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Not many family folks are buying people-movers these days, unless they're in the airport transfer business. If a family is looking for more space than your typical sedan or wagon is offering up, they're probably going to move into a large SUV. Aside from more 4x4-centric choices, the Toyota Kluger is one of the most, if not the most, popular choices.
We have the top-spec Kluger Grande AWD here, which has an associated price of $69,246 before on-road costs. The range starts with the front-wheel drive GX, which goes for $44,850. The mid-spec GXL is $54,950 and a limited-run Black Edition is $55,970. Adding all-wheel drive onto these models increases the cost by between $2980 and $4000 depending on specification.
It’s worth noting here that some updates in 2018 brought more spec to the GX and GXL, effectively lessening the appeal of the top-spec Grande. Autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beam all find their way onto the GX for the not-so-princely sum of $950.
Go to the GXL and you get a bit more thrown in for your money: rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert for a $1400 bump in price. Still, the Grande does get some exclusive stuff in an attempt to warrant the extra spend: heated and ventilated front seats with power adjustment for driver and passenger, along with a sunroof and 19-inch alloys.
The Kluger measures in at 4890mm long, slightly shorter than a Camry. The width is 1925mm, with 1730mm of height. It’s a big rig, with accommodation for seven and lots of space otherwise. It weighs in at 2100kg and has an 11.8m turning circle.
Under the bonnet is a 3.5-litre petrol V6 that makes 218kW at 6600rpm and 350Nm at 4700rpm off 91-octane juice. We saw as high as 15 litres per 100km around town in heavy traffic, but this settled down to around 10.5 l/100km after many long stints on the highway. My commute is lots of motorway, and our weekend saw the Kluger smashing through some burdensome long-weekend traffic for a family bonfire in the Upper Hunter.
It’s not an engine that’s dripping with power or performance, but it is quiet and refined. The gearbox is tuned for smooth, deliberate changes, which suits the car nicely. There’s enough grunt to get you moving smartly in traffic by piling on revs, and that’s about it. Normal cruising is quiet and stress-free, which I think is more important than anything high-revs.
The same engine in higher-specification Camry models makes an extra 6kW and 12Nm, but having 470 less kilograms to haul leaves it feeling significantly sprightlier and more efficient. Perhaps Toyota’s 4.0-litre V6, previously used in the Prado and HiLux, would be more compelling for the Kluger's heft.
The Kluger does feel pretty big to drive. Steering is not vague or complacent, but you can notice the amount of metal turning around a corner. It is a pretty big unit, after all. Lower-speed stuff like parking and tight negotiations aren't too bad, however. That shortish wheelbase for the segment helps, and you've got the good-quality 360-degree camera to depend upon.
Another more important point for the Kluger, instead of dynamics and performance, is the ride and refinement. It scores well here; bump absorption through the all-independent suspension and 245/55R19 tyres is impressive. There’s little road noise, and only the hard hits send jitters through to the cabin.
Leaving the bitumen, an AWD Kluger will make a decent account of itself by use of the locking centre differential. Its 201mm of ground clearance is decent as well. We were able to drive through a little sloppy mud and through some paddocks to make it to the bonfire without any issue.
The Kluger can tow a bit, too. It's limited to 2000kg of braked capacity, which is still quite a bit. We dragged an empty box trailer along for a while, which would have only weighed 200-odd kilograms. That's hardly a test, but the weight of the vehicle suggests it would be a decent infrequent tow vehicle.
I have a couple of basic litmus tests for a large SUV to measure space. Firstly, we throw in our big two-berth pram that folds down flattish, but takes up a fair whack of space in any boot, regardless of size. If we can fit this flat without jimmying it up on an angle, and still have enough room for the rest of our gear besides it, that’s a pass. And the Kluger passed.
The next test is our baby seat, which gets installed rearward facing for our one-year-old Ruby. The test is: fit the baby seat, which takes up stacks of room, and see if you’ve still got much leg room left over in the front. The Kluger passed again – this thing is pretty spacious.
The other thing families will love about the interior is the storage: the centre console is huge (24.5L), and is supported by stacks of cup holders and a handy shelf on the dashboard. The worst criticism you could level at the Kluger is that it feels slightly demure, and perhaps a bit dated.
The Kluger’s second row has its own climate controls, along with your basic array of storage options in the doors and behind the front seats. Like the front, it’s spacious and comfortable. Parents will appreciate the sun blinds built into the doors, along with the roof-mounted Blu-ray player (when the kids graduate to that). The fact that you can fit in five adults in relative comfort is a good sign of credentials in terms of space.
What about the third row? It’s decent, but not amazing. From memory, the Holden Acadia has more spacious endmost seating, but the Kluger does score points for vents and cup holders. Fold the third row down and the listed 'litreage' of space goes up from 195L to 529L. Aside from numbers, both spaces are big and usable. In terms of ultimate storage, both folding rows are a 60/40 split and go down flat for likely more space than most will ever need.
The infotainment unit is a familiar old foe, if you’ve been in a Toyota anytime lately. It’s a decent system, with 8.0 inches of screen flanked by six buttons to get you around the place. Segment leading, it is certainly not. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to the chagrin of those wedded to smartphone mirroring. There is integrated navigation, however, which is reasonably easy to use.
When you look at what Toyota has done with the Camry and RAV4, you can’t help but feel the age of the Kluger set in a bit. It doesn’t put a foot wrong in my book as being a competent family hauler (except for this model’s high price), probably owing to the steady slew of updates for the perennially popular SUV. The age is felt most when looking at the interior. While it is functional, practical and very adept at absorbing up family flotsam, it’s hardly inspiring or memorable.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise to know an all-new replacement is on the way, with the next-gen Kluger having already been detailed for overseas markets. While the Kluger doesn’t have any big chinks in the armour, the Grande is no doubt expensive, and has some stiff competition from both Japanese, Australian/American and Korean quarters.