Professor W. Edwards Deming taught post-War Japan statistical process control. Toyota management applied Deming's lessons with characteristic discipline, refining the Yale grad's famous "14 points" to create their lean manufacturing system. Through it all, ToMoCo had one over-riding goal: to mimic and surpass the world's greatest automakers. Driving the new Toyota Sequoia back-to-back against its archetypal competition– the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition– proves the old adage: be careful what you wish for.
Toyota's "homage" to the great American SUV is obvious at first glance. The new Sequoia looks like the offspring of an illicit tryst between the manly Ford Expedition King Ranch and sweet little miss White Diamond Tahoe LTZ. Baby Sequoia has her father's horizontal chrome grille and her mother's facial structure. It's a pastiche without panache, a me-too shape that displays the same lack of originality that's helped propel other Toyota models to stellar sales success.
Other than the slight "flame surfacing" on the Sequoia's sides (cribbed from BMW), the nose provides the model's only ToMoCo branding. (Again.) While the snout's a straight cop from the Sequoia's sister-under-the-skin (the Tundra), the designers were smart enough to ditch the faux vent that crosses the top of Tundra's grille like a thin John Waters mustache. The Sequoia's front and rear-end are also more squared-off than the pickup, and the beltline is higher.
As befits the SUV version of Toyota's super-sized pickup, the Sequoia's almost an inch wider, over an inch longer and 700 pounds heavier than its previous iteration. And yet the Sequoia is now only par for the course in the big-boned American SUV genre. In fact, the Sequoia is shorter in length than the King Ranch Expedition and shorter in stature that both the Ford and the Chevy. Even so, in Arctic Frost Pearl paint, the Sequoia's doors and side quarter panels appear positively glacial in their vastness.
The Sequoia Platinum is a new trim line above the standard SR5 and former top dog Limited. It's more than just a purdy paint job and blingy wheels. The Platinum coddles its passengers– both front and middle– in infinitely adjustable heated and cooled leather seats. The standard navigation system with thank-God backup camera is the centerpiece of an all-too-busy dashboard awash in clunky brittle plastics. Low-rent vinyl posing as leather covers the doors. Clearly, unavoidably, the Sequoia's cabin is not Toyota's best work.
No matter what guise you prize, the Sequoia's basic packaging fails to outclass the Chevy and Ford– except for third row passengers. Although the Ford's way backs' headroom and legroom are superior, the key metrics here are shoulder room and thigh support, which the Toyota supplies in ample amounts. Raise the retractable shades, fold down the [Platinum's] nine-inch DVD screen, pass out the wireless headphones and Mom and Dad will be blissfully (if only temporarily and only in their imagination) childless.
While it would be easy to conclude that this is the big rig's raison d'etre, any such misapprehension will be rectified the moment you fire-up Toyota's 381hp 5.7-liter phenom. The V8 growls to life like an irritated grizzly bear awakening from hibernation. Poke the well-placed pedal and the engine gives you a heavy metal power chord that beats anything produced by the [optional] 14-speaker 440-watt JBL stereo system. And the engine ain't just whistling Dixie; the Sequoia's 10k-pound tow rating makes it the boat-schlepper's top pick.
The powerplant motivates the 6045lbs leviathan with ridiculous ease. Provided you've got a platinum credit card to pay the man at the gas station (13/18 mpg), you can blast this big boy from zero to sixty in 6.2 seconds. Even though the Sequoia's class-leading brakes and fixed four-piston front calipers can haul her down from 60mph in 139ft., that's… nuts. Which is OK, ‘cause driving this porker is about as fun as tending a fussy baby.
Members of the Platinum club get to chose whether they want the Electronic Modulated Suspension (H-TEMS) set for sport or comfort. Unfortunately, dialing up Sport isn't sporting and Comfort isn't comfy. Despite a fully boxed frame, low-pressure gas-filled shock absorbers and hollow stabilizer bars, the ride is too jittery for wafting and wafts too much for romping.
The six-speed transmission is another kill-joy; it hunts for gears like cat hunting a room full of mice. Yes, you can take manual control of the tranny, but who does? Meanwhile, jostling in a perch high above highway pavement while the neurotic tranny busily searches for acceptance, drivers are charged with the chore of manning an extremely sloppy tiller. No fun.
So here we are. The Sequoia is a bland-looking, gargantuan, comfortable SUV with a five-star engine, a two-star interior and lousy handling dynamics. In Toyota's quest to become like Ford and GM, they've become just like Ford and GM. Yes, but… consider Toyota's Demming-sourced rep for reliability. The ToMoCo juggernaut rolls on.