Car reviews - Toyota - Kluger - GX 4WD
Added tech makes it safer and more convenient, refined and efficient motorway cruising, spacious and practical cabin
Room for improvement
Active safety tech welcome but not the best, expensive list price compounded by suburban thirst, poor multimedia system, miserly equipment list
Toyota democratises active safety tech with Kluger update – but it’s still expensive
1 Apr 2019
TOYOTA continues to meet the market by rolling out active safety and driver-assistance technologies across more variants in its range, providing a trickle-down of tech previously reserved for top-spec variants into entry-level grades.
From the beginning of 2018, the base Kluger GX seven-seat large SUV gained autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beam, plus driver drowsiness alert and measures to mitigate the severity of unavoidable collisions.
But this democratisation of safety does come at a price, for Toyota loaded an extra $950 onto the cost of an entry-level Kluger when it announced the changes – on a model that already offers less value for money than its key rivals.
Price and equipment
Our entry-level Kluger GX was the $48,500 (plus on-road costs) all-wheel-drive version, with the front-wheel drive option being $4000 cheaper. The range reaches a giddy $69,617 for the Grande AWD.
Apart from the recently added autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure alert, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam, driver alertness monitor and pre-collision safety systems, the GX spec sheet is pretty miserly.
For example, there is an embarrassingly small 6.1-inch multimedia unit screen that lacks sat-nav or DAB+ digital radio reception. There’s an old-fashioned twist key to start the engine, manual air-conditioning, manual seat adjustment and a manual tailgate with no flip-up glass hatch section. No front parking sensors, either.
What you do get comprises a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, six-speaker audio, a multi-function trip computer, 18-inch alloy wheels, tilt-and-reach steering adjustment, front foglights, daytime running lights and hill-start assist.
You’ve probably guessed from the price and specification section that the Kluger GX cabin is a basic beast. The tiny touchscreen is a joke, there’s no digital speed readout and the air-con controls are rudimentary.
On the upside, the fabric seat upholstery is pleasant, and we preferred it to the slippery, uncomfortable leather you get in higher-spec variants. Also, Toyota has not stripped out any of the Kluger’s fundamental functionality. It’s just a bit of a blank canvas in here.
But we’re here to welcome the addition of the new driver assistance and active safety features that help reduce the chance of collision, the fatigue of motorway work and provide an extra pair of digital eyes to the distracted, sleep-deprived parent who has produced enough progeny to force the purchase a vehicle such as this.
During our week with the Kluger, its adaptive cruise control worked well on flat roads but would run away with itself on descents and surge over crests. Meanwhile, we found the lane-keep assist to be effective, although it is the reactive variety that beeps and tugs the wheel if it detects you drifting toward the markings rather than actively keeping the car centred in its lane as in, for example, a Kia Sorento.
We also experienced a number of false positives from the forward collision warning, which like the quirky cruise control, was something we’ve experienced in many Toyotas. Good technology, poorly executed.
Similarly, the Kluger comes with a near-useless multi-function trip computer between the analogue instruments that lacks a digital speed readout, is unable to combine multiple sets of useful data into one screen and obscures the display with a diagram every time the cruise control’s radar detects a vehicle in front.
None of this detracts from the Kluger’s status as one of the more spacious seven-seat large SUVs on sale in Australia, and one that can carry a full load of adults in relative comfort if you position the central row just right and choose who you put where carefully.
Sure, tall people in the third row will be a little cramped for headroom and the shallow footwell back there forces a knees-up position but it’s otherwise pretty comfortable.
The central row is the real place to be, with heaps of headroom and the fact there is no transmission tunnel intrusion makes it comfortable for three adults abreast, while a little extra shoulder space can be freed up by sliding one part of the 60:40 bench.
In fact, this independent sliding and reclining function of the central row really aids the Kluger’s versatility by providing plenty of combinations for transporting a full load of different-sized people in comfort. Ceiling-mounted air-con vents provide plenty of comfort for all in the Kluger’s rear quarters, too.
Toyota has made it simple to adjust the two rear seating rows with big, well-labelled controls that are not too heavy in operation. Big, wide doors apertures make for easy entry and egress, even to the very back, courtesy of the tumbling/slide motion of the middle row.
But only two of the central-row seating positions have Isofix connections for child seats and it’s only possible to fit three child restraints in the whole car, whereas competitors such as the Mazda CX-9 and Holden Acadia can fit the new segment benchmark of five.
Once aboard, everyone has plenty of room to put their stuff, with lots of big cupholders scattered about the cabin, a useful shelf spanning most of the dashboard with a second tier in the centre console, a big glove box, another smaller one by the driver’s right knee, full-size map pockets, a cubby beneath the rear air-conditioning controls and generous door bins with bottle-holding divots front and rear.
Between the upper and lower tiers of the dashboard shelf is a grommet enabling a cable to feed through from the Kluger’s USB port. That’s not a typo. Port, singular – there’s just one USB in this whole car.
We did, however, love the Kluger’s massive two-tiered centre console bin with two-part sliding lid. The lid itself is upholstered and squidgy so that it doubles as a front central armrest, but so are the side rails, meaning it’s still comfortable to rest an elbow while the lid is open.
The boot also features a couple of handy hooks for shopping bags. and two small false floor areas in the boot in addition to storage for the cargo blind when it is not in use. Full marks to Toyota for the telescopic cargo blind fitment, which is one of the easiest to use designs we’ve found in a seven-seat SUV.
With all seven seats in use, there is just 195 litres of boot space, expanding to a medium SUV-like 529L in five-seat mode, with a completely flat floor. As a two-seater, the Kluger’s flat-floored 1872L boot is ample for a Bunnings budget blowout. Don’t ask us how we know.
On the move, the base Kluger GX is as quiet, smooth and refined as the more expensive variants. Coarse-chip bitumen country lanes and concrete motorways that get a bit raucous in some vehicles are rarely a problem in the Toyota, although when driving solo and unladen the cavernous cabin’s acoustics do amplify road rumble a little.
That said, it doesn’t take much for this to be drowned out by the radio – just as well as it doesn’t go that loud, nor does it sound particularly good at higher volume settings – and during our week with the Kluger, we enjoyed its relaxing ride experience on some long and monotonous motorway journeys.
Visibility is pretty good thanks to big boxy windows, although the huge door mirrors cause big blind spots for shorter drivers.
Engine and transmission
Nothing has changed under the Kluger’s bonnet for this update and the sole powertrain choice is a 3.5-litre petrol V6 backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission. Power output is 218kW at 6600rpm and there’s 350Nm of torque at 4700rpm. The whole set-up is borrowed from Lexus, so it should be good.
If you’re trading up from an older Kluger, it’s not as thirsty as you might expect. Especially on the motorway. The official highway figure is 7.6 litres per 100km and we managed to better that on one long run. However, you’d be lucky to match the official city cycle figure of 12.8L/100km in suburban driving as we got closer to 16.0L/100km in traffic.
Overall, we averaged 11.1L/100km but that figure did include a fair bit of motorway mile-munching.
We’ve previously heaped praise on the Kluger transmission’s shifts as “undetectable unless a squeeze of the accelerator pedal causes it to kick down a couple of the closely-stacked ratios”, but this was not true of the GX we tested.
This example would make the occasional abrupt shift accompanied by a momentary pause in acceleration and we were regularly aware of its machinations or hamstrung by hesitancy. It’s possible this would be rectified by a software update at the next service, but could also point to a mechanical issue.
Apart from that, the V6 remained as smooth, quiet and refined as we’d expect owing to its Lexus origins.
Give it a squirt and there’s a delightful woofle from under the bonnet, a fluttering blurt from the exhaust, decidedly brisk acceleration and the kind of immediacy you only get from a big naturally aspirated V6.
Customers and manufacturers are deserting this type of drivetrain for good reason, but there is no denying they still have a lot of charm. It’s an indulgence we enjoyed during our week with the Kluger, so if you do a lot of motorway or country miles, don’t let the lack of a diesel engine option put you off.
Ride and handling
We’ve struggled with the Kluger’s split personality when fitted with 19-inch alloy wheels, but the 18-inch items of lower grades such as this GX seem to smooth out rippled and patchwork surfaces much more successfully while reducing the worst excesses of its lumbering low-speed dynamics. The lower weight of the stripped-out GX could also be at play here. It’s supremely comfortable.
There’s still a bit of wallow at urban and suburban speeds but not bad enough to make roundabouts and other sharp low-speed turns head-tossingly uncomfortable for passengers.
At higher speeds, everything becomes a lot more settled, with respectable body control and a surefooted feel in both the dry and near-biblical wet conditions we experienced during our week with the Kluger, which for some reason was fitted with Michelin winter tyres.
For round-town work, the Kluger’s light steering and 11.8-metre turning circle make life easy, yet it remains direct and accurate at higher speeds. It’s a pretty well-judged setup and we didn’t experience the bigger-wheeled Grande variant’s tramlining and wheel-fighting on poorly surfaced sections of motorway.
On gravel, our all-wheel-drive Kluger’s cushiony and isolating character also enabled it to find plenty of grip and traction on all but the tightest loose-surface bends. Its plush suspension prevents the wheels from skipping across the rough surface and the whole car becomes communicative, controllable, predictable and mostly stable.
It seems, then, that the Kluger is another case of fancy big wheels on high-spec variants resulting in a less-luxurious experience for passengers.
Safety and servicing
ANCAP testing of the Kluger in 2014 resulted in a maximum five-star rating, which carries over to the facelifted model we drove.
In the frontal offset test, the Kluger scored 14.97 out of 16, with a full 16 points gained in the side impact test and 2 out of 2 in the pole test. Whiplash protection was deemed ‘good’ and pedestrian protection ‘marginal’. Overall it got 35.57 out of 37.
As well as autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure alert, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam, driver alertness monitor and pre-collision safety systems, standard safety equipment on the Kluger includes seven airbags, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution, stability and traction control, a hill holder and hill descent control.
All seven seats have three-point lap-sash seatbelts, with height adjustment, pre-tensioners and load limiters for the front two. The first and second seating rows have advanced seatbelt reminders.
The Kluger is covered by a five-year, unlimited km warranty, with service intervals every six months or 10,000km. Under Toyota’s capped price servicing scheme, the first six scheduled services cost $180 each when carried out within the first 2 years or 40,000km (correct at time of writing).
The Kluger has many talents and while we welcome Toyota’s decision to add more active driver assistance and safety equipment, this model remains poor value for money.
Look what you get from Mazda and Kia for similar coin and it’s hard to make a case for the Kluger with its embarrassingly dated multimedia system and bare-bones spec-sheet.
But in 2018, the Kluger’s segment-share domination showed no signs of slipping, with sales up 17.9 per cent in a sub-$70,000 large SUV market that was down 0.5 per cent.
Toyota apparently doesn’t need to try all that hard to compete. And it knows it.
Australians deserve better than that.
Kia Sorento Sport diesel (from $48,490 plus on-road costs)
We reckon the value-packed Sorento is Australia’s best bitumen-biased seven-seat SUV and its seven-year aftercare package is two years longer than the Kluger’s. What’s more, this classy Korean feels distinctly Euro inside and out. If you want petrol and don’t need all-wheel drive, you can have a higher-spec SLi petrol for $1500 less.
Mazda CX-9 Sport AWD (from $48,990 plus on-road costs)
Another petrol-only, US-oriented seven-seat large SUV but also a thoroughly modern and genuinely upmarket machine that happens to offer plenty of practicality while avoiding depressing its driver with dreary dynamics. Now with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a five-year warranty and a standard kit list that shines a light on Toyota’s tight-fistedness.
Nissan Pathfinder ST V6 AWD (from $45,490 plus on-road costs)
Quite a lot in common with the Kluger in that it is a petrol-only affair (although a hybrid is available) and big on size and cup-holder count but a recent facelift has slightly raised its dynamic bar, even if the interior presentation and quality still disappoints.
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Model release date: 1 December 2017
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