Ever since I can remember, the Toyota Tarago has been the iconic people mover. Not a single day goes by without seeing a Tarago ferrying a bunch of people around. As an enthusiast of anything loud and fast, I can’t honestly say that I was looking forward to driving the Tarago, but I had a task ahead of me; which was to find out what the Tarago was all about.
I hadn’t actually seen the new Tarago until finally confronting it in the flesh. I had hoped for something reminiscent of the Honda Odyssey or Mitsubishi Grandis; unfortunately Toyota had gone down the conservative path, yet again. In my opinion, the front end looks a bit silly and the interior arrangement leaves a lot to be desired. To top it all off, the vehicle was ghost white, making it look like an Avis rental.
I have no doubts that the design of the dashboard was inspired from the Star Trek Enterprise. It uses a bulging control cluster and a centre-style speedometer layout. Some of the interior plastics feel very cheap and unorthodox in a vehicle worth ~$50,000.
The model I drove was the GLI; it’s the base model and lives below the ‘top-of-the-line’ GLX variant. Two of the things I grew to hate very quickly were the speedometer display and the gear lever. I’ll start with the latter; the gear lever was mounted on the dashboard and featured a stubby lever and sequential shift, it would have all been helped with a column shift style arrangement. The former irritated me because of angle the speedometer was on. Normally I don’t mind the whole centre speedometer setup, but the one in the Tarago was on an angle and each time I looked at it, I had to tilt my head to confirm the speed, meaning that my eyes were off the road longer than they should have been.
Not all hope was lost though. After getting used to the speedometer and cumbersome gear shifter, I was able to appreciate the Tarago for what it was – a people mover. The front seats were comfortable and offered plenty of room. The odd dashboard layout allows for plenty of cubby holes and storage places, the doors even contained holders for larger beverages, such as wine and drink bottles. Functions such as heating, radio and trip computer were easy to use and required minimal fuss.
Under the bonnet, the Tarago hosts a punchy 2.4ltr, 4-cyl engine that produces 125kW of power at 6000RPM and 224Nm of torque at 4000RPM. Sure, it’s no Easternats competitor, but the engine suits the Tarago nicely. It feels much more lively and agile with more revs on board due to the VVT-i configuration. A side note worth mentioning is that the Tarago holds the respective gear when in sequential mode. Most vehicles up-shift on their own but the Tarago held the gear on the limiter and didn’t let go.
The only way to really test the Tarago was to load it full of people. I actually went one step better; I loaded the Tarago full of people who were the owners of a late ‘90s Tarago. I had a total of six adults in the car, spanning across all three seating rows on offer. According to my passengers the ride was very comfortable and leg room was OK. The ultimate test was to then flick the air conditioning on with all six bodies on-board. The engine needed to be pushed a lot harder with a full load of passengers – even more so with the air conditioning on – but it certainly didn’t have many problems keeping up with traffic.
Handling deteriorated significantly with a full load of people. The Tarago didn’t feel anywhere near as sure of itself with a load of people as it did when it was empty. I expected this much, but certainly not the extent that it occurred. In general the Tarago felt good with fewer people on board; but even then it’s certainly not a vehicle I would consider taking to the mountains in.
My passengers reported that the new Tarago felt smaller than their model. This was in fact true when we put them side by side. There was far less room in the ‘boot’ (the section behind the furthest row of seats) and leg room in each row felt far less spacious in the new Tarago compared to the older model. This could be due to the fact that the new Tarago now has sliding doors on both sides, opposed to the older model that only carried a sliding door on one side.
I took the Tarago out through our regular test route which includes dirt roads, a high speed section and also a testing section for ESP and emergency braking.
When the Tarago hit the un-sealed sections of road it became a noisy disaster. Suspension rattle and noise inside the cabin increased exponentially with speed and became un-bearable at speeds of 80km/h and above. On the sealed section of road; the Tarago felt quite composed at high speeds, only becoming somewhat flustered when hitting ridges and bumps.
The brakes felt very firm and pulled the Tarago up in good distance. But, it only took around four or five stops from 100km/h to make the brakes fade and pump out smoke. One fantastic feature that earns bragging rights at the pub is the 3-point force limiting seat belt setup. Drop your foot deep onto the anchors and you are greeted with fantastic stopping power, along with a pulling at the chest. A motor actively tightens the seatbelt during emergency braking to pull the passenger closer to their seat. I didn’t even know about this feature until I jumped onto the brakes for the first time. I thought I had broken something when I heard a small motor pulling at my seatbelt. It’s certainly an odd feeling and seems to work well with passengers of all sizes.
I mentioned earlier that the GLI is the base model in the Tarago range. The only other model is the GLX; surprisingly the GLX is only $3000 more than the GLI. That $3000 difference gets you the Safety Pack (includes traction control, stability control, front seat side airbags, front seat side curtain airbags and second row side curtain airbags), driver’s knee airbags, 17” alloy wheels, 6-disc CD player, roof rails, front and rear parking sensors and rear compartment climate control. Why you wouldn’t go for the GLX over the GLI is beyond me, the price difference gets you a load of features.
Standard features on the GLI model (being test driven) include: ABS brakes with EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) and BA (Brake Assist), cruise control, dual-zone climate control, 6-speaker MP3 compatible CD player, dual front SRS airbags, under floor cargo storage area and power windows.
Fuel economy on test was circa 10L/100km, slightly higher than the average of 9.5L/100km quoted by Toyota.
Sure, the new Toyota Tarago is not much to look at, and driving dynamics are a bit flawed, but this much can be expected from a people mover. Toyota has a long-lived history of providing quality made and reliable people movers, making it one of the more known names in this class.
If you can get used to some of the quirky features and cheapish plastics on the inside, you will enjoy the Tarago. It’s certainly no driver’s car – far from it actually – but it is one of the best at doing what it’s made to do – move people.
If you’re in the market for one of these, don’t bother with the GLI model. I would go straight to the GLX, as the price difference adds a host of features for such a negligible price.