To evaluate the all-new 2008 Toyota Sequoia, I spent some quality time with comparable full-size SUVs from GM and FoMoCo. In back-to-back-to-back tests on the highways and byways of Denton County, Texas, I pitted the new Sequoia Platinum against the 2008 Ford Expedition King Ranch Edition and the 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe LTZ "White Diamond" edition. Let's not beat around the Texan brush: the Tahoe outshines its competitors as the best all-around full-sized SUV. Here's why…
The Tahoe is a happy, jumbo-sized appliance. Its massive prow encapsulates the truck's clean, modern design. Although endlessly, relentlesly generic, the big Chevy's sheetmetal is handsome enough from any angle– without getting within two counties of ostentatious (or unpredictable). The $2,365 White Diamond treatment adds pearlescent sparkle to the Tahoe's paint job; the chrome grillwork shines through like a gleaming chain mail vest.
The Tahoe LTZ's cabin strikes the middle ground between Ford's sleek yet sumptuous King Ranch Edition leather cabin and Toyota's plasticized Hell. Okay, the Tahoe also puts its occupants in plasticized Hell. But the Chevy's dashboard is far less cluttered than ToMoCo's big rig, so the Tahoe seems significantly less cheap.
Speaking of not-so-divine retribution, adults condemned to the Tahoe's way back sit with their knees pressed into their chest and their feet wedged between the seats. Every time the Tahoe hits a bump, the seatbelt tensioner ratchets ever tighter, compressing the occupant's shoulder towards the short seatback. After twenty minutes in the third row, anyone who's not a pint-sized passenger will be calling Amnesty International.
In defense of the Tahoe's class-trailing interior packaging (or SUV packaging in general), try towing 8400 lbs. in a minivan. And while the Tahoe's heavy third row seats must be manhandled and removed to create a suitably cavernous load space, the four wheel-drive SUV can thusly carry a large, heavy load AND tow a boat AND retain plenty of off-road capability.
Back up a second. When doing so, the Tahoe's Rearview Camera displays the image on the dash-mounted sat nav screen. At the same time, the Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist's yellow and red LED lights– mounted on the interior right-rear D-pillar– light-up and beep. Yes but– a driver watching the backup camera can't see the LED lights. And a driver looking at the warning lights over his shoulder (or, God forbid the rear-view mirror) isn't looking at the backup camera view. D'oh!
Fast forward. GM's 5.3-liter Vortec V8 doesn't deliver the same knockout punch as Toyota's ridiculously lusty 5.7-liter mill. Still, with 320hp and 340 ft. lbs. underfoot, accelerative Tahoe drivers won't be left lingering for long. Not that I'd recommend it, but the 5840 lbs. truck will mountain-move from rest to sixty miles per hour in an entirely reasonable 8.7 seconds. More importantly, the Tahoe's four-speed automatic shifts crisply and predictably; a welcome change from the manic six-speeds found in the Toyota Sequoia and Ford Expedition.
At the GMT900 Tahoe's pre-Katrina launch, GM Car Czar Bob Lutz infamously pronounced that "rich people don't care about gas prices." Since then, GM's added Active Fuel Management cylinder deactivation system to their still profitable but no longer so very popular SUV. The non-hybrid 4×4 Tahoe delivers the best fuel efficiency of the troika tested: 14/19mpg. In combined driving, that's a 14 percent improvement over either the 4×2 Expedition or 4×4 Sequoia.
On combined surfaces– neglected highways, pock-marked local roads, gravel, dirt, wherever– the Tahoe LTZ' Autoride makes Chevy drivers feel the most serene of all full-size SUV pilots. The Tahoe's trick suspension system reacts to body and wheel sensor input, triggering bi-state (nothing kinky, just two positions) variable air-assisted shock dampening. It delivers an outstandingly smooth, even luxurious ride.
Combined with a stiff, fully-boxed frame and a multi-link coil spring rear-end, Autoride also helps makes the White Diamond Tahoe the best handling truck of the bunch. As one of our writers pointed out previously, that's a bit like saying it's the world most flame retardant paper hat. But if you're going to drive a full-size SUV on a daily basis, you want the beast to handle safely and predictably, and stop with confidence and poise. That the Tahoe does.
At the end of this test, we're left with three vehicles with three separate strengths. The Toyota Sequoia's engine is a gas (it is what it eats). In the King Ranch Edition Ford Expedition, Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome did decree. The White Diamond Chevy Tahoe LTZ offers the best mpgs, a business-like (if not class) cabin and the best day-to-day ride and handling. GM wins my Lone Star comparo.
While cratering SUV sales make this something of a booby prize, there's no denying that GM makes the best big rigs. If it could build competitively-priced cars with as much judgment and care, the company would end its time in the wilderness. We watch and hope.