2023 Toyota Sequoia First Drive

Redesign Pays Off

the competition and looks and feels like a product of a different time. That's all over now.

This latest Sequoia offers a massive upgrade in technology, a smarter interior design and an excellent hybrid powertrain that comes standard across the model lineup. The result places it much closer to class parity with newer SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition and Jeep Wagoneer.

Virtually all the improvements, except for the rear cabin, appeared first on the new Tundra, a pickup that's been closely related to all three generations of Sequoia. They share powertrains, automated safety systems, chassis, seating and a significant amount of styling from the B-pillar forward.

That is a good thing. It allows Toyota to leverage engineering and components across a wider sales volume and no longer leaves the Sequoia a nearly forgotten step-child. That's something Toyota acknowledges. "Sequoia awareness is not where it could or should be," said Joe Moses, general manager of Toyota's Vehicle Marketing Team.

The sheet metal that the Sequoia shares with the Tundra actually seems to work better on the Sequoia. The big ridges in the fenders give the vehicle an appearance of a wider stance and imbue the SUV with a sense of power, balance and motion. It is now among the best-looking vehicles in the large SUV class.

2023 Toyota Sequoia | Courvelle Toyota | Opelousas, LA
The 2023 Sequoia is powered by a 3.5-liter twin-turbo hybrid V6, which should yield a massive improvement in fuel economy over the old 5.7-liter V8, which long dwelled near the bottom of its class in fuel efficiency.

A Twin-Turbo Hybrid Only

The heart of the 2023 Toyota Sequoia is the twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 hybrid i-FORCE MAX powertrain and 10-speed automatic transmission. It produces 437 horsepower and 583 pound-feet of torque.

Toyota did not provide fuel economy ratings for the new Sequoia-it plans to do so closer to the start of sales later this year. The automaker said the mpg will be "a huge improvement over the previous generation." That's a low hurdle. The current Sequoia is a V8 gas hog whose 13-mpg city mpg rating hovers near the bottom of the large SUV group. 

The rear-wheel-drive 2022 Tundra, with the same hybrid V6 powertrain, has an Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy rating of 20 mpg in city driving, 24 mpg on the highway and 22 combined. The new Sequoia is headed for about a 50% improvement, a massive gain in an era where the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is more than $4.50. Another nicety is that the Sequoia drinks 87 octane.

2023 Sequoia Towing | Courvelle Toyota | Opelousas, LA
The new Sequoia can tow anywhere from 8,950 to 9,520 pounds, which bests almost all other large SUVs. Toyota

Brisk Performance, Plenty of Towing Brawn

Truck and large SUV buyers will like the hybrid powertrain. The acceleration is steady and robust. The Sequoia had no problem zipping up onramps and passing slower vehicles on the highway.

There is little noticeable strain hauling three adults and a 5,000-pound Airstream trailer up and down the hills of rural Texas near Denton. The new Sequoia has a towing capacity of roughly 8,980 to 9,520 pounds, depending on the trim level and the drivetrain configuration. 

Payload ranges from 1,435 for the off-road optimized TRD Pro to 1,730 for the rear-wheel-drive SR5 trim. Buyers of large SUVs are frequent towers of trailers, boats, all-terrain vehicles and other gear.

Toyota knows they will be a core audience and offers handy towing technology options. They include a trailer guide to help back up to a trailer and a straight path assist, which provides steering control to keep the trailer straight on its intended path when backing up.

The Sequoia has adequate agility for a large SUV and can easily maneuver through parking lots. It has a turning circle of about 40 feet, about a foot more than the rival Chevrolet Tahoe.

With an independent front suspension and a multi-link arrangement out back, the new Sequoia's ride is much smoother than the outgoing version. There's also a  redesigned electronic power steering system for an improved steering feel. 

Sequoia Off-Roading | Courvelle Toyota | Opelousas, LA
While the rear overhang might limit approach angles, the Sequoia TRD Pro should be a highly capable off-roader and a good match for the Ford Expedition Timberline and Chevrolet Tahoe Z71. Toyota

Major Tech & Interior Upgrades

The new Sequoia makes a giant leap in technology. Toyota replaced the small 7-inch touchscreen on the current model with a standard 8-inch version for the base SR5 trim level, but most buyers will choose higher specs. All the remaining trims have a giant 14-inch horizontal touchscreen. It is easy to read and reach, and its landscape orientation helps to limit the time a driver's eyes leave the road. It is also available as an upgrade on the SR5.

Other technology upgrades include a Google cloud-based multimedia and navigation system drivers can access through a "Hey Toyota" voice command. It requires an ongoing paid subscription after a one-year trial. It's the same system in the new Tundra, and it still has some hiccups when it comes to voice recognition. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard with the new Sequoia and are easier to use.

Big SUVs are supposed to be people haulers. And for the most part, the new Sequoia meets that requirement. It can carry seven or eight people depending on the arrangement as it comes with options for bench seating or captain's chairs. Both fold down to create more cargo room, but flat space is at a premium because of the way the second-row seats collapse.

Sequoia Interior | Courvelle Toyota | Opelousas, LA
Fans of the 2022 Toyota Tundra will find the Sequoia's cabin a familiar-looking place, as it uses many of the very same pieces. Toyota

The third row has a sliding system that provides 6 inches of adjustment range for the seats. But Toyota made a compromise here. The Sequoia has an overall length of 208.1 inches. The SUV designers purposely didn't grow the vehicle because they wanted it to fit in most garages. The tradeoff is that unless shoved to the rear, the third row will be a tough go for larger teens and adults. But when it is pushed back, there's not much cargo space. 

For all but absolute masters of cargo Tetris, going on a long road trip or taking the crew to the airport will most likely be limited to five passengers and luggage.

There's also a new cargo system with a removable shelf that can be set in various storage positions depending upon the situation. It helps create more helpful storage space when the third-row seating is up.

Fanciest of all the Sequoia trims, as on the Tundra, is the luxurious Capstone, with upgraded interior materials and a variety of cosmetic exterior tweaks. It's meant to face off with vehicles like the GMC Yukon Denali. Toyota

Five Trims

Toyota will make the 2023 Sequoias available in five grades: SR5, Limited, Platinum, TRD Pro and the newly introduced Capstone luxury grade. An optional TRD Off-Road package can be added to the SR5 and Limited 4×4 models.

All will come with standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.5, a suite of advanced driver-assistance safety tech. It includes forward collision alert with automatic emergency braking. The new system will detect pedestrians and bicycle riders. Other standard features include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.

But even as it comes out, the Sequoia already is partially outdated. Other new or newly redesigned Toyota and Lexus (luxury brand) vehicles are getting the 3.0 version of the safety suite and more features.