2021 Toyota Kluger review

Hybrid or V6? Front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive? The new Toyota Kluger offers a lot of choices for big families.

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Alborz Fallah
Alborz Fallah
Publisher
PROS
  • Super spacious and practical interior
  • Fuel-efficient hybrid, engaging V6
  • Great ride and dynamics
CONS
  • Out-of-date infotainment system
  • Interior could be more luxurious
  • Top-spec models rather pricey

The Toyota Kluger is a household name when it comes to large family SUVs in Australia.

Launched all the way back in 2003, the Kluger was one of the first mainstream large SUVs to be built on a car rather than a truck platform, following on from the luxury branded BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz ML.

It has proven very successful in Australia, one of only two markets (the other being North America), where it has been sold in every generation.

That brings us nicely to the 2021 Toyota Kluger, better known as the fourth-generation ‘XU70’ model that has just gone on sale locally, now offered for the first time in Australia with a hybrid powertrain.

While it looks like relatively similar to the car it replaces, there’s an all-new platform and architecture underneath, the same ‘TNGA-K’ underpinnings as the very popular but smaller Toyota RAV4.

In essence, the new Toyota Kluger is now the proper bigger brother to the RAV4, offering seven seats and far more room than the best-selling mid-size SUV in Australia.

Nonetheless, it still has plenty of Toyota quirks and legacy issues the Japanese giant appears almost reluctant to ever change.

How much does the Toyota Kluger cost?

Pricing for the new Toyota Kluger kicks off at $47,650 before on-road costs for the base model GX FWD petrol 3.5-litre V6.

Opting for the petrol all-wheel drive model adds $4000 to the price, while the 2.5-litre hybrid is a further $2500.

The same pricing structure applies across the three-tier Kluger range. The mid-range Kluger GXL kicks off at $56,850 before on-roads, while the range-topping Kluger Grande starts at $68,900 before on-roads.

The most expensive model in the Kluger range is the Grande Hybrid AWD, priced at $75,400 before on-road costs.

A full price list is below:

  • 2021 Toyota Kluger GX FWD: $47,650
  • 2021 Toyota Kluger GX AWD: $51,650
  • 2021 Toyota Kluger GX Hybrid AWD: $54,150
  • 2021 Toyota Kluger GXL FWD: $56,850
  • 2021 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD: $60,850
  • 2021 Toyota Kluger GXL Hybrid AWD: $63,350
  • 2021 Toyota Kluger Grande FWD: $68,900
  • 2021 Toyota Kluger Grande AWD: $72,900
  • 2021 Toyota Kluger Grande Hybrid AWD: $75,400

All prices exclude on-road costs.

At the bottom end, the Kluger goes head-to-head with the Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, and the Mazda CX-8/CX-9.

At the top end, it’s a rival to the Hyundai Palisade Highlander.

The hybrid currently has no direct head-to-head, although the Kia Sorento Hybrid and PHEV as well as the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid are on track to arrive in Australia later in 2021.

What do you get?

From a styling perspective, the Kluger gets the new Toyota design language with the uniform front and rear end that will make it look very much part of the latest line-up.

Toyota says the Kluger’s design is inspired by (wait for it) James Bond. Yes, a seven-seat family SUV’s style is somehow getting its ‘powerful and suave’ styling from 007.

We’re pretty confident Aston Martin won’t lose too many sales to the Kluger just yet.

From a specification point of view, standard equipment on the Toyota Kluger is broken down below:

Toyota Kluger GX gets:

  • 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • DAB+ digital radio
  • Six-speaker audio system
  • Keyless entry and start
  • Dual-zone climate control
  • Auto headlights and wipers
  • Cloth seat trim
  • LED headlights and tail lights
  • 18-inch alloy wheels
  • Front and rear mud flaps
  • Rear privacy glass
  • Leather-accented steering wheel with switches (audio, cruise control, MID display and Lane Trace Assist)
  • Manual tilt and telescopic steering adjustment
  • 4.2-inch multi-info (trip computer) display
  • Four USB power, one USB data, and two 12V accessory sockets

Moving to the Toyota Kluger GXL gets you:

  • Synthetic leather seats and door trim
  • Roof rails
  • Factory satellite navigation
  • Power tailgate
  • Heated front seats
  • 7.0-inch multi information display
  • Tri-zone climate control
  • Power driver lumbar support
  • Reversing camera with back guide monitor

The range-topping Kluger Grande gets the addition of torque vectoring on AWD models as a mechanical upgrade, plus the following for equipment on top of GXL:

  • 20-inch chrome wheels
  • LED headlights (projector type)
  • Power exterior mirrors with memory
  • Power rear hatch with hands-free opening
  • Panoramic moonroof
  • Leather-accented seat trim
  • Powered front seats with memory
  • Heated and ventilated front seats
  • Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
  • Premium soft instrument panel
  • Rear door sunshades and ambient lighting
  • 11-speaker JBL audio system
  • Head-up display
  • Panoramic view monitor

The only options are premium paint ($675) and, on the Grande, a rear-seat entertainment system ($1500).

What colours is the Toyota Kluger available in?

The Toyota Kluger is available in in eight different exterior colours, including

  • Crystal Pearl (white)
  • Graphite
  • Silver Storm
  • Eclipse Black
  • Atomic Rush (red)
  • Galena Blue
  • Liquorice brown
  • Saturn blue

Unfortunately for those that love bright coloured interiors, the GX and GXL variants are only available with a black interior.

You’ll need to opt for the top-spec Grande to get the black leather option to start with, and then pick the beige leather to brighten up your day.

Toyota didn’t provide any official photos of the beige interior but we took a quick one for show (above). It looks the best of the lot, but will also likely be the easiest to get dirty.

Is the Toyota Kluger safe?

The 2021 Toyota Kluger has yet to be tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP.

All variants come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense package which includes the following safety equipment:

  • Autonomous emergency braking with junction assist, pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection
  • Blind-spot monitoring
  • Rear cross-traffic alert
  • Emergency steering assist
  • Adaptive cruise control with curve speed reduction, so it will slow down around corners and then resume on the straights
  • Lane tracing assist
  • Automatic high-beam
  • Traffic sign recognition
  • Reversing camera
  • Front and rear parking sensors
  • Seven airbags

It’s excellent to see Toyota make its absolute latest and best safety system standard across the range, rather than making it an option.

What is the Toyota Kluger like on the inside?

The new Toyota Kluger has a very spacious and open-air feeling interior. You can immediately tell this American-built SUV (manufactured in Indiana and shipped to Australia) is designed with large Americans in mind.

There’s ample room between the driver’s and passenger’s seat. In fact, even the distance between the driver seat and the door is so wide that you almost have to lean to the right in order to rest your arm.

All of this is good if you ask us, because as a large family SUV, the more room the better. There are heaps of cupholders, faster charging 2.1A USB ports (although no USB-C, which is annoying), and air-conditioning vents across the whole car to cover all seven potential passengers.

The fabric seats in the base GX model are pretty decent in feel and appearance but it’s hard to not lust for the full leather option in the top-spec Grande. The standard seats are supportive but the bottom cushion could use better support for taller occupants.

There is ample room in the second row for three kids or two large adults. Heaps of head and legroom for anyone that measures under 185cm tall, but any taller than that and then it might get a little snug.

The third row is not made for adults. Yes, you can fit two back there if it was absolutely necessary, but ultimately they’re for kids – probably those under eight-years old at best.

The sliding range of second row seats has increased by 30mm compared to the previous Kluger, which is what gives it that capacity to accomodate adults when it really needs to.

The overall build quality of the interior is very typical Toyota, sturdy but not exactly luxurious. Some of the plastics on the dashboard and surrounds are not what you might expect in a car that can cost almost $80,000 on the road.

Furthermore, the infotainment system in the Toyota Kluger is very ordinary. It’s hard to put it any more nicely. The system feels two generations old in how it displays the map data, and just the general feel and user interface.

It’s such a simple thing to get right because the hardware would no doubt be able to support it, but Toyota is reluctant to completely overhaul its user-interface. That’s exactly what it needs to do in order to catch up with other mainstream brands like Hyundai/Kia and even Mazda.

It’s not just the infotainment either, the 7.0-inch multi-information display in GXL and Grande is a visual mess. The information is presented very poorly and with little regard for space utilisation.

To go a step further, the reversing camera is rubbish. Yes it has bird’s-eye view monitor on the higher spec grades, but the quality of the footage being shown is YouTube at 320p circa-2005.

How hard is it to put a decent camera in a brand new car? If MG can do it on a $25,000 car, Toyota can surely do it on a car that costs three times as much.

Toyota is about incremental improvements, but when it comes to its technology and infotainment stack it needs to hit refresh and start again, otherwise it risks being swallowed up by much faster-moving Koreans and Chinese brands, let alone the rest.

Thankfully for Toyota, it’s saved by the simple fact it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (although not wireless), meaning you simply bypass its inferior native system with one built by software companies that understand user interface design.

In saying that, we feel buyers should not have to rely on Apple and Google to save them from the car’s default infotainment system. For most buyers though, using CarPlay will make the Kluger feel a lot newer in its tech than it is.

The good thing is that apart from technology, the interior of new Toyota Kluger is pretty damn decent and extremely spacious. This is the sort of car you can take on long trips with the family and make the sort of memories Australia is made for.

The boot measures 241 litres if you’re making use of all seven seats. Put the third row down and that increases to 552L, which is expanded to an Ikea-loving 1150L with the second row folded flat.

What’s under the bonnet?

The 2021 Toyota Kluger is available with two powertrains – one petrol, one petrol-electric hybrid. As with previous generations, there’s no diesel option.

Hybrids mate a 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, producing 142kW of power and 242Nm of torque, to two front and one rear-mounted motor generators.

System output is quoted at 184kW, though Toyota doesn’t specify a combined torque figure. Toyota says the hybrid Kluger can put 100 per cent of its might to the front wheels and up to 80 per cent to the rear.

The transmission is an electronic continuously variable transmission (e-CVT) and Kluger Hybrid models are only available with all-wheel drive.

There’s also a naturally-aspirated 3.5-litre V6 producing 218kW of power and 350Nm of torque (the same as the previous Kluger V6), mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

There’s a choice of front- or all-wheel drive with this motor, and all V6 Kluger models feature automatic stop/start which Toyota says has improved efficiency by about 4.0-7.0 per cent depending on the model.

The 2021 Toyota Kluger Hybrid uses 5.6L/100km on the combined cycle, 8.7L/100km as a front-wheel drive V6, and 8.8L-8.9L/100km in all-wheel drive V6 versions.

All models require 95RON premium unleaded fuel. The fuel tank is 65L in hybrid models and 68L in V6 models.

The base GX and mid-spec GXL AWD V6 models have dynamic torque control which allows up to 100 per cent of the engine power to the front (it can actually disconnect the rear driveline to save fuel) and up to 50 per cent to the rear when required.

For the Grande, the addition of dynamic torque vectoring gives the Kluger two additional couplings which allows the torque to be distributed not just front and rear but also left to right, for better grip in situations that need it.

The new Kluger quotes a maximum 2000kg braked and 700kg unbraked towing capacity.

How does the Toyota Kluger drive?

There is going be a dilemma for new Kluger buyers as to whether they should pick the hybrid or the V6. It’s a question of driving characteristics and fuel usage.

If you need an all-wheel drive Kluger and are tossing up between the two powertrains, as an estimate with the current price of fuel, if you drive 15,000km a year the hybrid will save you about $600 over the all-wheel drive V6 petrol.

In about four and bit years you get the extra purchase price back, not factoring in the potential for higher resale.

But it’s really not as simple as that. Unlike the Toyota RAV4, which makes the most sense as a hybrid, the Kluger V6 is actually really good. The hybrid delivers its power and torque very predictably and there’s no doubt it’s a smooth and efficient powertrain, but there’s something much more lively and fun in the V6.

It feels like a different car with a lot more mid-range pickup that’s a must-have for those doing frequent long distance drives on the highway, where a hybrid makes less sense anyway.

Realistically that’s how you should think about it. If your Kluger is predominantly a city car, the hybrid will make a lot more sense. If you intend to do long-distance driving or just spend a lot of time on the highway, go for the V6.

The inclusion of an actual eight-speed transmission in the V6 instead of the CVT in the hybrid is also a big yes from us, given the driving characteristic is more akin to a car that is geared (pun intended) to make you want to drive it.

We also briefly drove the V6 front-wheel drive and while it’s a marked improvement over the previous-generation, the torque and power on a car that large are ideally best to go through all four wheels, not just the front.

Merging on to the highway a couple of times in the FWD variant under heavy acceleration led to a fair bit of torque-steer (where the steering wheel tugs left-to-right in your hands).

Mind you, there is a 190kg difference between a front-drive V6 and an all-wheel drive hybrid, that’s a lot of weight you’re carrying around for no reason if all you intend to do is have a city-friendly large SUV.

The lightest Kluger, the V6 2WD (1885-1955kg), is actually the fastest of the lot from 0-100km/h at 7.5 seconds. The V6 AWD (1970-2045kg) comes in at 7.8 seconds, and the hybrid (2045-2090kg) lags behind at 8.4 seconds.

From behind the wheel, the Kluger feels its size. The steering is pretty relaxed but can also be a tad vague, nothing you’d really notice on a day-to-day basis. It’s an easy car to park and manoeuvre, but it could definitely do with a clearer reversing camera.

We were genuinely surprised by how good the ride quality of the Kluger was, both on the Grande’s 20-inch wheels and the 18s on the lower specs.

The big Toyota rode over and absorbed the bumps with ease, showing great body control and rebound. You won’t have any issues driving this on poor quality roads around town or the outback.

In saying that, it’s perhaps not as engaging or as refined in its driving characteristics as a Mazda CX-9, but that’s not to say buyers will care or notice.

Overall, the Kluger is a very competent car from a driver’s perspective. The choice between hybrid and V6 will be a personal one, but our money is on the V6.

How much does the Toyota Kluger cost to run?

The 2021 Toyota Kluger is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with the engine and driveline covered for seven.

Each of the first five services (at 12 month or 15,000km intervals) cost $250 regardless of engine choice.

Fuel savings are roughly $600 in favour of the hybrid per year based on official fuel figures.

CarExpert’s Take on the Toyota Kluger

The new Toyota Kluger is a pretty solid package for those that absolutely need more room than what the RAV4 already offers – especially if you need seven seats.

The Kluger is perhaps not as segment-leading as the RAV4, and it can get rather pricey on the top-spec models, but what you do get is undeniable reliability and dependability with the latest in safety technology, a ton of room, and confidence behind the wheel.

If Toyota could just address its interior technology, it would make it a near unbeatable package.

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Alborz Fallah
Alborz Fallah
Alborz Fallah is the Publisher at CarExpert.
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Ratings
Overall8.1
Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 9.5
Ride Comfort 8.5
Fit for Purpose 9.2
Handling Dynamics 8.3
Interior Practicality and Space 9.1
Fuel Efficiency 8
Value for Money 7.3
Performance 7.3
Technology Infotainment 6

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