Ronaldo and Rivaldo, Venus and Serena, Lillee and Thomson… Kluger and Prado – all dominant, era-defining duos. Okay, that last pair isn’t known on the football pitch, tennis court, or cricket field. But like those famous sporting combinations, Toyota’s large SUV siblings continue to complement each other in cutting a swathe through the opposition.
The LandCruiser Prado is the senior partner in terms of sales, dominating the Aussie large SUV segment with the Kluger running in close support. And it’s been that way for some time.
In fact, the current generation Kluger arrived here in early 2014, with a 2017 refresh boosting power and improving fuel economy to keep the car’s head above water in one of the most hotly contested parts of the local new car market.
There’s a new, fourth-generation version coming here in early 2021, although it’s a well known quantity, having first seen the light of day at the New York Motor Show in early 2019.
So, the finish line is much closer than the start for the current version of this evergreen model. Time for a close to final fling to see how it stacks up before clocking off.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 7/10
The GX is the entry-point to a four-model Kluger line-up, with the GXL, Black Edition, and top-spec Grande above it.
Cost-of-entry is $44,850, before on-road costs, for the FWD version, with our AWD variant ticking that up another $4K to $48,850, it’s optional metallic paint adding a further $600, for an as-tested total of $49,450.
At that ‘around $50K’ price point you’re in the same territory as key mainstream competitors like Ford’s Everest Ambiente ($55,090), Hyundai’s Santa Fe Active X ($50,050), Kia’s Sorento S ($48,850), Mazda’s CX-8 Touring ($53,590), Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport GLS ($52,490), and Nissan’s Pathfinder ST+ ($48,840).
All of them all-wheel drive, all with seven seats, and all high-quality offerings. And we haven’t even touched on others from Haval, Isuzu, Land Rover, LDV, Mahindra, Peugeot, Skoda, and VW. Not to mention the HiLux-based Fortuner sitting in the same Toyota line-up. Did we mention this is a competitive segment?
So, aside from the active and passive safety tech detailed in the ‘Safety’ section below, the Kluger GX standard features list includes, air-conditioning (manual rather than climate-control), 18-inch alloy wheels, active cruise control, six-speaker audio (with Bluetooth connectivity), keyless entry and start, auto headlights, LED DRLs and tail-lights, front fog lights, a 6.1-inch multimedia display, a reversing camera and rear parking distance control. rear privacy glass, and a trip computer.
A big miss is the lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity, the headlights are halogen (rather than the now expected LED), and the trim is cloth (nice cloth, but still cloth).
You’ll have to step up to the GXL to score a larger 8.0-inch media screen, ‘leather accented’ seats, rain-sensing wipers, a power tailgate, and a whole bunch of other ‘stuff.’ But, you can’t have LED headlights, even on the top-spec Grande model.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 7/10
Toyota’s Kluger is the archetypal family SUV, it’s simple, high-riding wagon form featuring just the right amount of design flair (literally) around the edges. Inoffensive but not boring.
An exterior freshen up in early 2017 brought a new (big) grille on the GX (and GXL) featuring a silver finish, as well as redesigned tail-lights, upgraded to LED.
The standard 18-inch alloys look smaller than that, thanks to the Kluger’s not inconsiderable size.
Utterly subjective call, but I reckon our test car’s optional ‘Rustic Brown’ metallic paint ($600) looks brilliant and helps deliver a premium presence.
The interior design is clean and simple, with a sweeping, layered dash design wrapping around the relatively modest 6.1-inch multimedia screen integrated into the centre stack.
The charcoal cloth seats feature a wave pattern in the centre sections, and touches of chrome and brushed metal-effect finishes add visual interest and a quality feel.
How practical is the space inside? 8/10
When it comes to practicality, the 4.9m long, 1.9m wide, and 1.7m tall Kluger has size on its side.
The driver and front passenger have heaps of space between and around them, with a pair of generous cupholders in the centre console, as well as a covered armrest bin, a decent glove box, overhead sunglasses holder, two 12V sockets, and a USB input.
There are also big storage pockets in the doors with bottle holders built-in. Plus, Toyota has thoughtfully included a tactical weapon for parents in the shape of a drop-down wide-angle mirror, able to spot misbehaving kids with eyes-in-the-back-of-the-head accuracy.
Move to the second row, and legroom is limo-like, thanks in no small part to a lengthy 2790mm wheelbase. There’s plenty of headroom, with enough shoulder room for three adults to sit abreast in reasonable comfort.
A fold-down centre armrest has two cupholders built in, there are map pockets on the back of the front seats, as well as adjustable air vents in the back of the centre console. There’s a single 12V outlet, and again the door bins can accommodate bottles.
A second row fold-and-slide function allows relatively easy access to the third row, although best to seat scrambling kids back there, rather than gran and pop. It also means you can fine-tune space in the centre row to give those in the ‘way back’ seat more breathing room.
Those two rearmost positions are best for pre-teenagers, and cupholders and air vents mean there shouldn’t be too many complaints in terms of physical comfort. But the lack of USB outlets, or even a 12V socket, doesn’t play well in the age of gaming and mobile devices.
Boot space with all seven seats upright is limited to 195 litres, which is enough for some soft bags or a family-size picnic lunch. Day trips only, then, if you’re travelling seven-up.
Drop the 60/40 split-folding third-row seats (via simple to use pull straps) and space increases to a healthy 529 litres with a perfectly flat floor. There are handy bag hooks, tie-down anchors, and a cargo cover to help keep loads safe and secure.
The second row seat backs also split-fold 60/40, and lowering them liberates enough space for a socially-distanced indoor tennis tournament.
Towing capacity is a useful, but not exceptional, 2000kg for a braked trailer (750kg unbraked), and the spare wheel is a full size alloy housed under the rear floor. Big tick for that!
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
The Kluger GX is powered by an all-alloy, 3.5-litre, naturally aspirated V6 petrol engine, featuring direct-injection and dual VVT-i variable valve timing to produce 218kW at 6600rpm and 350Nm at 4700rpm.
This is the ‘FKS’ version of Toyota’s long-serving ‘2GR’ V6 engine, used in numerous Toyota and Lexus models, and in this AWD Kluger, drive goes to all four wheels via an eight-speed (UA80F) auto transaxle.
How much fuel does it consume? 6/10
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 – urban, extra-urban) cycle is 9.5L/100km, the Kluger GX AWD emitting 221g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over a week-long combination of city, suburban, and freeway running we recorded a (dash-indicated) average of 14.0L/100km.
That’s a fair overshoot of the factory figure, but the good news is required fuel is 91 RON standard unleaded, of which you’ll need 72 litres to fill the tank.
Using our results as a guide, that’ll give you a range of 514km, but if you’re able to match Toyota’s claim you’ll be travelling 758km between fills.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 7/10
The Toyota Kluger received a maximum five-star ANCAP safety assessment back in 2016, and the criteria for that score have stepped up considerably since then. But an early 2018 upgrade saw all models in the range receive a solid safety boost.
In terms of active safety tech, all Klugers feature a pre-collision safety system built around city and inter-urban speed auto emergency braking (AEB), with pedestrian detection. There’s also lane-departure alert, active cruise control and automatic high beam.
That said, if you want rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitor, and rear cross-traffic alert you’ll have to step up to the next model in the range, the GXL at $58,950.
If, despite all that crash avoidance wizardry an impact is unavoidable you’re protected by dual front, dual front side (chest), and full-length curtain airbags, as well as a knee bag for the driver.
There are three top tether points for child restraints across the centre row seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
Warranty & Safety Rating
5 years / unlimited km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
Toyota’s standard warranty extends for five years/unlimited km, which matches most players in the mainstream market, but sits behind Kia and SsangYong at seven years, and Mitsubishi on 10!
Service intervals for the Kluger are set at six months/10,000km, which is frequent, but Toyota will tell you it’s part of the brand’s determination to keep its cars reliable and durable over the long haul. Still a pain…
On the flip side, costs are capped under the ‘Toyota Service Advantage’ program, with quoted pricing for the Kluger GX AWD (over the first two and a half years) set at a very reasonable $180 ($360 annually).
For extra convenience, the ‘myToyota’ digital platform (accessed via an app and/or online portal) helps facilitate service bookings, as well as providing access to your service history, owner’s manual, and Toyota support channels, as well fuel discounts, special offers, and lots of other handy stuff.
What’s it like to drive? 7/10
At just under 5.0m long, and tipping the scales at a little over 2.0 tonnes, the Kluger GX is a big bus, but it doesn’t drive like one. It’s quiet, comfortable, and surprisingly responsive dynamically.
A strut front / double-wishbone rear suspension set-up manages the Kluger’s substantial mass and proportions well. The ride is unflustered and body roll in corners is nicely buttoned down.
The default setting for Toyota’s ‘Dynamic Torque Control’ system is front-wheel drive, primarily to save fuel, using information on vehicle speed, yaw rate, as well as steering and throttle angles to control torque distribution in the switch to all-wheel drive (via an electromagnetically controlled coupling in the rear differential housing). Maximum front to rear axle torque split is 50/50.
While not the last word in road feel, the electrically-assisted rack and pinion steering is accurate and well-weighted. An 11.8m turning circle makes planning your parking maneuvers in advance worthwhile, but the standard reversing camera and rear proximity sensors help when it comes to the shopping mall shuffle.
The naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 is smooth and powerful enough, although it’s a reminder how much turbo engines have reset expectations for low-down pulling power.
Peak torque of 350Nm is plenty, but it arrives at a relatively high 4700rpm, so you need to squeeze the accelerator a little harder to get to that sweet spot. The eight-speed auto is the perfect companion, though, with swift and unobtrusive shifts up and down the ratios.
The brakes are nice and progressive, the front seats particularly, proved comfortable on longer runs, and visibility from the high driving position is hard to fault. But the lack of a digital speedo is annoying as speed cameras continue to multiply like rabbits. Another indicator of the current Kluger’s age.
Although this was a 100 per cent on the bitumen test, those keen to head off-highway should know the Kluger’s approach angle is 20 degrees, departure is 23.1 degrees, and ground clearance is 201mm.
Although it’s coming close to the end of its run in the Australian market, the current, Kluger still offers solid value in the full-size, seven-seat SUV segment. But newer competitors, like Kia’s recently released, fourth-generation Sorento show how far the segment has moved in the six years the Toyota’s been on sale here. Could be worth snaring a cheeky bargain as this model runs out, or hold on for the long-awaited fourth-gen version in the first quarter of 2021.