Sometimes, new and improved isn’t—improved, that is.
The 2020 Toyota Sequoia isn’t new, but that’s because it doesn’t need much improvement. Toyota has been selling it the same way since 2008 because it sells.
You don’t risk improving on that.
What It Is
The Sequoia is Toyota’s full-size SUV, with three rows of seats, body-on-frame construction, and a standard V8 that’s more powerful than the smaller V8 that comes standard in newer rivals like the Chevy Tahoe and the twin-turbo V6 that comes standard in rivals like the Ford Expedition.
It also doesn’t use much more gas than the “new and improved,” either, though you wouldn’t know that unless you actually checked the specs because most of the car press says otherwise.
Prices start at $49,980 for the base SR5 trim, which, like all Sequoia trims, comes with a 381 horsepower 5.7-liter V8 (vs. the 355 hp 5.3-liter V8 that’s standard in the Tahoe and the 3.5-liter hp V6 that’s the only engine available in the Expedition).
All trims except the off-road-intended TRD Pro can be purchased in 2WD (ear-drive) or with a part-time four-wheel-drive system that lets you select which wheels are powered and when—another thing that the Sequoia has that hasn’t been improved by making it full-time four-wheel-drive.
A top of the line Platinum 4WD trim includes a load-leveling suspension and power-folding third-row and stickers for $69,245.
The TRD Pro gets Fox heavy-duty off-road shocks, beefier front and rear sway bars, running boards, and a tubular roof rack coated with the same no-slip material used for the bedliner in the Tundra pick-up (which is the Sequoia’s sheetrock-carrying fraternal twin). It also has a pair of Rigid LED fog lights built into the far corners of the front bumper, plus M/S tires, special trim, and just shy of 10 inches of ground clearance.
Toyota hasn’t improved what doesn’t need to be improved.
Strongest standard engine in the segment.
Much more cargo room than others in the segment.
What’s Not So Good
The tow rating isn’t as high as the Tahoe’s.
Costs about $3k more to start than the Tahoe.
Could use a larger gas tank.
Under The Hood
All Sequoias come standard with the same 5.7-liter V8 that Sequoias have been coming with since 2008.
It makes a class-highest 381 horsepower without resorting to a turbo and without direct-injection, a form of fuel injection that’s new and improved. Still, it doesn’t provide much improvement if the measure of that is power or mileage.
The Tundra’s mileage is a little lower than its direct-injected (and turbocharged) rivals.
The 4WD version carries an EPA rating of 13 city, 17 highway as contrasted with the less powerful Tahoe’s 5.3-liter, 355 hp V8, which rates 15 city, 22 highway. The much smaller (and much more complex) Expedition’s 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 rates 17 city, 22 highway.
When you factor in the Expedition’s much higher price, $52,810 to start, and the Tahoe’s likely higher down-the-road maintenance costs (due to its V8 being direct-injected), that 2-5 MPG difference doesn’t seem like much of an improvement.
It’s certainly not much of a difference.
A six-speed automatic is standard vs. the new and improved eight and ten-speed automatics in the competition.
Also available is part-time 4WD.
Unlike the new and improved, you can drive a 4WD Sequoia in 2WD engaging the 4WD as you like—as needed. In rivals, the 4WD is engaged automatically—as the computer likes.
There is a reason not to like this. The first has to do with the loss of control over the 4WD system. Part of the enjoyment of owning a 4×4 is being able to decide when to 4×4. There is another reason to like the part-time system: Wear and tear, of which there will likely be less if you use the 4WD less often. There is also the potential for the problem of the automatic 4WD system coming on when it doesn’t need to be and not coming on when you need it to be.
There’s also no automatic stop/start system (ASS) in the Sequoia, so the engine doesn’t shut off until you shut it off.
Toyota decided that didn’t need improving, either.
On The Road
The big V8 not only has power, but it also has sound. On this score, there is no replacement for displacement irrespective of appetite. Nothing else sounds like a big V8, no matter how powerful, and a big V8 is arguable as vital to a big 4×4 SUV’s appeal as cheese on nachos.
It also doesn’t tick, which DI engines do. This is why DI engines are muffled under plastic covers, which make it hard to see them or work on them.
Interestingly, because it’s far from being the newest kid on the block, the Sequoia has a tighter turning circle (38.1 feet) than the new and improved Tahoe (39 feet) and a much tighter turning circle than the Expedition (41 feet).
This is no small difference when attempting to U-turn (or park) a vehicle that is 205.1 inches long (which is not as long as the wider-turning-circle Expedition at 210 inches long).
The Sequoia’s body on frame construction isolates you from the road because the frame is isolated from the body by half a dozen rubber biscuits in between the body and the frame. These act as mini-shock absorbers in addition to the shock absorbers at the wheels that control the oscillations of the Sequoia itself.
There is a masculine, rugged feel to this steel-bodied Toyota that’s lacking in its rivals, which have been new-and-improved to feel more agreeable to suburbanites who use them mostly for kid-carrying and grocery shopping. Both the Tahoe and the Expedition have larger LCD touchscreens, for instance, and these have been given more pride of place on the dashboard, as in cars and crossover SUVs based on cars, which give them a more car-like feel.
Toyota upgraded its apps for the 2020 model year, but the touchscreen itself is still a peripheral, way off to the right of the driver. But this is compensated for by easier to reach and easier to use knobs and buttons to control primary functions such as radio volume/station and the HVAC system/fan speed as well as secondary functions like the degree of heat you’d like for the seats.
Instead of tap and swipe or buttons with no nuance, there are thumbwheels that allow fine-tuning of the warmth by feel without needing to take your eyes off the road.
People who prefer meaty will also appreciate the Sequoia’s man-sized console-mounted gear selector, offset toward the driver vs. the Tahoe’s steering-wheel-mounted stalk and the Expedition’s rotary knob.
One small thing that could use improving is the Sequoia’s gas tank, which holds 26 gallons. If it had a 30-gallon tank, it would have more range on a tank than its slightly more efficient rivals—a much simpler way to address “concerns” over mileage than resorting to DI and downsized engines upsized by turbos.
At The Curb
The Sequoia’s styling, which is rounder and smoother than its more angularly styled rivals, is a subjective plus or minus depending on what appeals to you.
The packaging is an objective plus.
All the SUVs in the full-size class offer three rows of seats, but the Sequoia has more space behind its third set of sets (18.9 cubic feet of cargo space) than the Tahoe (15.3 cubic feet) and much more total space (120.1 cubic feet), than either the Tahoe (94.7 cubic feet) or the Expedition (104.6 cubic feet).
Note that the Tahoe, which is slightly longer overall, only has 94.7 cubic feet of total cargo-carrying capacity with its first and second rows folded.
There is also more hidden storage capacity in this Toyota, including hidden-lidded compartments built into the door panels and a stash place in the center console, adjacent to the gear shifter, which is covered by a panel that doesn’t appear to be covering anything. It’s an ideal place to store a pistol or wallet out of sight.
There are three USB ports built into the forward part of the console—a nod to modern realities about plug-in accessories. There is also a 12V power point, something getting hard to find in many of the new and improved vehicles, which is a problem if you need to plug in a 12V accessory like a radar detector.
In the Sequoia, you can.
One of the few functional deficits of this Sequoia is its maximum tow rating, which ranges from 7,000-7,400 lbs., depending on the configuration. This is significantly less rated capacity than the Tahoe, which Chevy says can pull as much as 8,400 lbs.
On the other hand, Ford claims only 6,400 lbs. for the Expedition, which isn’t far removed from what many crossover SUVs can tow.
Probably, all of these ‘utes can tow more than their ratings given which trucks they are based on and their tow ratings. The Tundra, for instance, is rated to tow more than 10,000 lbs. and the Tundra and Sequoia are largely the same rig—the latter with a body covering the former’s bed.
The main sell here is arguable that the Sequoia is the oldest new SUV of its type on the market.
With the new and improved, you’re always taking a risk because there’s no track record.
How will the Tahoe’s direct-injected engine and ten-speed transmission hold up over the next 12 years? How will the Expedition’s twice-turbo’d V6 and ten-speed transmission hold up over the same period?
We have a good idea of how well the Sequoia’s V8 (and the rest of it) will hold up over the next 12 years because we can refer to the previous 12 years.
The 2020 Sequoia has been on the market since 2008, and if it had any design weak points, they’d be known by now.
They’re not known, so you can rest easy about not taking much risk.
And you can avoid some of the known annoyances of the new and improved, especially ASS.
PS: Some inside baseball. The 2021 Sequoia will mostly be the same as the ’20 with the exception of a new Nightshade package.
God bless them.
The Bottom Line
If the Sequoia needed improvement, Toyota would have.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books and reviewing cars and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.