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If you need to move a lot of people and can’t afford to spend big on your new mini bus, you'd think the 2016 Toyota Tarago GLi would be right up your alley. But that's not quite the case.
Priced from $46,990 plus on-road costs, the eight-seat people-mover is the entry point to the updated Toyota Tarago range: now, consider that there are plenty of more affordable options as family haulers.
You could look at (and presumably look away just as quickly) a Ssangyong Stavic, which starts at just $29,990 drive-away; or a Honda Odyssey VTi (from $37,610 plus on-roads); or even the impressive Kia Carnival S, in V6 petrol ($41,490) or turbo diesel ($43,990).
The sales figures suggest that buyers are looking elsewhere, with the Kia romping this small segment, outdoing the Honda, the more expensive Volkswagen Multivan, and other cheaper models such as the Hyundai iMax.
So, is the Tarago affordable enough from the outset? Arguably not – indeed, if it was $42,990 we have no doubt there’d be more buyers in the consideration set.
But at $46,990, what do you get?
Only this spec gets eight seats by way of a two three-seat benches – the higher-spec versions only get seven seats (in a 2+2+3 formation), and that could be enough to get you to sign on the dotted line for the GLi.
Further, the GLi has push-button start (but no keyless entry), a touchscreen media system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a rear-view camera and satellite navigation with live traffic updates, and that system is linked to six speakers. That media system, though, is a pain: the menus are fiddly, the font is too small, and the screen is nowhere near as crisp as those seen in rival models.
There’s a new digital speedometer and multi-information display as part of the upgrade, as well as new soft-touch materials across the dash and piano black finishes on the centre stack where you’ll find controls for the tri-zone climate system (dual-zone front, single-zone rear). Mind you, that highly reflective surface is extremely likely to get grubby from fingerprints.
There are seven airbags fitted to all Tarago models, with coverage consisting of dual front, front-side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee 'bags. And it has a five-star ANCAP rating (from 2011).
Even though this generation Tarago has been on sale for a decade, the interior remains a thoughtful place, and certainly one capable of dealing with lugging eight occupants in relative comfort.
Mind you, the seating is much more comfortable if you’re small statured, particularly in the third row: there’s not a lot of shoulder room back there, and the head restraints aren’t ideally positioned for those who wish to use them as road trip cushions.
The update sees padded finishes on the dash, which makes it look nearly identical to the higher-spec models, but the plasticky steering wheel gives it away as the cheaper model. There are dual dash-top pockets, but they’re slim, and there are not many options for storage up high for the driver. At least the door pockets are large.
There’s a nice dark headlining which makes it feel quite plush inside, though the cloth trim on the seats – a weird velour/carpet like finish – is prone to static, and we dread to think how it would hold up to kids’ messes (chocolate, especially).
Speaking of kids, the GLi version is the only Tarago with three child seat attachment points – which is still one short of the Kia Carnival. The middle row has dual outboard ISOFIX attachment points, and there are three top-tether points in the second row as well. There are no third-row seat attachment points.
Access to the back seats comes by way of dual side sliding doors, manually operated in this specification (get the GLX if you want electric side doors). Those rear doors both have big electric windows with auto up and down glass, and there are bottle holders in both doors as well. The front seatbacks have map pockets, too, while there are rear vent and fan controls above the middle seat in the second row.
The second row seats are split 60:40 with both sections able to be slid and tilted with simple side-mounted mechanisms, and a foot-operated lever that allows the second row to be slid by those in the third row.
In the third row there are dual cup holders on either side mounted in the tops of the wheel arch plastics, and on the driver’s side there’s a small storage box, too.
The third-row seating can be folded away, but the two-lever mechanism isn’t as easy as, say, the single-lever units in the Kia Carnival. However, that mechanism allows you to convert the Tarago into a big old five-seat station wagon if required, while the boot floor can be removed allowing for enough space for a family’s worth of luggage with all the seats in play.
Under the bonnet is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. It pumps out 125kW of power at 6000rpm and 224Nm of torque at 4000rpm, and it gets to those relatively high peak power rev levels with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic.
The power and torque on offer isn’t massive, particularly when you consider it weighs in at 1795 kilograms without any people or stuff on board. Indeed, we sampled the V6-powered mid-range GLX model recently, and it was a superior drivetrain in all measures – even fuel use.
Yep, the four-cylinder Tarago used more juice than the V6 – 11.3 litres per 100km in the GLi four-pot, where the V6 managed to better that: we never saw above 11.0L/100km in that car, and while both saw figures in the 8.0-9.5L range depending on the situation, the fact this engine needed to be worked harder meant it was thirstier. The claim for the four-cylinder is 8.9L/100km, where the V6 claims 10.3L.
Look, you can get the V6 in this eight-seat specification if you so choose, but it pushes the price up by an unreasonable, and probably hard to justify, margin of $5000 ($51,990).
And the four-cylinder isn’t terrible, it just lacks the urge we loved in the V6 model. The engine is noisy in combination with the CVT, and while it offers decent response when you really plant the right foot, it never feels as effortless as you might want it to.
It drives decently, though, with the suspension doing a good job of insulating those in the cabin from the roughness of the road surface. Only over particularly nasty sharp bumps will you find it perhaps a little uncomfortable, but generally it rides nicely, aided no doubt by the smaller 16-inch steel wheels (higher-spec models get 17-inch alloys with lower-profile tyres (215/55 rubber on the 17s; 205/65 on the steelies you see here).
As is the case with the higher-spec versions, the steering of the Tarago is trusty in its feel and response, but it is a little slow when you’re turning from one lock to the other, meaning there could be a bit of arm work when you’re parking it. The steering weight is fine, though, and if you’re in a rush you won’t come across any nasty surprises in terms of its handling.
Toyota’s service plan for the Tarago spans three years or 60,000km, whichever occurs first. Services are required every six months or 10,000km, which is more regular than many rival vehicles, but the costs are low, at just $180. Toyota’s warranty period is three years/100,000km.
The four-cylinder engine isn’t terrible, but the larger six just makes such a convincing argument that it’s hard to rate this one close, even though it is reasonably priced. If it was even more affordable it would definitely push up a bracket or two on the points scale, but if you are on a strict budget we would thoroughly recommend you look at the Kia or Honda models in this segment of the market.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Sam Venn.