To an older generation the 2017 Toyota Tarago Ultima would still be synonymous with the people mover genre.
Younger and older folk alike may all be amazed that the Tarago remains on-sale, however, given the current model launched in 2006. No longer is this seven- or eight-seat Toyota the model all fuller families turn to, like it was in the 1980s and 1990s.
For this new SUV-loving world there is no new Tarago in sight, although Toyota has finally at least given its ageing people mover a facelift, complete with a redesigned interior teamed with lower prices.
Vehicle Style: People mover
Price: $65,600 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 202kW/340Nm 3.5 V6 petrol | six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 10.3 l/100km | Tested: 10.9 l/100km
The flagship V6-engined Tarago Ultima, as tested here, has copped the largest price reduction of the range. It has fallen by $1716 to $65,600 plus on-road costs while still coming kitted out with everything from leather trim to electric-fold third-row seating, a dual-pane sunroof and even a rear DVD player.
It is a hefty step down to the $55,990 GLX and $50,490 GLi each with the 3.5-litre V6 engine, but both also come with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder for $47,990/$45,490 – all of which have dropped $1500 and all prices remain plus on-road costs.
At least all models now get satellite navigation and a reversing camera, but the dowdy GLi gets a plastic steering wheel and hubcaps – although it exclusively seats eight. The GLX adds centre ‘captain chairs’, alloy wheels, leather-trimmed tiller, power sliding doors, heated front seats and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat.
- Standard Equipment: keyless auto-entry and push-button start, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, tri-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather/Alcantara seats with electrically adjustable driver’s seat and third-row seats, heated front seats, electric side doors, panoramic sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers
- Infotainment: 6.2-inch colour touhscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and USB input, satellite navigation with SUNA live traffic updates and rear DVD screen
- Options Fitted: None
- Cargo Volume: 549 litres minimum/1780L maximum
People say that SUV buyers love a high driving position, but a people mover such as the Tarago still provides high-set visibility to rival the best faux off roaders.
Despite its seemingly sizeable, big-blob stance, this Toyota is only 4.8 metres long, making it shorter than a Holden Commodore. The lack of a long bonnet helps, leaving front riders perched somewhat over the front drivetrain – yet the Tarago still achieves a five-star safety rating, it’s worth noting.
The redesigned dashboard is a notable improvement on what came before. The addition of leather-look surfaces – covering the storage cavities flanking both sides of the centre stack – certainly lift the ambience as much as the piano-black trim does.
Being a Toyota, fit and finish is exemplary, although some other plastics on the door and upper dash feel cheap. The centre touchscreen is a major let-down, being the same unit used in the Toyota 86 and other cheaper models. It looks like an aftermarket piece and is frustratingly slow and unintuitive, as well as delivering low-resolution graphics.
There is also remarkably little technology in the way of driver aids, missing the blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure alert and 360-degree camera standard on the $58,490 (plus orc) Kia Carnival Platinum.
The Tarago may primarily be about moving people, but other people mover rivals such as the Carnival, as well as a greater variety of large SUV models, simply feel more premium and persuasive. Forking out less hardly helps, either – buying a $51K GLi with a plastic steering wheel doesn’t spell value.
The front seats of this Ultima are decently supportive, and the sliding middle-row duo of ‘captain chairs’ are similarly accommodating, however the third-row of the Tarago is flat and thin on support.
Due to the 1.8-metre body width – versus a 1.985m Carnival – and intrusive rear wheel towers, it also leaves the back bench feeling squeezy for three people.
In this respect the Toyota still feels like a van with seats bolted in. Still, three-zone climate control is standard across the range and features overhead vents for all riders. In this Ultima spec, the sizeable flip-down DVD screen is offered with wireless headphones as well as third-row BYO-headphone sockets. Both features are impressive and worked impressively well.
The electrically operated sliding doors are another matter, being extremely sensitive and slow. We switched them off when rear passengers became frustrated with them.
The big bus is flexible, however. The rear backrest electrically reclines, or at the touch of a button folds back onto itself and into the boot floor. When all seats are in use the boot is very deep, and when the third-row fills that back cavity the result – in four-seat mode – is simply a big, square space. Curiously, though, the tailgate is not electrically operated.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 202kW/340Nm 3.5 V6 petrol
- Transmission: six-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear
- Brake: ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: hydraulically assisted mechanical steering
Toyota’s 3.5-litre V6 is one of the most widely used engines in any new vehicle range. That’s no disappointment, because it’s also one of the most energetic, characterful and surprisingly efficient six-cylinder motors around.
Even in heavy applications, such as this 1840kg Tarago Ultima, the 202kW of power and 340Nm of torque are placed to good use. Foot flat, and this Toyota is quick and responsive.
Weightier models do, however, affect the way the V6 interacts with its six-speed automatic on the run. With torque peaking at 4700rpm and maximum power at 6200rpm, the Tarago can feel sluggish at low-to-medium speeds when throttle is quickly added, the auto hesitating as the engine gasps for revs.
Around town the Ultima returned 18.5 litres per 100 kilometres before longer freeway and country road running reduced the overall average to a respectable 10.9L/100km – not far off the 10.3L/100km combined cycle consumption claim.
On the road this Toyota largely doesn’t feel like a van with seats bolted in the back. The same can’t be said for the awful, but also awfully cheap, Honda Odyssey. Quite simply, the decade-old Tarago is reasonably cushy to ride in – up to a point – reasonably but not overly quiet on coarse-chip surfaces, and mostly pleasant overall.
It does, however, lack any semblance of finesse that should be expected for the price. The suspension can be prone to jiggle slightly on seemingly smooth surfaces, yet turn slightly floaty on rough roads; the handling is neat and secure, but most SUVs – even Toyota’s own Kluger – offer a more modern dynamic blend.
The steering is also among the least impressive of any new vehicle on sale today, with a looseness on the centre postion that means the Tarago can be prone to wander in a straight line on the freeway. It simply isn’t as tight or reassuring as would be ideal in a people mover.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – the Toyota Tarago range scored 34.45 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2010.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: Below-par six-month or 10,000km intervals, but at least the Toyota Service Advantage capped price program is cheap, at $180 each for the first six checks/three years’ worth.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Odyssey is cheap, but feels it, while a Carnival is brilliant in terms of moving people with a balance of comfort, driveability and value. The van-based Multivan is, like the Tarago, quite expensive. And like the Toyota it is an average drive.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It may not be the defining people mover it once was, but the Toyota Tarago has aged well.
What it needs is a larger price cut than the token $1710 this facelifted Ultima was handed, because even paying the GLi’s $51K for a big bus that simply comes with lots of space and a big V6, but little else, is a 1990s definition of value.
The Tarago is roomy, but its third-row could especially be improved. It comes stacked with equipment, but without a modern dashboard design, infotainment technology or active safety aids. It drives adequately, but no more.
Rivals are either roomier and more impressive to drive (Carnival) or substantially cheaper (Odyssey), leaving this elderly Toyota perched somewhat uncomfortably as a premium-priced but aged contender.
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