BIG SKY, Mont. - The behemoth sport-utility segment, owned by General Motors and Ford Motor Co., has a swaggering new entrant.
The 2001 Toyota Sequoia will be the first - but not the last - Japanese sport-utility to feature a V-8 engine with an ultra-low-emissions vehicle rating, independent front and rear suspensions, seating for eight and optional side airbags.
At the press introduction here, Sequoia chief engineer Kaoru Hosokawa admitted that Toyota aimed the Sequoia squarely at the Ford Expedition to fill a gaping hole in Toyota's lineup.
'Suburban was much larger, and really in a different segment. Tahoe was close, but at the time, it did not yet offer a third rear seat. Expedition was the best seller, because it hit the target so accurately. Our goal was to build a bull's-eye,' Hosokawa said.
Although a template of the Sequoia could be laid on top of the Expedition with few noticing a difference, Toyota made the Sequoia 3 inches lower to make garage access easier.
Toyota used the Tundra pickup as the basis for the Sequoia, including a nearly identical structure from the B-pillar forward. But there are some changes.
The new truck uses the Tundra's V-8 engine, but Toyota upgraded the engine management system to 32-bit from 16-bit, and it redesigned the catalytic converter and exhaust pipe layout. In addition to making the engine cleaner burning, the changes give the Sequoia 14 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway.
The Sequoia is available in two-wheel and four-wheel drive. The four-wheel-drive system, activated with a switch on the instrument panel, features a lockable center differential that is based on the same Teves parts used in the Mercedes-Benz M class, Hosokawa said.
In addition to that off-road technology, Toyota has modified its antilock braking system to offer traction control and vehicle skid control as standard features.
Toyota made some concessions to highway smoothness, especially in its choice of suspensions. Rather than go with solid axles, which have the best off-road ability but little comfort, Toyota went with independent suspension setups.
In front, Sequoia has double wishbones with coil springs and a stabilizer bar. In back, a five-link setup also has a stabilizer bar.
ROOM FOR A COUCH
Toyota claims that the Sequoia's suspension, combined with its rigid chassis, results in less bounce, pitch and roll than the Expedition.
Inside, Toyota made sure there was plenty of cargo space. The rearmost seats weigh 52 pounds each and can be lifted out. The middle-row seats tumble forward. A reporter was able to fit a three-cushioned couch (72 inches by 36 inches by 33 inches) inside the Sequoia and easily close the rear liftgate.
Standard features include cruise control; AM/FM/CD stereo; auto-off headlights; power mirrors, locks and windows; retractable hatch window; anti-theft system with engine immobilizer; automatic climate control; and 10 cupholders. The only transmission offered is a four-speed automatic.
Prices range from $31,295 for the base two-wheel SR5 model to $42,755 for the top-of-the-line four-wheel Limited. All prices include $480 for shipping.
Toyota expects to sell 60,000 Sequoias annually in the United States and Canada. The Sequoia went on sale Sept. 1.