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First drive: Toyota hits back with Kluger upgrade

Petrol only: Like Ford's Territory, the Kluger currently has no diesel engine option.

Lack of a diesel engine limits appeal, but Toyota’s Kluger is now much better value


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15 Nov 2010

INTENT on protecting its dominance in the mid-sized SUV segment in Australia, Toyota has cut prices and improved the specification of its Kluger soft-roader in the face of increasing competition from a host of resurgent models, particularly Holden’s Captiva.

While the heavy-duty Prado 4WD continues to lead the segment, the expansive Korean-built Captiva range – which will receive a further boost in the first half of next year with a major upgrade – has overthrown Kluger to take second place in the sales race so far this year, which in a much-improved market has seen overall medium SUV sales increase 29.2 per cent.

For the past two years, Toyota has taken gold and silver in the segment, but in 2010 Captiva sales have climbed 43.3 per cent YTD compared to Kluger’s modest 5.1 per cent increase, placing the Holden SUV around 2500 units clear of Kluger and just 978 behind the Prado, which is up 42.8 per cent YTD.

The once-dominant Ford Territory has climbed 12.6 per cent YTD to hold fourth place, and is closing in on Kluger to be 934 units behind after 10 months of trading.

Toyota is, however, fighting back with price cuts and fresh styling for Kluger that should help it claw back ground before the year is out.

Toyota boosted the Japanese-built, Camry-based Kluger line-up mid-2009 with a value-added Altitude variant to combat Territory Mark II. However, Holden has gradually strengthened the Captiva range over the past few years with 2WD variants across both petrol and diesel powertrains and five-seat and seven-seat configurations.

Neither the Territory nor Kluger has a diesel engine in their respective line-up, although Territory will offer a long-awaited turbo-diesel engine from the second quarter of next year.

There is no diesel on the horizon for Kluger, but the latest upgrade does bring edgier headlights and grille, a new bonnet and front bumper, plus fresh-design tail-lights and door mouldings.

The exterior mirrors on all grades are fitted with puddle lamps that illuminate when the proximity key unlocks the Kluger to show the area around the doors. The styling changes required new front mudguards and, along with a new bonnet, the sheetmetal changes make this a significant facelift.

Inside there is a new dash colour, updated audio and communications systems, while seven-seat models get more versatility with a 50:50 split on the third-row pew.

Of particular interest to potential Kluger buyers are price cuts across all eight models in the range.

The entry-level 2WD five-seat KX-R model drops $1000 to come in at $39,990, while the 2WD seven-seat KX-R drops by $800 to $42,690.

The KX-R variants get a large rear spoiler, improved audio system with USB input and Bluetooth phone connectivity, plus a fresh design for its 17-inch alloy wheels.

The KX-S grade comes with seven seats only and it, too, drops by $800 to now start from $50,990 for the 2WD. The KX-S is dressed up inside with perforated leather trim on both the first and second row seats, an improved audio display plus USB input for its six-disc CD MP3 audio unit.

On the outside the roof rails get a chrome finish.

The top-of-the-range Kluger Grande is also a seven-seater and its starting price drops by $414. At $60,990, the 2WD variant gets the perforated leather trim, chrome roof rails and bumper accent, new-look woodgrain dash finish and new 19-inch wheels.

The Grande is already loaded with satellite-navigation, three-zone climate-control, seven airbags (including driver’s knee bag), power sunroof and Bluetooth phone connectivity.

All-wheel drive is available across all grades and adds $4500 to the prices.

The drivetrain is carried over from the current model with the 3.5-litre V6 engine and five-speed auto transmission being the only choice.

The Kluger is a vehicle designed for the US market where gasoline is the fuel of choice and as such this is the only powertrain with which it has been engineered. There is a petrol-electric hybrid version available in the US but as much as Toyota Australia would like to get it here, it will not be coming in the foreseeable future.

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