2005 Toyota Sequoia SUV - Review / Road Test

Standing tall amid the giants

Out of the 1,000-or-so miles covered in Toyota's gargantuan  Sequoia SUV, it must be said that only about 100 were driven on roads that could truly test its prodigious off-roading abilities - i.e., not freeways.

But when those 100 miles were spent roaming in the Sequoia National Park, it seems somehow a more impressive achievement.

And as most of these vehicles sold in California will be bought within the greater Los Angeles area, it is questionable whether the average motorist will cover that amount of parkland in several years of driving the Sequoia.

Sequoia meets Sequoia at the park entrance

More about the off-roading later, first to the enjoyable and quiet 500-odd mile round trip for a weekend camping in the national park, setting off at the somewhat-unreasonably early hour of 7am.

Admittedly, we were supposed to leave at 5am, but that idea got jacked with a swift reach to switch off the alarm clock. The park's river trout could wait, at least for another hour or two.

The Sequoia performed admirably on pretty much empty freeways, its smooth ride helped by the nifty switch which allows you to adjust the height, and therefore the tautness, of the vehicle's independent coil-link suspension.

Its huge torque - 314lb @3,400rpm - and its 4.7-liter I-Force 32-valve V8 engine, with 273hp on tap, made for some serious acceleration up to the summit of the 5 Freeway en route to the park, while its electronic brake-force distribution system and traction/stability controls did their job by safely stopping this 5,200lb beast on the way down.

Fuel consumption, at 15mpg in town and 18mpg highway, is slightly better than average for this uber-class of SUVs, which includes the Chevvy Tahoe and Ford Expedition.

The Toyota blended well with its natural environment

Inside the cabin was comfortable, with an almost laughable amount of space - it carries seven passengers - for just the two of us and our camping gear.

Head-room alone was 41 inches, while the vehicle's 78-inch width gave plenty room to stretch out elbows, with three adults able to sit comfortably side by side in the back two rows of seats, which are fully, and easily, adjustable.

Power seats gave support to the high-driving position behind the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. The six-CD changer is standard and impressive for its class, alongside ten cupholders that held secure 1.5-liter water bottles on bumpy roads.

And most importantly for me: though the car boasts a class-leading five-star rating for safety, it does not sound all manner of warning bleeps that give you an instant headache - this was early morning, remember - when you do something its computer disagrees with.

On the subject of potential minor annoyances, it must be said that the keyless entry system worked flawlessly in my occasionally incapable hands.

Trim levels were impressive on the luxurious yet practical SUV

Trim level was high, as expected in the SRS model, which starts at $36,305. Extras on the test model, on top of the standard 16" rims and keyless entry, include fog lamps and heated front seats under one of three "combo" options, taking the total value to just over $40,000.

The standard but still well-equipped 4x2 version starts at just $32,8250, which still gets you a lot of car for your money. The Limited Edition model, which boasts sat-nav, leather inside and slide-and-tilt moonroof, starts at a shade over $45,000.

The Sequoia proved exceptionally suited to camping

But the Sequoia excels in its natural environment, where it proved invaluable in traversing the twisting, narrow roads of the Sequoia National Park. Though the dry late-summer conditions were perfect for hiking and fishing - fresh river-caught rainbow trout for breakfast, anyone? - I almost wished for the harsh climate of winter to fully test the Sequoia's ability on ice and snow.

But judging by the capability of Toyota's Land Cruisers that I ragged around on isolated Bolivian salt-flats last year, you can safely say that trouble-free off-roading is a Toyota speciality.

Its massive towing capacity - the Sequoia can easily tow over 6,000lb - would also have come in handy for towing a trailer-tent or boat, though this too was not tested.

At Portwhisha campsite

Perhaps this car - and indeed the trip - is best summed up by Toyota's promotional blurb: "The adventure may begin at your destination, but your vacation starts in the Sequoia (national park or otherwise)".

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