Viewing posts tagged 2008

Road Test: 2008 Toyota Sequoia

Up until 2007 the Sequoia was considered a reliable sport utility, but not quite up to par or size with the full size segment leaders, the Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition.   Starting off at a three-quarters scale disadvantage, Toyota knew they had to go bigger to angle for more sales from the full size segment.  Just as they did with the Tundra last year, the Sequoia is redesigned and up-sized going into 2008.  With a more aggressive front-end and a  5.7-liter 381-horsepower engine cherry picked from the new Tundra, Toyota has placed the Sequoia in an extremely competitive position relative to the also fresh Suburban and Expedition.  The big question: Is the new bruiser big enough to scare the other guys? The bigger question: If it is, did Toyota finally enter the super-hot SUV party just as it’s getting busted by high fuel prices?


From the moment you start up the optional 381-horsepower i-Force V8, it’s overly apparent there’s some serious muscle lurking under the hood. Lay into the accelerator and the brute force push from behind lends serious doubt that you are in fact driving a 17-foot long full-size sport utility. The exhaust note harks of Nissan’s 5.6-liter but with the smooth bravado of a DOHC Ford V8.  While only 1-inch short of an Expedition in total length the Sequoia is surprisingly small on the road, if only in feel.  It fits in a normal mall parking spot, navigates with a tight turning radius, and does not exhibit the normal light rear end feeling that many trucks and utilities in this segment can’t seem to get away from.  Between the fully independent rear suspension and the tourqy V8, we came away surprised just how livable Toyota has made the Sequoia.  The normal plus size awareness one must usually heed when driving any vehicle of this size has been beautifully engineered away.

On the exterior, Toyota must get credit for draping the visually aggressive exterior from the Tundra onto the Sequoia without bloat. Wimpy looks this monster does not have.  There are a few changes from the Tundra aside from the overall shape.  Chrome on the grill has been switched for paint and the faux vent on the front of the hood has been removed all together. The interior keeps the truck’s dash configuration but adds a more rich color palate and less black polished plastic around the radio.  A power flat fold third row seat is quick and easy to operate, complementing the available power open/close rear hatch nicely. Power hatches are common options on many vehicles these days but Toyota has taken it one step further by bringing a power retracting window into the mix as well.  We used the rear window quite a bit as warmer weather starts to penetrate New England this time of year.


On days the weather doesn’t work in your favor, as we also encountered,  the optional  four-wheel-drive system handles it all. With a half-foot of snow on the road, the Sequoia trudged through like the frozen road didn’t even exist. Stability control kept things strait and at lower speeds a lockable center differential firms up traction even more.  If you’re crazy, throw the transfer case in low and raise the air-suspension to its high level to gain an even greater advantage.

Again- not wanting to allow Chevy or Ford to have all the cake, Toyota took time with the Sequoia’s interior. Dual power front seats are large and comfortable. The second row is equally large and slides front to back giving the surprisingly spacious third row more leg-room as needed. Toyota claims the third row can fit three adults comfortably but we wouldn’t put more than two of our closest friends in the way back.  Even loaded up with a full bevy of adults, you can be rest-assured they will all have a place to bring along something to drink, with sixteen cup holders.  And if a 2:1 cup holder to passenger ratio wasn’t enough, many are large enough to fit a Nalgene bottle- a definite plus.

But besides all the flashy features, the bright spot on the Sequoia is the available 5.7-liter engine. It’s not standard, but if you absolutely need to tow something or are sadistic about fuel costs- this is your choice. 381-horsepower and 401-lb-ft of torque trump all the offerings from Ford, General Motors, or Nissan. As you might also guess- so does it’ s need for fuel. The EPA rates the Sequoia at 13-mpg in the city and 18 on the highway. During our 931-mile test we averaged just under 15-mpg.  For all the performance, those 931 miles set us back a cringe inducing $198 of regular unleaded. While not quite as tourqy, GM’s 6.0-liter with active fuel management reaches above 20-mpg with ease. In our example, driven a similar distance the GM would have only cost around $150 in gas. Over the course of a year this becomes a significant sum.  Toyota does offer an optional 4.7-liter V8, but with one less gear in the transmission (five versus six as found in our tester), the fuel economy on the highway drops to 16-mpg. Just something to make you go hmmmm.


By the end of our two-week stint we were really feeling this new Toyota. It offered plenty of space, great driving dynamics and rocket-like performance. While we are never one to turn away a monster engine, the thirst for octane may be too great for many people’s budget. Both the Expedition and Suburban fair better in fuel economy, which is quickly becoming a deal breaker as fuel prices threaten to continue their steep climb.  Is the Sequoia a better full-size? There is no doubt. Better than the current market leaders? Time will tell as personal choice is a hard thing to judge. We argue that the Sequoia has everything it takes to be the segment leader  and then some. However if fuel prices have any relation to sales figures, Toyota still has some catching up to do.

All the right stuff to beat up all those pesky Suburban’s on luxury and performance but with a thirsty disadvantage.

Things we liked:
– Hello- 381 V8 horsepower!
– Power third row that is comfortable and folds flat
-Could tow your house

Could be better:
– Hello- 381 V8 horsepower!
– Hard plastics used in sections of interior
– Fit and finish not as detailed as GM interiors

View our original Road Test photo gallery of the 2008 Toyota Sequoia


Road Test: 2008 Volvo C30

Some of my first memories of Volvo include the commercial where a sedan is pushed off a building, slamming face first into the ground. The Volvo was trashed but the point was that the occupants would have been just fine, because Volvo was synonymous with safety. The link worked and to this day when someone asks me what the safest line of cars is, I point out Volvo as a good choice, but because they actually are- not that I bought the marketing hype. A main concern of a typical new American family, but often held to a lesser regard to people of my generation. It’s not that we don’t care about how safe a car is, but if it won’t get our hearts pumping at the same time- there’s just no point. Volvo, being obsessed with the safety image has recently made strides in the design and quality of their vehicles but until the C30, lacked a sporty disposition in any shape or form.


So, now in 2008, Volvo has really gotten their act together. The C30 represents an entry level car that the Volvo brand has needed for years. Starting at $22k it’s affordable for the segment the company is aiming for. It’s right in line with the GTI- a car that has done a great job positioning itself as not only cool, but extremely sporty for an obtainable price.  And although the C30 and GTI start in the same spot the idea is to funnel future buyers in completely different places. Volkswagen is a family marquee- Volvo is a luxury brand. Both V-dub and the Swedes hope their respective models entice younger buyers to end up staying in the brand once they need to move up in size.

In person, a look at the C30 and you can’t help but stare- even if for a second. Unmistakably a Volvo from front to back but very unlike any Volvo you’ve seen on the road before. It certainly sticks out. A fastback shape, signature Volvo tail lamps, and a slightly more sporty front fascia adaptation from the S40.  A large glass hatch dips down to the beltline presenting what some would call an odd appearance in the rump. Not odd in a bad way, more “hmm.. that’s interesting.”  Where the C30 is unmistakably svelte is in its profile.  Standing only 4.5-feet tall, the rear sloping back at such an angle, the wheels pushed far to each corner, you just get the feeling this is an automobile for someone who dreams of carving up a desolate mountain road.  Don’t let the Volvo badge fool you- those instincts are right. The “T5” badge on the back is abstract, but if you didn’t know already stands for Turbocharged 5 cylinder. 18-inch low profiles on a compact?  Hmmm… indeed.


A quick jump into the driver’s seat sets an interesting tone.   Shapes you’ve never seen outside another Volvo flow from the outside in.  The interior’s main focal point is the waterfall dash.  Normally, being able to slide your hand behind the radio and heating controls means you’re a few pieces of plastic short of an interior, but in this Volvo it’s a fully intentional work of art. The slim controls gracefully flow from dash to center console in a smooth aluminum finish leaving room for a cell phone or other small item behind. Four symmetrical dials control audio and temperature. The dash pad is tastefully textured and soft to the touch. The seats are quite possibly the only disappointment we found in our non-leather C30 Version 2.0. Volvo’s T-Tec synthetic covering is meant to be a comfortable and wear/stain resistant leather substitute. Despite being comfortable and wear/stain resistant, it still feels like vinyl. A small grievance that is made up for in the rest of the interior.  Sliding the front seats forward gives you access to the rear.  The system is clumsy, as the folding lever pulls in an unnatural direction and resets the seat distance.  The good news is that all seats feature decent bolstering, gripping you tightly around the corners.  Staying firmly in place while driving a small hatch is a nice touch we appreciate.


So we’ve determined, stylistically at least, the C30 is extremely well executed.  All for naught however if you can’t flip it around a corner like a starving fruit fly. As mentioned, The T5 badge is the only hint on the whole car that you’re not just paying for a pretty face. Even upon firing the inline five there is no rush of noise or exhaust burble. At full throttle there’s not even a hint of the turbo.  Perhaps Volvo should have added, or at least offered, a more vocal option- but that’s just being picky. Line up for a corner and we could care less about the exhaust- the C30 is nimble. It’s obvious that the idea was to incorporate Volvo comfort with a connected and tossable feel.  We were skeptical, but after a week of tearing up New Hampshire back-roads we came away feeling as if they did a half decent job going far enough to satisfy the enthusiasts without becoming disconnected from the rest of the Volvo lineup. The one downfall is that to get that touch of complacency the rebound of the suspension is noticeable on frost-bubbled and bumpy routes. It’s loose enough that you feel like the car never quite settles down. Not bad, but not as perfect as the GTI or MazdaSpeed 3.

Touching into the throttle and a slow turbo-driven surge brings things up to speed quite nicely. The 6-speed manual is a great choice for this type of car but doesn’t have quite the finesse and accuracy we would prefer.  We do thank Volvo for at least offering a manual because a sport compact without one is most certainly missing something. Even with the performance you still get decent mileage. We averaged just shy of 20mpg with plenty of full throttle “testing.”


A much needed injection of youth into the Volvo brand that may come up short for hardcore sport-compact enthusiasts but will excite the economical/safe crowd.

The Good:

– Low cut side profile that screams sport
– 227 horsepower turbo  5-cylinder with an impressive 90.8 hp per liter
– Stylish waterfall radio/HVAC surround
– Every safety feature you expect from a Volvo

Could be better:
– A suspension that sacrifices sport for comfort and in return feels unsettled
– Shifter linkage feels sloppy and numb
– Volvo calls the seat covering “T-Tec”- we call it “plastic”
– Sliding the front seats forward to access the rear means readjusting the driver’s seat. Not fun when you’re just getting out your backpack.

View our original 2008 Volvo C30 Road Test Photo Gallery