YUCCA VALLEY, Calif. -- Twin-track ruts filled with sand and stone define a meandering Black Eagle Mine Road in Joshua Tree National Park, the cacti-spiked sand pile pitched across California's Mojave Desert near Yucca Valley.
All four of the huge mud-and-snow radials underpinning a new generational edition of Sequoia -- Toyota's super-size sport utility vehicle -- bite into the sand as we steer this humongous wagon along the rugged trail.
Traction in the slippery stuff remains constant for all tires, thanks to the vigilance of optional four-wheeling traction equipment that's always engaged.
And Sequoia rides high across the rough desert floor with a ground clearance of ten inches and a sophisticated independent double-wishbone suspension system working on both the front and rear wheels.
The SUV has a high-strength and super-rigid new frame structure, a big boost in the engine compartment with a larger and stronger but more efficient V8 engine tied to a new electronically controlled six-speed automatic transmission, plus extensive on-board safety equipment and high-tech vehicle control systems.
But what makes this trek through an inhospitable desert tolerable -- even downright comfortable -- is that Toyota's wagon also delivers vast cabin space organized with three rows of seats for up to eight passengers plus the plush trappings of a luxury car.
That means a driver and as many as seven more riders can troop off to where the wild things roam but remain as comfortable as if resting in a mobile living room.
Toyota's largest wagon borrows the chassis of a larger and stronger Tundra pickup truck.
Essentially, the two vehicles use the same structure forward of the cabin's second set of roof pillars, but the SUV varies in composition rearward behind those pillars.
New Sequoia of 2008 is considerably larger than the original model of 2001, as the wheelbase length gains 3.9 inches, the overall tip-to-tail measurement extends 1.2 inches longer and the body width grows by one full inch.
These expanded dimensions translate into an even larger passenger compartment -- it now encompasses 120 cubic feet.
For engines, Toyota also turned to Tundra to create a substantial boost in firepower.
The V8s begin with a 4.7-liter plant off an iron block with aluminum cylinder heads and VVT-i (variable valve timing with intelligence).
This one punches out 276 hp at 5400 rpm and torque to 314 lb-ft at 3400 rpm through a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission rigged with a sequential shift mode.
Sequoia's top plant is a 5.7-liter aluminum V8 featuring dual independent VVT-i and a heavy-duty six-speed electronic automatic also with sequential shift.
This engine makes top-of-class muscle of 381 hp at 5600 rpm and truck-hauling torque of 401 lb-ft at 3600 rpm.
When properly equipped, Sequoia with the 5.7-liter V8 scores a maximum towing capacity of 10000 pounds.
Despite its strength, the 5.7-liter V8 runs on 87-octane regular unleaded gasoline stowed in a 26.4-gallon fuel tank and shows EPA fuel economy figures up to 19 mpg for highway travel.
Either conventional rear two-wheel-drive (2WD) or four-wheel-drive (4WD) traction works for Sequoia.
For the full-time 4WD equipment, a chain-driven transfer case has a high-range mode for speed work on pavement and a low-range mode for slow-go crawling over rough terrain.
The high and low modes are controlled from a rotary dial located in the center stack of the dashboard.
A push-button switch locks the Torsen limited-slip locking center differential, which can vary the power to front and rear wheels. It normally channels 40 percent of the torque to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear ones, although these proportions may change depending on the steering angle and slippage of the wheels.
Toyota maxes hardware for safety on Sequoia, with ten air bags aboard including curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows for three rows and seat-mounted side air bags for outboard seats on the first row.
Standard on every Sequoia is Toyota's Star Safety System, which includes an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and electronic brake assist (EBA).
Sequoia in 2WD format stocks an automatic limited-slip differential (A-LSD) tied to an advanced vehicle anti-skid system -- vehicle stability control (VSC) with traction control (TRAC) -- which unites the ABS and TRAC through a computer that can automatically correct oversteer or understeer when cornering.
For the 4WD Sequoia, there's electronic four-wheel traction control, dubbed active traction control (A-TRAC).
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 broad bench split 40/20/40. Seatbacks fold flat and the bench 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.
Sequoia the SUV segments into three trim editions: SR5, deluxe Limited and over-the-top Platinum.
Standard gear for SR5 and Limited ranges from the 4.7-liter V8 to 18-inch alloy wheels, fabric seat upholstery, automatic tri-zone air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks, a keyless entry device and an eight-speaker AM/FM/CD audio kit.
Sequoia Limited adds foglamps, a roof rack and running boards, front and rear parking sonar, heated leather seats, Optitron gauges, and a JBL Synthesis audio system.
Sequoia Platinum packs the 5.7-liter V8, 20-inch alloy wheels, an air suspension, power seats and liftgate, sunroof and a navigation system with backup camera.
Optional equipment clusters in numerous packages.
Pricing for Toyota's redesigned SUV begins at $34,150 for Sequoia SR5 2WD.