Nondescript would be a good way to describe the Toyota Kluger when it emerged 14 years ago. Then, the mid-size sports utility vehicle sheepishly stood between the RAV4, Toyota’s cute compact SUV, and the Japanese company’s superhero, the all conquering Land Cruiser.
Not any more. The Kluger has since muscled in on the big wagons to join stablemate Prado and take up a premium position among the seven-seater crowd. There have been about 140,000 sales since the first-generation model arrived. Since 2008, it has topped 10,000 sales a year and is now achieving annual average sales of almost 12,700 vehicles.
Now significant technological advances under the bonnet have increased performance, while at the same time improving fuel economy. Styling has not gone unnoticed, with the latest fashion being taken up across the range, plus enhancements to safety and convenience.
The Kluger comes in three variants – GX, GXL and Grande – in two-wheel or all-wheel drive. All benefit from the uptake of direct-injection technology for Toyota’s powerful 3.5-litre V6 engine, with 17 kW more power (218 kW) and 13 Nm added torque (350 Nm) on tap.
An expanded equipment list and other upgrades are priced at just $1860 on Grande. The step from 2WD to AWD is $4000 on GX and GXL and $3981 on Grande (the only variants impacted by the luxury-car tax). The Grande was on test.
Not to be left out in the upgrade, the design studio crayon pushers have gone to work with their own latest ideas on how the Kluger should look. The vehicle has been given considerable added street presence.
Styling updates include refreshed front and rear with a new grille and LED taillights, newly designed alloy wheels unique to each grade and more upmarket interiors of better quality, plus premium materials.
Every Kluger has air-conditioning, cruise control, electric power steering, six-speaker display audio with Toyota Link internet connection, privacy glass and power-adjustable exterior mirrors.
The GXL variants have three-zone climate-control air-conditioning, keyless entry and ignition, a so-called premium steering wheel and shift knob, and leather-accented seats with heated front seats, and a 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat.
Inside, the Grande is classy through and through, with premium features such as active cruise control, blind spot monitor, auto high beam, tilt-and-slide moonroof and ventilated front seats with two-position memory for the driver.
A nine-inch rear-seat entertainment system with Blu-ray player, heated exterior mirrors with memory function and puddle lamps, electro-chromatic interior mirror, second-row retractable sunshades and a back-guide monitor for the reversing camera complete the premium picture.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
The addition of direct-injection technology for Kluger’s powerful 3.5-litre V6 engine makes for 218 kW of power and 350 Nm of torque, both figures up on the previous motor.
The engine also delivers greater fuel-efficiency, which is capably united with a new automatic transmission that offers eight ratios compared with the superseded model’s six gears.
Standard Kluger safety equipment includes seven airbags, reversing camera, reverse-parking sensors, anti-skid brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, stability and traction control, and hill-start assist.
Grande, already equipped with a pre-collision safety system with autonomous emergency braking, gains rear cross-traffic alert, on hand to help reversing out of a parking space.
Lane departure alert in the Grande is now supplemented with steering control and sway warning. If the system judges the vehicle is about to move out of its lane and the driver does not respond to a warning buzzer and light, it applies gentle steering force to help the driver bring the vehicle back on course.
It can also warn the driver if it detects swaying, which may occur due to driver drowsiness, inattention or distraction.
My how you’ve grown. Over the years, the Kluger has put on bulk to the extent of now being almost five metres long and two metres wide and with this comes inherent size and weight problems.
Size is particularly problematic in parking in meagre spaces found in some car parks. The Grande’s panoramic view monitor, with its four cameras and all-round view of the vehicle, takes much of the stress out of manoeuvring here, while the rear cross traffic alert makes sure the coast is clear when reversing out of a spot.
With more than two tonnes to cart around, Kluger’s Dynamic Torque Control AWD is a welcome inclusion, helping the driver to get maximum traction and cornering stability. The system controls torque distribution automatically between the front and rear axles. It saves fuel by driving only the front wheels when the vehicle is cruising, switching to AWD when needed.
Officially, on the combined urban / highway cycle, 2WD Kluger uses just 9.1 litres per 100 kilometres for the GX and GXL grades and 9.3 litres per 100 kilometres for the Grande, while all AWDs are rated at 9.5 litres per 100 kilometres. The test vehicle recorded up to 15 litres around town and down to seven on the highway.
There is no denying the brisk acceleration and ease of overtaking made possible by the addition of direct-injection technology to Kluger’s 3.5-litre V6 engine. Noise is no imposition inside the passenger cabin.
Folding the third-row seat backs leaves a convenient flat floor to carry considerable cargo. The second row seat backs can also be folded. Occupied, the two rear seats are passably comfortable for a limited journey and accessible with the second row of seats sliding forward out of the way.
However, there is a high step up to climb in, making it no fun for the physically feeble. The Blu-ray entertainment system in the back, however, goes some way easing the situation when seated.
With Land Cruiser prices up to $50k more than Kluger, there’s not a lot it gives away to its big brother, especially in Grande spec. Therefore, there’s every reason to think seriously about the alternative.
AT A GLANCE
Toyota Kluger GX 2WD: $43,550
Toyota Kluger GXL 2WD: $53,550
Toyota Kluger Grande 2WD: $65,935
AWD: Add $4000 ($29 less on Grande)
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Toyota dealer for drive-away prices.
SPECIFICATIONS (Toyota Kluger Grande 3.5-litre V6 AWD seven-seat wagon)
Capacity: 3.456 litres
Configuration: Six cylinders in ‘V’
Maximum Power: 218 kW @ 6200 rpm
Maximum Torque: 350 Nm @ 4700 rpm
Fuel Type: Petrol 91 RON
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 9.5 L/100km
DRIVELINE: Eight-speed automatic
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 4865 mm
Wheelbase: 2790 mm
Width: 1925 mm
Height: 1730 mm
Turning Circle: 11.8 metres
Kerb Mass: 2065 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 72 litres
Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Solid disc
Three years / 100,000 km