Byline: Nick Yost, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
With the rush of buyers to softer, on-road crossover vehicles, it might appear the days of the rugged, go-anywhere SUV are coming to an end.
But Japanese giant Toyota isn't buying into that idea.
Hot on the introduction of its premium Lexus LX 470 and Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles, the manufacturer will unveil the second generation of its full-size Sequoia SUV in late December.
"We expect to see some life breathing back into that segment," Brian Smith, Toyota's corporate manager for truck operations, recently told a group of automotive journalists.
He said he "expects large-SUV sales to be 500,000 (annually) over the next three years - three percent of the automotive market."
Although his remarks were made before crude oil began flirting with $100 a barrel and gas prices edged toward $3 a gallon, Smith said his estimate was based on the premise that "people who buy a full-size SUV need a full-size SUV."
He predicted 2008 sales of 66,000 vehicles, 3,000 less than Sequoia's best year.
People in the market for a 2008 Sequoia will find a vehicle that is a bit larger and roomier than its predecessor, with looks that bear at least a slight family resemblance to the smaller Toyota Highlander.
The first new Sequoia since the original was introduced in 2000, it was developed in tandem with Toyota's new full-size Tundra pickup truck so it's no surprise that it will come with two of the same engines.
In addition to its carryover 4.7-liter V-8 engine, the Sequoia will be available with a newly developed 5.7-liter V-8 that develops 381 horsepower and 401 pounds-feet of torque.
The 4.7-liter engine, which produces 276 horsepower and 314 pounds-feet of torque, will be teamed with a five-speed automatic transmission and the more powerful powerplant will be mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
All Sequoias will be available with two-wheel or four-wheel drive and all will be capable of towing up to 10,000 pounds.
The EPA estimates in-town fuel consumption at 14 miles per gallon for all two-wheel-drive vehicles and 13 mpg for the four-wheel-drive Sequoias. On the highway, however, SUVs with the larger engine are expected to return 19 mpg (2wd) and 18 mpg (awd), two mpg better than similarly equipped trucks with the 4.7-liter powerplant.
Smith said price-wise, the Sequoia will "continue to be competitive" and that he expects 90 percent of buyers to choose SUVs with the larger engine. The split between 2wd and 4wd, he said, will be about 50-50.
A short drive in a Sequoia equipped with the 5.7-liter engine produced no surprises. As expected, the powerplant was strong, smooth and quiet, even when towing a large powerboat and trailer.
The six-speed transmission worked seamlessly, huge ventilated disc brakes easily kept the nearly three-ton SUV under control and the steering was reasonably precise. What drivers will particularly like about the rack-and-pinion setup is a surprisingly tight, 39-foot turning radius that gives the Sequoia excellent maneuverability in heavy traffic and tight parking situations. …