Like the classic hymn book, there’s something ancient and something modern about the Kluger. For starters (literally) the engine in the entry-level GX is fired up by turning the ignition key in a steering column-mounted lock, rather than a push button – old school.
Then the parking brake is operated by a pedal – a thing of the past that still hangs on in one or two new vehicles. Not that the large Toyota sports utility vehicle is creaking at the joints.
Among the latest in automotive technology on board is autonomous emergency braking and a host of driver aids.
The Kluger has found its niche as a family car, with seven seats, plenty of space, powerful petrol engine and a two-wheel drive option, trimming the weight, price and fuel consumption.
This has not gone unnoticed in Australia where it has sold its socks off, passing 170,000 sales including record sales last year of 14,743 vehicles, making it the best-selling 2WD / AWD vehicle in the large SUV segment.
Earlier this year, at the New York International Auto Show, Toyota unveiled the fourth generation of the Kluger, upping the ante in safety, comfort, quality and reliability.
The new-generation Kluger will be launched first in the United States where it is known as Highlander. Timing for its Australian introduction has not yet been determined.
The Kluger, as Highlander, goes some way to explaining why the car’s computer registers fuel consumption in the Japanese way as kilometres per litre, as opposed to the way Down Under as litres per hundred kilometres.
Anyway, during my time with a third-gen Kluger GX all-wheel drive test vehicle ($48,850, plus on roads), I became adept at converting fuel consumption roughly in my head, so I, at least, learnt something.
In looks, the Kluger steers more to the bulky traditional four-wheel drive wagon, rather than the more modern sleek coupe crossover SUV styling.
Styling includes refreshed front and rear with a new grille, LED taillights, newly designed alloy wheels unique to each grade (18-inch on GX) and full-size alloy spare.
An optional polished nudge bar helps to protect the vehicle from minor knocks, while adding to the Kluger’s bold street presence.
The Kluger boasts more upmarket interiors of better quality, plus premium materials than previously.
Every model has cruise control, electric power steering, six-speaker display audio with Toyota Link internet connection, privacy glass and power-adjustable exterior mirrors. Cabin surroundings are plain but far from poor quality.
The entertainment system has echoes of the past with a miniature 6.1-inch touch screen in the GX. The system includes AM / FM radio, CD player and USB.
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.
To this has been added autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and rear parking distance control.
Following a foray with the Kluger GX a year ago, it seems little has changed. Its bold looks hide a passenger sedan-smooth ride and handling on bitumen, with steering, at times, a bit loose.
A city slicker by nature, with little bush breeding, its size can be a problem when parking the GX in skinny spaces found in some car parks. The range-topping Grande, with panoramic view monitor, its four cameras presenting an all-round view of the vehicle, would take much of the stress out of manoeuvring here.
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 from the vehicle while saving fuel.
Steep slopes can be managed with ease thanks to downhill assist (AWD only) and hill-start assist giving crucial brake and accelerator support when needed most.
With the optional genuine tow bar, tow ball, trailer wiring harness and load distribution hitch, Kluger delivers a maximum braked towing capacity of 2000 kg, 700 kg without stoppers.
The compact, lightweight system controls torque distribution automatically between the front and rear axles. It saves fuel, says Toyota, by driving only the front wheels when the vehicle is cruising, switching to AWD when needed.
Officially, on the combined urban / highway cycle, AWD Kluger GX uses just 9.5 litres per 100 kilometres. The test vehicle’s best was 6.1 litres on the motorway and up to 15 litres around town.
If a couple of kids are among the cargo, they can be accommodated reasonably comfortably over short journeys in two pop-up third-row seats.
Getting in and out is still a problem with a large step up and limited slide of the second row, the latter improved on next year’s model.
Storage is generous, with cup holders all round (eight all up) and a centre console box of kids’ cubby house proportions.
When the Kluger came out in 2003 it was a mid-size SUV non-entity. Sixteen years later the Kluger GX is a large SUV with a big following.
What’s more, things are about to get better, with the MY20 model, at sharp pricing and specs, worth waiting for. Meanwhile, make an offer to your local dealer, there could be run-out savings in the offing.
AT A GLANCE
Toyota Kluger 3.5 GX 2WD $44,850
Toyota Kluger 3.5 GX AWD $48,850
Toyota Kluger 3.5 GXL 2WD $54,950
Toyota Kluger 3.5 GXL AWD $58,950
Toyota Kluger 3.5 Black Edition 2WD $55,970
Toyota Kluger 3.5 Black Edition AWD $59,970
Toyota Kluger 3.5 Grande 2WD $65,590
Toyota Kluger 3.5 Grande AWD $68,888
Note: These prices do not include dealer or government charges. Contact your local Toyota dealer for drive-away prices.
(Toyota Kluger GX 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, 8sp automatic, AWD)
Capacity: 3456 cc
Maximum Power: 218 kW @ 6600 rpm
Maximum Torque: 350 Nm @ 4700 rpm
Fuel type: Petrol
Combined Cycle (ADR 81/01): 9.5 litres per 100 km
Drivetrain: 8-speed automatic, AWD
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 4890 mm
Width: 1925 mm
Height: 1730 mm
Wheelbase: 2790 mm
Turning circle: 11.8
Kerb weight: 2045 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 72 litres
Front: Ventilated disc
5 years / unlimited kilometres