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2023 Toyota Sequoia: Vastly improved; enough to triple sales? [First Drive]

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The 2023 Toyota Sequoia shares a platform with the new Tundra, and for the most there aren’t many surprises with the ride and handling. If you’ve driven the next-gen pickup truck with the hybrid powertrain, this full-size SUV is nearly identical.

If you haven’t driven it, the tl;dr version is this: It drives like a full-size truck.

With a high beltline and raised hood line, the Sequoia feels big and drives bigger. And that’s basically what you’d expect from a three-row SUV with a body-on-frame construction.

The great grille debate

When the new Tundra was revealed, several of the Toyota truck faithful recoiled in horror. The gaping grille with a mustache-look caused a polarizing reaction. Some people loved the bold styling and dramatic effect, others started looking for ways to alter the front face to make it look better – this included bumper wraps and paint.

Then the reveal of the 2023 Sequoia happened, and those people who hated the Tundra grille loved the Sequoia one, stating this is the grille the Tundra should have had.

Me? I like the differentiation. Plus, as a lower volume seller, I think the Sequoia grille is necessarily a little more conservative. I’m probably one of the few who likes both grilles for what they are.

The rest of the Sequoia design borrows heavily from the Tundra with the strong horizontal lines on the side. The interiors are essentially identical, right down to the materials used.

Hybrid-only powertrain

Unlike the Tundra, however, the 2023 Sequoia doesn’t offer a gas-only powertrain. Every trim comes standard with the hybrid-only iForce Max powertrain that delivers 437 horsepower and 583 pound-feet of torque.

Having driven the gas-only version of the Tundra, I think this was an excellent decision on Toyota’s part. I found that non-hybrid version to be a bit sluggish and laggy, while this hybrid version is downright peppy.

2023 Sequoia

Cargo & third row

Because of the new rear suspension and hybrid powertrain, there are a few compromises in the third row and cargo area, but clever designers and engineers did an excellent job of making lemonade out of lemons.

There’s a bit of a bump under the third-row seats, which creates an awkward ledge for the cargo floor. But with the implementation of a shelf that holds up to about 103 pounds, you can create a flat load floor when third-row seats fold flat.

Another clever innovation is the 6-inch slide of the third-row seats. Slide back for more legroom, slide forward for more cargo space. The compromise is you can’t have both at the same time.

I had a lot of comments on social saying only a small child could fit in the third row, but with the 6-inch slide, an average adult male can fit back there with reasonable comfort.

And, in case you’re wondering, neither second nor third rows are removable.

Trim differentiators

In addition to different grille treatments, there are key content differentiators for each trim. Also worth noting, all trims are available with both 4X2 and 4X4 configurations, except the TRD Pro, which is 4X4 only.

For each trim, key standard features include:

SR5 ($58,300): sunroof, 8-inch infotainment screen, cloth seating surfaces, heated front seats, LED lights, 8-passenger seating, 18-inch wheels, available TRD Sport or TRD Off-Road packages.

Limited ($64,700): heated-and-ventilated front seats, leatherette seating surfaces, power folding third row, 14-inch infotainment screen, 20-inch wheels, available TRD Off-Road package.

Platinum ($70,900): panoramic sunroof, leather seating surfaces, premium LED headlights with sequential turn signals, 7-passenger seating with second-row captain’s chairs.

Capstone ($75,300): 22-inch machine finsh wheels, burled walnut trim, semi-aniline leather-trimmed seats (same as Lexus vehicles), acoustic windshield and front side windows, power running boards, 10-inch head-up display.

TRD Pro ($76,900): TRD Heritage Grille with light bar, 18-inch forged BBS wheels, Fox shocks, MTS, crawl control, electronic control, locking rear differential, technical camo accents.

Note: All prices, except TRD Pro, are for 4X2 models. Adding 4X4 increases the price by $3k. The destination fee of $1,495 is also not included.

2023 Sequoia

A tough tow

As you would expect from a full-size SUV, the 2023 Sequoia has a decent max tow rating at 9,520 pounds. But as with towing on full-size trucks, you have to pay close attention to the actual towing capacity for each specific trim.

I’ve now towed with both the 2022 Tundra and the 2023 Sequoia, and towing with the Sequoia is not ideal. It could have been the specific 4,000-pound trailer we towed with or how it was hitched up, but this was probably the worst towing experience I’ve had in a while.

Acceleration was good with the turbocharged hybrid powertrain, but the sway and tug of the trailer was excessive. I couldn’t go much more than 60 MPH without the trailer bobbing and weaving.

I’d like to do a longer towing test for verification, but the Tundra is the clear winner if you’re going to be towing frequently.

Picking nits

Outside of the odd third-row configuration, the one big complaint we had was on interior materials. First, on the top-tier Capstone trim, your only color option is a black-and-white combo. Thankfully, Toyota put black on the seat bottoms, but the white does appear on the armrest, and that will get dirty easily.

Second, speaking of the armrest, the center piece that slides is a flimsy-looking plastic that feels cheap and breakable. We’re sure, knowing Toyota, it’s very durable, but it doesn’t feel like it. And it makes a plasticky thunk sound, every time you open or close it. It’s kind of icky.

The bottom line on the 2023 Sequoia

Toyota sold a total of about 8k Sequoias in 2022. Yep, total. So, when execs said the automaker expects to triple the sales volume, that’s not as huge of a number as you’d think. But for this specific vehicle a 24k volume is a huge jump.

With the improvements in the design department, flexible cargo space and usable third row, I anticipate Toyota will sell more than that.

During our video review, we compared it to the GMC Yukon and Chevy Tahoe, which are huge sellers. We liked it better than either of the General Motors full-size SUVs in the comfort and handling arena. So, if the GM faithful will give this new SUV a test, we think the 2023 Sequoia has the chance to exceed Toyota’s expectations.

Editor’s note: Driving impressions in this “First Drive” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Toyota Motor Sales covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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