BUCKEYE, Ariz. -- West of Phoenix, we're crossing the Sonoran Desert on the vast slab of the I-10, cruising at speed in absolute vehicular comfort and safety, thanks to a proliferation of amenities and high-tech controls stuffed into the 2017 Sequoia, Toyota's super-size 5-door and 8-seat sports utility vehicle
Named after the largest coniferous trees in the world, Toyota's 2017 Sequoia SUV stands high and stretches long. It measures more than 17 feet long and six-and-a-half wide with a roof rising some six feet off the ground and the chassis ground clearance bumping over ten inches. It's also a heavy vehicle, weighing in at 6000 pounds -- that's three tons -- for the stoutest four-wheel-drive edition.
Sequoia is by far the largest vehicle in the Toyota stable and the one that packs a land yacht's collection of high-tech mechanical hardware as well as fancy fittings of a go-anywhere luxury wagon.
This hefty full-size SUV has a high-strength and super-rigid frame structure, a powerful yet efficient V8 engine tied to an electronically controlled 6-speed automatic transmission, and a suspension system rarely found on a truck-based SUV -- a sophisticated independent double-wishbone arrangement working on both the front and rear wheels. The suspension scheme also allows a more convenient fold-flat third-row bench seat and flat load-floor height.
Either conventional rear two-wheel-drive (2WD) or four-wheel-drive (4WD) traction works for Sequoia.
The optional Multi-Mode 4WD system uses a Torsen limited-slip locking center differential, which can modulate the power to the front and rear wheels, and a two-speed transfer case with a low range for navigating the steep off-road terrain. Low range is accessible on the fly via a rotary dial located in the dashboard center stack, while the center differential locks via a push-button switch.
To motivate such a behemoth requires massive muscle and Toyota supplies a powerful V8 lifted from the Tundra full-size pickup truck.
The 5.7-liter aluminum V8 engine features DOHC (dual overhead cams), TDI (Toyota direct ignition) and dual independent VVT-i (intelligent variable valve timing). It teams with a heavy-duty 6-speed automatic transmission to deliver 381 hp at 5600 rpm and big-rig torque of 401 lb-ft at 3600 rpm.
Despite its strength, Sequoia's engine runs on 87-octane regular unleaded gasoline stored in a 26.4-gallon fuel tank and shows EPA-estimated fuel economy figures up to 18 mpg for highway travel in a 2WD edition.
Toyota maximizes hardware for safety on Sequoia, with ten airbags aboard including curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows for three rows and seat-mounted side airbags for outboard seats on the first row plus driver and passenger knee airbags.
Standard on every Sequoia is Toyota's Star Safety System, which includes ABS (anti-lock brake system) with EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) and EBA (electronic brake assist), plus a VSC (vehicle stability control) device and an electronic 4-wheel traction control system labeled A-TRAC (active traction control).
The passenger compartment of Sequoia is a vast space organized for four-door convenience with three rows of seats for as many as eight riders plus a cargo bay in the rear accessible through a big liftgate.
In front, twin buckets stand on either side of a multi-function console. The second row consists of two individual captain's chairs, or a large bench split 40/20/40. Seatbacks fold flat, and the seat slides fore/aft by six inches to vary legroom. That back bench splits 60/40 as seatbacks recline for comfort and also fold down to fashion more cargo room -- and a push-button power folding and reclining feature comes with the top trim tiers.
Sequoia comes in three trim grades: Well-stocked SR5, deluxe Limited and over-the-top Platinum.
Standard equipment for the base grade SR5 edition includes 18-inch alloy wheels, beautiful fabric seat upholstery. Automatic tri-zone air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks, a keyless entry device, retractable window sunshades for second and third rows, 16 cup and bottle holders, and Etune Audio Plus with a 6.1-inch touchscreen display.
Toyota's MSRP chart for the 2017 Sequoia begins at $45,560 for Sequoia SR5/2WD and runs up to $65,315 for Sequoia Platinum/4WD.