TOYOTA KLUGER REVIEW
Vehicle style: Seven-seat large SUV
Engine/trans: 201kW/337Nm 3.5 litre V6 petrol | six-speed auto
Fuel economy claimed: 10.2 l/100km (91RON) | tested: 12.3 l/100km
It’s 11 years since Toyota launched the first-generation Kluger onto the Australian market. Since then, more than 107,000 have found their way into the garages of Australian buyers.
While the first Kluger (and to a lesser extent the second-generation version) had a bland road presence, those sales figures spell success.
For the new 2014 range, the bland lines have been stripped away.
Instead, Toyota stylists have given the latest Kluger a far more interesting, imposing and aggressive on-road stance. They’ve also made the interior roomier and far more occupant-friendly.
That’s not all: Toyota Australia has sharpened the pencil on pricing and also delved into the cupboard to come up with a more generous standard-feature list.
For this review, the entry-level 2WD GX was chosen. The 2WD versions now account 53 percent of Kluger sales.
Despite coming with what Toyota describes as “at least $2000 of additional features”, pricing for the new 2WD GX kicks off at $40,990. That’s a hefty $2200 reduction on the ticket price of its predecessor.
- A 3.5-inch monochrome LCD multi-information display
- Power windows and privacy glass
- Multi-function tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel
- Six-speaker audio system with AUX and USB input
- Reversing camera and manual air-conditioning
Quality: Unlike the entry-level models of some of its competitors, the Kluger’s cloth-trimmed interior doesn’t feel cheap.
There’s a nice blend of hard and soft plastics, textured and matched for a premium feel.
The stand-out soft-plastic trim feature is the dash top. It has fake stitching moulded into its front edge and at first glance you’d swear it was leather.
A debit though is the foot-operated parking brake. It’s something American buyers seem to like but, really, it’s just horrible.
Comfort: The Kluger is a quiet and comfortable car; one you’d happily spend the day cruising in with the family.
That said, the front seats could do with more bolstering - especially for the thighs.
What’s there is simply too soft and collapses when the slightest leg-weight is applied to it.
The same goes for the outer positions of the second-row bench seat. There is virtually no sideways support.
Storage: A clever redesign of the Kluger’s interior layout has resulted in more occupant space as well as more luggage space.
With all three rows of seats occupied, there is still 195 litres of luggage space - a third more than with the outgoing model.
For added flexibility, the second and third-row seats both have 60/40 split folding.
One excellent feature is an under-dash tray that runs from the left-hand door virtually all the way to the steering column.
It has a lip at the front and is lined with soft vinyl so items like your phone won’t rattle or fall out when cornering or under acceleration.
There is also a roof-mounted sunglasses holder and a huge console-mounted storage bin, cup holders for passengers in all-three seating rows, door pockets, a handy-sized glove box and a small but useful storage area under the cargo floor.
ON THE ROAD
- 3.5 litre quad-cam alloy V6
- 201kW @ 6200rpm and 337Nm @ 4700rpm
- Suspension: MacPherson struts with L-arms, coil springs and gas dampers at the front; trailing arm and double wishbones with coil springs and gas dampers at the rear
- Ball-joint-mounted stabiliser bars front and rear
- Electric rack-and-pinion steering
- Sprint time to 100km/h 8.3 seconds.
- 18-inch alloy wheels shod with 245/60R18 tyres
- Fuel consumption (claimed): 10.2 l/100km; (tested): 12.3 l/100km.
Driveability: The most noticeable improvement to driveability is the new Kluger’s six-speed sequential-sports-shifting automatic transmission.
Besides improving fuel consumption on the outgoing model’s five-speeder, it provides much more urgency when accelerating.
With built-in artificial intelligence managing the shifts (according to the conditions and the driving style), the six-speed transmission and 337Nm V6 engine combo can hustle the big Kluger to 100km/h in a respectable 8.3 seconds.
The six-speeder also provides good engine-braking when descending and reduces annoying ‘hunting’ - moving back and forth between ratios - when going up-hill.
Despite its bulk, all-round visibility on-road is good and a very fine, sylph-like A-pillar helps frontal visibility no end.
A debit is the new Kluger’s still unacceptable thirst. Though improved on the older model, our average 12.3 l/100km is off-the-pace for a modern family wagon.
Refinement: There’s no argument about the refinement of the new Kluger.
In fact, noise, vibration and harshness performance is right up there with anything from its premium-badged cousin, Lexus.
Even on coarse bitumen or corrugated gravel, road noise is minimal.
The car’s improved NVH is the result of additional sound deadening, acoustic windscreen glass and better engine mounts.
Ride and handling: Toyota Australia engineers have put in a lot of work on the Kluger’s chassis and steering.
Despite the big wagon’s height and bulk, body roll is minimal on tight corners.
We also like the weighting to the electrically-assisted power steering.
Even with the GX’s front-wheel-drive layout, the big SUV’s turn-in performance is quite good at sensible speeds, thanks in part to a quicker rack ratio than the outgoing model and a ‘flatter’ front end.
We did however notice that there was a degree of shudder transmitted back through the steering wheel on broken or corrugated surfaces.
We also noticed that, being a front-wheel-driver, the tested GX’s rear jumped around a bit on rougher roads. (Although more passengers and a load in the back would probably overcome much of this.)
Braking: Stopping power comes from 328mm by 28mm ventilated discs with twin-piston callipers at the front and 309mm by 10mm solid discs with single-piston callipers at the rear.
While test results are yet to be released by ANCAP, Toyota says the new Kluger was engineered to achieve five stars.
Safety features: A full suite of safety features includes ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction and stability control, hill-start assist, a reversing camera and seven airbags.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years and 100,000km
Service costs: $170 for each of the first six scheduled services.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
The large SUV segment is a crowded space and competition for the big Kluger includes the Ford Territory, Kia Sorento and its Korean cousin the Hyundai Santa Fe, the Mazda CX-9 and the new Pathfinder from Nissan.
Ford Territory TX 2WD petrol - $39,990: Unlike the front-wheel-drive layout of the GX Kluger, the Territory is a rear-wheel driver and perhaps still offers the better handling.
While Territory’s straight-six engine has slightly less power than the Kluger, its 390Nm of torque is well above the Kluger’s 337Nm.
On claimed fuel figures, the Kluger’s 10.0 l/100km betters the Ford’s 10.6 l/100km, but there is little in it. (see Territory reviews)
Mazda CX-9 Classic - $44,525: Running a 204kW/367Nm 3.7litre V6, the more expensive CX-9 can be a thirsty beast despite the claimed 11.0 l/100km. Like the old Kluger, it’s easy to push this well above 14.0 l/100km if put to work.
Also like the Kluger, the CX-9’s braked trailer towing capacity of 2000kg does not match the Territory’s 2300kg. (see CX-9 reviews)
Nissan Pathfinder ST - $39,990: A much-improved vehicle and, at 9.9 l/100km, its 3.5 litre 190kW/325Nm V6 is a tad less thirsty than the main players here.
It’s also a half-decent drive; comfortable, refined and reasonably well-mannered on-road. (see Pathfinder reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturers’ List Price and do not include dealer-delivery and on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The US-built Kluger has come a long way in terms of its styling, handling and refinement since it first arrived in Australian showrooms 11 years ago.
But, while the entry-level V6 2WD petrol model’s $40,990 price tag represents a $2200 saving on the previous model, in these times of rising fuel prices (in a recovering world economy) the lack of a diesel option will hold back sales.
Fuel costs aside, this new Toyota wagon is seriously family-friendly and the reconfiguration tweaks to the interior layout have contributed greatly to this.
The six-speed auto and improvements to ride and handling also make this Kluger a better car.
Toyota says its target market for the new Kluger are families with kids and baby boomers. Both groups should definitely have this car on their shopping lists.
But if it’s just to shuffle the kids to and from school, think hard about that fuel consumption.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- 2014 Kluger GX - $40,990
- 2014 Kluger GXL - $49,990
- 2014 Kluger Grande - $63,990