x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Toyota Sequoia

The Toyota Sequoia is not a car you could take dune-bashing, but it's great for the school run.

The Toyota Sequoia is not a car you could take dune-bashing, but it's great for the school run.
The Toyota Sequoia is not a car you could take dune-bashing, but it's great for the school run.

The Toyota Sequoia is as comically big as I am comically short. As a result, there were plenty of gags from my friends about how I would need a stepladder, a mountaineer's pick or a sherpa to help me into the driver's seat. They weren't far wrong. When I drove out of the dealership, I actually laughed out loud at the height, length and width of this eight-seater beast. There was car around me as far as the eye could see.

My spatial awareness was tested as I got used to the huge proportions of the car. From my high perch, it seemed wider than the lanes, but it was just an optical illusion. However, nippily darting in and out of traffic is simply not an option in this car. Lane changes require plenty of care - or an arrogant "it's my road and I'll barge in if I want to" mentality. For the driver who prefers to change lanes with care and courtesy, Toyota has wisely blessed the Sequoia with giant wing mirrors that almost allow you to see into the next emirate.

In case there's any doubt as to who this car is aimed at, there is also a pop-down fish-eye mirror below the rear vision mirror which allows for a clear view into the back seat. Perfect for frazzled parents to keep an eye on any childish shenanigans. Any hair-pulling, poking, name-calling or whining can all be easily spied. The eight seats are plush and comfortable - I drove a rather tired friend from Dubai to Fujairah in the Sequoia and he seemed to really appreciate the qualities of the passenger seat. And if he was truly ill, rather than just feeling full of remorse after a late night, he could have reclined in the back without too much trouble - there was legroom aplenty even for his 186 -centimetre frame.

As the kilometres rolled by, he perked up considerably, aided by a decent sound system pumping the greatest hits of Elvis - it was big, American music for a big car with an American RV feel to it. The seats are thickly leathered, like an elephant hide, and the dashboard is populated by chunky dials perfect for big, clumsy hands. The marketing material describes it as a "city SUV" which could be construed as something of a contradiction in terms, for surely a sport-utility vehicle is meant to do more than just buzz around the city, go to the mall and drop the kids off at school. But this is indeed an accurate description. The six-speed automatic transmission has a sports mode that allows you to change gears manually and offers a bit more power when overtaking, but there isn't the low range option that you get on other SUVs. This is not a car for dune-bashing. When we were photographing the car, it very nimbly climbed up a rather high gutter near the Abu Dhabi Breakwater and traversed some sand without incident, but a trip to the wilds of Liwa may be a bridge too far. This is a city car and a mega-sized family car as well as a very comfortable long-road-trip car.

The gearbox is very smooth and the gear changes are barely discernible, a fact that my friend in the passenger seat appreciated given that he may have felt a tad wobbly in the stomach on the trek to Fujairah. Under the bonnet, there's a 5.7- litre V8 that did an excellent job of getting up to 120kph and staying there. It loved overtaking and I think for a lot of drivers in smaller cars, the mere sight of the Sequoia appearing over the horizon and filling their rearview mirrors was generally enough to make them move over.

I can only imagine how freaky it would be if you were driving a Yaris and suddenly all you could see behind you was this monolithic machine. With 539Nm of torque, it has the pulling power to bring caravan holidays back into fashion - something to consider in these recessionary times. While offering a rather satisfying roar when the key is turned, the engine in full flight was quiet, allowing a combination of conversation and Elvis to reign supreme. The Sequoia is no Yaris in the fuel consumption stakes, but a Dh105 tank of petrol was good for more than 500km of motorway driving.

While the Sequoia does indeed seat eight people - proper-sized people, not just me-sized people - pretty well, the luggage capacity truly shows its worth with the rear row of seats folded down to make a rather generous boot into which we loaded bags for the weekend, a coolbox, blow-up mattresses, sleeping bags and quilts galore in case the Fujairah motel lived up to its reputation for bed shortages.

My sleepy travelling companion managed to laugh when I demonstrated the beeping buttons one pushes to flatten the back seats, marvelling that even manually lowering and raising seats is now too much of a chore for people. On arrival in Fujairah, the friends who had already arrived at the motel were gobsmacked when the Sequoia rolled into view and promptly prevented the people staying in the next villa from being able to park their car. It's a vehicle that just cannot be ignored and, as I executed what seemed like a 27-point turn to give the neighbours some room for their car, I hoped that Francis W Davis and Charles F Hammond, the blokes generally credited with inventing power steering, died very rich men. Combined with excellent parking sensors, it wasn't nearly as gruelling as one might think to execute tight manoeuvres in such a heffalump-sized vehicle.

While marketed as a SUV, the reality is that it's about as sporty as Homer Simpson, but with an excellent engine, a smooth gearbox and plenty of space, the Sequoia is definitely a worthy and comfortable competitor to the likes of the Nissan Armada and the GMC Yukon. Homer could easily load up Marge and the three kids and still have plenty of room for his Duff and doughnuts. glewis@thenational.ae