Price: $39,990 to $65,490
You’re probably not going to see Jennifer Hawkins swanning around in a Toyota Kluger anytime soon – and you won’t find a poster of one hanging on your son’s bedroom wall next to the Lamborghini Aventador and the NSW/Queensland State of Origin team, either.
Affordable family-size SUVs that bow to function over form just don’t get that kind of attention.
The current-generation Toyota Kluger was launched in Australia in 2007 and benefitted from a fairly substantial facelift in 2010 that included a new bonnet, grille, bumpers, front guards, headlamps, tail-lights and door mouldings.
While the update went some way to maintaining a contemporary look for the Kluger, styling probably isn’t going to be a key selling point.
Australia is now set to receive the next-generation Kluger in the latter half of 2013, but this time it won’t be made in Japan.
Production of the right-hand-drive Kluger (known as Highlander in other markets) will shift to Toyota’s Indiana plant in the United States, where Australia will directly source its allocation.
Kluger is a critically important model for Toyota in Australia, where it currently sits in the number three spot in the crowded large SUV segment, behind the Ford Territory and Toyota Prado.
There are sound reasons for its success. There’s plenty to appreciate, especially with the top-of-the-line Toyota Kluger Grande that we tested.
From any angle the Kluger is a sizeable vehicle. It’s not quite as big as the LandCruiser, but with a length of 4785mm and width of 1910mm, it’s not far off it.
With so much interior space available, the Toyota Kluger is an incredibly versatile vehicle. It’s also cleverly designed to provide people-mover capacity, or van-like carrying capability.
Seven seats are standard on all but the entry-level KX-R model. The second row can slide forwards or backwards and offers ‘Gold Class’ style individual seating complete with four bottle/cup holders, centre table and armrests.
That’s all the better for those lucky enough to be kicking back with drinks and snacks enjoying a DVD on the standard fit 9.1-inch screen using the parent-friendly wireless headphones.
It’s an all-leather affair in the Kluger Grande, too, that extends even to the third-row seats, which can be laid flat or split 50:50.
Conveniently, the second row seats can be folded remotely from the rear cargo bay, opening up even more load space for transporting longer objects.
For smaller items such as grocery bags, there’s a rear glass hatch that can be opened independently of the entire tailgate.
There’s plenty of legroom for passengers in both rear seat rows as well as individual air-conditioning vents for greater comfort.
Up front, the liberal use of woodgrain-look trim and chrome highlights give the Kluger a semi-premium feel. That’s despite there being few if any soft-touch plastics throughout the cockpit. That’s something you might expect on board a range-topping SUV with a price tag of $65,490 (before on-road costs).
It’s comfortable enough with a broader-style seat design that provides a soft seat cushion and plenty of elbow space, but there’s not enough bolstering to counter the Kluger’s moderate level of body roll during cornering.
This family SUV is well equipped, though, with a range of premium features including smart entry and start, heated front seats, rear view camera (without parking sensors), 8-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, three-zone climate control air conditioning for front and second row seats, seven airbags and Bluetooth phone connectivity.
Disappointingly, the Toyota Kluger misses out on a music streaming function – although a USB port and 3.5mm auxiliary input is provided.
There are no such inadequacies when it comes to Toyota’s silky, smooth-revving 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine. It’s beautifully refined and very quiet inside the cabin.
With 201kW of power and 337Nm of torque it’s also quite lively. Despite its size and weight (2035kg) the AWD Kluger will sprint from 0-100 in a fairly zippy 8.2 seconds.
The only downside is that Toyota is still using a five-speed automatic transmission in the Kluger, and while it’s a smooth-shifting unit that mates reasonably well with the V6 powerplant – a six-speed unit would likely provide improved fuel efficiency and performance.
Throttle response is nice and sharp, though, making for punchy performance any time you need it.
Some of the negatives – according to Toyota our Kluger can achieve a combined fuel consumption of 11.6L/100km, but the best average fuel consumption we recorded during our weeklong test was 14.1L/100km
The Kluger feels every bit as large as its dimensions, at least from behind the wheel. With 3.1 turns to lock, there’s a fair amount of arm-twirling required, too, so drivers will need to tread carefully when entering and exiting those space-deprived parking stations.
When it comes to ride comfort, we’ve got mixed impressions about the Kluger.
On well-maintained bitumen the ride is comfortable with its all-round independent suspension soaking up small bumps and any unevenness.
However, over poorly maintained suburban roads the Kluger’s suspension is less effective and there’s a level of harshness that occasionally travels through the Kluger’s body, producing a fidgety ride experience.
It’s a similar story with the handling. While we don’t expect hatch-like agility in an SUV of this size, there’s a tad too much body roll on turn-in with the Kluger.
Overall, the Toyota Kluger doesn’t feel as balanced or composed as the lower priced, but equally well-equipped, Mazda CX-9, or the Territory, in this regard.
Even in torrential rain, there’s plenty of grip, though, from the 19-inch alloys shod with 245/55-series Bridgestone Dueler tyres in concert with the vehicle’s full-time AWD system (2WD versions are available).
Apart from the seven airbags, the Toyota Kluger picks up a full suite of active safety systems including vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-locking brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution.
It’s no beauty contest contender, but the Toyota Kluger offers exceptional versatility and space coupled with plenty of power, loads of kit and Toyota’s reputation for low running costs.