Ask anyone that grew up in Australia from the late ’70s or early ’80s onwards if they remember the Toyota Tarago, and they’ll probably come back with a misty-eyed recollection of riding around in the back of a neighbour, friend or relative’s people mover, if not their mum or dad's.
It may never have been the most popular car in Australia, yet at some point almost everyone has spent time in a Tarago. Now, though, it’s almost time to say goodbye.
Before this year is out, Toyota Australia will have a new people mover in its showrooms called the Granvia, which is based on the HiAce commercial van. For a little while the Tarago soldiers on, but ultimately its days are numbered.
Before it slips into obscurity, though, CarAdvice wanted one last lap of the block in a Tarago to see how it stacks up in 2019.
The car you see here is a 2019 Tarago Ultima V6, the flagship of the Tarago range priced from $65,261 before on-road costs. The V6 range kicks off with the more affordable GLi from $50,490, or if you haven’t the need for a big V6, four-cylinder models span from $45,490 to $47,490, though the Ultima grade is a V6-only proposition.
Under the bonnet lives a 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 capable of producing 202kW at 6200rpm and 340Nm at 4700rpm. Those are respectable figures, though they’re high up in the rev range for a vehicle that should be all about low-rev effortlessness.
Power is delivered to the front wheels via a six-speed torque converter automatic. It may not be fancy, but it’s smooth and subtle, free from low-speed hesitation, and quite happy to schlep about in heavy urban traffic.
For a little perspective, when the Tarago first appeared in 1983 it boasted 55kW and 134Nm from a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol or 49kW and 118Nm from a 2.0-litre aspirated diesel engine. Depending on which engine you picked, a five-speed manual or four-speed auto was available, and the engine lived in the middle of the car (under the front seats) rather than at the front, driving the rear wheels.
Ah, progress. Since we’re playing that game, the current Tarago is also around half a metre longer and about 13cm wider than the original, though depending on the specification of the first-gen Tarago, there’s some wiggle room in those numbers.
What else has changed? Well, former top-rung spec highlights like velour trim, a multi-piece opening moonroof, a built-in fridge and 14-inch alloy wheels have made way for 'premium' leather and suede-look trim, heated front seats with a power-adjustable driver’s seat, a fixed rear glass roof with powered blind, and 17-inch alloys. Also, instead of a fridge, there are now dual rear sliding doors for easier access with power opening and closing plus remote operation.
That’s not all the Tarago Ultima has to offer, though. There are also second-row captain's chairs with ottomans that can be reclined or moved in or outboard within the car to provide a walk-though aisle down the centre.
The three-place third-row seat is electrically folded, there’s a 9.0-inch Blu-Ray player in the roof with remote and three wireless headsets included to keep passengers entertained. There's dual-zone climate control up front, independent rear booster controls, a 6.1-inch infotainment touchscreen with Bluetooth and satellite navigation, a sliding centre console storage bin, six-speaker audio, cruise control and push-button start.
There’s certainly no shortage of space or comfort inside the Tarago. Front-seat passengers ride high and get to enjoy a commanding view of the road thanks to slender A-pillars and a tall glazed area.
Front seats aren’t quite business-class dimensions, being slightly narrow and a little short in the base, but the lack of width allows passengers to move from front to back with the centre console moved out of the way when the car is parked.
The middle-row captain's chairs are the best place to be. Plenty of adjustment and no need to jostle for space, plus the ability to slide right back for limo-like leg room, mean these are the seats to choose on long hauls.
Row three isn’t nearly as glamorous. Two passengers will fit comfortably, but a flatter seat, narrow cabin, and a base that’s a little too close to the floor won’t please adults riding back there over longer stints.
With a focus on luxury over outright capacity, the Ultima and V6 GLX provide seating for seven. The four-cylinder models and V6 GLi swap out the middle-row captain's chairs for a three-row bench and bring seating up to eight.
Middle-row seats come with top tether and ISOFIX child seat mounts, while the third row has no child seat mounts built-in. The rearmost seats do feature power recline and folding, and there’s a set of RCA inputs for the rear-seat entertainment.
Toyota doesn’t provide a full set of boot space figures for the Tarago, but with the third row deployed there’s a deep but not very long cargo area in which to stack luggage. There’s also a false floor to allow the available space to be divided up.
Fold the third row and space expands markedly, with a large, flat cargo area and a nominal 549L of cargo volume. The length can also be tailored depending how far fore or aft the middle-row seats are positioned. Up to the first row of seats that volume expands to 1780L of usable space.
Given the price of entry, it might be reasonable to expect a powered tailgate, heating for the middle-row seats, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist or autonomous emergency braking. Especially when you consider the safety-assist features can be found elsewhere in the Toyota range, both in the similarly sized and priced Kluger SUV, down to much smaller and cheaper cars like the Corolla and RAV4.
That’s not the case, though, with the Tarago’s age counting against it. Given that the current generation has been on sale in Australia since 2006, that’s perhaps not too surprising.
Included safety tech encompasses seven airbags, a rear-view camera, stability and traction control, and front seatbelt pretensioners. The Tarago did receive a five-star ANCAP rating in 2010, but given the absence of crash-avoidance tech, it would be ineligible for a five-star score under modern criteria.
On the road, there’s plenty to like about the way the Tarago drives. It’s fairly unassuming in most situations, but with more grunt than the available four-cylinder models, it feels much fitter with a full load of passengers.
The V6 is a peach, smooth and willing to rev when asked, and strong enough to take care of the heavy lifting, even at lower engine speeds. Coupled to a silken automatic transmission, the Tarago drives more like a premium sedan than a commercial van-based people mover might.
Toyota claims the Tarago can sip 95RON premium unleaded at a rate of 10.3 litres per 100km, but after a heavily urban-centric week at the wheel, fuel use was a more gluttonous 13.9L/100km.
The ride is comfortable, a little on the floaty side when unladen but more secure with some weight on board. The steering is incredibly light, making it much easier to place the big Tarago than you might expect.
On the open road, noise levels are peacefully low. The big mirrors can create a bit of wind rustle near the base of the side windows, but everything else is blissfully hushed.
For the driver, the dash design may take some getting used to. If you’ve spent time behind the wheel of the last three generations of Tarago, there’s probably not too much to shock you. However, if you’re new to the Tarago game, the centrally mounted speedo and long sweep of instruments take a bit of getting used to.
Toyota’s claim at launch was that the design required less time with your eyes off the road than traditional instruments, and created similar set-ups in the Echo and Yaris light hatches as well as the Prius. In practice, the verdict is still out on that claim, especially for trying to garner information from the small 4.2-inch colour display mounted far to the left.
While much of the Tarago is as it was when the current generation launched, the interior has at least been tweaked with a repositioned touchscreen that’s a little closer to reach than it was originally, and climate controls that are simpler to operate.
At the same time, Toyota kept large gloveboxes for both driver and passenger, and a huge centre console, though with a shiny black top panel in place of a grippy rubber mat, utility could be improved. Front doors pack in sizable bins, but storage space in rows two and three isn’t as generous, yet there are still cup or bottle holders aplenty at least.
As with other members of the Toyota range, the Tarago is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty for private use, or up to 160,000km for vehicles used as taxi, hire or delivery vehicles.
Services are set at short six-month/10,000km intervals, but under Toyota’s capped-price service program, the first six visits are priced at only $180 each. A full, on-time Toyota service history also extends engine and driveline warranty to seven years.
Now for the fly in the ointment. While the Tarago is solid and dependable multi-person transport, it’s been allowed to fall behind the segment’s top-selling Kia Carnival, which not only offers more space, but also a range of more premium features.
Perhaps even more insulting is that the Japanese version, sold domestically as the Estima, not only comes with an available fuel-saving hybrid powertrain or all-wheel-drive options (but no V6), but also a powered tailgate and 18-inch wheels. Since 2016, features like pre-collision braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection function, lane-keep assist and radar cruise control have also been available, making their omission here all the more disappointing.
Those kinds of details make it easier to bid farewell to the much loved Tarago.
It’s been used and abused as family transport, shuttled countless passengers to and from airports, hotels and functions, been rented for road trips and reunions time and time again, and has served Australia well.
It’s been comfortable and quiet. An oft-overlooked landmark on Australia’s automotive landscape. It still does its very best and most earnest work to this day, but it is time to say goodbye Tarago and hello Granvia, as Toyota looks to reclaim its title as the king of the people-mover market from the dominant Kia Carnival.