Review update: 2021 Toyota Sequoia falls behind as it soldiers on

Toyota developed a good, sturdy full-size SUV for the 2008 model year. Based on the body-on-frame platform from the Tundra pickup, the Sequoia got that truck’s robust structure and driveline components, including its muscular 5.7-liter V-8. But that’s about as much engineering as Toyota has put into the Sequoia since, only updating the interior and falling behind there, too.

I recently spent a week with a 2021 Sequoia Nightshade Special Edition, lugging heavy stuff, heading to the grocery store, and generally treating it like any suburbanite would. It was a trip through the past, and it showed me where this aging truck hits and misses.

Hit: Strong V-8

The Sequoia’s 5.7-liter V-8 churns out the same 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque that it made 13 years ago. It starts up with a growl accompanied by a sound akin to an oven’s overhead fan working away under the dash. It’s hooked to an antiquated 5-speed automatic transmission, but it pulls hard from a stop and contributes to a competitive 7,400-lb towing capacity. It’s a good engine that’s still competitive in terms of power, but…

Miss: Thirsty V-8

…it’s not competitive when it comes to fuel economy.  With four-wheel drive, the Sequoia is rated at 13 mpg city, 17 highway, 14 combined. That compares to 16/20/18 mpg for the Chevrolet Tahoe with its 5.3-liter V-8 and 17/22/19 mpg for the Ford Expedition with its 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6, both of which are aided by a 10-speed automatic transmission. At a Toyota Tundra event in 2014, a company rep told me, “Whether you have a V-6 that's working hard or a V-8 that's hardly working, you're going to get 15 mpg,” using it as an excuse not to pursue more efficient pickups. That attitude extends to the Sequoia and through time to today. Ford and GM have electric trucks coming, let alone more efficient engines, diesels, and other efforts to improve efficiency. And Ford offers an F-150 Hybrid. Time to step up, Toyota.

2021 Toyota Sequoia Nightshade Special Edition

2021 Toyota Sequoia Nightshade Special Edition

Hit: It looks pretty cool

The Sequoia is appropriately brawny, with high, broad shoulders and an overall imposing presence. The Nightshade Edition makes it look better, with blackout trim, black 20-inch wheels, and a dark chrome grille. The design may be from 13 years ago, but it still looks contemporary in the land of the giant SUVs.

2021 Toyota Sequoia Nightshade Special Edition

2021 Toyota Sequoia Nightshade Special Edition

Miss: Small screen

The vestiges of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system are alive and not so contemporary in the Sequoia. Toyota introduced Entune in 2012 and the Sequoia received an updated version for 2013. The system is no longer called Entune, but it uses some of the same familiar hardware—a 7.0-inch touchscreen, which is tiny by today’s standards, especially on the vast expanse of this big truck’s dash. The system was updated in 2020 to use the latest processor and add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus Toyota’s Remote Connect app that allows remote starting and vehicle status alerts, among other features. Competitors have at least 8.0-inch screens, and that makes Toyota’s system feel like using a five-year-old cell phone.

Hit: Modern safety, old truck

Toyota has kept the Sequoia contemporary in one important way: active safety features. The big truck comes standard with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts. It also gets front and rear parking sensors and automatic high beams. Kudos to Toyota for not putting safety above profit.

2021 Toyota Sequoia Nightshade Special Edition

2021 Toyota Sequoia Nightshade Special Edition

Miss: Priced wrong

The 2008 Toyota Sequoia’s base price was $35,960 with the 5.7-liter V-8, which was optional at the time. With almost no engineering changes, but some safety and connectivity improvements, the 2021 Toyota Sequoia starts at $51,765 for a base SR5 model. The 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe with a more efficient engine, a 10-speed automatic transmission, a newer infotainment system, and two additional generations of engineering starts at $51,295. To be fair, the Tahoe has fewer safety features (though it does have automatic emergency braking). However, the tooling for the Sequoia was paid for years ago, so now Toyota is just skimming profits off an old design, though with very few sales. There’s a lot to be said about the march of engineering progress and the Sequoia is mostly mute on that subject, while the competitors have a lot to say.

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2021 Toyota Sequoia Nightshade Special Edition

Base price: $64,520

Price as tested: $67,505

EPA fuel economy: 13/17/14 mpg

The hits: Looks good, strong V-8

The misses: Elderly design, inefficient even for its size, poor infotainment, too expensive

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