Big, but no big deal

It’s larger and bolder but is Toy­ota’s new SUV bet­ter?

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

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.

VALUE

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.

TECH­NOL­OGY

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

SAFETY

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

VER­DICT

The new Kluger’s good but not great. It has a Toy­ota badge on the grille to lure buy­ers and com­fort cus­tomers.

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