Toyota has made a major refresh of its LARGE 3-row SUV for the first time since 2008. For those that need to carry 8 adults and either have off-road capability or tow heavy loads (like 9000 pounds — think a big boat or travel trailer), the 2023 Toyota Sequoia has some major improvements. I was especially excited that, like the Toyota Venza, Sienna and Lexus UX, Toyota decided to put the hybrid powertrain in every 2023 Sequoia and not just 25% like they have been doing for most of their older models that have a hybrid option. With the additional cost to outfit a hybrid powertrain relatively low and the price of gas high, the payback period is quite low, so it makes sense to put this on on every vehicle as I suggested 9 months ago in this article. A Toyota engineer suggested some customers don’t want a hybrid, because the tech has a bit of the Prius stigma, which isn’t consistent with the macho image necessary in the full size SUV market. Toyota knew hybrid powertrains are a great way to increase torque and fuel mileage, though, so they are putting in a hybrid powerplant but no hybrid badging that might turn off some buyers.
Who is this vehicle a good fit for? You really need to have the need of both carrying a lot of people and either towing or off-road capability to “need” this large vehicle. If you didn’t need to take that many people, you could buy a pickup for $20,000 less, and if you don’t need the off-road capability or the heavy towing, you could get a minivan and have as much room (and a plugin hybrid option like the Pacifica or a smaller 3-row SUV like the Highlander or the Tesla Model Y are great options). All of those alternatives would be cheaper and more efficient, but the Sequoia is a great choice if you need the capabilities that it has, since it has a modern interior, class leading efficiency, and the Toyota reputation for reliability.
The EPA hasn’t published the 2023 Sequoia Fuel Economy Ratings yet, but I expect it to be very similar to the 2022 Toyota Tundra with the identical engine. As you can see, it is substantially more efficient than the comparable Jeep Grand Wagoneer and last-generation Toyota Sequoia (by 47%!), and a good amount more efficient than the more modern V6 Ford Expedition (16% more efficient).
With the average price of gas exceeding $5.00 a gallon for the first time ever in the US, buyers are sure to be looking for better fuel economy. Over the 200,000 mile life of a vehicle, the old Sequoia or the new Jeep Wagoneer would use 13,333 gallons of gas, and if the price stayed at today’s price, you would spend $66,666! The new 2023 Sequoia with an estimated 22 MPG combined would use 9090 gallons costing $45,455, a staggering $21,211 in savings over the life of the vehicle.
I got to drive the Sequoia in 3 environments — on the road, on the road towing a large boat, and on an off-road course. I found the driving experience smooth and powerful, with the hybrid engine adding some instant torque to the V6 Turbo’s power. The handling made it feel like the large vehicle it is, nothing like the very sporty feeling of the large electric SUVs like the Tesla Model X (which also feels too large for my taste, but is much more car-like in it’s handling). I tried taking a 90° corner at a moderately high speed and it just wallowed around it with much understeer and body roll. I found Toyota’s New Audio Multimedia System with a 14 inch center screen to be modern and much improved over the previous generation, but I found the Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 (not sure why it didn’t have the latest 3.0 version) to be far less capable, keeping the car in its lane less than Tesla Autopilot of 4 years ago, let alone the latest Tesla Full Self Driving Beta.
With the large boat, I was impressed that it handled the towing of the large object without affecting the feel significantly. Acceleration and braking didn’t feel much different. I’ve towed trailers with small cars and they greatly affect the acceleration and braking of the vehicle.
I found the Sequoia handled the terrain on the off-road section of the Eagle Canyon Raceway well, but I wouldn’t expect that Toyota would have set up obstacles the vehicle couldn’t handle. For the slow-speed sections, I put it into the 4WD Load mode, which was a little bit of a pain since you could only do that with the vehicle in neutral. For the dirt track, I changed to 2WD High and turned off the stability control so I could get the tail to wag a bit (induce oversteer by applying the accelerator). I found the power to lag a bit compared to the instant torque that I’m used to from driving all electric vehicles, which meant I had to apply the gas about a second before I wanted to slide around the curve.
I certainly have mixed feelings about the 2023 Toyota Sequoia. On one hand, it is a huge improvement in efficiency and emissions over the previous generation, and for those that need these extreme capabilities, it’s not a bad choice. On the other hand, I’m hopeful the emerging crop of electric SUVs like the Rivian R1S — which looks to be made for off-roading, seats 7, and tows up the 7,700 pounds — and GM’s electric Hummer SUV — which is also made for off-roading, seats 5, and tows up to 7,500 pounds. The Tesla Model Y isn’t really made for off-roading, but could be modified for it, seats up to 7, and tows up to 5,000 pounds. If one of the two electric choices meets your needs, those are going to be the better choices for economy and emissions. Otherwise, the new Toyota Sequoia is one of your best choices for a large “electrified” SUV with pretty extreme capabilities.
Disclosure: I am a shareholder in Tesla [TSLA], BYD [BYDDY], Nio [NIO], XPeng [XPEV], and Hertz [HTZ]. But I offer no investment advice of any sort here.
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