In the category of full-size gas SUVs that are capable of going off-road, this is Toyota’s entry, and new for 2023, as the Sequoia is now in its third-generation. On paper, there is a lot to like about the 2023 Sequoia TRD Pro, but I cannot say, initially, that I was very excited to drive it. I’m a childless city-dweller, for one thing, and despite being tall the benefits of a bigger car aren’t always apparent to me, especially because I don’t have anything to tow. Further, I don’t do overlanding or camping, and while I have some minor experience off-roading, it’s not a hobby, because it’s expensive, and I already have enough expensive hobbies.
All of that is to say that I don’t despise big gas SUVs, exactly, I just think of them as existing for other people: People with families or people who tow heavy things, or people who like to use their vehicle to explore the great outdoors, or people who don’t mind the extra attention. The fact that none of that applies to me also isn’t the Sequoia TRD Pro’s fault; indeed, part of the reason I wanted to drive the Sequoia TRD Pro is because I’m the opposite of its target demographic.
(Full disclosure: Toyota was kind enough to recently lend me a 2023 Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro for a week. It was very nice of them.)
I also know that plenty of people who don’t check off any of those boxes buy these things anyway, to make a statement or something, or because they think they need a vehicle for the apocalypse, or because they just think it looks cool. Plenty of those people also live in Los Angeles, where I was staying for a few weeks and had access to a 2023 Sequoia TRD Pro for a week. Why fight it?
And so it was that I found myself in a parking garage not far from Los Angeles International Airport on a Wednesday, encountering the car for the first time. The Sequoia TRD Pro was absolutely enormous, as I thought it would be.
Getting it out of the parking garage was the first challenge, because the parking garage was built for cars smaller than the Sequoia TRD Pro. If I had any apprehensions about the car beforehand, it was a situation just like this: navigating tight spaces, because (a) the car is not mine and I’d like to return it in one piece and (b) visibility in modern cars tends to be an issue, more so with big ones. The Sequoia TRD Pro mitigates this with its screen, which activates at low speeds and shows you a live exterior model of the car and other views, tools that I came to regard as invaluable.
That’s because after several days with the car you learn to drive it less like a car and more like a van or a small bus. You make small, slow movements to stay safe, and you ask for the forgiveness of other drivers as you navigate narrow streets. Parking started out as a great pain, even in Los Angeles, because many spots are simply too small, but parking eventually became somewhat of a Zen exercise, a slow creep into and out of one’s space, while simultaneously checking your mirrors, the screen, and what you can view from your seat.
On the road itself, driving the Sequoia was not a terribly different experience than driving most big cars. It reminded me, mostly, of what an instructor had told me once at a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course: Anyone can ride a motorcycle over 25 mph, but it takes skill and practice to ride a bike at slower speeds. Which is how I found the Sequoia as well: Perfectly manageable once you were out on the road moving, but challenging at slow speeds and while parking. The screen and cameras — showing you views of your blind spots, of which there are many — certainly help, but it’s hard to trust them completely. That’s in part because of decades of driving experience relying on other means, and in part because the stakes are raised while driving a $80,131 vehicle.
Still, out on the road, you feel a bit invincible, which is what a car like this is trying to do. The wheels are 18 inches and the Falken tires are 33 inches and, while this is no race truck, on potholed city streets nothing troubled me and certainly nothing worried me. On the inside, the engine gave off a pleasing roar, while a passenger in front was so far away they might as well have been in a different room. Modern big SUVs are manses, in that everyone in the family has abundant room to make a space of one’s own.
As the days passed, I began to regard this ridiculous car as less an annoying burden and more an interesting project. I never took it off-road, for example, but each trip was always a bit of an adventure, the dramas being not the passibility of trails but the size of your destination’s parking spot. And if you’re used to such things because you’ve been driving a big vehicle for a while, then I’m sure that all becomes pretty routine.
I could feel that start to happen, too, by the end of my time with the Sequoia, and new safety protocols becoming second nature. I had begun to let go, because I had developed some solutions to assuage my worries, which were mainly about killing pedestrians or taking out someone’s mirror. The solutions were: Take it slow, take it easy, use the cameras and the tools, and give yourself more space than you think you need. That is, of course, the opposite approach that a race truck driver would take — they are always on full send — but, again, the Sequoia TRD Pro is not a race truck. It’s a big SUV that’s possible to love after you’ve started to take things slow.
The 2023 Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro starts at $76,000, though the version I tested is $80,131, according to its Monroney sticker. It had a twin-turbo V6 hybrid which makes 437 horsepower, but only gets 20 mpg combined despite being a hybrid, perhaps because its curb weight is 6,150 pounds. It was over 17 feet long, and over six-and-a-half feet wide. That made it smaller than a GMC Hummer EV, but not much smaller.