2023 Toyota Sequoia First Drive Review: For The Real Ones

The state of the new car market is exceptionally strange at the moment. Manufacturers are selling out of nearly every model they make trying to meet increased customer demand while also battling supply constraints. These conditions make the perfect storm for an automaker to drop a new SUV like the 2023 Toyota Sequoia.

Considering that context, I have no doubt that Toyota will sell every single new Sequoia that it makes – at least in the early years of its life. According to the company, there are already over 100,000 current owners who have “raised their hands”, indicating that they would like to upgrade. Fifteen years of waiting is a great way to build up hype, apparently.

After spending a day with the new SUV around the greater Dallas area, the Sequoia-loving faithful should find this new model a solid replacement. But for the casual shopper looking across the segment, there’s more to consider.

Gallery: 2023 Toyota Sequoia: First Drive Review








Clean Sheet Design

The new Sequoia builds on the same recipe that’s made it a staple in the lineup. This SUV still uses a body-on-frame configuration and shares its modular platform with the Tundra full-size truck. Toyota also took the optional I-Force Max hybrid powertrain from the Tundra and made it standard equipment in the Sequoia. Doing so means improved off-road, towing, and efficiency when compared to the old model.

Gone is the pedestrian, mid-2000s design language in favor of a more modern, tougher look. With headlights and a hood shared with the Tundra, the Sequoia’s style is handsome and has the truck-like vibes that people love on their SUVs. The rear three-quarter angle is a bit too lifted-Sienna for my taste, but that’s nothing more than a personal qualm. This SUV looks better than ever.

It’s bigger, too. The Sequoia is longer by 3.0 inches, despite having the same wheelbase as before. However, the Toyota is still slightly smaller than both the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition, so if either of those can fit in your garage, so can this. But even with a larger footprint, Sequoia’s interior doesn’t benefit.

Impractical Inside

The look and feel of this interior is a huge step up, with materials that feel on par with and as durable as its American rivals. But quality is not the problem – space is.

Because of the hybrid system that sits beneath the second and third rows, Toyota was at a disadvantage with packaging. The middle chairs don’t slide backward or forward, so passengers are limited to just 39.2 inches of legroom, three inches less than in a Tahoe. Additionally, the panoramic sunroof’s blind sits in a bump in the ceiling right above your head, so headroom feels super tight.

Toyota brags about its segment-first sliding third row, which lets you choose between legroom and cargo space. If only one of those is necessary, then things are ok. Load the Sequoia up with people, though, and you’ll sacrifice nearly all of the cargo space just making the third row usable for your passengers. With those seats pushed all the way back, there’s just 11.5 cubic feet of cargo space. The Tahoe has more than double that. And unlike the Chevy, the Sequoia’s third row doesn’t fold flat into the floor, so loading groceries into the back is more difficult.

Part of the problem lies in the 2023 Sequoia’s new live rear axle. In contrast to its independently sprung predecessor (and the likes of the Tahoe and Expedition), the log out back gives the Sequoia a higher rear floor that saps both cargo space and passenger room. It’s a disappointing step backward that allows the Sequoia to share more parts with the hybridized Tundra at the expense of cabin room (and driving dynamics).

It’s hard to overstate how much Toyota has upped the game.

At least the tech is completely revised, distracting from the cramped interior. The Sequoia gets all-new infotainment: a 14.0-inch touchscreen – available on every trim level – complemented by a digital gauge cluster and optional head-up display. Having used this new setup in several Toyota/Lexus products by now, it’s hard to overstate how much Toyota has upped the game. And if you don’t want to use the native system, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are at your service.

Testing The Tundra Connection

For a family vehicle like this, driving a few hours with only the front seats occupied is hardly scratching the surface. But even in this limited environment, the Sequoia showed us a mixed bag with how it handles the road.

Powering every new Sequoia is a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 with a 1.9-kilowatt-hour battery pack and a 36-kilowatt electric motor. Toyota calls this new hybrid powertrain I-Force Max. It’s down on cylinders and up on electric capacity compared to the old Tundra’s 5.7-liter mill, but the engineers manipulated the soundtrack (with the help of the JBL speakers) to make the V6 sound like a V8 – and it actually worked.

The bigger benefits of dropping the V8 in favor of turbos and electrons are improved power and efficiency. With 437 horsepower and 583 pound-feet, the Sequoia is right in line with the Tahoe (420 hp) and Expedition (440 hp). The EPA has yet to certify the official fuel economy numbers, but the 19 miles per gallon combined that I observed in mixed driving conditions is on the better end of what this segment can do. All of that torque also means serious towing capability. The Sequoia can handle up to 9,500 lbs, a number that outdoes the Expedition and Tahoe, but trails the Jeep Wagoneer by 350 lbs.

I was impressed by the Tundra’s road manners when I drove it just a few months ago and expected most of that to translate to the Sequoia. Just like in the truck, the hybrid powertrain really is the best thing about how the Sequoia drives. With 6,100 pounds to push around, the I-Force Max barely felt put to use getting on the highway. Later on, a construction zone came into play bringing our average speed to less than 10 miles per hour. In this scenario, the engine would turn on and off almost imperceptibly.

The Sequoia can tow up to 9,500 lbs, a number that outdoes the Expedition and Tahoe, but trails the Jeep Wagoneer by 350 lbs.

Toyota claims its engineers tuned out the Sequoia’s truck-based roots in pursuit of an SUV-like drive experience by reducing the weight of the steering. In the process, though, some of the Tundra’s impressive on-road stability was lost. The Sequoia’s steering feels somewhat frantic at high speeds and not very connected to the road as a result, requiring annoying maintenance inputs to keep the car straight on the highway.

The version I drove was an early prototype, so it is possible that tweaks can be made between now and the start of production. We’ll follow up after getting another example for an in-depth review, but the Sequoia’s entry into the segment begs for a comparison test with its rivals.

Is New Enough?

Part of what makes this a great Sequoia is the variety it offers with different trim levels. The base spec SR5 starts at $59,795 (including a $1,495 destination charge) with two-wheel drive, and things go up quite a bit from there. Next is Limited at $66,195, Platinum at $72,395, and Capstone at $76,795. Four-wheel-drive is a $3,000 option atop any of those models. The TRD Pro is the most expensive at $78,395 but comes with four-wheel drive as standard.

Equipped with its standard 5.3-liter V8, the Chevrolet Tahoe starts at $53,695 including the destination charge. That undercuts the Sequoia by a few thousand dollars, but it’s also down by roughly 80 horsepower. A more comparable 6.2-liter V8–powered Tahoe starts at $66,510 which is right in line with the Sequoia Limited.

With standard hybrid power, an overhauled tech suite, and impressive towing capability, Toyota has done more than enough to refresh the Sequoia nameplate. Unfortunately, the compromises on space and practicality prevent this SUV from being a slam-dunk favorite in the segment. That said, a good Sequoia might be all that Toyota needs to thrive in this market.

Sequoia Competitor Reviews:

  • Chevrolet Tahoe: 7.4 / 10
  • Ford Expedition: 7.7 / 10
  • GMC Yukon: 7.6 / 10
  • Jeep Wagoneer: 8.0 / 10
  • Nissan Armada: 7.2 / 10

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