THE OLD SCHOOL RUN

Toy­ota’s sta­ple SUV sticks with a petrol V6 AT A GLANCE

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - IAIN CURRY & JULES LUCHT

School drop-offs can of­ten look like a Toy­ota dealer’s fore­court, given the vast num­ber of Kluger seven-seat SUVs lin­ing up out­side the gates. Toy­ota keeps its fam­ily favourite sim­ple. Three grades, 2WD or AWD and 3.5litre V6 and auto gear­box only — no diesel, no man­ual, take it or leave it.

Our fam­ily of four hops aboard the en­trylevel GX AWD to see how this jumbo stal­wart han­dles the daily grind.

FIRST IM­PRES­SIONS

IAIN: These Klugers are mighty things but they look sleek and mod­ern.

JULES: Im­pos­ing more like. That grille looks like an ag­gres­sive Mack truck’s.

IAIN: It’s built in the US and the Yanks like their SUVs loud and proud. You can’t fault Kluger’s Aussie sales though; we con­sis­tently buy more than

1000 a month.

JULES: Toy­ota’s rep­u­ta­tion for re­li­a­bil­ity must be a fac­tor. That’s hugely im­por­tant for fam­i­lies and I know plenty of par­ents who are in the Kluger clan.

IAIN: Most large SUVs make use of four-cylin­der turbo diesels but the Kluger’s an old-school V6 petrolonly kinda guy. Toy­ota does a crack­ing four-cylin­der diesel in its Prado and HiLux.

JULES: Our GX AWD costs $47,990 drive-away. That’s a lot for en­trylevel. What are its ri­vals?

IAIN: Seven-seater petrols in­clude the Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9, Nis­san Pathfinder and Skoda Kodiaq. Most of those can be had with a less thirsty diesel and typ­i­cally more fea­tures for the Kluger’s price.

THE LIV­ING SPACE

JULES: May I politely say it feels typ­i­cally Toy­ota in­side?

IAIN: By that do you mean well built, un­fussy, prac­ti­cal but lack­ing any raz­zle-daz­zle?

JULES: Nailed it. It’s all user-friendly but if Toy­ota has a mav­er­ick de­sign ge­nius brim­ming with panache, he was off sick on Kluger cabin de­sign week.

IAIN: This is the en­try-level, re­mem­ber, and that means cloth seats, no key­less start and a 6.1-inch screen. There is an eight-incher in higher grades, which are a whop­ping $10K (GXL) or $20K (Grande) more than ours.

JULES: Cloth seats they may be but they’re sink-in comfy. The screen looks tiny. Plus it’s so far away I have to lean out of my seat to use it.

IAIN: How good’s the stor­age though? There’s a smart shelf run­ning the width of the lower dash­board, which is ideal to sling in phones, tablets, pa­pers and snacks.

JULES: Gi­ant cup hold­ers and the cen­tre con­sole stor­age is a mon­ster. Fill that with wa­ter and you’d have a hot tub in your car.

THE COM­MUTE

IAIN: The driv­ing po­si­tion is so el­e­vated I’m up there with the truck driv­ers.

JULES: Great vi­sion and it’s a lovely cruiser too. On mo­tor­ways it purrs along with barely any en­gine noise and ab­sorbs bumps ef­fort­lessly. IAIN: Radar cruise con­trol makes high­ways a plea­sure. The lack of in-built sat­nav or Ap­ple CarPlay/An­droid Auto makes the in­fo­tain­ment, es­pe­cially with that tid­dly screen, seem very last gen­er­a­tion.

THE SHOP­PING

JULES: The boot’s a whop­per. The two rear seats are easy to fold up or down with the pull of a han­dle, leav­ing mas­sive load space.

IAIN: This bot­tom grade misses out on an auto tail­gate though, some­thing these big SUVs re­ally ben­e­fit from. JULES: For such a big car, it’s easy to park and ma­noeu­vre. The steer­ing is so light. Rear park sen­sors are great but that small screen means it’s hard to use the re­verse cam­era clearly. IAIN: It has a foot rather than hand brake too. That’s some­thing that should have died with 1980s SUVs.

THE FAM­ILY

JULES: Safety is ex­cel­lent. Airbags for all rows of seats and lane de­par­ture warn­ing are good but I’d like a blind spot mon­i­tor.

IAIN: You’re so high up surely you can see ev­ery­thing com­ing?

JULES: I can climb into the sec­ond row to do up the kids’ car seat har­nesses, there’s so much space here.

IAIN: Plus the mid­dle row slides for­ward to give more space to the third row — those seats are just tol­er­a­ble for adults but ideal for kids.

JULES: Air vents for each row, cup hold­ers ev­ery­where and loads of space for kids’ bikes and sport gear. It’s hugely fam­ily friendly.

IAIN: I trust Toy­ota’s re­li­a­bil­ity but only a three-year/100,000km war­ranty is poor. That’s equalled or trumped by ev­ery ri­val.

SUN­DAY RUN

JULES: Put me on a high­way and I’d cruise for hours. Just avoid the cor­ners, please.

IAIN: Twisty roads and fast changes of di­rec­tion aren’t the Kluger’s forte. Sun­day runs should be fam­ily tour­ing, per­haps us­ing the 2000kg tow­ing abil­ity to haul a boat be­hind.

JULES: It’s a quick SUV though. The V6 has am­ple shove.

IAIN: Great, isn’t it? Smooth for cruis­ing but put your foot down and that 218kW does a great job of ac­cel­er­at­ing two tonnes of Toy­ota. We re­turned 9.7L/100km, not too bad for a petrol V6 of its ca­pac­ity. It may roll in cor­ners, the brakes lack much feel and the steer­ing’s too light but the en­gine and eight-speed auto are well matched to this big car. $47,990 drive-away (not cheap)

5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, re­verse cam­era, pre-col­li­sion safety, alerts and ac­tive safety (good; needs blind spot mon­i­tor) 9.5L/100km (fair) 3 years/ 100,000km (poor), $1080 for 3 yrs (cheap; needs reg­u­lar vis­its) Full-size (ex­cel­lent) 3.5-litre V6, 218kW/ 350Nm (gutsy) 195L/529L (mas­sive)

JULES: I don’t think we need the all-wheel drive though. You’d not take a Kluger over more than a dirt road so 2WD would be fine.

IAIN: Agreed. Get a Prado or For­tuner if you want a Toy­ota that can do proper ad­ven­tur­ing. The Kluger’s home is the sealed stuff.

THE VER­DICT

JULES: It’s sur­pris­ingly easy to drive and has lots of grunt and great fam­ily space — but the Kluger is a bit vanilla. If I can get a Mazda CX-9 or Hyundai Santa Fe for the same money with more good­ies, I’d say no to the Toy­ota.

IAIN: The Kluger makes most sense as a 2WD for town use but it looks pricey next to the higher-spec­i­fied ri­vals you men­tion. It’s too mid­dle-of-the-road for me. I’d get a proper 4WD Toy­ota SUV for fam­ily off-road odysseys but there are more ap­peal­ing car-like sev­enseaters that I’d choose over the Kluger.

ONE CAR — TWO CRIT­ICS

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