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Car reviews - Toyota - Tarago - GLX people-mover

Our Opinion

We like
Versatility, style, comfort, space, safety, reliability, reputation
Room for improvement
Four-speed auto's limitations, some engine vibration and noise

Toyota logo9 Aug 2006

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FEW cars are quite as 'rock and roll' as the Toyota Tarago.

Far from just being a people mover for bigger families, the venerable Japanese eight-seater has also seen its fair share of groupies, rock bands, and all other hanger-on-erers.

In fact, in this instance, 'Tarago' has become a byword for people mover in the same sort of affectionate - and loyal - way that a 'roadie' does all the manual or difficult labour.

And this is just one example of the Toyota people mover that - thanks to its dual role as a rental favourite - can be anything you want it to be.

Design seems to have been high on the agenda for the fourth-generation model.

At a passing glance the 2006 Tarago may look like the 2000-vintage model, but it is wider, shorter and completely different in surface tension as well as detailing.

Gone is the last car's slabby, fussy and unsophisticated styling.

Larger wheels fill the better-resolved wheelarches. The floating-roof effect of the black pillars and glazing is now more pronounced, particularly around the windscreen, while the high shoulder line recalls the flavour of the 2001 Volkswagen Microbus concept car.

The W headlight and grille design is far more characterful and modern than the gormless smile of the old Tarago, while the tail-light treatment is tighter, tauter and sleeker.

A similar design-led renaissance has occurred inside, where the previous Tarago's dated ovoid motifs have been ditched for an open and less claustrophobic stylistic approach.

Smart, edgy surfaces with attractive textures and contrasting colours prevail in the various plastic trims and fabrics that make up the Tarago's surprisingly inviting interior.

In the GLX model tested the grey-on-light hues might just be one of the best ever seen in a modern Toyota.

Since the company has been building cars like this for almost a quarter of a century, the fundamentals inside are all well executed.

Approached as just a five seater, five tall adults will find the seat's comfort, support and adjustment levels generous.

For the perfectly placed driver, perched higher than in a regular car (or Odyssey), the deep forward and side glazing is a boon for parking and city manoeuvrability, backed up by huge side mirrors and, on the GLX, by parking 'sonar' - radar in Toyota-talk.

No less than four gloveboxes help make up the pleasantly symmetrical dashboard, with an intelligently sited automatic gear lever (at last featuring a sequential-shift mechanism) falling straight at hand.

Courtesy of a complicated but ultimately logical climate control display (with control buttons for the bods out back), ventilation is superb (all outboard occupants enjoy face-level air outlets), the CD/MP3/radio audio controls are stupendously simple to use, and the automatic climate

After almost 1000km at the wheel, the only real complaints are side windows that only wind down just over half way, messy instrumentation (the tachometer's design clashes with the neat semi-circular style of the speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges), and third row latches that rattle if not clicked back into place.

On the subject of the third row (accessed by incredibly large side sliding doors), three supermodels or smaller teens is about the limit as far as comfy seating is concerned, although for short hauls two larger adults should have no qualms, especially as all occupants benefit from lap/sash seatbelts, headrests and access to cupholders.

These days the Tarago knows a couple of new interior/seating party tricks to go with its newfound haute couture.

The centre cushions tilt up Honda Jazz-style for loading tall objects like bicycles and pot plants.

And both the first and second seating rows slide, and - along with the third - recline for increased comfort.

In a nutshell, Toyota sure knows what it is doing inside here.

Particularly as all outboard occupants have grab handles to keep them steady through corners, because going around them with composure is another of the latest Tarago's triumphs.

Electric steering seems to have never worked better than it has in this people mover application, since it does not feel gloopy, artificial or unnatural to use.

Instead the driver is well connected to the driving front wheels, and so is in a position to steer and corner the Tarago like he or she might in a medium-sized family sedan.

With the benefits of anti-lock brakes, traction control and the GLX's stability control keeping everything and everybody in check, the Toyota can thus be hurried along with confidence, competence and ease.

Now while the 125kW 2.4-litre twin cam four-cylinder engine, an ex-Camry unit that now puts out 10kW of power more than before, does sound noisy and strained overtaking on the open road, it is a trier, feeling amply powerful in most urban conditions - even when fully laden, with eager step-off acceleration.

Its 224Nm torque top is a marginal improvement over the old model.

So it is a shame that Toyota does not offer a five-speed automatic gearbox in its latest people mover, because a better spread of ratios would give this lusty big 'four' the legs for more responsive performance.

As it stands, the four-speed automatic has gained a sequential-shift facility that allows the keener driver to change gears manually, making better use of the available power.

On the test car, there was an annoying vibration coming from the engine when you first touch the pedal to accelerate, undermining the Tarago's refinement somewhat.

At least it delivers reasonable fuel economy - about 520 fully laden kilometres from a tank of standard-unleaded is quite reasonable.

As it stands the Tarago feels at home on the highway, cruising quietly and with stable assurance, even in strong crosswinds. This is one bus that seems cut out for Australian distances.

However Toyota needs to sort out the suspension's ability to cope with larger speed humps, as the Tarago seems to crash over them whether empty or loaded with stuff.

After all that time behind the wheel, we can also tell you that the company has been concentrating on the way its eight-seater bus drives as well. Nobody complained, nothing rattled and everything worked as expected.

The best thing about the Tarago, however, is Toyota's decision to make it more affordable again, since it has conceded far too many sales to the cheaper Kia Carnival as well as the lower and sportier Honda Odyssey.

Starting at under the psychological $50,000 barrier, the base Tarago GLi is very well equipped for the money, bringing a host of previously optional features as standard equipment.

These include anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake-force assist, dual front airbags, dual climate-control air-conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, front fog lights and CD audio.

If you're spending this much money already, however, may we recommend the $51,990 GLX, since it adds stability control, traction control, side-front airbags, a sunroof, gorgeous alloy wheels, slicker audio and parking radar for just $3000 more.

The latter also includes a knee airbag and pre-crash seatbelt system that "prepares" the seatbelts in case of an accident.

It's not cheap anyway, but the Tarago GLX is now the most rounded people mover package you can buy, combining a flexible and accommodating cabin with excellent safety credentials, top-shelf durability and impressive design.

The 2.4-litre engine may not be the most powerful in the class, but it is reasonably frugal, smooth and eager once on the move.

So while the Tarago remains 'rock and roll' in some circles, the improvements that Toyota has brought to the latest edition will be sweet music to the ears in many more.

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