IT IS ONE OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE VEHICLES IN ITS CLASS – THE 2016 TOYOTA KLUGER GRANDE.
And it sits at the top of a range that is second in sales in the large SUV segment only to its yet-more expensive off-road stablemate, the Prado.
Since the latest generation Kluger launched in early 2014 it has been a success, and with a combination of a grunty V6 petrol engine, good looks and a big (and in this case loaded) cabin, it is easy to see why.
Nowadays, however, the Kluger has in our view been overtaken by the likes of the Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-9. That’s a circa-$50K comparison test you can read on TMR between ‘the best of the best’ contenders.
(The Toyota wasn’t included in the test because only the near-$70K Grande specification was available.)
Sometimes an obvious third-place-getter could still be the one for you. The Kluger clearly resonates with buyers and it has some unique attributes, and remains a worthy pick.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $68,046 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 201kW/337Nm 3.5 litre V6 petrol | 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 10.6 l/100km | tested: 11.7 l/100km
The initial issue with the Toyota Kluger is its price. Put simply, it is a very expensive large SUV, particularly for the equipment on offer.
While the entry Kluger GX starts from $42,190 plus on-road costs, it struggles to drive cohesively in front-wheel-drive format, particularly in the wet where its big V6 quickly makes the modest tyres slip.
Ticking all-wheel-drive (AWD) for an extra $4000 is wise, but it’s still for a model with a plastic steering wheel and basic air-con.
Stepping up to the Kluger GXL AWD leaps to $55,190 (plus orc) and yet satellite navigation is still unavailable.
It takes until this Kluger Grande AWD at $68,046 (plus orc) to get features such as a nav, sunroof, blind-spot monitor and automatic wipers that are each standard on a $56K Kia Sorento Platinum.
At least this Grande is loaded with unique features such as a DVD player and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) in addition to the stack of features below, but value is still not one of the Kluger’s strong points.
- Standard Equipment: power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, tri-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather trim with power adjustable and heated/ventilated front seats, electric sunroof, adaptive cruise control, auto on/off headlights/wipers, and keyless auto-entry
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, AM/FM and digital radio, satellite navigation, voice control and rear roof-mounted DVD screen with headphones
- Options Fitted: none
- Cargo Volume: 195 litres (third row up)
A huge cabin has long been a Kluger highlight and, in practical terms, it continues to lead the segment.
The front dashboard design has a broad storage tray that licks across the centre stack, while there are cupholders and bottle holders everywhere, and probably the largest centre console storage box of any vehicle in the world.
After three-and-a-half hours behind the wheel, the driver’s seat proved its long distance comfort and support, while further rearward the centre bench is relatively flat, but the legroom is best measured in metres and not millimetres.
Wide doors help make easy access to the third row, aided by a simple tip-then-slide middle backrest and bench mechanism.
The Kluger has greater legroom than the Sorento, although the CX-9 closely mirrors it. Where the Toyota takes a win is with airvents mounted on the roof and a unique third row backrest feature that can recline in multiple stages.
With seven seats occupied though, the Grande is less grand compared with the Mazda in terms of boot space, offering a 195 litre volume versus 230L. When you fold the furthermost row into the floor – an easy affair handled by the pull of a rope and push of the backrest – there’s equally capacious boot space in five seater format.
While the Kluger has sheer size and space nailed, it’s also worth remembering that it’s all available in the entry GX from just over $42K. Spending $25K-plus extra on this Grande only casts a harsher spotlight on some of this Toyota’s lesser points.
For example, the dashboard looks little different to a base model, with plasticky furnishings and ordinary trim barely lifted by a lick of fake woodgrain. The steering wheel is extremely large and the touchscreen is so far away it requires a hefty forward lean for the driver to operate it.
The touchscreen itself is slow to respond with dated graphics and an equally slow – though quite easy to use – voice control system. However, the reality is that for cabin ambience and feeling of expense, even a middle-tier CX-9 Touring and Sorento SLi at between $15,000 and $18,000 less, each feel more modern and nicely finished.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 201kW/337Nm 3.5 V6 petrol
- Transmission: six-speed automatic, AWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brake: ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 11.8m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 700kg unbraked, 2000kg braked
Toyota’s 3.5-litre V6 is used in many different models from an Aurion sedan to a Tarago people mover. It is a great petrol engine with a rich rewarding soundtrack when revved and is ably supported by a slick six-speed automatic transmission.
However, the portly 2065kg Grande AWD places great strain on this engine which can be felt any time you lean on the accelerator. It will lift its bullish nose and get moving, but you will always feel that two-tonne weight.
The sheer heft can leave the typically excellent auto to flounder, with delayed downshifts only further exacerbating the issue.
Driven gently, the V6 is smooth and refined; driven hard and the 8.7-second 0-100km/h claim feels realistic only when the large capacity engine is revving. The moments in between are the issue.
Toyota’s V6 is also an old – or to be polite, ‘traditional’ – petrol engine. Mazda, for example, believes a smaller capacity four-cylinder engine with a turbocharger is a smarter way of achieving low-down response teamed with better economy.
Around town, climbing the Blue Mountains, through spirited driving and then cruising on the freeway, the Toyota respectively returned 16.5 l/100km, dropping to 10.7 l/100km, then up to 15.5 l/100km before settling on an overall 11.7 l/100km average.
(The new Mazda CX-9, over the same route, returned 14.5 l/100km, 9.1 l/100km, then 14.1 l/100km before settling at 10.4 l/100km.
In essence, then, the Kluger is always 1-2 l/100km thirstier.)
It may be surprising but the Toyota handles country roads quite well, and although the electronic stability control (ESC) is overzealous as is typical of the brand, it is smooth in operation.
Likewise, the steering is quite meaty and enjoyable on the open road, but is too heavy and lumpy around town.
The Grande however doesn’t ride as smoothly as it could. There’s a 'fraction too much friction' in its reaction to minor of bumps and ripples, though it is far from harsh or uncomfortable. Road noise is pleasantly subdued without being as deathly quiet as the Mazda.
If light offroading is on the agenda, though, the Kluger offers an AWD ‘lock’ button that fixes drive at a 50:50 split front-to-rear. Some rivals like the CX-9 rely on software to detect slippery conditions and juggle the split, which is less reassuring. Otherwise the system mostly sends drive to the front wheels.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.57 out of 37 possible points.
Safety Features: Dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors, reverse-view camera, blind-spot monitor, and collision warning alert with autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Servicing: Shorter-than-average intervals of six months or 10,000km is as disappointing as the cheap servicing costs are pleasing – the first six services will cost just $170 each.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Check the CX-9 versus Sorento comparison review - each is better buying on value-for-money terms - but the Kluger still maxxes out for sheer size and potential light offroadability.
The Pathfinder and Santa Fe are ageing contenders that are respectively mediocre to drive and slightly smaller than average, but, if the sticker price is a key motivator behind your purchasing decision, both also offer greater value than the Toyota.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Kluger still has some heavy ammunition and is more than capable of potting some big shots across the bows of its newer rivals. It is huge inside with the greatest third row and best ventilation, and it drives competently.
It is also backed by cheap servicing costs and the promise of Toyota reliability.
However, not only is it expensive and under-equipped compared with rivals, but its interior ambience and ergonomics lack finesse, while its V6 petrol engine feels dated in terms of response and efficiency.
With the pluses and minuses on the table though, the pick of the Kluger range remains the $55k GXL AWD and not this $68k Grande AWD. That's if you can live without nav and other niceties, of course.
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