Our three month, summer holiday with the Toyota Kluger Grande has come to an end.
During its time in the garage, the Phil Dunphy Express saw plenty of Frozen sing-alongs, lost hair ties and the requisite repeat screenings of Madagascar 1, 2 and 3.
Riders and drivers all came away impressed with the Klug. It is comfortable, spacious, easy to drive and generally a pretty likeable car – in a Phil Dunphy kind of way.
Around town the big V6 can get thirsty, but freeway cruising will see petrol consumption close to the 10L/100km mark. With a bit of effort you could likely see that dip into the single figures.
It’s no premium European, but it feels solid and has a sense of that ‘Toyota’ quality that keeps the Japanese brand on top of the sales charts around the world.
We liked the flexibility inside and the ‘Americool’ styling outside.
So if you are reading this to answer the question of whether the Toyota Kluger will be a good family car for you, where space, versatility and comfort are important… then yes, the Kluger ticks the boxes. Question answered.
But which Kluger variant is the right one?
Our AWD Grande is the top-specification in a range that has six models that span three grades with 2WD and AWD variants of each.
We have previously reviewed the 2WD Kluger and found the 201kW / 337 Nm 3.5-litre V6 too much for just the front wheels. Torque steer and wheelspin are not things you need to worry about in a family truckster – Melbourne drivers will know well how horrible wet tram tracks can be for those blessed (or burdened) with front-wheel drive.
That gives us a starting point of $44,990 for the Kluger GX AWD.
There’s no leather interior or three-zone climate control, but the bones are all there – the flexible interior, standard reverse camera and Bluetooth, and of course the V6 and six-speed automatic that is common in all models.
Spend a bit more and you move up to the Kluger GXL AWD ($53,990). Those nine extra gorillas make the Toyota a bit more comfortable – with leather, climate control, heated seats and keyless ignition to round out the premium feel.
At $67,520 the Grande is a further $13,530 on top of the GXL. That’s a lot.
Don’t get me wrong, the Grande comes with lots of goodies – but is it worth a whopping 25 per-cent increase?
Much of these extras come in the form of driver technology, and it was these I focused on most.
Satellite navigation is only available in the Grande, and the system provided isn’t exactly the world best. The graphics are big and clumsy, it’s not particularly intuitive to use and it carries one of the biggest usability faults possible — you can’t enter a destination while on the move.
A note to manufacturers who have a motion lockout on navigation…
First of all, have you ever heard of a ‘passenger’? That’s the person who sits up the front and isn’t driving the car – so can quite safely use the system without risking life and limb. If the system had a passenger-seat interlock – then OK… but it doesn’t and it’s an enormous pain in the rear.
But more importantly — with this lockout in place, I found the Toyota system so frustrating to use that I ended up asking my passenger to use my phone for navigation. Although I didn't, this meant a driver could be committing the cardinal sin of using the device in the car, which, even while stopped at lights, is an offence. Isn't that the type of distraction the nav-lockout is trying to avoid?
Speaking of phones, Toyota offers extra functionality by way of the data connection in your smartphone and the ToyotaLink app.
What is it like and what does it do?
I can’t even tell you, because the app would never register me as a user. I have spoken to both Toyota and the app development company – who assure me it was a glitch with my phone and my account… but they still weren’t able to solve the problem.
There are other techno-gadgets in the Grande too.
The radar-assisted cruise control works, but can be quite abrupt in the way it slows the car when approaching a slower vehicle. The lane departure alert works, but also triggers plenty of false-positives – not helped by Melbourne’s tram-share markings on the roads.
Toyota have included a pre-collision warning system in the Grande that will scream and flash if the car thinks there is something dangerous ahead, but again this would trigger in peak hour stop start traffic when, admittedly, I may have been a smidge closer than I should be.
These are great pieces of technology, but they don’t do anything that simply paying attention doesn’t do for you. If you are in charge of a car full of our nation’s future – relying on beeps and lights isn’t the best way to go about your business. Look out the front, use your mirrors – drive the car.
It doesn’t end there.
The power boot and split tailgate is also exclusive to the Grande. As we have previously mentioned, the Kluger’s rear hatch is one of the slowest opening boots we have ever come across. The split tailgate is cool, but pointless if you aren’t very tall.
Don’t get me wrong, the Grande has some nicer, more premium touches like LED headlamps, bigger 19-inch wheels, ventilated front seats (which we love!) and a sunroof – plus the family favourite rear-seat entertainment system (not just a DVD player – right readers!).
It’s a nicer car than the GXL, but it is a much more expensive car.
Now, this all may sound like a strongly negative appraisal for the Kluger.
Far from it.
We came away more impressed than we expected with the Toyota Kluger. The core DNA of the big SUV is excellent as family transport.
It’s just the extras on the top – the decoration on the cake if you will – that raises a few concerns.
Would I recommend a Kluger? Absolutely. Would I recommend a Grande? No.
The AWD Kluger GXL is the definite sweet spot in the big Toyota’s range.
The extras in the Grande just don’t carry the value that their significant premium requires. Grab a TomTom for navigation and an iPad for the kids, pay attention while driving and put that $13,500 saving back into the family.
The Kluger and all its loveable Dunphy-ness will be a great member of your modern family — in fact one of our guest families from the second long-term report has now purchased one.
Toyota Kluger Grande
Date acquired: November 2014
Odometer reading: 13,675km
Travel since previous update: 1,239km
Consumption since previous update: 13.6L/100km
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser and James Ward