Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Toyota Sequoia in Platinum trim.
The 2018 Toyota Sequoia Platinum, By the Numbers:
- Base Price (Price as Tested): $68,930 ($68,930)
- Powertrain: 5.7-liter V8, 381 horsepower, 401 pound-feet; six-speed automatic; four-wheel-drive
- EPA Fuel Economy: 13 mpg city / 17 mpg highway
- 0-60 MPH: 6.7 seconds (Car and Driver testing, 2016 model)
- Curb Weight: 6,000 pounds, so don't go crossing the Brooklyn Bridge
- Ground Clearance: 9.6 inches
- Quick Take: While it may be forced to play second full-size fiddle to the Land Cruiser in Toyota's SUV lineup, the Sequoia is a far better fit for the needs of the average American. But it's long due for a revamp—and unlucky enough to be going up against GM and Ford in one of the categories where Detroit very much still plays to win.
2018 Toyota Sequoia Platinum: The Pros
- People buy giant SUVs for interior space as much as appearance—they'd buy minivans if they didn't care about the latter, and they'd choose compact crossovers or pickup trucks if they didn't care about the former—and this jumbo Toyo turns the interior volume up to 11. With all three rows up and ready for passengers, this seven-seater still has three more cubic feet of cargo space than a Camry; fold down the kiddie seats in the way back, and you've got a demonically delightful 66.6 cubes of cargo room available, plus a quartet of bucket seats roomy enough to fit four NBA-sized senior editors comfortably. Need even more space? With all but the front seats laid down, there's 120.1 cubic feet of space for your stuff—just 1.6 cubes shy of the 19.1-inch-longer Chevy Suburban.
- The naturally-aspirated V8's power figures may not wow, but 381 ponies and 401 torques are more than enough to move this bad boy along, with power building in an easygoing, linear fashion. Plus, unlike, say, the EcoBoost six-pot found under the hood of the new Expedition and Navigator, the big Toyota motor still has a bit of that sweet eight-cylinder rumble.
- One of the biggest reasons to splurge for the Platinum trim lies between body and wheels: the adaptive damper suspension setup, which varies the shock absorbers amongst three levels of firmness (including the amusingly named "Sport") and lets the driver adjust the ride height manually if so desired. The differences between the three damper settings are noticeable, if minuscule; regardless of which way you turn the dial, however, the Sequoia rides smoothly over all sorts of road surfaces. (Certainly helping matters: even the Platinum rides on "mere" 20-inch wheels, and the 275/55/20 tires have plenty of shock-absorbing sidewall.)
2018 Toyota Sequoia Platinum: The Cons
- Much like your ex when she texts "Hey, you up?" at 11 p.m., the Toyota Sequoia is thirsty. The trip computer never showed me an average better than 16.2 miles per gallon over the course of about 700 miles of mostly highway driving, and my overall average wound up being around 15. (The Chevy Suburban RST I drove on much the same route a few weeks earlier, in contrast, averaged just shy of 19 miles per gallon.) Oddly enough, mileage was actually worse on the wide-open highways of Vermont and upstate New York than in the congested interstates of Connecticut and Massachusetts, leading me to believe the lower figures were a result of the nasty, exponentially-increasing effects of drag at higher speeds. Combine that with the relatively small fuel capacity, and I wound up seeing an estimated 275 miles on a tank. If a Tesla Model X has your gas-powered SUV beat on range, you're probably doing something wrong.
- While the engine's a willing partner, the six-speed automatic feels like an antique compared with most slushboxes on sale today. Gears are spaced widely apart in order to provide both decent off-the-line pep and easy cruising on the highway; as a result, every kickdown sends the revs leaping upwards and causes the vehicle to jolt forward. And like many Toyotas, the Sequoia's "manual mode" doesn't work like every other car on the market. Slide the shifter over to the manual override gate, and the truck doesn't keep its gearbox in the cog noted on the dashboard; instead, it simply locks out every gear above that one. Which would be fine...if nobody had ever invented the much more logical Tiptronic setup used by pretty much every other automaker that offers a "+/-" option for its automatic.
- If you think Chevy's current body-on-frame rigs suffer from an outdated interior...well, the Sequoia's insides make the Silverado and Tahoe look like the set of Star Trek. The infotainment system is straight outta Circuit City; in spite of the half-acre of dashboard space available, the touchscreen is barely larger than a new iPhone XS Max, and the head unit looks like it was jammed into an empty slot where an old radio with a passive-matrix LCD display once lived. There's hard plastic everywhere apart from where your hands and elbows normally sit. And the wide array of buttons, while clearly labeled, are scattered around in often-difficult-to-see places.
- How does a $69,000, top-of-the-line, 2018-model-year car that comes fully loaded and offers zero options still use an old-fashioned key that has to be stuck into the steering column. How.
2018 Toyota Sequoia Platinum: Value
Compared with the other V8-powered, body-on-frame SUV in Toyota showrooms, the Sequoia seems like a steal. It might not be quite as capable as the Land Crusher off-road, but the Sequoia uses the same engine, offers four-wheel-drive with low range, and comes with a locking center diff and a height-adjustable suspension—and while its approach and departure angles of 27 degrees and 20 degrees might not match the LC's 32/24, the Sequoia actually offers more ground clearance, at up to 10 inches versus the Land Cruiser's 8.9. And the Sequoia Platinum comes fully loaded at $68,930, fully $17,000 cheaper than the Land Cruiser's base price (and almost $10,000 cheaper than a top-trim Expedition).
On the other hand, between the almost complete lack of major updates in the last 10 years and Toyota's generally-strong reliability and build quality, there's basically zero reason to buy a new Sequoia over a lightly-used three-year-old one. Normally, that's not the sort of argument we like to make when writing about new cars—we've all had some thrifty uncle or grandfather tell us how it's always smarter to buy a used car than a new one, yet we still lust after and buy brand-new vehicles anyway—but when you're talking about a model that's so unchanged that even a keen auto journalist's eye has trouble telling the difference between the 2008 and 2018 versions, we're willing to make an exception.
2018 Toyota Sequoia Platinum: The Bottom Line:
There's nothing offensive or glaringly bad about the Toyota Sequoia; it's a simple, capable workhorse of a vehicle that goes about its business without charm or drama, able to carry a broad range of people and cargo over rough terrain or through bad weather. It is the very model of a sport-utility vehicle.
Trouble is, it's the model of one circa George W. Bush's second term, not one of the present day. Compared with the modern amenities and new technologies found in its more modern competitors, the big Toyota has little to distinguish itself. The Land Cruiser may be able to coast on its legend; its arboreal-named relative has no such luck. Left to stand on its own virtues, this Sequoia can't poke its head above the forest of other SUVs out there today.
That said, there are oodles of clean 2015 and 2016 model year Sequoias for half the price of this one with four-wheel-drive and less than 50,000 miles out there. That's still basically new in Toyota years, right?