It's been quite some time between drinks for CarAdvice and the Toyota Tarago. Time then, to take a closer look at Toyota's people mover.
Remember the Pasha Bulker? The container ship that ran aground near Newcastle and was refloated after 25 days? What about the Live Earth event at the Sydney Football Stadium - pop concert that was supposed to reduce the impact of climate change? Both those events took place in the same month CarAdvice last reviewed a Toyota Tarago – July 2007.
It’s high time then, that CarAdvice once again spent some wheel time with the old favourite among people-movers. On test here, we have the 2016 Toyota Tarago Ultima and not much has changed, certainly not since pricing and specification revisions in 2012.
It’s standard fare to laugh the people-mover segment off, snidely declaring the vehicles within boring and useful only for people who have long given up any pretension of actually loving cars. When the purchasing decision is based on merit you see, it makes the buyer boring apparently.
In truth though, the most boring thing about Australian new car sales at the moment is the amount of buyers rushing to SUVs when they don’t really need them - especially families with more than two children. If you intend on using the third row regularly for example, chances are you’ll be better off with a people mover – especially if you’re transporting teenage kids often.
Tarago pricing starts from $46,990 plus on road costs for the 2.4 GLi. From that base model you move through to the 2.4 GLX ($49,490), 3.5 GLi V6 ($51,990), 3.5 GLX V6 ($57,490) and finally this model the 3.5 Ultima V6, which starts from $67,600.
The 2016 Toyota Tarago Ultima gets a 202kW/340Nm V6 petrol engine, so it goes without saying that it won’t be lacking for power to haul the family around. It’s actually something of a rocket – but more on that later. In V6 guise, the Tarago gets a conventional six-speed automatic gearbox. The entry-level 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is matched to a CVT, so you could argue that with the better engine, you also get the better gearbox.
The ADR fuel claim is 10.3L/100km on the combined cycle, and after a week of mainly around town running, we saw an indicated return of 13.1L/100km. Not bad really, considering the majority of our driving was low speed, stop/start traffic. We didn’t spend the whole time loaded up with four adults though, so you might see a marginally higher fuel usage return if you do use your people mover as a people mover most of the time.
As you’d expect with the Ultima being the range-topping model, equipment highlights are extensive especially in the cabin. The powered side doors are excellent and work via the key fob, a dash-mounted switch or the door handle. Ultima also gets HID headlights with active swiveling, automatic leveling and washers, plus smart keyless entry and start, privacy glass, woodgrain-look highlights and leather trim. Rear seat entertainment is a highlight, with a nine-inch VGA LCD high-res screen compatible with either Blu-ray or DVD. The system has an auxiliary jack, USB input, and there’s also Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming.
Outside, there isn’t much to distinguish the ‘new’ Tarago from the ‘old’ Tarago – except for 15-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels, which replace the previous model’s ten-spoke design. The wheels look attractive – if a little on the small side – against the black paint of our test vehicle.
On the subject of equipment, it’s worth mentioning the fact that the ageing satellite navigation/infotainment system doesn’t look great but it does work well. The same goes for the Bluetooth phone connection, which is reliable and clear. It’s almost beyond belief though, that a family-focused people mover doesn’t have a reverse camera as standard across the range – let alone in the most expensive model. The Tarago Ultima does have parking sensors, but there’s no excuse for the lack of a reverse camera.
The feeling from the driver’s seat is one of expansive space and light. The Tarago seems massive from inside the cabin even though it isn’t huge externally when compared to a large SUV for example. It’s comfortable too, with quality leather trim, and a seat design that Toyota seems to nail regularly – supportive enough, but supple enough to be comfortable no matter how much driving you do. Likewise the passenger seat, and the second and third rows too. Whichever row you choose, there’s ample legroom, and headroom only gets tight for fully-grown adults in the third row.
The second row seats can move way back, forward and out to the edges of the cabin. Moving them to the outer most position creates an opening between them that makes entry into the third row an absolute cinch. Adults will find it easy to get into the third row, kids even more so. With the third row in use, there’s still a wide and deep storage bin, which will store plenty in the way of bags and sports gear. Unlike most SUVs, you don’t completely lose luggage space with the third row in play either. You can also fold the third row down via clever electric switches, which opens up a huge load space.
On that point, the seats – especially the second row, which move back, forward and out - are easy enough to move between settings that you don’t need an engineering degree to work it all out. You don’t require the arm strength of Mr. Olympia either, another factor some manufacturers can’t quite get right.
The light beige colour of our test vehicle’s cabin with matching light beige carpet and mats looks to be a potential family nightmare. Unless you have the cleanest kids in the world who don’t do anything that involved mud, a darker interior finish might be a much smarter idea. It looks the part of luxury; it just doesn’t look like it’s going to stand the test of time too well.
202kW and 340Nm is nothing to sneeze at, and the V6 Tarago has some passenger car power on offer when you need it. It might not quite be mass rapid transport but it’s no slug like many old-school people movers. Unladen, it gets up to speed rapidly and has no trouble winning traffic light drag races if that’s what you enjoy doing. The smooth engine loses none of its potency with four adults on board either, still getting up to speed quickly. It will easily crank out to 110km/h on the freeway and there’s enough in reserve for roll-on overtaking as well. The V6 engine might be a little thirstier than the four-cylinder option in practice, but I’d take the higher fuel usage every time given how flexible the larger engine is, especially once you load the Tarago up more.
The gearbox is snappy enough and shifts cleanly even when you work the engine to redline. The pairing is otherwise inoffensive and refined, with both the engine and gearbox doing everything you need them to do smoothly and without fuss. The electric power steering deserves praise too – it’s light enough at low speeds and when you’re parking to ensure you can manoeuvre the Tarago easily but it doesn’t feel completely dead at speed either. Busy parents will find the Tarago really easy to use around town in terms of maneuverability. Yes, it’s on the large side, but it’s not so big that you can’t get into underground carparks.
We sent fellow road tester Curt to purgatory in the second and third rows for a run around the city confines and he reported that both were comfortable with plenty of visibility and – importantly – the Tarago never rode poorly enough that he would feel uncomfortable or unwell back there. Kids might not notice ride quality and bump absorption, but adults will and the Tarago does well.
The 2016 Tarago is covered by Toyota's three-year/100,000km warranty and the according Service Advantage scheme as well. That means for the first three years, every six months or 10,000km, each service is capped at only $180.00.
There’s no doubt that the Ultima is too expensive – especially when you compare it to the segment leading Kia Carnival. We reckon the Carnival is the pick of the segment, with Tarago next in line, followed by the new Honda Odyssey. That result sways more toward Odyssey though if money is a primary concern.
Given the V6 engine is such a strong performer, it would be smart to consider the cheaper V6 models – in either GLi or GLX grade. You won’t get such a luxurious interior, but you’ll get the same mechanical ability for less outlay.
While the Toyota Tarago is no longer the segment leading people mover it once was, it’s still a viable and practical alternative to a three-row SUV that people seem to love so much. Unless you’ve got deep pockets though, look toward the middle of the range for the value pick.