The new and improved Toyota Sequoia still needs work.
2023 Toyota Sequoia Platinum review with The Road Beat
Words and picture by Mitchell Weitzman
I'm admittedly not all that won over by the new Sequoia. Having previously tried the range-topping Capstone variety of this newly redesigned SUV, I was not impressed by the overpriced lack of quality on offer. This Platinum, however, is only a solitary $1,000 less, which really begs the question, "Why even bother?" There are a few options on this, like the air suspension and power running boards that bring the price up by $5k, but you might as well just go all out for the Capstone at this point and at least have the bragging rights. Despite being a superior vehicle to the one it replaces, I still don't think the new Sequoia does enough to properly challenge its rivals from the big American brands.
Powering this gargantuan box is a 3.4L twin-turbo and hybridized V6, replacing the stalwart and beloved 5.7L V8 found in past iterations. Output and torque certainly rise across the board, and is among the most powerful proper SUVs currently available, with 437 horsepower and 583 lbs-ft of torque. Towing is plentiful as expected, with this model good for a substantial 9,100 pounds. 0-60 MPH requires a tick under six seconds, which is quite astounding considering how huge this thing is; You could likely out-drag most GR86 owners from a dig! Throttle response also seems noticeably improved from a previously tested Sequoia Capstone and Tundra hybrid (same power unit) that were quite lacking in feedback from your right foot. It still isn't as good as the V8 in a Tahoe or Yukon, but there must be a difference in throttle mapping since my past experiences. I also averaged better gas mileage as well, seeing 19 MPG during my week with the Sequoia that, admittedly, had lots and lots of flat freeway commuting to help achieve that number. However, in more city-oriented driving, I saw that number fall to a dismal 16.5 during a quick reset; Decent on the highway, poor on the surface streets.
What still needs refining is the 10-speed transmission and hybrid unit itself, finding shaky jitters and clunks at slow speeds. This was especially prevalent during transitions from coasting/idling at under 5 MPH to then gently applying the throttle, resulting in a shudder when switched from EV mode to combustion as the gas engine fires back up. This rough transition is unbecoming of what is supposed to be a luxury product, and quite disappointing for a company that has been building hybrids for 25 years. Additionally, the transmission does not react quickly enough to abrupt throttle changes, resulting in lengthy pauses when going from cruising with a light throttle, to instantly mashing it in order to pass. Turbo lag is a definite issue as well, with the hybrid system not powerful enough on its own to properly fill in the missing gaps. I also noticed how, no matter how light my throttle input was, the gas engine instantly fires up when leaving a stop, whereas most Toyota hybrid cars pull away in EV mode for the first dozen or so MPH. What can be inferred here is the electric motor simply does not have enough power - not even remotely close - to move the SUV on its own. And if it did allow it to, the battery pack would almost instantly deplete itself from the induced stress. It's just not enough electric motor and battery to make a meaningful hybrid experience. Adding a more powerful electric motor and larger battery pack would greatly improve this power unit.
An area where Toyota has made a huge leap forward in is in modernizing the interior. With a humungous center display measuring 14 inches, it aptly mimics the vastness of the exterior. It's a crisp and bright display even if the actual graphics and design are too stark at times. One evening, I started the Sequoia and it flashed a piercing white screen at me momentarily before reverting (correctly) to the automatically-switching dark mode used for nighttime. You never realize how unpleasant a white screen can be at night until you see it at full brightness unexpectedly. Navigation is not active as stanrd and instead requires a subscription, but it's no bother when I have my iPhone synced to CarPlay. However, the principle of a brand like Toyota nickel and diming customers for subscriptions like BMW leaves a sour taste.
The seats in this Platinum are leather, but they're too similar to the imitation leather that comes in lesser Sequoias. I've been around a Limited version with its faux leather and liked the fake stuff enough to even consider recommending it over over the leather seen here. The Capstone does bring softer skin that reminds me of a Heart of the Hide Rawlings baseball glove (that's a good thing by the way), but it's also partly white and will get dirty way too easily. The rest of the cabin is a good step forward for sure, but there are still too many cheap and flimsy plastics and controls that don't make a whole lot of sense. A good example is the rattling sliding tray in the center console storage, an item that must cost literally a single penny to produce and looks and feels like it. Then there's the hilariously sagging glovebox. The flimsiness of it is completely unacceptable in a machine costing this much; Toyota, you can do better. Or maybe they can't and this truly is the best they could possibly do.
There are a myriad of switches below the center screen in stacked rows, but it's confusing because the top controls are up and down rockers, while the bottom row are push buttons, but it's designed in such a way where you think pushing the rocker up does one label's function, and then down the corresponding bottom label's function. The layout they've chosen here doesn't work because of the proximity to one another and the different means of operation; rocker switches ought to be isolated as require a completely different operation. This is a quantum leap ahead of the Bush-era interior of the previous Sequoia, but an enormous screen isn't enough to keep the Sequoia from the apparent feeling that the quality does not match the price, nor match American rivals. It as least very quiet on the freeway, something the Capstone was not because of a leaking window seal.
Want more proof of the interior not standing up to alternative SUVs? For such a massive vehicle, rear seat space isn't exactly similarly massive, and then the third-row is legit disappointing, belying the exterior dimensions and being only suitable for children for something other than a quick journey. With those third row seats in place, opening the liftgate out back reveals a horrifyingly tiny cargo storage, like actually laughable. You might think you can fold down those seats for a significant volume boost, but they don't even fold flat - wait, what's that? Yeah, the seats do not fold flat in the new Sequoia; We're in 2023, and the flagship Toyota SUV still doesn't have flat-folding third-row seats. Honestly, I think that's enough of an everyday buzzkill to walk away entirely from buying a new Sequoia as it strictly limits the convenience and usability each day. What are you doing Toyota? There's also a lack of touch sensitive door locks on the rear doors, only being found on the front doors. Even certain RAV4s have this feature on both doors, let alone the Highlander. Yet, the expensive Sequoia? Nope!
Handling is fine for a mammoth SUV in normal driving, with accurate steering on the highway that does away with the wandering waywardness of ancient SUVs. Things don't hold up well when you're pushing the Sequoia past sensibility, deteriorating notably worse than a GMC Yukon or Tahoe, both of whom owe big thanks to their modern independent rear-suspension. Because the Sequoia has a 'live' rear axle, there are horrid thumps and thwacks over speed bumps in parking lots, as the rear suspension is nearly non-existent. It smooths out at speed, but damn is it harsh at low speeds, resulting from a solid axle that just pummels whatever it encounters. The other side effect is the rear suspension set-up takes up more space, which is likely why there aren't flat-folding third-row seats and the lacking storage space. The flip side is that a solid 'live' axle is stronger (used traditionally in trucks for their known strength) and can be attributed to the Sequoia's impressive towing figures. For every day driving, though, it can be a jiggly and rough ride as that rear suspension ungracefully slams into the earth. Think less John Cena and more an uncoordinated Nacho Libre body slam.
Now, here are some other, if unquantified (untested) concerns: I don't think the power unit is up for the task of long-term towing. The reason for that is, on any uphill freeway grade I was crossing, the dashboard boost gauge reveals the Sequoia needs about 10 psi just to maintain 70 MPH. Add in 7,000 pounds behind you, and the engine will be making full boost so often that I think the hybrid battery will be too stressed and run out of juice. If that happens, your fuel mileage will tank significantly because you'll then be left with a twin-turbo engine making constant big boost levels to stay alive, while dumping in vast amounts of fuel to match the airflow from the forced induction. Now, these are just hunches, but I have no doubt they are somewhat legitimate in their own right.
While the Sequoia is greatly improved over the last model, an SUV that was about due to receive social security, it's sadly still behind in a number of areas instead of catching up to the pack. The lack of flat-folding third-row seats is probably enough for most people to look elsewhere as, once you experience their convenience in other vehicles, it's hard to live without. And for having such a large phycial footprint externally, space isn't even that abundant on the inside. With Toyota set to debut a Grand Highlander, an even larger version of the popular Highlander that is already similar enough in terms of interior volume, I suspect that would be both the bigger vehicle inside and the smarter overall choice for Toyota buyers. I say Toyota buyers because they do seem to be among the most loyal shoppers and tend to stick with their own brand. I'm not going to call it a cult, but they do rarely venture out on their own to explore other options. If you do go ahead to choose a new Sequoia, you'll be doing yourself a disservice to not at least look at some of its superior competitors.
2023 Toyota Sequoia Platinum review
As-tested price: $79,089
Pros: On-paper towing; Quick acceleration
Cons: Expensive; Interior not fitting of price
3.4L twin-turbo V6 with AC electric motor hybrid assist
Total system output: 437 horsepower and 583 lb-ft of torque
Highway MPG: 20
Average mixed MPG: 16.5
0-60 MPH: 5.8 seconds
208 inches long
122 inch wheelbase
79 inches wide
74 inches tall
Curbo weight: about 6,100 pounds