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Why would you buy a people mover? A seven-seat SUV allows you to sit up high in traffic, jump gutters and take on the world at will! It’s like you’re wearing a puffy jacket, or you’re a Swiss Army Knife – you’re ready for anything...
Hogwash. Utter, silly, posturing bullplop. Buy a 2016 Toyota Tarago, because people movers are brilliant. It helps that Toyota has just added equipment and dropped prices on the the Tarago range, too.
You may think that latter statement is the one that’s a load of crud, but bear with me: there’s plenty to like about the ageing Toyota Tarago, particularly in the spec we have here: GLX V6, which is priced at $55,990 plus on-road costs. Read the full pricing story here.
We’ll get to the pragmatic stuff soon, but first let’s consider the engine, which is a 3.5-litre petrol V6, and is one of the most powerful units fitted to any people mover on the planet – it is, after all, gruntier than just about all the seven-seat SUVs out there, too. But the V6 does make life in the Tarago that much more likeable.
With 202kW of power at 6200rpm and 340Nm of torque at 4700rpm, the front-drive bus doesn’t shy away from spinning the front wheels under hard acceleration. In fact, the calibration of the traction control system is, by Toyota standards, quite liberal.
With a single occupant, the engine offers very good power through the mid to high rev range, although at low revs and under light throttle it can be a little sluggish to take off. If you mash that right pedal, though it rockets away.
This is a people mover that, it has to be said, is quicker than you probably need it to be (when you’re running around by yourself). If you load it up, the engine does feel the extra weight, meaning you have to push the pedal pretty hard to get it moving and keep it doing that.
Still, even with a load on – or when pushing hard – we saw fuel use of no higher than 11.0 litres per 100 kilometres. The claim is 10.2L/100km, and on most trips we saw below that (our best was 7.9L/100km on a highway run).
The six-speed automatic transmission is good in normal mode, and will judge when it needs to downshift relatively well while also trying to rely on the torque of the engine where possible. On some hills, though, it can be a little prickly, shuffling between gears rather than choosing one and sticking with it. The gearbox is definitely better behaved with less weight on board, as with a load it can be a little fussy.
Not that it will matter to most Tarago buyers, but if you opt to drive it in its Sports manual mode (not paddles, just the stick up or down), it won’t overrule you if it you hit the rev limiter. Surprisingly, this was actually quite a bit of fun to put to the test.
So, I might ashamedly add, was trying to see what it could muster in terms of a 0-100km/h time: let’s just say that during testing that wasn’t necessarily scientific, it managed a hot-hatch-equalling sub-7.0-second sprint time. For real!
As for the way the Toyota handles itself when you're not going straight, it’s fair to say this thing has aged very gracefully (remember, this generation Tarago has been around since 2006).
Sure, the steering is a little bit slow when you’re changing directions, but it is faithful enough, and it corners better than you would expect a vehicle like this to. Around town, too, it is easy to park, with steering weight and response that makes it feel a bit smaller than it is. And while there is some body roll, that’s to be expected of this type of vehicle.
The Tarago’s ride comfort is very good, too: over bumpy, sharp-edged sections it can bobble a little, and there is a bit of suspension noise but you hear the bumps more than feel them in the cabin. It is, generally, very well composed.
You may notice some road noise on coarse-chip services, but otherwise it is quite good in terms of noise installation from engine and road.
And if you do a lot of night driving, the auto-levelling HID headlights with adaptive low beams that swivel as you steer will be heaven-sent.
Despite the fact the Tarago looks quite large, it is in fact pretty small by class standards. It spans 4795 millimetres long, 1800mm wide and 1750mm tall, making it notably smaller than, say, the Kia Carnival (5115mm long, 1742mm wide and 1755mm tall).
The result is that it is a little more cramped inside than the Kia, particularly in the third row. But still, the cabin feels quite airy, even with its black roof lining, with its low belt-line allowing good outward vision from all three rows of seating.
We’ll get to the back rows in a sec, but first – the front.
The update for the Tarago saw some styling revisions, including new soft-touch surfaces throughout, as well as new piano black surfacing on the fascia and new climate controls with electrostatic switchgear. The black head-lining is swish, too.
That’s all well and good, and it does look quite nice and shiny, but it gets filthy easily as, particularly at this time of year, you’re constantly touching the buttons to change the temperature.
The new 4.2-inch multi-information display on the top of the dashboard has a clear digital speed readout – a welcome addition, replacing the broad speedo readout nicely – and there’s a detailed trip computer with an economy game to challenge you not to hoon. The horizontal digital tachometer readout can be impeded by the steering wheel for some driving positions.
While all that looks pretty smart, the media screen below it really doesn’t gel well. The 6.1-inch touchscreen is pixelated, grainy and fiddly, with small ‘buttons’ and sub-standard menu controls. For instance, the stereo has no bass/treble adjustments, instead offering an equaliser-style toggle system.
It has the requisite Bluetooth phone and audio controls, though, and it pairs easily and re-pairs smartly. But that phone hook-up system isn’t perfect, either, as it won’t allow you to dial numbers or even choose contacts to call when you’re on the move. We also had issues with the navigation system choosing weird routes.
Still, the ambience is quite good, with the softer materials and new “premium” seats lined in suede and synthetic leather, the front pair with heating, making for a very nice space. Indeed, the seats and surface treatments are a little bit Lexus in their execution, but the wood-look finish plastic on the steering wheel and door grab handles is yuck. The foot-operated park brake is a bit annoying, too.
The front captain’s chairs have adjustable armrests (but they get in the way when you buckle up, meaning you have to lift them up each time, which could be annoying), and while the driver gets electric slide and backrest tilt adjustment, there is no lumbar support, and taller drivers may wish they could sit a little lower. The passenger-side seat has manual adjustment only, but both front seats are heated (with the switches located in a bit of a weird spot, down low on the centre console).
Storage is good, with a centre flat surfaced storage box with a slide-out drawer, and a pair of expandable cup/bottle holders that pop out from the dash. There are dual gloveboxes, and a small storage box in front of the driver, too.
The door storage is good up front, and there are bottle holders in both rear doors, too. The driver has open/close buttons for the electric rear doors, and both rear doors have electric windows, which is great for ventilation.
On that topic, the dual-zone front system is backed by a rear, single-zone system that has controls mounted in the roof-lining of the second row. There is temperature, fan and direction controls, with vents above both second and third row outboard seats. If you want to keep an eye on how the rear passengers are coping, there’s a convex mirror above the rear-view mirror that allows that.
The V6 GLX model features a seven-seat layout with two individual seats in the middle row and three across the third row – identical to how the Honda Odyssey VTi-L is set up – and the second-row seats feature arm rests and even ottoman style leg rests. Both seats have ISOFIX attachment points, and there are two top-tether points, as well – but the third row lacks any child-seat attachments, meaning this is strictly a two-kiddy-car, and that could rule it out for some buyers, particularly considering the Carnival has four child-seat points. If you need three child-seat points, the cheaper GLi models will cater to you.
Those two middle seats can be shifted inwards and outwards by way of a lever on the outside of the seat, and they slide fore and aft, too. The third-row occupants can easily use a foot-operated lever to slide the seats forward to allow for better egress, too.
The second-row seats have access to those aforementioned drink holders in the doors, and there are dual map pockets. In the third row there are four cup holders and there’s a small storage box.
That back row is quite narrow, but with the second-row seats positioned upright, not laid back, there’s decent head and legroom for adults. The third-row seats also allow for recline adjustment, but with three adults back there the headrests aren't exactly useable for resting. There are six grab handles, too, which could be handy if the driver pushes the Tarago like this tester did.
There is no electric boot opening system for the Tarago, but the cargo area is very good. The third row seats can be folded into the floor by way of a two-stage lever system, which is a little fiddly considering competitors have single-motion seats (buy the Ultima and those rear-row seats fold electrically!), and that allows for a much bigger boot – although even with the seats all the way up the boot is quite large. If you remove the floor section and store it in your garage there’s easily enough room for a family of five’s luggage. Replacing the boot floor can be a little fiddly until you figure out how it's done.
All Tarago models have seven airbags – dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver's knee – and a rear-view camera is standard, too (GLX adds rear sensors, Ultima has front sensors, too). It has a five-star ANCAP crash test score from way back in 2010. It misses out, however, on the latest safety features like rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assistance, and autonomous emergency braking: all of those (excluding AEB) are on the top-spec Kia.
Servicing for the Tarago is required every six months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first. That is more regular than many rival vehicles, but thankfully the Japanese brand’s pricing plan is affordable, with visits pegged at $180. The capped-price servicing campaign lasts for three years or 60,000km, and the warranty plan for all Toyota models is three years/100,000km.
The 2016 Toyota Tarago range is better equipped than before, and better priced, too. This GLX V6 model is quite a good thing, and while it may not be the best people-mover in the class – we rate the Kia Carnival above it – it is a solid proposition for buyers who need seven seats and don’t want to follow the pack down the SUV path.
Click the Photos tab above for more images from Sam Venn