RALEIGH-DURHAM, NC – In the context of the fullsize SUV segment, the new ’08 Sequoia is a good progression of Toyota Motor Corp.’s family hauler, with increased interior space, a tight turning radius and the auto maker’s brawny 5.7L V-8 under the hood.

However, with the price of a barrel of oil heading toward an all-time high of $100 and the lumps coming more frequently from the environmental advocacy groups that once unwaveringly loved Toyota, there couldn’t be a worse time to launch a fullsize SUV in the U.S.

As expected, the new Sequoia is heavily influenced by the fullsize Tundra pickup, with which it shares a platform and the abundantly torquey “iForce” V-8.

It boasts many of Tundra’s styling cues, specifically the in-your-face grille (albeit slightly tweaked) and the mixed-media instrument panel that features various silver-painted, glossy black and matte black finishes.

In drawing from the Tundra chassis, the Sequoia gains 3.9 ins. (9.9 cm) in wheelbase and 1.2 ins. (3.0 cm) in length, boosting interior volumes. The switch to an independent rear suspension from the current Sequoia’s live axle creates additional wiggle room for third-row passengers.

Coupled with the newly designed double wishbone front suspension the ’08 Sequoia chassis belies its body-on-frame status. However, the just-poured roads in this booming college area likely create a skewed sense of suspension subtlety.

Unlike other large SUVs, many of which have trouble navigating empty parking lots, the Sequoia proves surprisingly impressive when our group misses a driveway and must perform a U-turn on a tight subdivision street. Thanks to the vehicle’s tight, 39-ft. (12-m) turning circle, the maneuver is accomplished without having to engage reverse.

A new assist-varying Variable Flow Control power-steering system improves fuel economy by consuming less horsepower, Toyota says. Estimated city fuel economy is 14 mpg (16.8 L/100 km) for 2-wheel-drive Sequoias and 13 mpg (18.1 L/100 km) for 4-wheel-drive models, no matter the engine (a 4.7L V-8 also is available).

On the highway, the 2WD Sequoia equipped with the 5.7L V-8 is expected to get the best fuel economy, 19 mpg (12.4 L/100 km), while the 2WD with the 4.7L should achieve 17 mpg (13.8 L/100 km), Toyota says.

Observed fuel economy here in a Platinum-trim Sequoia with 4WD and the 5.7L averages 18 mpg (13.1 L/100 km), but after some relatively intense off-roading that drops to 15.4 mpg (15.3 L/100 km).

’08 Toyota Sequoia Platinum
Vehicle type Front-engine, 4-wheel-drive 4-door SUV
Engine 5.7L DOHC V-8 with aluminum heads, block
Power (SAE net) 381 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque 401 lb.-ft. (544 Nm) @ 3,600 rpm
Compression ratio 10.2:1
Bore x stroke (mm) 94 x 102
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase 122 ins. (310 cm)
Overall length 205.1 ins. (521 cm)
Overall width 79.9 ins. (203 cm)
Overall height 74.6 ins. (189 Cm)
Curb weight 6,000 lbs./2,722 kg
Base price range TBA
EPA fuel economy city/hwy (mpg) 13/18
(18.1/13.1 L/100 km)
Market competition Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Ford Expedition, Nissan Armada
Pros Cons
Roomy Thirstier than minivan
Tight turning circle A behemoth to park
On par segment leaders Hurts “green image”

For comparison purposes, the Chevy Tahoe gets an estimated 14 mpg city (4x2 and 4x4 models) and 19/20 mpg (12.4-11.8 L/100 km) highway (4x2/4x4) when equipped with a 5.3L V-8.

Unlike the Tahoe, there is no hybrid-electric version available, but an E85-compatible Sequoia will bow sometime in the next year, Toyota promises.

Inside, the Sequoia has roomy second- and third-row seating, with 7 ft. (2.1 m) of length behind the first-row seats to the back of the vehicle, Toyota says.

To help passengers get in and out, Toyota increased the angle at which the rear door opens to 77 degrees.

The interior is well appointed, with some nicer materials (including a soft, sweater-type headliner) than seen in other Toyotas of late. However, the busy dash could stand to be toned down to just a couple finishes.

When the Sequoia debuted in 2000, Toyota envisioned taking a sizable chunk of the market away from General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. But that hasn’t happened.

With a market share of 1.2% in the January-September period, the Toyota is far from overtaking the segment-leading Chevy Tahoe (7.5% share) anytime soon, Ward’s data shows.

Still, Toyota wants to double the current Sequoia’s annual volume to 65,000-66,000 units with the new model, a level it hasn’t reached in several years.

But it seems as if the idea of a fullsize SUV, given today’s market and GM and Ford’s still-iron grip on the sector, is an outdated notion for most other auto makers.

And, with even more competition from the trendy large cross/utility vehicle segment, where GM’s new Buick Enclave/GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook trio resides, Toyota may struggle to keep Sequoia sales on track.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com