- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

The foreigners have become more audacious, with Toyota now on the attack against the last redoubt of American iron: the giant sport utility vehicle.

Until the Japanese manufacturer introduced the 2002 Sequoia, American manufacturers owned the full-size SUV territory, populated by Ford's Expedition and Excursion, Chevrolet's Tahoe and Suburban, GMC's Yukon and Yukon XL, Lincoln's Navigator and Cadillac's Escalade.

Earlier, with its V-8 Tundra, Toyota had launched an assault on another area of U.S. dominance, the full-size pickup truck. And as with the new Sequoia, the Tundra was a credible competitor.

There's a reason. Both of these vehicles were designed specifically for U.S. buyers, who year after year elevate Ford and Chevrolet to the top of the sales charts. Last year, for example, customers signed up for nearly two million Ford and Chevy full-size pickups and SUVs.

Obviously, Toyota would like a chunk of that high-profit terrain. But despite the fact that the Sequoia is built in the U.S., incursions are not easy because of owner loyalty to the American brands, although it might be a bit easier with SUVs because most of them haven't been around as long as pickups.

Fortunately for Toyota, it starts with a big leg up its well-earned reputation for quality and reliability. Toyota vehicles come with the expectation of long and durable relationships.

On its face, the Sequoia appears to fit that formula. The test vehicle was a four-wheel-drive SR5 model not the top of the line but well equipped, as it should be for suggested delivered price of $38,970. If you specify the Limited model and load it up with leather upholstery and other luxury options, you can spend more than $45,000.

Yet that isn't Toyota's priciest SUV. That honor goes to the rugged and time-tested Land Cruiser, which despite its smaller size sports a price tag of $53,000 to $56,000. The reason for that, aside from a decision to market it as an ultraluxury SUV, is it's the sort of vehicle you wouldn't mind taking almost anywhere in the world, no matter how primitive.

The Sequoia, though nearly as competent, is designed to appeal to big truck lovers who do things like tow boats and house trailers but don't necessarily want to chug around in the wilderness.

These days, however, you don't get away with just being a big, capable truck. You have to offer performance, comfort and convenience . The verdict on the new Sequoia is that it delivers on all counts.

Despite its 17-foot length and a weight of 5,270 pounds, the tested SR5 had decent handling, a surprisingly compliant ride and enough oomph to keep it from being embarrassed in traffic.

The V-8 engine is a modern design, with twin overhead camshafts, 32 valves and plenty of torque defined as low-rev pulling power for hauling trailers and doing other chores. It is rated at 240 horsepower and 315 pounds-feet of torque at 3,400 rpms. The power gets to the wheels through a slick-shifting four-speed automatic transmission.

Sequoias are available in standard rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, both of which feature traction and skid control. The four-wheel drive, which was on the test SR5, is a flexible system that affords choices that include two-wheel drive, full-time all-wheel drive, and part-time four-wheel drive with high and low ranges for off-roading.

Inside, there's seating for eight, with big, comfortable bucket seats up front and a second seat for three that's nearly as easy on the tush and back. Even the third seat, which can be adjusted fore and aft, isn't half bad, though headroom is a bit tight.

Depending on where you position the third seat, there's anywhere from 27 to 36 cubic feet of cargo space behind it. The third seat is removable in two sections if you need a cargo cavern and, of course, the second-row seats fold as well.

The SR5 had serviceable cloth upholstery, which nicely matched the unassuming and functional but not particularly attractive interior. Both the dash and console, for example, were blandly done up in black on gray plastic.

Among the features were an excellent climate-control system with rear-seat controls, an in-dash CD player, a garage-door opener, a small display with a compass, outside temperature and fuel consumption information, and five (count 'em) overhead stash spaces of different sizes for sunglasses. The mystery is why anybody would need that many.


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