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2008 Toyota Sequoia Misses the Mark

Among the newer products in Toyota’s lineup is the Sequoia, updated for 2008 model year. The truck has scored well with owners, winning both AutoPacific’s 2008 Vehicle Satisfaction and Motorist Choice Awards. Recently, we found a chance to see what all the fuss is about.


It’s often tough to knock a Toyota. They typically live up to the reputation they’ve earned as top-notch appliances you can rely on, even if they cost you a little more up front. Sometimes there is a notable lack of passion, being addressed by more adventurous styling as time goes on. Though everyone knows the customer is always right, we were not as impressed as Sequoia’s owners.

In giving their SUV high enough marks to win the Motorist Choice award, Sequoia owners praised the behemoth’s build and value reputation, seat comfort, interior storage, and interior build materials. The SUV also saw high scores for power, braking, handling and fun-to-drive attributes contributing to the Vehicle Satisfaction award.


Very much looking the part of a tough SUV, though the standard eighteen-inch wheels look a little small, the Sequoia has been improved, and nearing the size of the Chevrolet Tahoe is right. But we found the Sequoia’s expansive dash hard to reach and use. Though Toyota revised the interior with the goal of improving ease of use, the reach for navigation and radio controls still required me to lean too far. And while the interior is of durable materials and well built, much of it is hard and unfriendly to the touch.

Handling is improved with independent front and rear suspensions, but the ride felt as stiff, bouncy, and trucky as Chevrolet or Ford examples did at the turn of this century. The latest domestic full-size SUVs acknowledge that buyers have grown more sophisticated and expect their trucks to feel like trucks, but not as a punishment. Driving our unladen Sequoia was too rough and tumble; perhaps with more passengers, cargo, or in a towing situation, it may even out. Also, our SR5 4×4 was not equipped with the optional active variable suspension, another tool which may have soothed this beast. We tested a 4×4 SR5 with the 381HP 5.7L V8. The V8 was up to the task, but its performance would lead us to expect the 276HP 4.7L might feel inadequate moving this mass.
The Sequoia’s seats are comfortable, even if the ride is not, and power-folding third-row seats are high wish lists for full-size SUV buyers. Our Sequoia had the latest Toyota navigation system (no iPod/USB connection or music hard-drive system is available), a rear-view parking camera, and front and rear parking sonars. Our Sequoia was also outfitted with optional (and very useful) running boards.

Sequoia also takes a bigger bite out of the wallet than the domestics, and without as many incentives to help reduce the transaction price. Beyond the SR5, Toyota offers Limited and Platinum trim levels. The Platinum trim starts at around $57,000, though there isn’t much to add. Goosing the bottom line for our SR5 from about $39,000 to $47,500 was a $3100 leather package and $2980 for the touch-screen navigation system (bundled with upgraded speakers), and lesser amounts for standalone options including a roof rack, the running boards, tow prep package, and floor mats. Among the items missing for this $47,500 price was an autodimming rear view mirror and Homelink.
Unfortunately for Toyota, though perhaps with less dire consequences than Ford and Dodge launching F-150 and Ram in fall 2008, the latest Sequoia arrived at just about the wrong time. It went on sale in December 2007, as large SUV sales really began collapsing. Large SUVs will remain an important part of the market for the foreseeable future, but Ford and GM do it better than Toyota does. Chrysler’s Aspen and Dodge’s Durango are a little smaller, but ride better than the Toyota. In a shrinking large SUV market, the payoff for going after these buyers might be harder to find for secondary players like Toyota.

Despite owner satisfaction, fuel costs and a slowing economy have caused Toyota a tough time finding enough buyers, even more than the superiority of the General Motors and Ford products. In August, Sequoia (and Tundra) production was suspended, expected to resume in November 2008. Cutting production is a better building too many, but still a significant and costly decision.
In the end, the customer is always right, and Sequoia buyers are happy. But with the economic and financial headwinds, will Toyota be able to find enough buyers?

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