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  • Todd

Tale of Two Trucks

Growing up in Texas, it seemed every family I knew had a Suburban. School pickup lines were filled with these multi-bench 4x4 monsters long before the current SUV craze. The Explorer and Expedition soon followed, and early in my driving I experienced most every major GM of Ford barge. There were other options, of course, but this was Texas, no one drove a Toyota.

Today, Toyota has one of the most divergent product lines of the major carmakers. Thanks to collaborations with smaller companies and an ongoing interest in racing their cars, they have less of a uniform feel than the core sameness found in most massive automakers. Toyota is a safe company, strategically offering a model in every segment and focused on those that sell best.

The toughness and reliability of Toyota has gained them a hard fought respect in off-road circles. The Land Cruiser is one of the longest running and most beloved off-roaders. The Tundra pickup is a genuine alternative to the F150 buyer. And the smaller Tacoma has legions of fans who love to tell stories of how their little “taco” out wranglered a Jeep in the backcountry.

The Toyota Sequoia and the Lexus LX570 spring from two of these platforms. The Sequoia is a competitor to the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Explorer, with a seven seat body built on the Tundra pickup. The LX570 Is the biggest car to wear the Predator Maw styling and Lexifies its Land Cruiser running gear to wind up competing against the Escalades and Range Rovers of the world.

These two Toyota products share components and tech. Yet one succeeds as a genuine alternative while the other feels out of place among its competition and its siblings.

The dividing line of these Toyota seven seaters is in the running gear. While they share the same 5.7 liter V8 engine with 381hp and 400 lb ft torque, the Sequoia pairs it with a 6 speed automatic, and the LX570 (and Land Cruiser) offers an 8 speed. The biggest difference is the rear suspension which is fully independent on the Sequoia but maintains a solid rear axle on the LX570. As a result, the LX has a superior towing capability but also worse ride quality. The LX also inherits the Land Cruisers full low range gearbox and off-road prowess, something no buyer will ever test but should make fascinating conversation at their next wine tasting.

Both of these SUVs are huge and heavy. The LX570 we drove as a 5 seat model, even though a third row bench is an option. This made the Lexus the lightweight of the two, coming in at 5800lbs to the Sequoias 6,000! Add a rear bench to your Lexus (or Land Cruiser) and it will also tap three tons on the scale. While this is a typical range for a full-size SUV, it prevents any chance of agility.

Positioned as a more family friendly alternative to the Land Cruiser, the Sequoia is now in the last few years of its second generation. The Tundra underpinnings provide for a huge platform. The TRD sport model we drove was blacked out and riding on a sport suspension promising more performance than the rest of the trim levels. It succeeds in feeling lighter than its 6,000lbs of bulk, but gives a stiffer ride than necessary for a family hauler. Winding my way through the curves of Yellowstone with my family filling the seats, the Sequoia proves capable and agile enough for a monster SUV. Sport suspension or not, this isn’t meant to be a corner carver. Ride and space are the vital elements, and I’d easily trade the sport suspension for a tighter turning radius and a softer freeway ride.

As the upscale Land Cruiser, the LX570 takes the offload capability of the Land Cruiser and covers it in leather and technology. While we don’t expect great handling from a huge SUV, the LX570 never stops feeling heavy. After a few quick errands, the Sequoia already begins to feel comfortable. Meanwhile, every time we drove the LX570, it spurred comments about its size and weight before we’d even gone a block.

The LX570 feels out of place in the Lexus lineup. The rest of their offerings focus on isolating the driver and passengers from the world. Easy power and undemanding inputs create a decompression chamber trying not to distract the driver with the task at hand. The LX is the opposite, requiring constant vigilance and regular correction due to its jittery ride and a lazy responses. The ride would feel right at home in a Jeep, but as a Lexus it feels off-brand.

To understand the LX570, we have to look at the Land Cruiser buyer. In the US, the Land Cruiser is outsold by many in the SUV lineup, but dedicated owners keep buying them in every form. As those owners grown older and go in search of greater luxury, Lexus now offers them a Lexfied version of the truck they’ve always loved. It’s an island in the Lexus lineup where the badge just indicates a nicer Land Cruiser. For nearly $90,000 ($88,000 as tested) I can’t justify it over any of the competition. Range Rovers and Cayennes both offer great off-road capability, but can be as smooth and cosseting as a luxury sedan. Lexus service and reliability are stellar, but that can’t fix a platform that’s too rough to be a Lexus.

In a world where off-road tested SUVs spend their lives in stop-and-go and Starbucks, the best buys are those that make the journey easy. The Lexus refuses to hide its off-road components, while the Sequoia hauls the entire family without teetering on rock-crawling suspension. The twenty-thousand dollar price difference leaves me baffled as the Sequoia does every activity the Suburban has done for decades, while offering Toyota quality and a ride far superior to the more expensive LX570.

The Sequoia flies under the radar of the well known full-size SUVs, but anyone shopping for a Tahoe or Explorer should give the Toyota a test drive. While it has some base materials in the interior, the controls are easy to understand and the technology offered actually makes life easier. Parking lots are safer thanks to an array of sensors including cross-traffic-alert which saved us more than once while backing out of tight spaces. Electronically folding seats save time and body strain and the cargo space rivals the American standbys.

Full size SUVs like these are more immense, more capable, and more filled with tech than ever, but they aren’t created equal. For the typical family road trips and commuting, the Sequoia offers a compelling choice. But if you’re looking for an off-road capable luxury SUV, the competition is better than the LX570.

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