Car reviews - Toyota - Kluger - GXL
Clever and versatile interior, easy access to third-row seats, well-sorted ride and handling
Room for improvement
Carryover V6 engine likes a big drink, foot-operated park brake, steering weights up at low speeds, lack of front parking sensors for such a large vehicle
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5 Jan 2015
By BARRY PARK
Price and equipment
Toyota’s all-new Kluger has lobbed in Australia with three models on offer, each wearing a new badge putting it in line with the larger four-wheel-drive vehicles it will ultimately compete with for those buyers wanting some of the big Aussie adventure dream without the off-road baggage.
However, where the previous Kluger line-up kicked off from $39,990 for a front-drive KX-R featuring a 3.5-litre V6 paired with a five-speed automatic transmission, the new Kluger is priced from $40,990 and ups the gears to six.
It’s cheaper, too, to add all-wheel-drive underpinnings, costing $4000 for the new car compared with $4500 for the old.
If you’re kicking tyres of other seven-seat soft-roaders, other options include Ford’s rear-drive Territory TX with its family-friendly interior starts from $39,990 with a 4.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol engine paired with a six-speed automatic, and Isuzu’s family focussed Thai-built MU-X LS-M starts from $40,500 for a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder unit matched to a five-speed auto.
Kia’s value-driven front-drive Sorento Si featuring a 3.5-litre petrol V6 mated to a six-speed auto prices from $38,490, and Hyundai’s sharper looking all-paw Santa Fe Active with a hard-working 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol matched to a six-speed manual transmission starts from $38,490, while Mazda’s US-derived petrol V6 CX-9 is a little pricier at $44,525 for its entry-level front-drive Classic.
It’s a crowded corner of the SUV paddock, then, and Kluger is packaged to be competitive.
We’re driving the mid-specification GXL with all-wheel-drive underpinnings bringing the price of our test car up to $53,990. Apart from sending drive to all four wheels, most of that money goes into packaging, as there is no change under the bonnet.
Standard kit includes 18-inch alloy wheels, three-zone climate control air-conditioning including temperature settings for the rear seats, leather trim on part of the seats, steering wheel and gearshift lever, keyless entry and push-button start, electric seat adjustment for the driver including lumbar support, heated front seats and a self-dimming rear-view mirror.
It also includes dusk-sensing headlights framed in LED daytime running lights, a decent 6.1-inch touchscreen linked to a reversing camera, comprehensive trip computer sitting inside a 3.5-inch screen nested between the instrument dials, and dark-tinted windows from the passenger doors back.
Keeping with the sporty SUV-style looks that dominate the segment, the mid-spec Kluger includes roof rails and a subtle spoiler poking out from the top of the electric-lift tailgate, and a full-size spare wheel wrapped around an alloy rim is housed under the boot floor.
The Kluger sits tall on its almost five-metre-long stretch, making a step into the high-set driver’s seat more of a climb than a slide.
Once in, though, the new Kluger’s seats are wide and well supported, with plenty of adjustment from the driver’s seat and reach-and-rake steering wheel.
There’s no memory setting, though, so if this is a family car and the parents are of different heights, there will be plenty of whirring from the electric-adjust motors.
A big leap ahead of the previous-generation Kluger is the sense of quality.
Everywhere a hand falls or an elbow rests is covered in soft-touch material or plastic, while brushed aluminium-look plastics break up the sombre mood.
The dash is dominated by huge air vents, and a defined multimedia interface sitting above the controls for the air-conditioning system. There’s a clever, two-thirds cabin-wide storage tray built in underneath it that includes a small port so you can feed through a cable to the USB slot mounted beneath it.
Touch-sensitive buttons replace traditional ones for root-level menu functions, while the touchscreen allows you to dive in and play with various functions including the phone and audio settings. A seatbelt reminder shows if any one of all seven occupants hasn’t buckled in.
The multimedia interface also has an apps page. Our Kluger only contained one interesting one – a fuel economy meter that logged fuel use in miles per gallon – but not much more. Hopefully this will one day be the place where owners can add a smartphone-based satellite navigation function, an item missing from this grade level.
A row of buttons in front of the gear lever include a central diff lock to stop the Kluger from behaving like a front-wheel-drive car – handy in low-grip situations – a snow setting that dulls the throttle, a hill descent mode for crawling down steep, slippery hills and a stability control override that won’t work unless the Kluger is at a complete stop.
A legacy of its US origins is a pair of cup-holders in the centre console that are so large they swallow normal-sized coffee cups, making them difficult to extract on the move.
The otherwise clean look to the centre console is partly due to the absence of a traditional handbrake lever. Instead, there’s a foot-operated lever hidden away in the driver’s footwell that is a magnet for shinbones.
Behind the enormous cup-holders is an equally big centre console bin with lids that slide fore and aft. It hides a 12-volt charge point and a small tray.
The second-row seats are big and comfy, even for the unlucky person taking the centre one. They also slide fore and aft to liberate more third-row legroom or storage space, and split-fold forward.
A lever on the side allows the seat-back to flip and the base to slide forward, liberating good access to the third row via the long second door, but it doesn’t remember where to go back to.
The third-row seats fold flat into the high-booted floor, and once upright is roomy enough for adults over short distances. They fold out separately, allowing one unoccupied side to be used for luggage. Lift up the boot floor, and a retracting luggage area cover is hidden away beneath it.
All three rows of seats have air vents and map lights.
The electrically opening tailgate can be activated via the key fob, a button in front of the driver, or the soft-touch release, with door-lock function, on the tailgate. It lifts quite high, so a closing switch on the D-pillar is welcome.
The new Kluger is 80mm longer and 15mm wider than the model it replaces, and feels it.
Around the shopping centre car park it is big and unwieldy, with steering that weights up at low speeds, and the lack of front parking sensors on the long, drooping nose makes tight manoeuvres a trial.
Once into a car park, the wide-opening rear doors become a hazard in the hands of children eager to fling them wide to get out of the rear row.
Engine and transmission
The 3.5-litre V6 under the Kluger’s bonnet delivers 201kW of power and 337Nm of torque. If those numbers look familiar, it is because they’re exactly the same outputs as the previous model.
However, this time around drive is distributed via a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission.
The carryover engine feels almost exactly the same as the old, bogging down in the low revs and getting buzzy and a bit raucous higher up. It’s also missing key fuel-saving technology such as an idle-stop system that cuts the engine out while the vehicle is stopped in traffic, and automatically restarts it once it’s time to get rolling again.
In this regard, the drive-line is a bit of a dinosaur for what, after all, is an all-new vehicle in a world of declining fuel reserves.
Drive it like you’re paying for the fuel, though – officially it will chew through an eyebrow-raising 10.6L/100km, although at one point we saw 11.4L/100km even after a long highway cruise – and the Kluger is well behaved and can get close to its official target. Part of the reason for this is the Kluger’s kerb weight – it carries about 100kg extra over the old model and this variant tips the scales at more than 2.0 tonnes.
The six-speed auto is smooth and does a good job of masking the Kluger’s kerbside bloat. Toyota makes the claim it has “artificial intelligence”, and it ties in with a clever torque distribution system that can send up to half the available momentum to the rear wheels.
Ride and handling
While the old Kluger felt wallowy, high-sided and a little lifeless, the new Kluger has had the equivalent of triple bypass surgery. It rides nicely, soaking up the road’s lumps and bumps with aplomb at any speed.
Despite its low-speed foibles, the steering generally feels nicely weighted and not overly assisted, giving a decent feel for the road. The all-paw grip, too, is confidence-inspiring, although the hair-trigger electronic stability control will still step in rather abruptly as soon as the nose of the Kluger starts to push wide in a corner.
The brakes handle the higher kerb mass of the Kluger well, but lack feel and at times need a decent pedal pressure to pull things up.
Criticism aside, this is the best-driving Kluger so far, and a benchmark for others in the category including the locally developed, soon to be extinct Ford Territory.
Safety and servicing
Toyota’s Kluger is equipped with seven airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag, as well as all the usual expected safety measures including electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes that also help with the descent control function.
The addition of the driver’s knee airbag helped to bump up the previous-generation Kluger to a top five-star crash safety rating, which the current version also wears.
Toyota provides capped-price servicing for Kluger, which amounts to $170 every six months for the first three years or every 15,000km. The warranty covers three years or 100,000km of travel.
Toyota’s Kluger has evolved into something that is bigger and better, but by virtue of these changes it is also slightly less user-friendly in some respects, particularly in the car park.
The carryover engine is another blight, and economy suffers, too, with fuel use on test soaring as high as 16.0L/100km around town.
With frugal diesel-engined competitors undercutting it in a segment where the acceptance of oil-burning donks is high, and no hybrid option, Kluger is going to hurt.
Isuzu MU-X LS-T (From $53,500 before on-roads)
Tow-happy off-road-capable trade ute thinly disguised as a seven-seat family option, and feels like it on the road. Driving manners are extremely truck-like, with growly diesel, bouncy ride from rear-drive layout and numb steering. DVD player a bonus.
Ford Territory Titanium (From $54,990 before on-roads)
If you’re happy to put up with the Kluger’s high fuel use, the petrol-engined rear-drive top-spec Territory is excellent value and extremely family-friendly, and feels about the same vintage as the new Kluger, although missing some creature comforts.
Nissan Pathfinder ST-L (From $54,490 before on-roads)
Another thirsty V6, but a petrol-electric hybrid is coming. Good family-friendly interior, and the continuously variable transmission works well for around-town driving. The experience from behind the wheel is Novocane for the soul, though.
MAKE/MODEL: Toyota Kluger GXL AWD
ENGINE: 3.6L V6
LAYOUT: Front-engined, all-wheel-drive
TRANSMISSION: 6sp automatic
TOP SPEED: N/a
FUEL: 10.6L/100kmEMISSIONS: 246g/km CO2
SUSPENSION: Macpherson (f)/Multilink (r
STEERING: Electrically assisted rack and pinion
BRAKES: Vented disc (f)/disc (r)
PRICE: From $53,990 before on-roads
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