Santa Ynez, CA – It’s been over a dozen years since Sideways hit theaters, and almost that long for me to fully embrace Pinot Noir. With a long holiday weekend in and around Solvang, California, it’s easy to remember the movie and, behind the wheel of Toyota’s Sequoia, be thinking of a sequel.
In Sideways, Miles and Jack (played by actors Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church, respectively) tour the Santa Ynez Valley in an older Saab convertible. With five adults and a 4-year old, we grabbed Toyota’s 3-row Sequoia. In political terms, the contrast between Saab and Sequoia is roughly the same as between Ted Kennedy and Ted Cruz; in short, they share nothing. But if you had put both senators in and around Solvang, they could at least share Solvang. And in the absence of Saab’s 900 (RIP), that’s what we did.
First introduced in 2000, and redesigned for the 2008 model year, there’s obvious aging in the Toyota SUV. The good news? The Sequoia, based to a large degree on Toyota’s Tundra platform, started out as a competent, body-on-frame SUV, and hasn’t lost any of that. We’ve never embraced its size or almost 3-ton weight, but then, prior to the last four years we’ve not factored a grandson or son-in-law into our vacation planning. With that, a 3-row is suddenly not only viable, but preferable. And if towing where you’re going, the Sequoia provides so much more capability than 3-row crossovers, which include Toyota’s own Highlander or Mazda’s CX-9.
Outside, the Sequoia team chose anonymity over animosity; this is one relatively non-descript design, and given some of the stylistic excesses seen on Toyota’s upmarket Lexus (the GX 460 is to die – I mean die – for), we’re OK with non-descript. With a 3rd row offering adult-type seating, it doesn’t lack for flexibility, although if carrying six adults and ALL of their stuff you will still opt for a Thule or Yakima roof-mounted topper. We split the hauling duties between the Sequoia and my daughter’s Prius, ending up with plenty of room – and an estimated 28 miles per gallon! (That’s 40 miles per gallon for the Prius, roughly 16 for the Sequoia.)
Loaded in its 4X4 Platinum spec, our test Sequoia – with an MSRP of almost $69K – was missing little. Leather-covered seats were both ample and supportive, the dash proved informative, and access to the third row was both relatively intuitive and easy. We were surprised – given its spec – by the lack of keyless entry, and would hope the shift lever had felt more positive and less ‘plastic’, but as these things go – and given the age of the platform – we were left impressed by what Toyota offers here. And from behind the wheel, the Sequoia footprint seems just about right, without being so prohibitively massive it takes three attempts to nail one parking spot. In the absence of math it seems a little longer than Chevy’s Tahoe, but also a titch more narrow; in short, just about right for the intended mission.
Under the hood is the Tundra’s 5.7 liter V8, delivering 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels (rear-wheel drive is standard) via a 6-speed automatic. Acceleration is linear, and the Sequoia’s ability to cruise is what you’d hope it would be. The shock absorbers – via the Platinum’s electronically modulated(!) air suspension – offer three modes: comfort, normal and sport. Depending on where we were, the three offered about what you’d expect their descriptions to deliver. The sport setting was definitely more firm and better controlled in the twisties in and around Solvang, but we never got sideways…if you catch my drift.
Sequoia prices range from a low of $48K to our as-tested $69K; be prepared to pay at least $800 per month on a 60-month loan. If we were building one we’d probably opt for a TRD or Limited trim, which would keep that window under $60K. Or I’d shop for a late-model, pre-owned Sequoia or used Land Cruiser. With its Sequoia, Toyota is offering a 20-year truck. If someone else wants to use it for the first few years, I wouldn’t mind…