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Car reviews - Toyota - Kluger - Grande wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Price, equipment, driving position, seating capability, refinement, all-wheel drivetrain, performance, ride quality, safety, transmission, practicality
Room for improvement
Soft handling, too-light steering, small fuel tank

30 Mar 2004

FROM the car-maker that started the whole soft-road thing comes the latest in the burgeoning mid-size market, the Toyota Kluger.

The essentially innocuous soft-roader reveals its intentions quite clearly: it is not chasing Honda MDX sales, nor is it seen as a competitor for the BMW X5 or VW Touareg – that is all left up to the car to which it owes its essential running gear, the Lexus RX330.

The Kluger’s mission, though it might appear rather mundane, is to target the increasingly restless, less niche-based, family station wagon market.

It might not have the flash of the Lexus, nor the badge credibility of the X5 but, at its late 2003 launch, it did have an entry level price of $43,990.

To Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon wagon buyers, that is a price point at which they will settle a purchase deal, close to what they would expect to pay for a Falcon Futura or Commodore Acclaim wagon. Or, soon, a Ford Territory soft-roader.

The basic CV Kluger, for a touch more than Ford or Holden wagons, offers the now-accepted benefits of a soft-roader: 4WD traction with much better driveability than a heavy duty off-roader, the high-set driving position that many people seem to prefer, and the possibility of accommodating up to seven passengers.

On top of this, the Kluger is remarkably well equipped, even the base CV model.

Trip computer, climate-control air-conditioning and cruise control are standard from CV upwards, as are four-channel anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution.

The Kluger also uses a "proper" three-differential 4WD configuration including, on CV and mid-range CVX, a viscous-coupled limited-slip centre differential (the upmarket Grande utilises electronic all-wheel drive control employing the software of the stability and traction control systems).

This means the Kluger is a full-time 4WD, not a part-timer in which the extra wheels kick in only when the main driving wheels lose traction.

And the engine is the sophisticated, all-alloy V6 from the Lexus RX330, producing from its 3.3 litres an impressive 172kW, as well as an even more remarkable 328Nm.

Although that may fall short of the Falcon’s 4.0-litre, twin-camshaft six-cylinder straight six, it’s a lot more power and quite a bit more torque than the bigger, 3.8-litre Holden V6.

The bottom line is a fair turn of speed for the Kluger, which ranges in weight from 1740 for the CV to 1875kg for the top of the line Grande.

The quoted zero to 100km/h figure of 8.1 seconds is far from shabby, while the Kluger’s quite commendable aerodynamics (the Cd figure is 0.35, which would have been the norm for a regular family sedan a few years ago) help achieve an official average fuel consumption figure of 12.3 litres per 100km.

The Kluger is at its best being deftly wheeled around the suburbs, the interior filled to capacity with school-age kids, or cruising quietly on the open road

Because the Kluger is essentially a Lexus RX330 with a different body, the overall size is much the same this means it has plenty of room for three rows of seats (the extra row is optional on the CV, standard on CVX and Grande), while still providing a useful load area right at the back – which comes, at all levels, with a roll-out security blind.

The centre-row seats fold down with an easy, fluid motion requiring no more than the releasing of the backrest, while the third-row seats can be brought into play with almost equal ease, in one single movement.

The Kluger might not get the power tailgate of the RX330, nor the rearview camera that checks out the area directly behind the vehicle, but it does come with dark-tinted glass for all windows aft of the front doors.

The unitary structure of the vehicle - the same as a regular car - helps provide a lower floor level and therefore easier passenger entry, without compromising too much the Kluger’s ground clearance. It also saves weight, lowers the centre of gravity to assist handling, and maximises space inside the cabin.

All of this makes the Toyota quite handy on the road. It has a very compliant ride, a smooth, easy rush of power from the engine and reasonably responsive, lightly-weighted steering.

The Grande test car came with the standard, larger 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/65 tyres, but there’s no chance it will ever compete with a BMW X5 for on-road handling – which is hardly the expectation of buyers looking at station wagon alternatives anyway.

The Kluger is at its best being deftly wheeled around the suburbs, the interior filled to capacity with school-age kids, or cruising quietly on the open road.

In Grande form especially, where electronic stability control is part of the standard picture, it is a nice, secure conveyance with an abundance of passive and active safety features.

The brakes on all models are all-disc, four-channel anti lock (better than the more common, at this price level, three-channel systems) with electronic brake-force distribution as well as brake assist to add extra pressure in emergency situations.

The five-speed automatic transmission does an excellent job too, smooth-shifting and about as intuitive as can be.

If you put aside the soft handling and too-light steering, the only real downside is the smallish, 72-litre fuel tank, which tends to make the space between top-ups somewhat shorter than expected, especially when the Kluger is being driven around town. The multi-valve, variable valve timing, all-alloy V6 can only be expected to do so much.

An interesting addition to the Toyota model lineup, the Kluger. The company tends to say otherwise, but there’s a chance it might make people wonder even more about their reasons for buying a heavy-duty 4WD.

When you consider that a base Prado V6 is priced very close to the entry-level Kluger, there’s every chance that many buyers will look at the two alternatives, then gravitate to the easier-driving, more economical and, for them, equally as practical soft-roader.

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