2001 Toyota Sequoia

    Expanding the SUV Line

    Jon ThompsonPhotographer, Writer

    There was a time when Giant Sequoias were thought to be confined to the forests of California, but now Toyota has its own breed. Toyota’s 2001 Sequoia is a new SUV sized to go head-to-head with Ford’s successful Expedition, and designed and equipped to go Expedition, Tahoe, and all the rest, one better.

    The Sequoia is a piece of a six-part puzzle that will, when completed, allow Toyota to compete in all areas of the 4x4 and SUV market. The six pieces? Count ’em: RAV4, Tacoma, 4Runner, Land Cruiser, Sequoia, and next year, Highlander, the midsize all-wheel-drive SUV built on the Camry platform.

    We got a preliminary look at the Sequoia in the September 2000 issue of Four Wheeler. That look revealed it as being in the same ballpark as both the Expedition and the Tahoe/Yukon in terms of size. It is based on the chassis of the very successful Tundra pickup, and is being built alongside the Tundra at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Indiana. This fully equipped senior-sized SUV is powered by Toyota’s ultra-low-emission 240hp iForce V-8, a nicely refined 32-valve DOHC powerplant that is bolted to the same four-speed auto-overdrive transmission used in the Tundra.

    The engine is almost identical to that of the Tundra, and pulls well for its size, though like the Tundra, it seems to sacrifice low-rpm torque for high-rpm horsepower. Our first drive was at 7,500 feet of elevation, where Toyota said up to 25 percent of the engine’s power was lost to altitude and thin air. So we’ll be able to tell you more about this when we obtain a test unit here in California and can conduct performance testing. However, we did drive the Sequoia up a six-mile-long grade, at altitude, with eight—count ’em—adult males in it. It pulled hard, in spite of its claimed 5,270-pound curb weight, and accelerated briskly until we were traveling as quickly as we wanted to be.

    Though Toyota expects 45 percent of Sequoia production to be devoted to 4x2 Sequoias, it’s in the 4x4 versions of the vehicle, which offer a 6,200-pound towing capacity, a transfer case with a 2.566:1 low-range, and a locking center differential, where things get interesting. That’s because of the Tundra’s very sophisticated Active Traction Control A-TRAC) system. A-TRAC helps maintain traction by applying braking force to a spinning wheel. Other systems do that, but not many of them work as well as Toyota’s system does. Indeed, the system works so well that the Sequoia pilot is tempted to question who’s driving this truck—himself or the computer?

    With both the A-TRAC system and the center locker turned off, it’s easy to stick the Sequoia, because in that condition it’s essentially a two-wheel-drive vehicle—one in the front, one in the rear—without a whole lot of articulation. But turn the A-TRAC system on and the computer does a very credible job of applying power to the wheels most able to use it. To use the system to full benefit, however, is counterintuitive, at least at first. Here’s why: When we apply enough throttle to provide tire spin, most of us would lift, or we might apply a little brake at the same time. With this system you stay on the gas. The system quickly will sense which tires are spinning and direct torque to tires with more bite. Modulating the brake as so many wheelers have learned to do actually defeats the system.

    Our first impression, gathered while driving the vehicle through the rough country of the Big Sky ski area in Montana, is that this system works very well. Better, even, than we might like to admit. With it, a thoughtful novice probably will be able to go many places that you might have thought were closed to all but those who knew the secret four-wheeling handshake.

    This system is operated by a 32-bit computer (the Tundra’s is a 16-bit version) that controls many of the Sequoia’s functions. One of them is Toyota’s Vehicle Skid Control (VHC), which interprets signals from a yaw sensor to apply braking power to the wheel that most needs it to help straighten the vehicle out during an oversteer condition. Application of this braking force is accompanied by an audible signal that, for us, just helped to confuse the issue. Who needs a warning when you’re looking at the road approaching through your side window? Our initial impression is that the Sequoia’s rear steps out too far before the system kicks in and the signal starts hollering. Interestingly, it seemed to us to work best when the driver steers normally and lets the system work to counter the slide, instead of trying to drive out of the skid.

    Though the Sequoia has a claimed 10.6 inches of ground clearance, its suspension system (double-A arm with coil springs and gas-pressure shocks up front, and a five-link beam axle on coil springs in the rear) has limited suspension travel. That translates to limited articulation. What travel is there, however, is very well controlled, as Toyota’s engineers seem to have done well with Sequoia’s spring and shock values. As a result, the Sequoia provides a very smooth and serene road ride, with very well controlled movement over rough ground. Indeed, it’s easy to push this behemoth faster than you might think over rough roads.

    Sequoia’s brakes, which offer ABS as expected, use four-piston calipers up front with ventilated discs front and rear. They’re very powerful and easy to modulate. The ABS even seems to work well on slippery surfaces. If there’s a place where there’s too much power for our tastes, it’s in the steering, which is over-assisted, with too little on-center feel.

    One area we think needs improvement concerns the seats, which offer no lateral support on the backs or bottoms, so there’s nothing to help you remain positioned in your otherwise very luxurious throne. It seemed to us that the Tundra’s seats are better in this respect.

    Still, the Sequoia is a very comfortable, very capable ride, its seats notwithstanding, and it’s pleasant to travel in. As we did, touring Yellowstone National Park one afternoon in an all-out blitz to find buffalo and bear.

    During this tour we found that the Sequoia doesn’t drive as big as it is. How big is it? Big. Park it next to a passenger car and see. But it’s three inches less tall than the Excursion because Toyota thinks it’s important that these vehicles fit into most garages.

    It’s our suspicion that the Sequoia will land smack in the middle of the party presently being enjoyed by Ford Excursion and GM’s Tahoe/Yukon. And we suspect that Toyota will place plenty of Sequoias, available in SR5 and upmarket Limited trim, in garages everywhere.

    Climb the Sequoia If:

    •Size matters

    •You’ve got lots of people to haul

    •You like what Toyota does with its cars

    •You’re interested in its computer controls

    Chop It From Your List If:

    •Size matters

    •There are just two of you

    •The fuel economy ratings scare you

    •You don’t like computer-controlled driving