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Vanilla never looked so good.
- 2009 Toyota GSU45R Kluger Grande; 3.5-litre V6 AWD; five-speed automatic; seven-seat wagon - $66,490*
- Metallic Paint $520 (Fitted - Crystal Pearl)
By Matt Brogan
Kluger is often considered the default option when buying a seven-seat family SUV, but don't let popularity put you off, for as I found out this week there's good reason you see so many of these on the road, and it all begins without so much as even turning a key.
The Grande sits atop the Kluger model line-up and, as you'd expect at this price, features an impressive equipment list even the most discerning SUV buyer would be happy with.
Keyless entry with push button start; auto tailgate; electric heated leather seats; triple-zone climate control; cruise control; six-CD tuner with DVD and satellite navigation; reverse camera; tilt and slide sunroof; power windows and mirrors are all included as standard kit.
The cabin too is spacious, intelligent, comfortable and offers a user-friendliness often overlooked by rivals who are either unaware or unsympathetic to the bustle and rush of family life. It looks good too, even if I'm not a fan of the abundant faux wood grain.
The layout accommodates seven usable seats, a myriad of nifty storage areas, cup holders everywhere, adequate levels of space in six of the seven seats - the mid-row centre seat being a little narrow - and with the exception of a little wind noise from the wing mirrors, a quiet ride.
But it's more than just features and cushioning that make Kluger so enjoyable. The drive on offer is also rather competent, thanks to Toyota's full-time, all-wheel-drive system, and comes with a feeling of stability and control - especially in the wet - well beyond that offered in similarly priced rivals featuring a part-time or rear wheel assist type arrangement.
Similarly the four corner strut set-up of Kluger's suspension means tackling the highway with all seven seats loaded provides just as much mid-corner confidence and at-speed stability as that of any family sedan. It could be argued that the ride is a touch firm as a result but the trade off, car-like driving dynamics, are certainly worth it.
Beneath the large expanse of bonnet lies Toyota's 2GR-FE 3.5-litre six cylinder petrol engine - as found in Aurion, RAV4 V6 & Tarago V6 - that provides a substantial 201kW of power, second only in terms of power to Mazda's 204kW CX-9.
The smooth revving V6 manages 337Nm of torque which although sees it rank it second from the bottom against its direct rivals, still manages fluid power delivery across a wide range thanks to a slick shifting five-speed automatic with sports mode and +/- functionality.
As you can see in the graph above, although the Kluger may well be lacking in a little torque, the fuel efficiency tally certainly leans in Toyota's favour, and although we couldn't quite pin down the ADR claimed result of 11.6 litres per 100km as claimed, the Grande did return a steady average of 12.2L/100km through mixed city and highway driving.
To bring the family hauler back to rest the Kluger offers meaty all wheel discs brakes (with ABS, EBA & EBD) that although offer stopping that is beyond expectations. I do however feel the pedal could do with a fraction more assistance.
Steering is well weighted and offers communicative feedback for this class of vehicle. Most competitors overcompensate in the steering department with ultra-light offerings that present little in the way of feel. This doesn't however mean the Kluger is hard to park with slow speed assistance well suited to the car's family orientation and a decent 11.8 metre turning circle.
Kluger comes standard with a reversing camera which works exceptionally well in all light conditions but suffers a little in the rain but sadly neglects to offer parking sensors which can make tight spots a little tricky.
Luggage is easily accommodated in five-seat mode with 580 litres of cargo space on offer. The seating arrangements are versatile in folding away but it should be noted that the rear (or third row) seat cannot be split 50:50 which may bother some buyers. Similarly the remaining boot space available in seven-seat mode is a little tight, but no more so than others in this category.
If you find yourself needing to carry even more Kluger offers an ample 2000kg (braked) towing capacity which should it more than capable of towing a small boat, caravan or trailer.
For safety's sake the Kluger Grande comes standard with dual front, side and curtain airbags as well as a driver's knee airbag. Electronic Stability Control with Traction Control are also included in the list price as are ABS brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist. Hill Descent Control is also included.
If I had to be picky in finding negative points on the Grande I'd point to the upper centre screen's inability to be dimmed at night; the lack of an auxiliary audio input, rain sensing wipers, parking sensors and (standard) cargo cover; as well as the skinny centre seat as this car's only downfalls.
At the end of the day the majority of class-rivals for the Kluger Grande are quite similar in spec, and despite the Toyota being very capable, much of the buying decision on such an SUV will come back to looks.
Sure the Kluger might be modest, almost conservative in its styling, but I think it's fair to say that when you look at some of the more dramatically styled competitors, vanilla never looked so good.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go:
*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer.