck.
The Sequoia also features a new rack-mounted electronic power steering system that's light and easy to handle, but still plenty communicative. The whole package is downright confidence-inspiring to the point where I found myself powering out of turns like I would in my compact daily driver. All the while, I was chuckling at the hybrid V6's calm, quiet rush of acceleration.
The whole package is enough to make you feel like a hero off-road as well. I took my turn testing the TRD Pro trim on the 4x4 test course just as it was starting to rain, and as the dark brown mud started to feel less like a cow pasture and more like ice. Within a few turns of the higher-speed section where Toyota's reps let us loose to go at our own speed, I found myself flicking around a big seven-seater SUV like it was a rallycross beater a fraction of its size, which it handled with ease.
If you need to terrify six other people in your truck, definitely consider the Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro. (Stay tuned for a breakout review on that later.)
It genuinely feels like the Sequoia occupies a sweet spot within Toyota's lineup. While it shares its more powerful drivetrain with the higher Tundra trims, it's also not as long as the Tundra, which makes it easier to drive around town and over off-road obstacles, should you choose to ditch the pavement. It's just a smidge larger than the Land Cruiser and LX, which allows more space for humans and cargo alike, plus those few extra inches in wheelbase should help it tow more confidently than its shorter platform-mates.
Toyota threw us into the deep end towing-wise, not because the Airstream trailer was too hefty at somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds, but because a thunderstorm was blowing in that day with high crosswinds during our towing demo and there was no sway-control hitch on the trailer. I'll be honest, I'm also more used to towing an open car trailer than a big box of an RV, too. Yet even then, it was manageable. The trailer brake controls are a little hard to find at first, but they were in an easy-to-reach spot to the right of the steering column whenever I felt like the gain needed adjusting. You could still feel the trailer pulling back a bit on bumpier county roads and high winds trying to blow the trailer around, but overall, it was a smooth ride and the Sequoia had more than enough power to get out of its own way even with a big RV on the back.
Other aspects of the interior aren't as easy to use, though. Toyota's new infotainment system is fairly simple to learn, but the inability to split the giant 14-inch screen between multiple functions is a waste of space. It feels like being stuck on big print mode when your eyes are just fine, and it forces you to toggle away from the map if you want to find a radio station, for example. Thankfully, Toyota still uses tactile buttons for the most commonly used controls—radio volume, HVAC and drive modes, for example—but notably missing is a physical tuning knob for the stereo. A Toyota Connected representative said that split-screen functionality is in the works for a future generation of the system, but for now, you’ll want to pick some stereo presets while you're parked before a big trip.
Still, the new infotainment system is a good start. It not only looks clean and is fairly intuitive to use, but it recognized my somewhat quiet female voice more often than not, which is a rarity among voice control systems. One strange omission from the voice controls were the HVAC controls and seat heaters. A Toyota representative told us that these items are mechanical on the Sequoia and thus can't be controlled with the infotainment system's voice controls as it is in some other Toyota products, but that's frustrating nonetheless.
All this said, I wish the gauge cluster looked as sharp as the center screen. The Sequoia has a cool opening animation when you turn on the vehicle, but the rest of its gauge screen feels like it's stuck in the past compared to, say, the flashy configurable screens offered in most of Ford's trucks. It's a weird nitpick, but it feels like the Sequoia's gauge cluster is from a different truck than its sleek, ultra-modern center screen. When we're talking about Toyota's flagship SUV, it should feel the part.
Much of the interior feels a lot like a Tundra with a cap, with the same huge center console in the middle and many of the same interior design tropes. It's comfortable, and as a shorter person (5'4"), I had ample room in all three rows. It wasn't even tough for me to climb between the optional second-row captain's chairs, which might be for the best. The center seats tumble forward—as in, fold the back over, then fold the seat bottom forward—to allow access to the back row in a way that's easy enough for me to handle, but might be tough for small kids.
Small kids will have the easiest time with the third row, too, as the hybrid battery underneath takes up a lot of its vertical leg room. My legs stuck up quite a bit when I sat in the third row accordingly due to the lack of space to dangle, while taller friends said they just couldn't get comfortable back there.
Unlike the second row, the third row on our test trucks folded out of the way using a powered button, and given that this row is more likely to be tucked out of the way by adults, I'm not entirely sure I like having a power switch when a manual fold-away system would do the job faster. Another powered switch can move the bench forwards and backwards by six inches, though, which is nice. The third row takes up a lot of cargo space, but a configurable cargo shelf can help you maximize your use of what's there. It holds 220 pounds, and it can help flatten the floor with the third row folded over or simply let you double the amount of floor space that can hold groceries and other things you can't neatly stack on top of each other. It's a pretty clever solution to a common problem with three-row SUVs.
All that hauling capability comes at a price, though—namely, at the pump. The Sequoia shares its hybrid drivetrain with the Tundra, where the extra electrified boost is more of a performance addition than a fuel economy one. Toyota says they've tuned for both here, but let's be real: there's a lot of truck to haul around. Official EPA fuel economy ratings aren't out yet, but we saw as low as 13.7 mpg while being an hooligan in Sport mode, and between 12.9 and 14.5 mpg while towing. Behaving a bit in Eco and Normal drive modes for a while gave me an average of 17.3 mpg. In other words, don't expect this to be a big Prius just because it's a hybrid.
How the 2023 Toyota Sequoia Compares to Other Full-Size SUVs
The Sequoia's closest competitors in feel and size are the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition, which we previously compared numbers-to-numbers at the vehicle's launch. Since then, Toyota revised its towing capacity figure for the two-wheel-drive Sequoia as being able to handle up to 9,520 pounds, beating the most hardcore versions of the other two. The Sequoia is also the most powerful of the bunch, and the extra low-down torque of its standard hybrid powertrain makes it somewhat of a unique offering among three-row SUVs. Sure, its base SR5 4x2 price of $59,795 (including destination and other fees) makes it a bit pricier than the base models of the other two trucks, but that's not a bad deal when you consider that the hybrid V6 drivetrain packs more power than what's available in either of the domestic offerings.
The one thing it doesn't have that's becoming more common in SUVs is a Level 2 automated driving system like Ford's Blue Cruise or General Motors' Super Cruise. Yet for those of us who prefer to drive ourselves, you can have a lot of fun doing so in the 'Yota. It still offers other, more specific assists like Trailer Backup Guide, Downhill Assist Control and Crawl Control to help you out of some of the stickiest driving situations.
Some of the stiffest competition for the Sequoia may be from in-house—specifically, the Lexus LX 600, which shares the same 3.5L V6 and platform, albeit shortened a tad as it's more focused on off-road performance. Toyota made it clear that we were driving pre-production prototype Sequoias that may not be up to its usual quality standards, but even these trucks felt nicely put together, and in the case of the range-topping, chromed-up, walnut-trimmed Capstone grade, downright luxurious. The Capstone 4x4 starts at $79,795, undercutting the base-model Lexus LX 600 by $8,450 while offering a bit more space and power, a more understated design sans Lexus' love-it-or-hate-it spindle grille, and a whole lot more torque—a whopping 104 lb-ft more, to be exact.
While it isn't without faults, the new Sequoia is a great start for the next generation of the model line, which is likely to stick around a while. Sometimes you just need a truck that can do a little bit of everything well, be it hauling a trailer or other people. The Sequoia is a solid choice, then, especially if you have a bit of an inner speed demon.
It has what it takes to challenge offerings from the U.S. of A, even when it comes to power numbers. That alone should help it compete, in addition to Toyota's reputation for reliability. There are a few places that could benefit from a mid-cycle refresh—like that ever-so-visible infotainment system—but that's not enough to stop most from considering it.
In closing, the 2023 Sequoia can do a little bit of everything, all while looking good and performing exceptionally.
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