The Toyota Kluger sits at the top of Toyota’s SUV sales charts just under the big LandCruiser Prado.
We took the top of the range Grande out on the road to try it out.
It’s pretty impressive to think that the Kluger has soldiered on since 2003 with no fundamental changes to the formula. Of course it’s been updated in the decade it has been driven in Australia, but the basic layout of a 2+3+2 seven seater with a single V6 petrol engine option has remained throughout its lifetime.
Competitors are quick to point to its lack of a diesel powertrain that holds it back, but it still seems to sell in droves and dominate the choice of family wagons.
The Kluger’s look has been in line with buyer’s tastes over the years. The first models from Japan came with a conservative skin that was neither offensive nor groundbreaking.
As SUVs became a worldwide phenomenon, the Kluger beefed up with the times in the next iteration – smoother, sleeker and brawnier looking. Now, Toyota’s mid-sized SUV has put a bit of edge on its looks, with a squat, sharpened look that sets it apart from the other 4WD derivatives in the Toyota lineup (Prado/LandCruiser, Hilux/Fortuner).
Inside, the Grande has always been a classy cabin with dark leather everywhere and a sweeping dashboard that makes the Kluger look sophisticated, if a little sombre.
Over the last decade, Toyota has made significant in-roads into getting back to making cars that are both good looking and engaging for drivers, and the latest Kluger has benefitted from that immensely.
Setting off, the big V6 kicks in immediately and, in our AWD model, the front wheels start to propel the Kluger ahead. Steering feels light and connected, firming up once you get to highway speeds to give a direct drive.
Power delivery is well suited for around town, and feels well balanced at lower speeds (not sluggish or underserved) and keeps a good clip once you pick up the pace. In an empty car, the acceleration is prompt, and it’s easy to forget you’re driving a seven seater; the engine does well to keep the Kluger running smoothly no matter what the situation.
Flying around the rural country outside Ipswich, the Kluger handles the coarse chip roads easily, braking powerfully when entering the little townships that dot the map and firing straight back up to get out west on our test.
Because the Kluger has become lower slung over time, the latest model’s cornering is tighter and it sticks to a smooth line with out pitching and rolling. The AWD system keeps the Grande well planted, with no hesitation around town, and even out in mild offroad situations (loose gravel, dirt tracks) the Kluger’s suspension remains well settled with no harsh vibrations travelling into the cabin.
Driving aids are plentiful in the top-spec Grande with blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning as well as Hill-start Assist and Downhill Assist Controls to make it even easier to set off in the Kluger. The Active Cruise Control, which scans the road ahead could be less sensitive – the radar scanner likes to pull the Kluger down to about 10km/h under your chosen speed if it senses an obstacle, but this can be adjusted – but overall it’s a pretty smart system.
Throughout our test, the Kluger shone as a family mover, and it’s easy to see why SUVs are quickly taking over as the vehicle of choice for anyone who needs to get more than five people out on the road.
Because the Kluger has really taken off in the land of the big, petrol-powered SUV – America – everything has been made bigger for the wide, open spaces that Americans aspire to travel everyday.
The upside of this is that Australians – who do travel wide, open spaces everyday – get a classy, spacious family wagon built for comfortable cruising.
This makes it perfect for families, coming standard with reverse parking sensors, reverse camera and automatic headlights, while mild revisions to the mid-range GXL gives the Kluger tri-zone climate control, smart entry, heated front seats and roof rails to fit optional roof racks.
The top-of-the line Grande we landed in scores all of the GXL’s gear plus a powered tailgate, ventilated front seats and even more safety gear, including autonomous emergency braking at speeds over 40km/h, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring. The flagship also cops a satellite navigation, roof-mounted BluRay player for the back rows and an upsized 8” touchscreen for the front dash.
So it’s not left wanting for equipment, but the real advantage the Kluger has over the competition is the space inside the cabin. The front two captains chairs can swallow you, while passengers in the second row can stretch out with acres of legroom and reclining seatbacks. The third row’s legroom relies on how reclined the middle row is; thankfully, you can easily slide the middle row fore and aft.
On the plus side for families, there are three child seat mounting points in the second row – but you can forget about getting into the third row easily without wrangling seatbelts and booster seats.
The good news is, though, that the boot is still practicable when you’ve got passengers in the third row and massive when you fold the rearmost seats into the floor. The new model is 150mm longer and 50mm wider than the previous Kluger, which may not sound like much in terms of absolute size but the smart use of the wheelbase increases actual dimensions inside to boost the daily practicality of the Kluger.
The Grande makes a strong case for families with a balance of safety, space and features that put it firmly on the shopping list to check out, if you’ve got five or more regularly in the car.
The Kluger spans a vast space of the market from the entry model GX through to our flagship Grande. Starting from $42,190 going up through 2WD and AWD models to the Grande AWD tested at $68,046, there is a model for every budget.
All prices quoted do not include on-road costs such as registration, stamp duty or insurance.
All colours except Eclipse Black are charged at a premium of $550.
Servicing for the Kluger is taken care of by Toyota Service Advantage, with the first six scheduled services capped at $180 with service intervals scheduled at six months or 10,000km.
The new Kluger improves on what the previous model did best: provide spacious seating for seven with a suite of safety, comfort and convenience features to create a sophisticated family wagon.