THE previous generation Kluger was always underwhelming to me. Low on tech, vanilla exterior design, and my oath it was thirsty. I found it hard to understand why suburban families were stumping up $50-60k for an SUV that wasn’t really a winner in any category.
What the new Kluger (Grande) demonstrated was that it doesn’t need to be a standout performer in any one area if it puts in a solid performance across the board.
The new Kluger Grande is almost $70,000 on the road. It’s an expensive seven-seat family wagon, and in that price bracket it’s up against some stiff competition such as the Volkswagen Touareg (from $68k, but only 5 seats), as well as cheaper alternatives from Ford (Territory & new Everest), Nissan (Pathfinder) and the Koreans.
It does however, come with a bucket load of kit for the money, albeit at times not particularly well-integrated into the package.
Stepping into the Kluger it is immediately apparent that Toyota has pushed the Grande well upmarket of the previous generation. Dark, premium tones, stitching on the dash, smooth, flowing lines across the centre console give the impression of increased size and premium materials.
Gone (mostly) are the hard-touch plastics of the previous generation, although surfaces that will get a lot of wear (such as the lower door panels) are still clad in hard, durable materials.
Standard on the Kluger Grande AWD is the obligatory leather trim, satellite navigation, keyless ignition & entry, climate control, heated & cooled front seats, and a generous serving of driver aids such as lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and radar cruise control.
It’s with these driver aids that the package starts to show some signs of Toyota shopping the parts bin without spending the time to get the driver experience right.
Starting with the lane departure warning, where other manufacturers such as Volkswagen and Hyundai opt for a haptic-style feedback indicator through the steering wheel (and even gently pull your trajectory back from the impending centre line), Toyota has opted for loud audible warnings.
The warnings are jarring, and can occur anytime the driver crosses a marked line, whether overtaking, changing lanes, slightly cutting a corner to turn off a main road… Anywhere you fall foul of the Toyota nanny, it’ll let you know. Loudly.
At first glimpse, the sub-par deployment of the advanced system is not inexcusable, assuming the Toyota has a hydraulic steering system, so would be incompatible with haptic feedback or corrective steering. Unfortunately, the Kluger doesn’t have that excuse.
Toyota says the Kluger “is equipped with Electric Power Steering integrated into Vehicle Stability Control System.” It’s a shame it wasn’t integrated just that little bit further.
It’s a similar story with the adaptive (or radar) cruise control. Toyota has been at adaptive cruise for a long time – since 1997 in fact, although it was a laser system then. Still, since 2003 Toyota has been in the radar cruise game.
One would think then, the system would be flexible enough to allow a driver to easily adjust the distance kept to the vehicle in front, just as other manufacturers do. Unfortunately, the Toyota nanny strikes again, and the Kluger merrily follows the vehicle in front on the highway at a distance one can only describe as “horizon-visible.”
The most difficult integration issue to excuse Toyota for, given how successfully the brand has chased the family passenger vehicle market, is the extraordinarily poor visibility from the reversing camera in the rain.
Even after the rain has stopped, the positioning of the reverse camera on the rear hatch is such that every last drop of water clings to the lens, obscuring visibility dramatically, and in any reasonable sense negating the benefit of having it fitted to the vehicle.
It really is a problem, and one Toyota would do well to rectify quickly, assuming it affects more than just the test vehicle.
On the road, aside from the technological issues above, the Kluger drives remarkably similar to its predecessor. It is surefooted on suburban bitumen, with little noticeable body roll in corners provided you are driving at six tenths or less.
On the highway, the Kluger is an effortless cruiser, but is quite thirsty for a brand new model, and a name-plate with not one diesel or hybrid option.
On the highway, loping down the Hume it was nigh on impossible to see consumption below 10.3L/100km, and around town there was precious little change from 15L/100km. It is difficult to see how the 10.6L/100km official fuel figure was reached, even with the extra gearbox ratio in this year’s model.
In the real world, not as much improvement over the previous model as one might expect, given the engine is the same 201kW V6 as the previous model, but it is willing, never feels underpowered, and given Toyota’s track record, is likely to be as reliable as ever.
There is plenty of room for adult knees in the second row of seats, with the added bonus of a premium entertainment system built into the front headrests, which any parent will appreciate on a long trip up (or down) the coast.
Second row passengers can also control their own climate zone using a panel positioned at the back of the centre console. Storage cubby holes abound in every row, from the shelf underneath the dash to the cavernous centre console and bottle holders in every door (and cupholders in the third row).
Third row seats are easily deployed and retracted, and it is clear here that Toyota knows a thing or two about people movers and family wagons. The clips to deploy the seats are dead simple to use, and require little effort.
The seats themselves of course won’t accommodate a passenger much into double digit age, but of course they are very handy to have when you’re doing the school run on behalf of your neighbours in addition to your own!
All in all, the Kluger is still not particularly excellent in anyone area. The Grande steps up to the plate with all the bells and whistles, but it’s not cheap at $70,000, and the gadgets aren’t worth much if you’re constantly over-riding them or they’re making your driving experience more frustrating instead of less.
The cabin has a premium feel, but not to the same level as a Volkswagen. The 3.5L V6 is dependable and reasonably powerful, but it doesn’t have the torque of its diesel rivals, nor the fuel economy.
What the Kluger Grande does do well though, is put together a good looking vehicle with seven seats and all wheel drive, with a Toyota badge and the go-anywhere feeling the advertising imparts, all at a not-unreasonable price.
If you shop for a car by reviewing the spec-sheet without an emotional evaluation, you need seven seats, and you’re looking for a dependable family wagon, the Kluger should definitely be on your list.
Our test vehicle was provided by Toyota Australia. To find out more about the 2016 Toyota Kluger Grande, contact your local Toyota dealer.
Road Test: 2016 Toyota Kluger Grande
Pros – dependable; resale value; bigger than previous model; premium feel.
Cons – thirsty engine; half-baked tech, everyone’s got one.