DURHAM, N.C. In the era of SUV madness, bigger was better. Unfortunately for Toyota, its Sequoia was too weak and too small to compete properly in the full-sized SUV segment.
For 2008, however, the Sequoia has grown up in size and in whats under the hood.
The basics: From the front bumper to the B-pillar, the Sequoia is a structural twin of the Tundra pickup. Towing capacity leaps from 6,500 pounds to 10,000 because of the tow hitch's integration with the frame member.
That tow rating applies to the carryover 4.7-liter V-8 engine as well as the newly optional 5.7-liter V-8, which offers 401 pounds-feet of torque. The big V-8 is teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission. The small V-8 comes with a five-speed.
The front double-wishbone suspension is mostly a carryover. A rear double-wishbone design replaces the live axle of the previous version.
Notable features: In lengthening the wheelbase by four inches, Toyota created a third-row seat that is practical and accessible for adults. The rear door swings 77 degrees wide. The wheel arch boundary is narrower, easing entrance and exit. The third-row seats have power fold up-down buttons in two locations.
The second-row seats both slide and recline, and have a one-touch feature for getting into the third row. The center seat also can slide forward, so a front-row occupant can tend more easily to a baby in a child seat.
With the seats down, cargo room is impressive. With the back two rows folded flat, a 7-foot-long object will fit. Knocking the front passenger seat down accommodates an 11-foot object.
Standard safety features include side-curtain airbags for all three rows, antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution, traction control and stability control, and an automatic limited-slip differential.
Given how wide the SUV is, the Sequoias turning circle is a nimble 39 feet several feet smaller than Detroit 3 competitors.
What Toyota says: Everything about the new Sequoia was based on achieving the ultimate statement in long-distance transportation, Sequoia chief engineer Motoharu Arayasaid at the media introduction here.
Our goal was to create a vehicle capable of delivering top-level comfort, quiet and convenience, and effortless functionality over a long distance.
Compromises and shortcomings: The Sequoias shared parts with the Tundra include many interior bits and pieces. Some of them are acceptably cheap and plasticky in a pickup, but have no business in a SUV that approaches $50,000 fully loaded.
The market: Toyota has sold more than 370,000 Sequoias since the SUV launched seven years ago. But the market has plummeted: The peak U.S. sales year for large SUVs was 2001, at 786,484 units. Last year, that market dropped to 529,695 units. Yet Toyota still expects the Sequoias sales volume to grow over its predecessor.
Toyotas goal of 65,000 annual sales for the Sequoia would double its market share, said Brian Smith, Toyotas corporate manager of truck and SUV operations. Toyota dealers will see higher transaction prices, as the company forecasts 90 percent of buyers will choose the big 5.7-liter V-8.
The skinny: The Sequoia was too small when buyers wanted big. But with oil pushing $100 a barrel, has Toyota gone too big? Executives think customers will always need a big SUV to haul their boat, motorcycles or horses. Toyota has a tough task in stealing share from the segments domestic leaders.