2020 Toyota Sequoia Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Aug 27, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Toyota deals!

Toyota’s entry in the full-size SUV segment, the 2020 Sequoia, hasn’t been redesigned since the 2008 model year. It arrived the same month as the start of the Great Recession and in the middle of a gas-price trend that saw the national average for unleaded climb from $1.35 per gallon in 2002 up to $3.62 in 2012*.

Since 2015, half a decade of stable gas prices averaging about $2.50 combined with a booming U.S. economy have rejuvenated full-size SUV sales. Understandably, though, Toyota may have been wary to invest in the Sequoia, unsure of the true profit potential of its big sport-ute. And when you drive one, the lack of investment shows.

2020 Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro Army Green Front View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Much the same today as it was back in 2008, the Sequoia comes in SR5, TRD Sport, Limited, TRD Pro, and Platinum trim levels, with prices ranging from $49,980 to $66,020 before adding options and destination charges. For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Sequoia TRD Pro equipped with a TRD performance exhaust system, all-weather floor liners, and a carpeted cargo mat. The price came to $66,789, including the $1,365 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Toyota deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Sequoia, it is helpful to understand who buys this large SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 64% of Toyota Sequoia owners are male (vs. 59% for the segment), and the median age of a Sequoia owner is 49 years (vs. 55).

Owners say their favorite things about the Sequoia are (in descending order) the driving feel, feeling of safety, powertrain, exterior styling, and driving comfort. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank highest in comparison to the large SUV segment:

  • Getting in/out of third-row seat
  • Vehicle protection
  • Rear seat comfort
  • Effectiveness of headlights
  • Smoothness of engine/motor

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Sequoia are (in descending order) the interior design, getting in and out, setting up and starting, infotainment system, and by a dramatic margin, fuel economy. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank lowest in comparison to the large SUV segment:

  • Fuel economy/driving range
  • Exterior styling
  • Attractiveness of screens and displays
  • Operating vehicle remotely
  • Interior styling

In the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Sequoia ranked 6th out of six large SUVs.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Toyota deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Toyota Sequoia measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

With no more than a glance, it’s easy to see that the Sequoia is based on the full-size Toyota Tundra pickup truck. They don’t share most body panels but are clearly fraternal twins. Overall, the forms here are soft and rounded, the TRD Pro adding rugged details like a different grille with block TOYOTA lettering, Rigid Industries-brand LED fog lights, black forged-aluminum 18-inch BBS-brand wheels wrapped in P275/65R18 tires, and a tube-style roof rack. 

2020 Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro Army Green Rear View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Offered for just one year only, the test vehicle’s Army Green paint represents an acquired taste, though it certainly grabbed attention out on the road. Other colors for the TRD Pro include black, white, and gray, all equipped with body-color or blacked-out trim elements for a custom look.

Interior

Inside, the Sequoia mirrors the Tundra pickup truck, the plastic-fantastic cabin coming nowhere near what you might expect in terms of quality in a vehicle priced above $65,000. And, with almost 13,000 hard automotive journalist miles on it, much of the test vehicle’s interior showed evidence of indifferent use.

2020 Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

From the creaking center console lid hinges and the feeling that it might snap off to scratched and gouged plastic throughout, the Sequoia looked like it had covered 10 times the distance reflected on the odometer. Of unusual note, the way the door panel speaker grilles are designed, if something liquid splashes or spills near them the residue gets trapped in the pattern. In this test vehicle’s case, it appeared that a vanilla milkshake had met a premature end inside of the SUV at some point in the Sequoia’s life.

Leather seats are standard in the Sequoia, featuring a tough, almost elephantine feel and texture. Large knobs and well-marked buttons add simplicity to the controls, but the yester-tech infotainment system is clearly yanked out of the Toyota parts bin, featuring a small display and controls that are harder to use. Plus, it is located far enough away from the driver that it might as well be reaching into a different zip code. And the cruise control stalk has been in the automaker’s arsenal since the 1990s.

On a positive note, from its dual glove compartments to its oversized center console, storage within the Sequoia is prodigious. There is a place for just about anything you might carry with you, and more.

Getting In and Out

To enter the Toyota Sequoia, you must climb up and into the SUV, making the running boards or step rails a requirement. The front doors don’t open very wide, either, but this isn’t really an issue.

Thanks to the Sequoia’s 122-inch wheelbase, the rear doors open quite wide, making it remarkably easy to load passengers into both the second- and third-row seats. The pass-through to the third-row is downright huge, no doubt leading Sequoia owners to rank this attribute of the SUV much higher than the overall segment average.

Around back, the tailgate window powers down, a unique attribute that allows for an open-air driving experience when the side windows are down and the power sunroof is open. A power tailgate and power-folding third-row seats help to make loading and unloading easier, but the high liftover height means you’ll need some muscle to place heavier items within the SUV.

Cargo space measures 18.9 cubic feet behind the third-row seat, 66.6 cubic feet behind the second-row seat, and 120.1 cubic feet behind the front seats.

Setting Up and Starting

Once you’re aboard the S.S. Sequoia, getting the SUV set up to your personal preferences is easy. Aside from the undersized driver information and infotainment displays, this Toyota isn’t all that difficult to figure out, a refreshing change from many modern vehicles.

Push the engine start button, and a 5.7-liter V-8 rumbles to life with a satisfyingly mellow note, enhanced in the test vehicle by the optional TRD performance exhaust system.

Infotainment System

Residing far away from the driver and looking positively tiny amid the oversized knobs and buttons on the Sequoia’s massive dashboard, the 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system looks entirely out of place. Prone to glare and recessed into the dashboard, it also looks far out of date.

However, this setup is remarkably sophisticated from a feature standpoint. And in the TRD Pro, it includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection, Amazon Alexa compatibility, SiriusXM satellite radio, and a 3-month/2GB trial plan to Wi-Fi Connect service. Additionally, it has dynamic navigation with a 3-year free trial to service, Safety Connect and Remote Connect services with a 1-year free trial, and more.

The TRD Pro also includes a 14-speaker JBL Synthesis premium sound system with Clari-Fi digital music restoration technology. It is one of the best things about the Sequoia.

Keeping You Safe

Another one of the best things about the Sequoia is its standard Toyota Safety Sense package of driving assistance and collision avoidance systems. It includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, and automatic high-beam headlights. A blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic warning and lane-change assistance is also standard for the Sequoia.

During testing, these technologies did not issue false alerts. However, the lane departure warning system’s seemingly incessant beeping quickly becomes an irritant, prompting a driver to shut it off.

Vehicle weight is a factor determining collision protection, and with its 5,985-pound curb weight, the Sequoia is downright heavy. But if you’re wondering how well this hefty Toyota will protect you and your family, there isn’t an answer. Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has performed crash-tests on this SUV.

With that said, the Sequoia’s platform-mate, the Tundra pickup, does not impress when it comes to small-overlap frontal-impact protection, according to the IIHS.

Powertrain

If you like the sound and the power of a traditional V-8 engine, the Sequoia does not disappoint. From the moment it fires up, it delivers a satisfying rumble delivered through the test vehicle’s performance exhaust system.

The 5.7-liter V-8 engine is standard, making 381 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 401 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,600 rpm. A 6-speed automatic transmission with a Sport driving mode, a Tow/Haul mode, and shift logic that recognizes when the SUV is ascending or descending a grade, is standard. It powers the Sequoia’s rear wheels unless you order the 4-wheel-drive system, which includes a limited-slip locking center differential.

Tried and true, this durable powertrain delivers satisfying acceleration while providing up to 7,100 pounds of towing capacity. Occasionally, the test SUV’s transmission behaved in a clunky manner, but this drivetrain enjoys a long history of dependable operation.

Fuel Economy

The greatest criticism you can level at the Sequoia’s engine is its unquenchable thirst for fuel. And, by a significant and dramatic margin, fuel economy is the biggest source of complaints from Sequoia owners.

On my testing loop, the TRD Pro averaged 14.3 mpg. Believe it or not, that result is better than the EPA estimate of 14 mpg in combined driving. Based on this real-world result and the Sequoia’s 26.4-gallon fuel tank, this means you can expect a driving range of 377 miles. But since you won’t drive the tank dry, plan to visit the gas station every 330 miles or so.

Driving Comfort

Every seating location within the Toyota Sequoia offers a wide, flat, and comfortable seat. Even the third-row seat easily accommodates adults. And in the test vehicle, the driver’s seat included a power-adjustable thigh support bolster perfect for long days on the open road.

Unfortunately, the hard plastic upper door panel trim makes your elbow sore after longer stints behind the steering wheel. And the amount of wind and engine noise that fills the cabin at a steady 75 mph means you’re going to want that JBL premium sound system.

It’s worth noting that if you live in a hot climate, whether it’s a dry heat like in Phoenix or swampy like in Atlanta, the Sequoia’s air conditioning system blows ice-cold, and fast. Gripped in a Southern California heat wave, the Sequoia’s entire interior felt like the cold room at your local big-box retail store. Brrrrr, but in a good way. 

Driving Feel

As part of its TRD Pro upgrades, the test vehicle had off-roading Fox shocks, lighter forged aluminum wheels, and a front skid plate. Naturally, it cruised over suburban speed humps and handled moderate off-roading with ease. But otherwise this SUV is a chore to drive.

No matter your environment – making a U-turn, parking at the mall, or getting turned around at the end of a trail – the Sequoia’s super-tight turning radius is helpful. But you really need to crank on the steering wheel to get this SUV’s wheels turned in the direction you want to go. And on the highway, the steering offers sloppy on-center feel combined with sometimes abrupt off-center response that makes the Sequoia feel unsettled.

The tires are not great on pavement. It doesn’t take much to get them to howl, and when making a low-speed U-turn on blacktop they were so noisy that restaurant patrons sitting outside looked up in alarm as though a vehicle was losing control and hurtling toward them.

You’re not going to want to toss this SUV down a favorite road, either. From the driver’s seat, it feels downright piggish on two-lane highways and the handling limits are low. Plus, during extended downhill driving in local mountains, the brakes heated up and began to both grumble and fade a bit.

Final Impressions - Find the best Toyota deals!

Where the Toyota Sequoia excels is with regard to reliability, interior room and comfort, and (believe it or not) its infotainment system functions and safety features. Otherwise, the time has come for Toyota to redesign the Sequoia. In fact, it’s overdue. Every other full-size SUV in the segment is a better choice in nearly every way.

*Data provided by Statista.com

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2020 J.D. Power

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