The Toyota Kluger is Australia’s most popular family-sized crossover SUV, much of which can be chalked up to the brand’s bulletproof reputation.
We know that a brand new Kluger will go on sale here in 2021, with a fuel-saving hybrid option for the first time. Like the current model, it’ll be imported from the United States, and potentially be pricier due to the current exchange rate.
With that in mind, if you’re looking to buy a current Kluger it stands to reason you just want a reliable and comfortable family hauler. And you might be sniffing a deal.
The version we are testing here is called the Toyota Kluger GXL Black Edition. At $59,790 before on-road costs, it’s $1000 more expensive than the GXL on which it is based. it sits between the base GX and luxury Grande in the line-up.
Some of the Kluger GXL Black Edition’s obvious competitors are the Mazda CX-9 Touring, Kia Sorento Sport+, and the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander. If you’re considering something more off-road-ready, the Ford Everest Trend is a ripper.
However, we’d also urge you strongly to seek a better price than this. The special offers section of Toyota’s website has the Kluger GXL without the Black Pack for $56,990 drive-away, which is a sizeable saving off that RRP.
The base Kluger GX has alloy wheels, privacy glass, dusk-sensing halogen headlights, daytime running lights and fog lights. Inside it has a 6.1-inch touchscreen, three rows of air vents, reversing camera with sensors, cloth seats and USB/Bluetooth connections.
The GXL on which this Black Edition is based adds roof rails, leather seats that are heated for front occupants, a 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat, three-zone digital climate control, electric tailgate, a proximity key fob and starter button, rain-sensing wipers, and an upgraded 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation.
The Black Edition adds to this black 19-inch alloy wheels, and a bolder blacked-out styling package most evident on that huge front grille.
If you want features such as a sunroof, ventilated seats, a 360-degree camera, and rear-seat entertainment screens (with a rather dated Blu-ray player) then you need to pay up for the Kluger Grande.
It should be. The Toyota Kluger has seven airbags, including side curtains that cover all three seating rows. ANCAP awarded it five stars in 2014, with a score of 35.57 out of 37. It was re-tested in late 2016 for the 2017 model year and retained its score.
An upgrade to the driver-assistance tech means it has more contemporary features than it did at launch. You get autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active cruise control using radar and camera, automatic high-beam, lane-departure alert with steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
It has two Isofix centre centre-row child-seat anchors, and three top-tether points. You can fit three compact forward-facing child seats across the middle bench.
If there’s a car with notably more storage areas I haven’t seen it. There’s a 25-litre centre console with a sliding cover, a lipped and padded open section running below the dashboard fascia, a big glovebox, sizeable door bins, and American-sized centre cupholders.
The front leather-trimmed seats are heated and nicely bolstered for dad bods, and the ample steering wheel adjustment means anyone can get comfy fast. The driving position sits you nice and high, scanning over the big bonnet.
It’s built with typical Toyota solidity, and key touch-points are mostly padded. The steering wheel buttons and ventilation controls are simple to figure out. There’s little exciting in here, but it’s very functional and will last the rest of time. Many of us have taken rides in Kluger taxis or Uber XLs by now, I’d imagine.
The centre screen is large and clear enough, and has satellite navigation. You also get shortcut buttons and a volume knob. But it’s dated, lacking Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and has a primitive voice-recognition system.
On a small side note, the foot-operated parking brake seems old hat and unergonomic. The next one should have an electric unit that’s space-efficient and contemporary.
The middle seating row is unsurprisingly spacious, with sufficient room for two large adults and perhaps a teenager or smaller adult sat between them. I’m 194cm and sat easily behind my own driving position. The flat floor liberates space, and there’s a single-zone rear climate control system controlling the roof-mounted vents.
There’s also a rear 12V socket but no USB points, another give away that this car is a little dated. You’re not lacking storage areas, grab handles or cupholders though, and the big side windows make it easy for kids to see what’s going on outside and ward off car sickness.
The middle-row bench slides on rails and the seat backs recline. To access the third row, you use a one-touch tilt-and-slide mechanism for the kerb-side portion (the 40 part of the 60:40 split-folding seats).
The sixth and seventh seats have space for two grumpy teenagers or smaller adults, and have their own vents and cupholders. The airbags also stretch all the way back to this row. The final-row seats also have adjustable headrests and are not jammed right up against the tailgate glass.
It’s not quite a people-mover like a Kia Carnival, but the Toyota Kluger’s third row eclipses a Santa Fe’s for sure.
Cargo space with the third row seats folded flat in the floor is a decent 529L, but even with the third row seats in use there’s space for a few cases and potentially even a compact-folding stroller. You can fold both the second and third rows to turn the Kluger into a carpeted van as well.
There’s a full-size alloy spare wheel under the car, which you retrieve by lowering it from its spot near the rear suspension. There’s also underfloor storage for the sliding cargo cover’s cross beam, which illustrates a level of thoughtfulness.
A 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6 petrol engine is not the most sophisticated setup there is, but this one has pretty good outputs: 218kW of power at 6600rpm and 350Nm of torque at 4700rpm.
It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and in this car an on-demand all-wheel drive (AWD) system that favours the front wheels. You can get a front-wheel drive (FWD) model for $4000 less, but many buyers prefer the extra potential that AWD offers.
The claimed combined-cycle fuel economy is 9.5 litres every 100km and it can run on 91 RON petrol. Toyota claims a maximum towing capacity of 2000kg.
For comparison purposes, a CX-9’s 2.5-litre turbo-petrol makes 170kW/420Nm and uses 9.0L/100km, a Pathfinder’s 3.5-litre makes 202kW/340Nm and uses 10.1L/100km, and a Santa Fe’s 2.2-litre diesel makes 147kW/440Nm and uses 7.5L/100km.
Like most naturally-aspirated V6 engines, the Kluger’s comes alive above 2000rpm, with a nice rasping sound. It doesn’t have the instant rolling response you might get from a more torque-rich turbo-petrol or diesel, but it’s smooth and characterful.
The eight-speed transmission has very tall top gears, meaning that at higher speeds the engine can run more quietly and with fewer vibrations. With the cruise control set to 100km/h, the engine ticking over just above idle, it’s a pleasant hauler.
Consumption is moderate, though for a 4.9-metre long and 2045kg (before passengers) box on wheels not terrible. I averaged 11.0L/100km on a docile run and 13.0L/100km going harder, and naturally in stop/start traffic you’ll achieve closer to the latter.
It’s rated to run on 91 RON petrol, and with fuel prices being low at the moment there’s a chance people will be less perturbed. If you want to minimise fuel bills, the new petrol-electric hybrid Kluger comes in early 2021.
Room for everything
This padded open area along the lower dash is really useful
The dynamics are very much geared to comfort, and even with larger alloy wheels it’s rarely anything else. The suspension is quite soft and the steering light with some numbness from centre, suited to American tastes and urban duties.
It actually uses a quite sophisticated MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear independent suspension setup.
The FWD models are a smidgen more economical on fuel and cheaper, but they also struggle to put the power down and elicit some torque steer. The AWD is a better drive, and in slippery situations can divert torque from the front wheels, rearward.
The safety functions that are most helpful are the blind-spot monitor, the steering assist that nudges you away from road lines (but doesn’t re-centre you), and the active cruise control. These functions make road trips more relaxing.
There’s also a nifty convex mirror that folds down from the roof so you can keep on eye on those back seat occupants.
The Kluger is covered by Toyota five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assistance, and the reassurance of Toyota’ s vast dealer network.
Servicing is cheap, with the first four visits capped at $200 a pop. However, the intervals are six-months/10,000km (whichever comes first), shorter than what we consider the ideal intervals of 12 months and 15,000km.
The Toyota Kluger is getting on, and we’d expect that this is the ideal time for push for a great deal. What the GXL Black Edition does is inject a modicum of style into a family bus.
Yes, it lacks the latest tech, isn’t as efficient as a Santa Fe diesel, or as premium and sleek as a Mazda CX-9 and imminent new-generation Kia Sorento, but it’s comfortable, practical, and shouldn’t give you any headaches.