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Future models - Toyota - Kluger

First drive: Kluger II is Territory's nightmare

Accomplished: Second-generation Kluger goes on sale here in August.

Toyota’s redesigned mid-sized family SUV addresses the current Kluger’s weak points

26 Jun 2007

DETERMINED to regain ground lost to Ford's dominant Territory in the medium-sized SUV sector, Toyota Australia has revealed its second-generation Kluger will have an entry price below $40,000 - plus superior power, economy, interior space utilisation and safety features.

Launched in the US last week ahead of its Australian debut in August, Kluger II will be fitted with stability control across the range and, like Territory, will come in both all-wheel drive and 2WD (in this case front-wheel drive) forms.

The Territory is currently priced from $39,490 for the rear-wheel drive TX and offers stability control (on this and the mid-range RWD TS) as an $850 option. All other Territory RWD and AWD models have the important safety device fitted standard.

The new Kluger, known as the Highlander in the US, was styled at Toyota’s Calty Design Centre in California and will be produced for Australian consumption in Osaka, Japan.

It will be positioned to wrestle class leadership from the Territory, to fill in the gap vacated in 2002 when the last Camry station wagon was discontinued, and to even lure buyers who may have chosen the now-discontinued (in Australia) Corolla wagon.

Toyota is remaining silent on exact power and economy figures, as the well as the fine detail concerning pricing, model proliferation, specification levels and sundry other items relating to Australian-bound versions of its monocoque-bodied SUV.

However, GoAuto can reveal that fuel consumption figures will be "at least" 10 per cent better than the equivalent Territory.

This should put the Kluger II at about 11L/100km, with the AWD models hovering in the high-11L/100km region. Aiding this is improved aerodynamics, which benefits from some wind-cheating underbody work. The current Kluger returns 12.3L/100km.

The Camry-based Aurion, which uses virtually the same 2GR-FE 3.5-litre quad-cam dual-VVTi V6 powerplant as the Kluger II (but with a different gearbox), returns an official combined average of 10L/100km.

On the other hand, weighing in between 1740 to 1875kg, the outgoing Kluger is around 200kg lighter than Kluger II, which – in FWD form – starts to tip the scales from about 1800kg.

Shared with the current Lexus RX350, the Kluger II should have similar power and torque outputs. So count on at least 202kW of power on standard unleaded petrol, and about 345Nm of torque. In US Highlander guise, the figures are 201kW and 336Nm at 4700rpm.

In contrast, the Aurion delivers 200kW and 336Nm, while the outgoing Kluger’s outputs are 172kW and 328Nm from a 3.3-litre V6 powerplant.

Toyota says the new Kluger will come with the most powerful non-turbo engine in its class – the Territory Turbo pumps out 245kW and 480Nm, while in naturally aspirated form its 4.0-litre straight-six delivers 190kW and 383Nm.

Come September, American Highlander buyers will also be able to choose a hybrid version, which will mate either a 3.3 or 3.5-litre petrol V6 with an electric motor, similar to the 254kW/368Nm Hybrid Synergy Drive set-up used in the Lexus GS450h.

However, it is unlikely that the Australian Kluger line-up will include any hybrid model before 2009 at the earliest.

And there is no word of a diesel version to match Holden's Captiva, which is claimed to be 20 per cent more fuel efficient than Territory.

All models will use an electronically controlled five-speed automatic gearbox with a gated sequential-manual shift facility, instead of the Aurion’s Aisin-supplied six-speed automatic.

This is because the five-speeder is the only unit designed for this particular permanent AWD application. By comparison, rear-wheel drive Territory models have a four-speed automatic, while the AWD cars come with a ZF six-speed auto.

Underpinning the latest Kluger is a development of the current Camry/Aurion’s platform, which is itself based on the set-up employed in the outgoing Kluger.

However, according to Toyota Australia product manager Doug Soden, an inspection of the Kluger and Aurion underneath will reveal virtually no common components.

8 center imageUsing a four-wheel MacPherson strut design with lower transverse links and a lower trailing arm at the rear, the Kluger II sits on a wheelbase that, at 2790mm, is 75mm longer than before, while the SUV stands about 16mm higher for better off-road clearance.

In length, width and height measurements, the Kluger II’s respective 4785mm, 1910mm and 1705mm tallies make it 95mm longer, 85mm wider and 25mm higher than the outgoing vehicle.

Toyota claims that the suspension was altered to improve handling on both bitumen and dirt. Particular attention was paid to reducing mechanical noise and vibration from entering the cabin.

A new electronically powered rack-and-pinion steering system has also been devised.

Interestingly, the next Lexus RX – due towards the end of 2008 – will not share anywhere near as many parts with the new Kluger as today’s versions (which are very closely related under the skin). It is believed that Lexus is going it alone with the development of the next RX.

Also expected is a much more sophisticated drivetrain package, to bring the model closer to the dynamic and refinement qualities of its premium German rivals such as the BMW X5.

Nevertheless, Toyota claims that the new Kluger is "a significantly higher-quality vehicle" than before, with a number of measures instigated during the design and development period to ensure this.

As well as the aforementioned stability control, every Kluger will also be fitted with traction control, ABS brakes with EBD and brake assist, and seven airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag and side and curtain items that extend to all three rows in seven-seater versions.

Active head restraints and a pedestrian-impact "friendlier" bonnet will also be part of the Kluger’s safety role call, as will hill-start control on all cars, as well as a Hill Descent Control feature in AWD models.

Finally, the Kluger also scores tilt and telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel, adding weight to Toyota’s claims that special attention was paid to improving comfort and ergonomics.

Creating more space in every direction inside has been a Kluger II priority. Longer (by about 65mm) and wider (by around 48mm) in body than before, there is now more room in every row of seats.

As before, the second and third row of seats (where fitted) fold flat to increase cargo room.

A novel removable second-row middle seat that stows neatly underneath the centre console between the front seats, a flip-up back window built into the tailgate, a reversing camera, air-conditioning, remote central locking, power windows and AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound will be standard items across the range.

Also standard will be a 17-inch wheel and tyre package, with a 19-inch wheel available as an option. Toyota says that the suspension had to be significantly revised to accommodate the larger wheels.

Toyota will not confirm this for now, but buyers will also be able to obtain new-to-Kluger features such as front and rear climate-control air-conditioning, leather seats, Toyota’s keyless "Smart Entry" and "Smart Start" technology, front foglights, and a Bluetooth-compatible multi-disc sound system.

All models will be available in both drivetrain and seating arrangement formats. Toyota will not reveal whether it will continue the current Kluger’s CV/CVX and Grande nomenclature.

In terms of styling, designer Ian Cartabiano revealed that he wanted to emphasise the "SUV-ness" of the vehicle, particularly in profile.

"It’s not lying about what the car is," he explained to GoAuto. "You haul people in it." Calty’s studio design and resource manager Erwin Lui added that within this "stylish box" is where the new Kluger’s real design progress can be found, highlighted by a much strong shoulder line, larger wheel-arches and tauter surfacing than before.

This year Toyota expects to sell at least 5000 current and new-model Klugers in Australia, matching 2006 levels. It is counting on incremental sales, secured from rivals as disparate as the Territory, Holden Commodore wagon, Nissan Pathfinder, Honda Odyssey and Volkswagen Passat.

Toyota will not disclose what it believes will be the FWD to AWD sales split, but one insider suggested that the Territory’s 55/45 bias would be a reasonable indicator.

More Kluger II details will be revealed closer to the Australian launch.

Drive impressions:

AN AMERICAN Toyota insider summed up the new-generation Kluger succinctly.

"This is the Camry of SUVs. It’s a huge selling product and it has to appeal to a lot of different people with a lot of different tastes..." The Kluger, or Highlander (as it is known in North America, its key market), is one of those cars that is just too darned popular for its creators to mess around with.

No changing the flavour then. No wacky new styling directions. No intimidating new features. Just the same, time-tested and populus-proven ingredients.

But this is selling Toyota’s latest medium sized SUV short, because while it may be larger, heavier, roomier, sleeker, safer, quieter and more powerful than before, the Kluger II is also – somehow – less thirsty and more accessible, with prices that are expected to start at under $40K.

In other words, it’s a better car.

To begin with, photos fail to convey the new model’s tauter, edgier design.

The latest Kluger works particularly well in profile, gaining a presence that was previously absent in the series. The nose and tail treatments, however, seem somewhat anonymous, leaving it looking like a RAV4 Xeroxed up to 120 per cent.

On the Californian launch program, only models fitted with the US 19-inch alloy wheels were available for perusal. They look great, and certainly finally introduce a semblance of style to the Kluger, but we think that the car does look like it is standing on tippy-toes.

If you are a short person, you will surely appreciate the electric power steering’s easy responsiveness, as well as the helpfully high-res rear-view camera, that helps makes parking less intimidating. Likewise, the Charlie Windsor ears-like exterior mirrors are also very useful here.

Tall folk too can benefit from these of course, and in more comfort and space than before, but the point is that such items are there to accommodate a broader range of people than the previous Kluger could.

As does the every-which-way driving position, possible nowadays thanks to a steering wheel than tilts and telescopes, while the thoughtfully designed and extremely functional dashboard is nicely modern in that oh-so-slightly anodyne Toyota way.

Special gold stars are added for the very effective ventilation system, handy storage receptacles and super-crisp instrumentation, while the outmoded and infuriating foot-operated park brake should be flung into the nearest Black Hole – even if Toyota has introduced a Subaru-style device that will stop the Kluger II rolling back anyway.

Some models now come with a fancy-pants keyless entry and starting system operated by a high-tech proximity key. Cars without this make do with a surprisingly outdated two-piece key and fob set similar to the one Ben Hur used for his chariot.

Meanwhile, gangly teenagers and leggy supermodels are likely to enjoy lounging in the middle-row seats, since they recline (a little) and don’t crowd your knees.

Conversations can be carried out at speed without resorting to shouting, even for the two kids hanging in the (optional) third row.

It certainly is roomier than in a Ford Territory, and easier to get there, since the middle seats slide and the centre one can be removed and easily stowed for walk-through access.

You wouldn’t want to spend any meaningful time back there if you are taller than Webster though.

Loading the back is now simpler because you can now option the Kluger II with a powered tailgate, while the back glass lifts up Territory-style so you can just throw stuff inside.

So far, so good then even before turning a key or pressing a button, the latest Kluger is cutting it with panache as a family carryall.

But can the Toyota keep up with the Territory as a driving machine? First, an admission of ineptitude: Driving in mind-numbing freeway conditions on a warm and dry sunny day, we could not tell if the Kluger II that we were piloting was all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive.

That probably also speaks volumes about how close FWD and AWD Klugers really are in benign circumstances.

Either way, the driving experience can be described as impressively capable, toweringly proficient and unswervingly secure, but slightly detached and somewhat uninspiring.

We mostly drove AWD Klugers fitted with the US Sport pack, which features firmer suspension.

Toyota representatives say that this is the closest to what the Australian Kluger’s suspension set-up will be, but there will still be further modifications designed to deliver more dynamic responses.

We hope so, because the Californian Kluger’s steering seems a little too void in the information-sharing department, with a springy artificial feel in some circumstances, such as when pressing on through fast corners.

Now this would not matter so much except that the benchmark-setting Territory – as an accomplished athlete among SUVs – rules with unchallenged authority in the minds of driver enthusiasts.

Yet the majority of owners will simply delight at the fact that the Kluger II will go to exactly where it is pointed, will not load up or feel too heavy while doing it, and latches on to the road like a leech at all times.

They are also likely to love the engine’s off-idle acceleration and smoothness.

However, there needs to be plenty of revs and a portion of patience present if overtaking manoeuvres are to be executed, since – especially when laden – the Kluger II does hesitate before the super-slick five-speed auto gearbox kicks down a gear.

Keep the engine on song, though, and most drivers will find that the Toyota is certainly amply powerful.

Praise is deserved for the Kluger’s effective ride quality on a rough-road course that seemed far closer to Australia’s urban streets than the Californian highways we drove on.

The extra 16mm or so ground clearance certainly aided the Toyota’s progress over a reasonably challenging rutted track section, and loose surfaces did not result in anything too untoward even at some speed, but you would conclude that this car is very much the soft-roader with no pretensions to being anything more.

Besides being somewhat non-representative of the cars that we will get come August, the Kluger IIs sampled were also pre-production vehicles.

Still, we could not detect squeaks, untoward wind or road noise intrusion or even the sort patchy build quality that prototypes usually possess.

Which neatly brings home the Kluger II’s biggest and most formidable advantage against all its competitors: it is a Toyota.

That somebody has called it the Camry of SUVs might sound like faint praise to some.

But for hundreds of thousands of new-car buyers in North America and Australia, this simply means the Kluger II is like the latest Andrew Lloyd-Webber production, Tom Cruise movie, football grand final event or Coldplay concert: a crowd pleaser extraordinaire.

In fact, we think that – dull steering feel aside – the next Camry would be doing very well indeed if it were to be referred to as "the Kluger II" of medium-sized family sedans.

It appears that the Territory may face its biggest fight yet.

Read more:

Kluger will have safety in spades

First look: Toyota unveils MkII Kluger


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