2009 Toyota Kluger Grande AWD Road Test Review
THE EMERGENCE of the crossover as the preferred means of family transport for middle-class Australians was sudden.
Bigger interiors, better forward visibility, falling import tariffs (and thus lower prices) and a rugged image made high-riding softroaders an attractive choice for family-bound motorists. By the late 1990s, the trend was an unstoppable wave.
Today, despite high fuel prices and rising environmental concerns, their popularity has shown no sign of abating.
The market is now saturated with all manner of boxy SUV wagons. The Toyota Kluger, locked in battle with Ford's Territory since the first generation launched here in 2003, now leads the medium SUV segment.
The comprehensively revised second-gen Kluger arrived in Australia in 2007.
Its grip on the segment is undeniable, but what makes it so special? We spent some time in the top-of-the-range Kluger Grande to assess its family-hauling credentials.
The Kluger’s exterior styling, like its name, is unremarkable. You won’t find any excesses of style or seductive lines here - just a plain, functional, two-box body.
At 1910mm wide and 1760mm tall, the Kluger is larger than the Ford Territory in every dimension except length. It’s a big machine, and its bulging features amplify its size.
The Kluger’s flanks are big slabs of metal. There is some shaping of the fenders to break up the large expanses of steel (and emphasise the wheelarches), but there is little in the way of subtlety.
The 19-inch alloys fitted to the Grande improve the exterior style and the chrome doorhandles (also exclusive to the Grande) are a nice touch.
The Grande also gets foglights, roof rails, a rear spoiler and a large moonroof as well, but aside from some minor differences the bumpers, lamp clusters and brightwork are largely the same as the base model Kluger KX-R.
If only one word could be used to describe the Kluger’s cabin, it’d be “huge”. There’s acres of sprawling space in the back, and enough room for seven people to travel in comfort.
All models bar the base KX-R are available only as seven-seaters, with the seven-pew layout an option for the KX-R. The third-row seats fold into a flat boot floor when not in use and are comfortable enough for two smallish adults, although most will find the legroom and headroom a little snug.
There’s no such complaint in the second row. The seats are large, comfortable and fitted with folding armrests. The centre seat can even be folded down, stowed away and replaced by a plastic tray, turning the outboard seats into two individual captain’s chairs.
The second row seats can slide fore and aft and feature adjustable backrest rake. When cargo volume needs to be maximised, the backrests fold flat on top of the squab and line up with the flat boot floor created by the folded third row seats.
Folding the seats is an effortless process, with most actions achievable using just one hand. Unfolding them, however, did require a bit of finessing.
Controls for the Grande’s rear cabin ventilation system are mounted on the rear of the centre console, and are within easy reach of the second row occupants. The Grande also comes fitted with a roof-mounted DVD player for the rear cabin – a boon for parents with children to entertain on long trips.
As nice as the accommodation in the rear is, the front seats are even better. Up front, both seats adjust electrically and feature soft supportive cushioning. The Grande gets heated front seats, and all seats are trimmed in leather.
The driving position is a commanding one, and visibility over surrounding traffic as good as you’d expect from a car this tall. The steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake, and finding a comfortable driving position is easy.
Rearward vision is good (aided by a reversing camera in the Grande), and Toyota has thoughtfully included a wide-angle mirror above the rear-view mirror (so that Mum, or Dad, can keep an eye on the action in the back).
The dash is thoughtfully laid out, and dominated by the four large rotary knobs for the temperature controls and audio system.
All buttons are large and easy to interpret, but the sheer breadth of the cabin makes some of those on the passenger side hard to reach from the driver’s seat. Steering wheel-mounted controls for the audio, climate control and phone systems help alleviate the problem though.
The electro-luminescent instruments are bright and clear in virtually all lighting conditions, and include a tachometer, speedo, engine temperature gauge, fuel gauge and gear position indicator.
A multi-function trip computer screen is mounted above the large central touchscreen display, and also displays climate control settings. A handy feature on the Grande is the ability to set the temperature for the rear cabin from the front seats.
The centre console is wide, and houses four cupholders, two 12V power outlets, a commodious storage box and the gear selector. Each door is fitted with a well-sized storage bin, and there are four more cupholders spread over the rear cabin.
Equipment and features
Being the flagship of the range, the Kluger Grande is packed full of gizmos.
There is the aforementioned three-zone climate control, Bluetooth phone integration, heated seats, moonroof, rear DVD player and reversing camera, along with other standard Grande features like keyless entry, a push-button starter, cruise control, satellite navigation and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
There’s also a four-CD changer for the integrated MP3-compatible stereo, along with auto-on headlamps.
The separate glass hatch in the tailgate makes it easier to load small items into the boot, while the Grande’s power-operated tailgate eliminates the need to hoist it open or swing it closed manually.
Active safety features include ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, traction control and stability control, all of which are also standard on the rest of the Kluger range.
Passive safety is handled by dual front and side airbags on the first row, a driver’s knee airbag, full-length curtain airbags that cover all rows and three-point belts on all seats. The front seatbelts feature pretensioners, load limiters and are height adjustable. Front headrests utilise an anti-whiplash design.
There are three anchor points for child seats on the second row, however child seats and baby capsules can’t be fitted to the third row.
The Kluger may be massive, but it’s built atop a modified version of the mid-size Camry platform.
More correctly though, it shares its underpinnings with the outgoing Lexus RX crossover. In fact, most of its mechanical bits are interchangeable with its more luxurious cousin.
Power is delivered by Toyota’s tried-and-true 2GR-FE 3.5 litre V6, which sees service not only in the Lexus RX, but the Aurion, Tarago and Rav4
It’s a smooth unit, and in Kluger trim produces a solid 201kW at 6200rpm and 337Nm at 4700rpm. Toyota claims consumption figures of 11.6 l/100km, however we only managed to achieve 12.9 l/100km during the time we had our tester.
It’s connected to a five-speed automatic transmission with tiptronic mode. Both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive drivetrains are available across the Kluger range.
Although not a bona-fide offroader by construction, there are a few gadgets to help drivers venture further into the bush. The all-wheel-drive system always provides an even 50/50 torque distribution to each axle, with the traction control system acting as a virtual locking differential.
Theres a 'Snow Mode' for slippery surfaces, and Downhill Assist Control for clambering down steep slopes.
The power-assisted steering uses an electric motor rather than a hydraulic pump to reduce steering load. This has the added benefit of lowering drag on the engine and gives a slight improvement to fuel economy.
Suspension is independent all around, with conventional coil springs and MacPherson/Chapman struts fitted to each corner.
Braking is handled by ventilated 328mm rotors up front and solid 309mm rotors at the rear, each clamped by sliding calipers.
Being based on the same platform as a Lexus, you’d expect the Kluger to ride comfortably.
It doesn’t disappoint.
It’s simultaneously supple yet firm. Solid yet soft. It’s like a brick with a cushion of rubber – it yields a little to the touch, but you know what lies underneath is rock-solid.
It is also quiet inside. The vaultlike ‘thunk’ of the Kluger's doors closing cuts off all noise from the outside world.
On the move there’s little intrusion of wind noise or or any extraneous sound of any type; the tyres, engine and mechanical workings are all well isolated from the cabin. A Lexus-like ambience? It’s no exaggeration.
The excellent fit and finish of the interior is perhaps the most visible evidence of the Kluger’s quality.
There are no unseemly gaps, no mismatched plastics, no mysterious rattles. It all feels like each part grew into place, butting up seamlessly with its neighbour and locking itself in.
You get the impression this interior will feel just as solid five – no, make that ten – years down the track.
Given its height and tall driving position, Kluger drivers are afforded a great view of what lies ahead, whether it be an undulating country road or a grid-locked city street.
Visibility through the large rear window is good, but over-the shoulder vision suffers due to the Kluger’s wagon body. Thankfully, the large rear-vision mirrors virtually eliminate blindspots.
The all-strut suspension may not be the most cutting-edge layout out there, but spring and damper rates are perfect for Australian road conditions.
Potholes are dispatched with a distant thump, and poor-quality tarmac barely raises a ripple - much less unsettles - the ambience inside
Surprisingly for a big AWD family wagon, it’s not bad around a corner either. The electric power steering robs the tiller of any meaningful feedback, but lateral grip from the Bridgestone tyres inspires confidence and the suspension manages to keep pitch and roll to a minimum.
It is sharper than the Territory and there is none of the floatiness of the Forester here: just surprising grip (for a large top-heavy and weighty box-thing), only breaking into understeer when pushing things at the margins.
The engine is silky smooth, and produces more than enough power and torque to keep pace with traffic and lug a full load of passengers.
It’s not particularly thirsty on the highway either (we averaged around 8.4 l/100km at 100km/h), and the Kluger makes an great long-distance cruiser.
As a family taxi, the Kluger excels. The ride height, and its dimensions, may not be particularly suburb-friendly, but it does make loading up kids and groceries a tad easier.
With a reasonable turning circle, nicely assisted steering, and the benefit of altitude when at the wheel, it is also very easy to pilot around the shopping centre carpark, or through the cut-and-thrust at the school gate.
The big tailgate and large rear doors provide easy access, and the sliding second-row seats make deploying the third row - for when you've got the hockey team in the car - a simple affair.
It’s a premium package in a brown-paper wrapper, the Kluger. It’s unassuming exterior belies its high-quality interior, great suspension and strong, tractable engine.
The extra equipment offered by the top-spec Grande only adds more cherries to the top of the Kluger’s cake.
There are some downsides, however. Auto-on windscreen wipers and an auxillary input for the stereo are conspicuously absent from the Grande’s equipment list, and the lack of front and/or rear parking sensors may be a negative for some drivers who prefer a back-up to the reversing camera.
While the middle row centre seat is best for short distances (or smaller bods), the Kluger is more than capable of transporting six people in great comfort over long distances.
At $66,490 it’s a lot of money to pay for a crossover. But those with less need for luxury can hop into a five-seat 2WD Kluger KX-R from $41,490 and still enjoy the same basic level of refinement and power.
The Ford Territory Ghia AWD, Mitsubishi Outlander VRX Luxury and Subaru Forester XT Premium are all far cheaper than the Kluger Grande, but none can match it for its quality feel and rock-steady driving dynamics.
The car that comes closest is the Volkswagen Touareg V6 FSI, but given its $74,990 purchase price (before options) the Kluger is a bargain in comparison.
- High driving position
- versatile cabin layout
- powerful, torquey engine
- great driving feel
- good equipment levels in the Grande
- Too big for city driving
- smallish centre seat in second row
- no parking sensors or auto-on wipers