Fashionable. That’s the word Toyota Australia uses to promote the 2020 Toyota Kluger Black Edition, though realistically, strong evidence suggests all Klugers are quite fashionable right now.
The company’s ‘large SUV for the Big Smoke’ is the second-biggest seller of the plus-sized non-premium family-hauling segment in 2019, only supplanted from the top spot by the Prado – its stablemate aimed more comfortably toward the great beyond out in a Big Country.
That’s extraordinary success for a six-year-old generation with one tyre in retirement – a new fourth-gen, for Oz in 2021, was unveiled at the New York auto show last year – and a range that’s only gotten more expensive in the interim to mirror rolling updates and the odd facelift that improved spec and equipment. Case in point, a GXL AWD that listed for $53,990 in 2014 wants for $58,950 RRP in what’s a nicer, fruitier 2020 GXL AWD evolution.
We reviewed various Klugers a dozen times since 2014, and from its combined average rating to our last garage review of the top-spec Grande, it’s been a consistent 7.7 from 10 prospect. Critically, then, the breed is good, though not outstanding. And it’s safe to presume that – spoiler alert – the slightly more fashionable Black Edition version isn’t going to rate much differently in overall score.
That doesn’t matter. Aussies love the Kluger. And an awful lot don’t care it’s not the freshest or fanciest family hauler on the block. It’s big, cushy and likeable, and underpinned with Toyota’s well-earned reputation for dependability. But what’s surely been cementing the Kluger’s popularity is Toyota’s axe-sharp special offers across the entire (2019-plated) range that, for instance, have been chopping the GLX AWD’s $58,950 list price down to a far more enticing $56,990 drive-away pricepoint for some time now.
Well, that is, the ‘entire range’ bar the Black Edition…
The Black Edition wants for $1040 above the GXL on which it’s based. In all-wheel-drive trim, that’s $59,970 list, or around $65K once you add on-roads.
The ‘pack’ adds blacked-out headlights, grille, lower side mouldings and roof rails – plus larger 19-inch black wheels – to what’s otherwise a GXL-grade variant: a modest lift in fashionability for its modest thousand-buck premium, not counting the extra $600 for any colour you want other than Eclipse Black as tested here. But the Black Edition is ostensibly eight-grand pricier than the otherwise identical GXL AWD on-road because, unlike the rest of the Kluger range, it’s not currently on a drive-away offer.
Off the bat, the Black Edition harbours a value handicap. And while Toyota has chipped away at all Kluger tiers to keep up with the times over this gen-three life cycle, there are some key omissions in equipment for a vehicle nudging 60-grand in 2020. For instance, outside it persists with halogen headlights rather than LEDs, static rather than power-folding wing mirrors, and you need to upgrade to Grande spec for one-touch electric window operation for the rear doors.
If there are two notable absentees in interior specification, it’s the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring and any sort of inductive phone charging. Neither of which are anything like deal-breakers for a good many actual or potential owners.
Overall, the cabin space is a mixed bag. The one clear attraction to the Kluger package is that it feels big and solid. And seated in almost lounge chair-shaped front seats, the roominess and airiness are hugely appealing. It reinforces a sense that you get a lot of meat and veg for your money.
You get 12-way driver’s seat adjustment and heating across the first row, but the leather-accented trim is probably better described as hard-wearing rather than supple. It’s certainly no Lexus. There are a lot of hard, shiny plastic surfaces, but you do get a massive 24.5L console bin and the nice, large, obvious cubby for your phone, wallet and other oddments.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment does get proprietary sat-nav and digital radio, but it also appears to have been plucked from a bygone era. No, the Kluger isn’t aiming for the mantle of slickest and techiest SUV on the block, and a good many owners mightn’t want or care for infotainment modernity – it does get a CD-player. But it’s not as contemporary, as appealing, or as easy compared to those featured in newer Toyota lines such as the Corolla and Camry.
The Kluger really comes into its own in row two, where accommodation is excellent and roominess is downright limousine-like if you adjust the 60:40 split-fold seats as far back on their sliders as they’ll go. You get full third-zone air-con controls, too, with vents in the ceiling in both the second and third rows. With row-two seating adjusted forward, there’s just enough room to fit average-sized adults in all three rows, with a fair amount of compromise in row-three comfort.
Smart packaging means that you get a pretty decent 195L of boot space with the third row in play, which is enough for a week’s worth of groceries or a couple of smallish suitcases. Converted to a five-seater liberates 529L, which is good but not class-leading, while there’s a whopping 1872L if you need to convert the Kluger into a van to move furniture.
The facelift update a couple of years ago brought a welcome performance hike from the 3.5-litre naturally aspired V6, lifting its 201kW/337Nm to a healthier 218kW/350Nm thanks largely to the addition of direct fuel injection, while the six-speed automatic was upgraded to an eight-speed unit tied to selectable front-bias all-wheel drive.
The good news is that the engine runs happily on lowest-rent 91RON fuel. Less positive is that despite a respectable 9.5L/100km combined fuel consumption claim for its 2045kg heft, the reality is that the Kluger rarely dipped below the 13L/100km mark during our week of mixed urban and highway driving.
The V6 is a smooth and quiet-enough unit. Typical of the naturally aspirated format, it needs a lot of RPM on board (4700rpm) to hit its torque peak, though there's enough tractive effort in the lower rev range that the engine doesn’t feel strung out accelerating during normal driving conditions. Dig deeper, though, and full throttle and outright thrust never become properly surly. Braked towing is rated at 2000kg maximum.
Direct injection usually pays conspicuous dividends in an engine’s response, but this powertrain can, and will, get caught snoozing between initial throttle input and positive forward motion – an uncomfortable pause almost ever present when turning through the middle of corners. Knocking the transmission control to the right, activating Sport mode, goes some way to improving alertness, and it certainly doesn’t negatively impact low-speed drivability much at all. Nor, interestingly, does it seem to diminish the Kluger’s already formidable thirst.
There’s a nice, pleasant pliancy to the ride quality, and the low(er)-profile 19-inch tyres provide ample ‘give’ in their sidewalls, but the Kluger is susceptible to a bit of noisy jolting and thudding running over square-edge road imperfections and potholes.
The steering has quite a lot of ‘sneeze factor’, or off-centre play, and the Kluger demands a fair bit of wheel input to maintain course or change direction, which is either quite amusing or very annoying depending on personal taste. Its unwieldy manner while its body mass lolls around in corners doesn’t exactly promote driver confidence, even if the Kluger’s heft delivers a reassuring sense of safety in sheer metal.
Outward visibility is good and the large-view guided camera and rear sensors do wonders for the ease of reverse parking. But given the front end extends beyond the visible edge of the bonnet, even for your 180cm tall author, the lack of front parking sensors is a glaring omission. The Kluger demands deft judgment once you're inevitably boxed into those tight urban parking spaces. Its turning circle, by the way, is a segment-average 11.8m.
The other near-mandatory feature lacking from the Kluger's spec list is a licence-saving digital speedometer, though you do get active cruise control, and updates in 2017 brought autonomous emergency braking and so-called lane-keeping smarts across the entire range. Its five-star ANCAP rating dates back six years now, but everything from rear cross-traffic alert to row-three side airbags cover off the safety credentials comprehensively.
The Kluger is covered by Toyota’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, with seven years of engine and driveline warranty provided you stick to conditional servicing requirements, which are six months or 10,000km, whichever comes first, at $200 per visit. Logically, the economy in running costs better suits buyers who tend to clock up a lot of kays annually.
In short, the Black Edition treatment doesn’t bring anything beyond (arguably) a more fashionable exterior appeal to an ageing breed that remains very likeable, and ticks enough of the right boxes to maintain its huge popularity, even if there’s nothing in the mix here to lift our regard in its ratings.
Further, given the substantial fiscal haircut the rest of the (2019-plated) range is enjoying under the drive-away offer, you’d want to really love that lick of black paint and larger rolling stock to want to pay the full RRP plus on-roads whack for this ‘special edition’. Especially when you can, at the time of writing, get a bit-less-black-if-otherwise-identical GXL AWD for eight-grand less…