Seven-seater SUV sales are booming. The category represents the default family vehicle of choice in what is now a very fragmented vehicle market.
One of the latest to join this set of family trucksters is the Toyota Kluger. The Kluger has been a mainstay in the SUV wagon segment since the arrival of the first generation in 2003. This latest, third-generation model has much more competition than the nameplate has ever faced before, so how does this new model rate – as a family wagon and as a towing tug? Let’s find out…
This gen-three Kluger is 80mm longer and 15mm wider than the gen-two model. The extra length is gained ahead of the front wheels and behind the rear wheels in an even split of 40mm each. Toyota says the extra length up front was to improve crash safety and the rear to increase load space, which has grown bigger by one-third with all seats up.
We tested the Kluger Grande AWD, the most expensive model in the three-tier range (GX, GXL and Grande) and with the more expensive drive system (all-wheel drive, with front-wheel drive also available for $4000 less across the range).
As tested, the Kluger Grande AWD costs $67,520. The top-model Grande has a load of gear: you get a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, seven airbags, cruise control, air-conditioning, front fog lights, Pre-collision Safety System and Active Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert and Blind Spot Monitor. It also has 19in wheels, LED daytime running lights, projector LED headlights with Auto High Beam, tilt-and-slide moonroof, ventilated front seats, 8in display audio with navigation and DAB+ digital radio, second-row sunshades, 9in rear-seat entertainment system with BluRay player, power-operated tailgate and a colour 4.2in information display.
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION
The Kluger’s V6 engine is typical of modern Toyota V6 petrol design – that is, it is silken smooth, quiet and has plenty of power. The six-speed auto is well matched to the engine with smooth predictable shifts. Where the V6 is not so good is in its low-rpm torque – with peak torque arriving at close to 5000rpm, the V6 likes to be revved to give its best. It doesn’t mind sweeping the tacho towards the 6400rpm redline and delivers strong acceleration while doing so. The Kluger’s all-wheel drive system is an on-demand type, driving the front wheels until slip is detected, when 50 per cent of drive is apportioned to the rear wheels. A locked mode is available to set the drive to a 50-50 split.
The Kluger has a conventional MacPherson strut front-end and a multi-link coil rear. This setup works well; it is compliant while remaining composed over fast undulating roads, and it is a vast improvement over Kluger’s past.
Yet the Kluger is a competent vehicle rather than an exceptional one when it comes to handling; it grips well and corners with enough precision and neutrality in gentle to brisk driving. While streets ahead of where it used to be, the Kluger does not offer the kind of dynamic involvement that, say, a Ford Territory does.
The Kluger shouldered the weight of a 1700kg caravan well; the V6’s performance was not lacking and it made easy work of the test hill.
This engine has plenty of torque but with the weight of a van it really preferred some revs on board to keep up speed. Off the mark on steep hills, the Kluger really struggled but, then again, that is not surprising given the gradients involved. However, the lack of strong engine braking also became apparent as we headed downhill – the brakes needed a regular dab to wash off speed. The Kluger took on the weight of the van well, without the slightest indication of trailer sway.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Kluger’s very well thought out and spacious interior packaging, plus its powerful V6 engine, comfortable ride and sharp handling, all make it the best Kluger yet. But while it is a stable towing platform, its engine braking and fuel consumption let it down.
The full test appears in Caravan World #535, March 2015. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!