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Car reviews - Toyota - Tarago - V6 people-mover range

Our Opinion

We like
Packaging, quality, equipment, electric sliding side doors, V6 response, six-speed auto
Room for improvement
No reversing camera, no rear DVD entertainment system

Toyota logo9 Feb 2007

By NEIL MCDONALD

AS LARGE family moving wagons go, the Toyota Tarago is one of the more stylish around.

It’s the type of family wagon you would not be embarrassed to drive even if you were sans-family. In many ways too it is a much more practical vehicle than most large four-wheel drives for hauling around the detritus we collect with life.

Launched last March, the four-cylinder model featured a contemporary take on the modern MPV and was the fourth-generation Tarago that can trace its lineage back to 1983 when the first-generation arrived Down Under.

Visually, the on-road stance of the fourth-generation Tarago follows the more car-like trend set by the second and third-generation models. It is more purposeful and less van-like than many people-movers.

At the front the W-shaped headlights and grille design look smart and smooth. At the rear the high waistline is disguised by a blacked-out window treatment, which gives Tarago a sinuous, lithe look.

The curve of the tail-lights, melding into the hatch below the rear window, gives the tail a crisp, designer look.

Inside, the cabin is airy and well-equipment and the Yaris-style centre dashboard easy to read.

Fast forward to February 2007 and is there anything we’d change with the Tarago?

Yes. The engine.

So Toyota has done just that, shoehorning the latest generation 3.5-litre V6 under the sharply sloping bonnet, which should please family buyers and fleets looking for more grunt.

But first, let’s address the previous criticisms of the four-cylinder model.

The V6 gains a sequential six-speed automatic over the four-cylinder’s four-speed auto. The six-speeder is super-smooth and matched perfectly to the engine’s torque characteristics.

Also, when we tested the four-cylinder there were some issues with engine vibration and noise. That’s not the case in the V6.

Under hard acceleration in the Ultima, the new-generation V6 remains muted and smooth. Only the rise of the tachometer indicates that the V6 is working, albeit very quietly.

The V6 has already proved its worth in the Aurion and Lexus RX350. By the end of the year the RAV4 will join the V6 brigade with this engine under its bonnet.

Boasting 202kW at 6200rpm and 340Nm at 4700rpm, the front-drive unit hauls the range-topping 1930kg Ultima around with ease.

Perhaps more importantly, mid-range response is strong but the accelerator still requires a hefty shove to get things happening. In sequential mode though, it is possible to run the silky V6 right to the redline, where the Tarago takes on a more purposeful air.

Like the four-cylinder, the suspension configuration remains largely the same for the V6 – front MacPherson struts with lower L-arms and hydraulic damper units, while the rear is a coil-spring torsion-beam unit.

Despite the bigger engine capacity and size up front, the V6's mass does not appear to impact the car’s dynamics. There is a negligible weight difference between the alloy V6 and 2.4-litre four – 124kg versus 163kg for the V6.

As far as equipment goes, as you would expect of the $69,990 Ultima, there’s not much left wanting in its specification.

At this price it is lineball with the Chrysler Grand Voyager Limited and the Tarago manages to edge the US-rival out both on specification and performance.

Only the Kia Carnival, SsangYong Stavic and Hyundai Trajet present lower-cost options while the 3.2-litre V6 VW Multivan Highline series is $75,990.

The entry Tarago GLi V6 has eight seats, but the Ultima replaces the three-position seat in the second row with two enormous captain’s chairs that recline and offer airline-style footstools.

The third-row is a 60/40 split-fold affair that folds flat into the floor. Like the side doors, the third row seats are electric and can be lowered automatically into the floor.

Complementing the seating arrangements in the Ultima is a four-disc in-dash CD player, leather trim, heated front seats, navigation system, seven-spoke 17-inch alloys, rear seat climate-control, dual sunroofs, self-levelling high-intensity active headlights, wood and leather steering wheel and gearshift lever, grained centre instrument panel cluster and Optitron instruments.

The sliding centre console is a neat trick too. Like the RX350, it can move backwards, allowing the rear seat occupants access to the storage areas.

Safety levels are high with seven airbags, pre-crash seatbelts, traction control, brake assist and Toyota’s "vehicle stability control system" which maintains vehicle stability during cornering, dampening any tendencies for strong understeer or oversteer.

Tarago V6 has a space-save spare wheel, as the space traditionally allocated to the spare wheel is used to store the folding third-row seat.

Both the GLX and Ultima have front and rear parking sensors but there’s no rear reversing camera or rear DVD entertainment system.

Given that the Tarago is so family friendly it’s an oversight, but Toyota is looking at the camera issue and families can expect an aftermarket DVD player to be available at some point.

Such things may not be a requirement in the taxi or limousine business but families are another matter.

On the road the V6 Ultima pampers the occupants. It’s quiet, with plenty of leg and headroom all round and the ambience is appropriate to its range-topping claims.

Despite its high wagon-style design, the Tarago is a relatively flat handler.

You do feel the car’s bulk when it is pushed through tight twists and turns but that’s really not expected to be its forte. It wasn't designed with sportscar handling in mind.

Perhaps the only dynamic issue we had was with the steering. The electrically powered rack-and-pinion steering is light and easy to use but we couldn't help but think many drivers would enjoy more feedback.

For its intended purpose though - carrying people and their luggage – the Tarago is superb.

With four folk up front in the Ultima there’s still plenty of room out back for luggage. With the third row folded flat, the luggage area is quite deep, lessening the problem of luggage sliding forward into the passenger area.

The driver has a panoramic view out front but the wedged shoulder line, which rises to the rear hatch, does limit rearward visibility. As we’ve noted, a rear-view camera would be appreciate to supplement the rear parking sensors.

There are cheaper MPVs around but the Tarago has a lot going for it.

With V6 prices starting at $54,690, a reputation for bullet-proof quality and a stylish design, this latest offering will broaden Toyota’s MPV horizon.

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