Big, but no big deal
It’s larger and bolder but is Toyota’s new SUV better?
WE can thank the Yanks for the new Toyota Kluger.
Not only was the family-first SUV designed for American owners, something that’s obvious from a single glance at the chiselled new body, but it’s now also built in the US for delivery to Australians.
There are lots of good things about the new Kluger, from added space to a classier cabin, improved rear suspension and lower noise levels.
It also makes an impact with that in-your-face new frontal treatment, which was designed in California to stand out in the land of the free and the home of the SUV.
Toyota touts a seven-seatonly layout, the one preferred by 80 per cent of Kluger buyers, and a starting price it says is down by $2200 to $40,990 with extra value. But, ahem, the base price is actually up without a five-seat starter car.
Whether front or all-wheeldrive, the Kluger is dynamically disappointing. I personally rate behind the latest Nissan Pathfinder. Not just that, but the only engine is a 3.5-litre V6. And with petrol prices nudging $1.70, no sign of a stop-start system, and no possibility — not now, not ever — of a diesel to drive it, the Kluger is less than we expected for 2014.
That $40,990 includes, Toyota claims, a $4000 value boost with extra stuff including a standard rear-view camera and third-row seating. But you could get an outgoing fiveseater for less than $40K.
There are three equipment grades — GX, GXL and Grande. All-wheel drive adds $4000. So the flagship Grande with AWD adds up to $67,990.
The value story is about the seats and space, the new sixspeed automatic, 18-inch alloys , colour display screen and aircon and cruise in the GX. But you have to go all the way to Grande to get satnav, a Toyota practice across the family, and there is no front parking radar.
To put the car into context, the Captiva 7 starts at $29,990 (although it’s fairer to look at $35,990 with a 3.0-litre engine ) a basic Ford Territory is $39,990, then there are Hyundai’s Santa Fe from $37,990 and the Pathfinder from $39,990.
The Kluger comes with capped-price servicing but Toyota wants it back in the workshop every six months or 10,000km. How, also, do you put a price on petrol? Fuel economy is improved by more than 5 per cent across the range, but long-distance travellers cannot get a diesel.
There is a hybrid Kluger in the US but Toyota hasn’t yet decided whether to bring it.
Yes, there is a six-speed auto and a bunch of infotainment stuff, but the important mechanical change is doublewishbone rear suspension.
Why? Because, although engineers like to talk about it enhancing ride and handling, it also lowers the floor in the back end and that means more luggage space, and a more adult-friendly third-row seat.
The bottom line is that you can carry people and their luggage. The Kluger also makes an excellent van with both back-row seats folded flat, something that’s good for young families and people who haul bicycles and surfboards.
Toyota talks about everything from three-zone aircon and a Blu-ray player for the back but there is nothing truly new.
The new Kluger is so obviously American, from the grille to a push-button starter that’s right over at the edge of the dash. Why? No one at Toyota Australia has an answer.
There’s also huge storage inside, from a roll-top bin in the centre console to a sweeping shelf below the instruments. Those instruments are clear and concise but the omission of a big digital speedo is glaring.
The quality of the cabin is good, from the materials to the finishing work in Indiana, and Toyota says there is better vision thanks to larger side glass and thinner front pillars. I also like the double-duty tailgate, which has a lift-up glass section for quicker access.
The Kluger should be an easy five-star success, with seven airbags — with a variety of chambers and staging — and the rear cameras , lane-
departure warning and radar cruise in the Grande, and things like hill-start assist and downhill braking assist in the all-wheel-drive models.
Toyota claims a two-tonne towing capacity for the Kluger, which is good but not great. There is a full-sized spare.
The new Kluger will be the must-have accessory for the school run. The roomier rear makes sense and will work better for people who really need seven seats.
I also like the cabin layout and the quietness and the comfort on a wide variety of surfaces. The steering wheel sits a bit flat, however.
The V6 gets along well, with good response from the sixspeed auto, and I know the allwheel-drive package will be popular with families who like to camp or have a small boat.
But then it gets murky. I can’t drive the new Kluger without thinking about the Pathfinder and the Territory and the Santa Fe, but not the Captiva 7, which is only a value pick.
The Kluger looks big and drives big. That means it is not easy to park and you need to lift the seat all the way up to improve vision.
The all-wheel-drive model is way too heavy in the steering and the front end feels weighed down. That means it’s not good over bumps and there’s too much effort needed for parking.
The front-drive car is better, with lighter steering effort and a slightly more spritely feel, but it also tugs at the steering and wants to spin the wheels under firm acceleration.
Toyota says it has done local suspension tuning. It has some good people on the team, but it’s not as good as a Pathfinder.
I’d also rate it behind the Santa Fe and Territory.
The new Kluger’s good but not great. It has a Toyota badge on the grille to lure buyers and comfort customers.