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Heavy-duty hauling holiday

Normally, when you push down on a vehicle's accelerator, the speedometer doesn't start rolling backward.

Published September 5, 2009
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<p>SPRINGBROOK, P.E.I.–Normally, when you push down on a vehicle's accelerator, the speedometer doesn't start rolling backward. </p><p>But there we were, towing a travel trailer up the steep inclines of the St. John River Valley in New Brunswick, watching our speed fall faster than the gas gauge.</p><p>Welcome to the world of RVing. Welcome to the slow lane.</p><p>You may be the type of person who would ask why anyone would buy a gas-guzzling, politically incorrect, full-size SUV. Sometimes, though, a less capable vehicle just won't do. </p><p><b>Take for example </b>our family's summer road trip to Springbrook, on the north shore of P.E.I., just west of Anne of Green Gables World (a.k.a. Cavendish).</p><p>This year, our family of five decided to try camping during the five-day 2,600 km round-trip. Or more accurately, to "RV it," with a 6.4-metre-long Mallard travel trailer, on loan from Go RVing Canada (a coalition of recreational vehicle manufacturers, dealers and campground operators).</p><p>For our journey down and back, the "Disco Duck" (as the Mallard was quickly tagged) – with air conditioning, heat, stove, fridge, toilet, bathtub with shower, and room to sleep six – would replace the motel rooms we would usually book on our biennial roadie to the Maritimes.</p><p>Obviously, our regular ride, a compact sedan, wouldn't be able to pull the trailer out of our laneway without requesting a new gearbox or rear springs, let alone haul the passengers and more than two weeks' supply of holiday stuff.</p><p>So we snagged one of those aforementioned archaic SUVs. Specifically, a 2010 Toyota Sequoia SR5.</p><p>Toyota is well aware of the bad rap large SUVs get these days, but the company still wants to sell you one. </p><p>So this year, the base $48,320 Sequoia SR5 gets a new smaller-yet-more-powerful (310 versus 276 hp, and 327 versus 313 lb.-ft. of torque) and fuel efficient (combined 13.8 L/100 km or 20.5 m.p.g. versus 14.4 L or 19.6 m.p.g.) 4.6-litre V8 to replace last year's base 4.7 L eight. </p><p>(The 381 hp 5.7-litre V8 engine carries on as the only engine choice on in the more upscale $57,235 Limited and $65,475 Platinum Sequoias.)</p><p>The compromise – as there always seems to be – is in the 4.6 L's towing capacity.</p><p>On paper, the Sequoia SR5's 3,175 kg tow rating has the trailer's 2,529 kg gross vehicle weight rating well covered – the maximum allowable total weight of the trailer when loaded with beach balls and whatnot. But that's below the 4,082 kg limit that the Sequoia 5.7 L can pull, let alone what the SR5's respective rivals – $51,635 Chevrolet Tahoe and $55,398 Nissan Armada – can haul.</p><p>But would the smaller-engine Sequoia SR5 manage as our holiday beast of burden?</p><p><b>Taking the most </b>expedient route from eastern Ontario to P.E.I., we drove south of the St. Lawrence River via Autoroute 20 in Quebec. We hung a right, and headed south through the St. John River valley in New Brunswick via Hwy. 2 then crossed over the Northumberland Strait on the 13-km-long Confederation Bridge to P.E.I.</p><p>We more than likely would have appreciated the larger 5.7 L eight's additional 74 lb.-ft. of torque when taking off. Despite the 4.6 L's economy leanings, though, the Sequoia SR5's recessionary engine had little problem ensuring our 5,200-plus kg holiday juggernaut stayed with holiday traffic once up to speed. But some tricks are required.</p><p>First, make sure the Sequoia's "Tow/Haul" button is engaged. It modifies shift points of the six-speed automatic for optimal performance. Then, slide the gearbox from D to S. This will call up snappier downshifts as well.</p><p>Using this method, our Sequoia/Duck truck-and-trailer combo could easily keep up with the 100 to 110 km/h holiday traffic. </p><p><b>Just don't expect </b>to get anywhere near the advertised non-towing fuel consumption numbers.</p><p>Along the flat farmlands of Quebec, the Sequoia's trip computer read about 22 L/100 km (12.8 m.p.g.) average, or double the SR5's 11.1 L/100 km (25.5 m.p.g) rating. But once we started making the long climbs on Hwy. 2 between Edmundston and Fredericton, N.B., we were averaging closer to 35 L/100 km (8 m.p.g.).</p><p>Ouch. We were swilling dollar-a-litre gas like an orbit-bound Saturn V rocket, which meant having to refuel every 2 1/2 hours. If you're in a hurry, the too-frequent fill-ups – along with the need to plan every stop like D-Day to make sure you have an exit strategy for your huge rig – really adds to your travel day. </p><p><b>As a means </b>to a destination, it's hard to recommend our RV experience. </p><p>Including the daily trailer rental, RV park fees and gas, it cost us nearly $1,800 for five days of travelling to P.E.I. and back </p><p>By renting two hotel rooms (one with a kitchenette) and driving the same Sequoia, our costs would have been nearer to $900.</p><p>As one of the roomiest eight-passenger SUVs on the market, the four-wheel-drive Sequoia SR5 made for a comfortable family room on wheels. Class-leading shoulder room meant no complaints from the two Princesses and Grandma perched back in the middle row for the duration. </p><p>We only used the third row for seating a couple of times while on the Island. But the Sequoia beats the Tahoe and Armada for cargo room, seats up or down.</p><p><b>After setting up </b>the Duck as overflow accommodations for visiting family and friends, the unladened SUV felt like a Supra Turbo. From the driver's seat, the best part of trailering can be shedding the trailer. </p><p>The added weight to take into consideration when accelerating or braking, and the pendulum effect the trailer causes in crosswinds, meant a lot more concentration behind the wheel than when we were trailer-free. </p><p>Then there are the gains in fuel economy. During our two weeks in P.E.I. trailer-free, the Sequoia SR5 averaged a more realistic13.3 L/100 km (21 m.p.g.).</p><p>Okay. The Sequoia doesn't really drive like a sports car. But relative to its two main rivals, it feels the least cumbersome and is much more refined behind the wheel as we criss-crossed the Island from Summerside to Brackley Beach.</p><p>Its independent rear-suspension, unique for this class, absorbs bumps extremely well and kept the big SUV's body-motion control in check better than a Toyota Highlander crossover I drove last year. </p><p>And unlike the ladder-frame Tundra pickup it's based upon, Toyota's full-size SUV gets a fully boxed frame. That meant nary a rattle or moan from the Sequoia's cabin or chassis during our tenure.</p><p>Beefs? Two: finger light steering, and the six-speed autobox's indecisiveness sometimes. </p><p><b>Dollar-per litre </b>gas and the emerging frugality-is-chic zeitgeist mean fewer people are considering full-size SUVs as daily transportation. As we discovered, though, sometimes you really need the room and generous towing capacity only a full-size SUV can deliver.</p><p>Less expensive to get into, roomier and more refined to drive than its two main rivals – and now with the more powerful yet economical 4.6 eight – it wouldn't be hard to choose the new 2010 Sequoia SR5 in those circumstances. Even when it's not towing a 2,529 kg Duck.</p><i>Freelance writer John LeBlanc can be reached at <b> </b><b>editors@straight-six.com</b><b> </b></i>