When it comes to large SUVs, Toyota is king with not one, but three cars in the class thanks to the off-roadable Fortuner and Prado and the more urban-suited Kluger which sits alongside competitors like the Mazda CX-9, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento.
It’s a tough, and widely varied segment that includes much smaller seven-seaters like the Holden Captiva (which despite its age and low quality still sells in significant numbers) and crossover wagons like the Subaru Outback and Passat Alltrack.
But the Kluger, updated for 2017 with a new engine and transmission, continues its family focus with seven seats standard across the range and high levels of equipment, offset by commensurate pricing for all models.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $57,550 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 218kW/350Nm 3.5-litre 6cyl petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 9.5 l/100km | Tested: 11.1 l/100km
As part of an update earlier this year, Toyota has slightly massaged the Kluger’s looks with a bolder grille design, revised front bumper, and new-look alloy wheels. The changes aren’t sweeping, but they’re enough to keep the big wagon contemporary.
Under the bonnet, Toyota has been a little more liberal with the changes, adding a more powerful version of the Kluger’s 3.5-litre petrol V6 for 218kW and 350Nm in total, plus a new eight-speed automatic for improved fuel efficiency.
The range itself is unchanged for 2017 with three variants, GX, GXL, and Grande available with a choice of either two wheel drive of all wheel drive on each model. The mid-grade GXL AWD tested here weighs in at $57,550 before on-roads costs, but for buyers looking to save a few pennies the front wheel drive variant of the same saves $4000.
- Standard Equipment: Leather trim, three-zone climate control, heated front seats, powered driver’s seat, keyless entry and start, dusk-sensing headlights, two-piece tailgate with power closing, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, CD player, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite navigation, six-speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 196 litres to third row, 529 litre to second row, 1171 litres to first row
Toyota really gets Kluger buyers, and the sensibly spacious interior is proof of that.
This is a big car - genuinely physically imposing - so it’s pleasing to see that Toyota has maximised the useful space inside with neat touches like a wide shelf that runs from the centre stack to the passenger side that can accept anything from phones, to wallets, to wet wipes, to small stuffed toys and features cable pass-throughs to keep things tidy and organised.
Similarly the centre console is massive, the soft-touch slide away cover opens up to reveal a space suitable for CDs, handbags, iPads, boxes of muesli bars, and anything else your family could possible need at a moment’s notice.
That functionality is massively appealing, particularly in stark contrast to the Nissan Pathfinder or Mazda CX-9 which both seem to squander their available interior space via a distinct lack of hidey-holes.
The interior also looks and feels plush, with padded surfaces almost everywhere you touch - it’s mostly black inside with the occasional brown trim highlight and leather seating surfaces that offer a durable wipe-down surface to fend off any spill that might occur.
It’s also unlikely that anyone positioned in any of the three rows of seats is likely to complain of a lack of space. The first two rows are supremely roomy, of course, and the third row (which seats three in overseas markets but only two for Australia) will fit adults without much hassle if the second row passengers are prepared to move their reclining-and-sliding seats forward slightly.
Access to the third row could be slightly simpler with a two-stage seat fold of the middle row required to get in and out easily, but commendably the single seat of the 60:40 split is correctly (and more safely) located in the kerb side of the car for Australia.
The news isn’t all good though. Toyota persists in using cheap, tacky-looking painted plastic trims that look as if they’ve been hit with a silverfrost aerosol and the infotainment system, now larger than before with standard sat nav, is still slow to respond to inputs making it frustrating to use at times.
Boot space is another weak link for the Kluger, with just 195 litre behind the third row, but a more handy 529 litres to the second row, though it’s at the lower end of its competitive set for raw dimensions.
At least loading the rear is taken care of via a power-operated tailgate, While it can be slow to open and close, it takes away the effort of having to slam the massive rear door shut. An independently opening rear window allows quick loading of smaller items if need be.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6, 218kW @6600rpm, 350Nm @4700rpm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all wheel drive
- Suspension: Macpherson strut front, double wishbone rear
- Brakes: 328mm ventilated front discs, 309mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electric power steering
- Towing Capacity: 2000kg braked, 700kg unbraked
The V6-powered Kluger, across its three generations in Australia, has earnt a reputation for being silky smooth and capable of a strong burst of acceleration when required, and for this latest update that’s no different with calm refinement making the Kluger a comfortable drive.
As part of the 2017 update engine outputs are up slightly, though most buyers will barely notice, with only incremental changes made to the engine to bring it up to 218kW and 350Nm thanks to the addition of direct fuel injection.
Also new for 2017 is an eight-speed automatic taking the place of the previous six-speed auto, but where the last version was smooth and sensibly calibrated, time behind the wheel of the new eight-speed equipped Kluger reveals more calibration work is in order.
Ostensibly the new transmission’s goal is to lower fuel consumption with a waider ratio spread and a more suitable gear set for all driving occasions. In reality though the transmission never stops searching for the right gear, constantly cycling up and down gears and often shuffling through two or three downshifts for overtaking, with a distinct pause in power delivery each time.
That’s a real shame too, as the rest of the drivetrain is so refined with low engine noise and a strong power delivery helping disguise the Kluger’s almost two tonne mass.
Ride quality isn’t quite where it should be either. Although big surface changes can pass beneath the car unnoticed, the Kluger tends to niggle over the little everyday imperfections that inflict Australia’s suburban streets, stuttering over catseyes and tarmac joins and never feeling settled.
That said, when it comes to open-road cruising the Kluger sits squarely and securely upon the road, unaffected by crosswinds and road camber, with a settled on-centre feel for the steering.
Although the Kluger falls more into the soft-roader category of the SUV spectrum, the available all wheel drive system reacts quickly enough to assist on loose gravel. Urban buyers may not have much need for it, but rural owners, or those in Australia’s more ice-prone regions will appreciate the extra grip.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the Toyota Kluger scored 35.57 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2014.
Safety Features: Seven airbags (dual front, front seat side, full-length curtain, driver’s knee) electronic stability and traction control, front seatbelt pretensioners, hill-start assist and hill descent control, rear view camera, front and rear park sensors.
Advanced safety features like lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and driver fatigue monitoring are only available on the more expensive Kluger Grande.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: Toyota Service Advantage capped price servicing sees the Kluger’s 6 month/10,000km service intervals (whichever comes first) priced at $180 each up to 36 months/60,000km. Toyota also has fixed-price schedules outside of the Service Advantage program for non-private buyers. Terms, conditions, and exclusions apply, and your Toyota dealer can explain more about the program.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Although V6 petrol power is available again in the Santa Fe Active X, buyers looking for AWD grip or a higher level of trim have to look to the diesel in either Elite or Highlander trim. The Santa Fe is starting to show its age against newer rivals, but still packs in plenty of features and space in a well-rounded package.
As with its passenger car range, the Mazda CX-9 is starting to look and feel more premium, with plenty of luxury touches inside. Mazda has opted for a turbocharged four-cylinder petrol designed to imitate the low-down grunt of a diesel engine with surprisingly rewarding results.
Although the interior may not be as plush, the Nissan Pathfinder is no less roomy inside with lots of space for growing families. Ride comfort also excels where the Kluger misses the mark which is sure to delight passengers.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Toyota deserves kudos for an interior that actually functions in a family friendly way. We’re often perplexed at TMR when any car purporting to be aimed at families doesn’t get the storage thing right, but Toyota has hit the nail on the head with the Kluger.
It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the new eight-speed auto - the transmission in a car like this should be the last thing on your mind, but the constant gear-searching and obvious shift points, coupled with the notchy ride make it hard to relax behind the wheel.
For all of that though, the big Kluger will fit in the kids, their school run mates, and everyone’s backpack with ease, will cruise quietly for weekends away, and has just enough all-road ability for a holiday in the snow should the urge take you.
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