2014 TOYOTA KLUGER REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Seven-seat large SUV
Price: $67,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 201kW/337Nm V6 petrol | 6spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 10.6 l/100km | tested: 14.2 l/100km
No question, each generation of SUV is becoming more car-like, easier to live with, and more complimentary to an urban existence.
That’s something that Toyota has clearly kept in mind with its 'soft roading' family-focused Kluger - leaving the more rugged Prado and LandCruiser to take care of the heavy work and off-road adventures.
This generation is the biggest and most spacious Kluger yet, with a raft of impressive safety features and an obvious interior focus that puts families first.
While elsewhere in the range, there’s good news on pricing, the Grande unfortunately cops a $2500 price rise.
But with added equipment and outstandingly low levels of interior noise, it’s no bitter pill to swallow.
Quality: Toyota has put together an impressive interior package, with a balanced combination of style and functionality. There’s even premium touches like LED mood lighting in the doors and dash.
The dash-top gains faux stitching and a soft-touch outer layer. Beneath that, the shelf that runs the width of the dash features a soft liner to keep your odds and ends from rattling around.
The leather-appointed seats look and feel pretty good too - not quite Lexus quality but close to it. The fronts do feel a little flasher than the two rear rows though.
Comfort: Loungroom on wheels? You got it - those big, broad comfy front seats feel like they’ve been snatched from the Lay-Z-Boy production line.
Smaller drivers might find the seat base to be on the long side, but in every other measure the front seats are spot on.
Shift further back, and the middle row can be slid back and forward, allowing those passengers to choose limo-like legroom (at the expense of the third row) or can be scootched forward for more cargo space.
The third row gets some added width, but remains a two-person bench.
That means extra elbow-room, but the seatbelts are still positioned for the North American market’s three-person set-up, making the buckles a bit tricky to get to.
Pre-teen rear-row passengers gave it a big thumbs up, but adults back there found it noisy, and needed to push the middle row forward for decent foot and knee space.
Access to the rear isn’t quite as eloquent as the system used in the Nissan Pathfinder either, something to keep in mind if all seven seats are to be used often.
Equipment: Standard equipment includes leather-appointed trim with front seat heating, cooling and power adjustment, three-zone climate control, electric sunroof, retractable rear door sunblinds, proximity key with push-button start and powered tailgate.
Automatic headlights, auto dimming rearview mirror, LED headlights and running lights, 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, rear park assist and reversing camera are also included.
Rear seat passengers can enjoy a roof-mounted Blu-Ray player with wireless headphones, while up front there’s touch-screen satellite navigation (eight inch), Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, voice control, digital radio, plus CD/MP3 playback and USB and Auxilliary inputs.
The two piece tailgate can be opened electrically, but it is glacially slow and infuriating when you’ve got an armful of groceries ready to let go at any minute.
On the up-side, the rear glass can be opened separately to speed up loading small items.
Under the boot floor there’s a deep lidded compartment and a shallow storage tray for housing the cargo blind. In the cabin there’s a big glovebox and an even bigger centre console - it’ll swallow an entire handbag with room to spare.
Each door scores a bottle holder, there are plenty of beverage holders, but the front cup-holders are immense and won’t hold anything smaller than a super-size take-away cup securely.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Although the 3.5 litre V6 has been seen before in the previous Kluger, it’s still a very competent engine and you’ll find it in the Aurion and various Lexus models too.
In this application it produces 201kW at 6200rpm and 337Nm at 4700rpm.
That drive is channeled via a six-speed automatic transmission, with a choice of front-wheel-drive, or the all-wheel-drive version tested here.
Acceleration is brisk enough but hardly neck-snapping (the golden retrievers in the back seemed blithely untroubled when stretching things out).
Vitally, around town the Kluger has enough relaxed power underfoot to effortlessly keep pace with other traffic. And, away from the suburbs, it’ll hold its own through the hills, and can dispatch overtaking swiftly.
With features like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot assist and lane departure warning, the Grande model helps take some of the stress out of piloting such a behemoth.
That said, a set of front park-sensors would be welcomed, but they’re unavailable.
Given the Kluger’s length (4865mm) we found it fairly easy to park, with a surprisingly nimble turning circle.
The steering is completely devoid of feel or feedback, leaving the driver unruffled. There’s also plenty of assistance from the electric power steering: light at parking speeds and even lighter on the fly.
Fuel consumption might be a worry to some.
Most of TMR’s testing was done with a loaded car, and, in mixed driving with a car full of passengers, we couldn’t come even close to the claimed 10.6 l/100km, recording 14.2 l/100km instead.
Refinement: Thanks to added insulation and the already impressive smoothness of Toyota’s silken V6, the Kluger boasts Lexus-like levels of refinement.
You may hear the faint rumble of the engine in an empty car with the radio off, but outside of that the engine is impressively quiet and smooth.
The same goes for wind and road noise. At freeway speeds the Kluger remains a calm and composed place to be.
Our rear seat passengers thought the third row was a little noisier than the front, but not uncomfortably so.
Ride and Handling: As you’d expect for a big high-riding wagon, the Kluger is set up for a cushy ride. Suspension hardware consists of a MacPherson strut front-end and double wishbone rear suspension.
The Grande, on bigger 19-inch wheels does occasionally feel a little rougher riding than lesser models on smaller rims. Also, with a full load the suspension can be slow to rebound giving the ride a ponderous feel.
Braking: With a long-travel pedal, and a lot of weight on board, the Kluger needs a decidedly strong shove on the pedal if you need to stop in a hurry.
That's not to say the brakes are weak, they're not at all, and are easy to modulate around down.
Four-wheel disc brakes with 328mm vented front rotors and 309mm solid rear rotors provide the stopping force.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.57 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction and stability control, hill-start assist, a reversing camera and seven airbags.
Each seat features an adjustable head restraint and three-point seatbelt, front seats come with height-adjustable seatbelts and load-limiting pretensioners.
Grande models also gain lane-departure warning, auto high beam, blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise control and collision detection warning.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years or 100,000km, whichever comes first.
Service costs: Service intervals are every six months or 10,000km up to three years or 60,000km and are capped at $170 per service. For full details and inclusions consult your Toyota dealer.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Nissan Pathfinder Ti ($65,090) - Mechanically similar: petrol V6, auto only - even sourced from the USA too, but the Pathfinder Ti comes with a better audio system, and an around-view camera that will be invaluable to young families.
Pathfinder also scores a slightly more user-friendly interior and a more useful third row. The CVT automatic may not be to all tastes, but on the road you’d be hard-pressed to pick it from a normal auto. (see Pathfinder reviews)
Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring ($63,474) - Mazda must have got something right when they first sketched the CX-9, because Kluger and Pathfinder have both followed closely in its footsteps.
It’s also the oldest car in this comparo and in many ways that’s starting to show.
Inside there’s enough room for a small circus, but the dash is showing its age, and again, it’s beaten by Pathfinder in the ease-of-use stakes. Its biggest sin though is a hefty thirst for fuel. (see CX-9 reviews)
Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander ($51,990) - Seven seats, all-wheel-drive, but this time a diesel engine is doing the hard work and the list price is considerably cheaper.
You’ll find the Santa Fe a smidge smaller, but it still offers stellar value for money.
If you plan on hanging onto your car for a while, the five-year unlimited kilometre warranty adds peace of mind, while the strong 2.2 litre diesel makes the Santa Fe a handy tow-vehicle. (see Santa Fe reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With a spacious interior and impressive refinement, the Kluger might be just the thing to bring a little relaxing Zen to an otherwise hectic family life.
There’s no doubt this market segment now features some very strong competition, but Toyota has done everything it needs to keep the competition on its toes.
Despite a shift in production from Japan to the USA, build quality is as impressive as ever, and clever touches like the full-width underdash shelf proves that practicality remains a priority.
To step into a Grande, you will pay a premium, and while the value might be stronger in the lower-spec Kluger range there’s no shortage of genuine luxury inside the Grande.
Well worth including when doing your own comparisons if a spacious seven-seater is on the agenda, but be mindful of the heavy fuel consumption.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- 2014 Kluger GX - $40,990
- 2014 Kluger GXL - $49,990
- 2014 Kluger Grande - $63,990