The Toyota Kluger softroader -- a favourite among mums on the run – has gone macho. The third-generation Toyota Kluger unveiled at the New York motor show has taken on a more masculine appearance in an attempt to get more dads behind the wheel.
Although it is available as an eight-seater in the US, the Australian version will retain a seven-seat capacity so it can fit two teenagers in the last row.
As with the current model, the middle seat in the second row can be removed to create a walk-through. But that may not be necessary as Toyota has fitted a sliding mechanism to the second-row that provides easier access to the back bench.
To be able to accommodate the masses, the new Toyota Kluger is longer and wider than the current model -- but the roof is slightly lower to give it a sleeker look.
Toyota claims to have improved leg-room for the back row seats even though the wheelbase -- the distance between the front and rear wheels and an industry indicator for roominess -- is unchanged from before.
The new model also comes with eight airbags (up from seven) and a range of other hi-tech safety features. The current model Toyota Kluger was the first vehicle in its class to come with a rear-view camera as standard across all models.
The new Kluger goes several steps further, with blind spot warning, reverse cross traffic warning and auto-dipping high beam among some of the available options. Toyota also claims it has improved the quality and feel of most interior materials.
Storage is still one of the Kluger’s hidden talents. Buyers may be pleased to know the massive centre console -- which can swallow a large handbag, a laptop of several large 1.25L drink bottles -- has been retained for the new model. But elsewhere inside Toyota has also added more storage cubbies and shelves for smaller items.
The new Toyota Kluger has a completely new rear suspension designed to make it more secure on bumpy roads, and to better soak up large ruts.
The 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine is carried over from before but it is now matched to a six-speed automatic transmission (up from a five-speed), which should give it better fuel economy and slightly quicker acceleration.
There is no mention of a diesel option, which is unlikely given the Kluger is primarily designed for North America which is predominantly a petrol market.
In the US, the Kluger is also available with the option of hybrid or four-cylinder powertrains but Toyota is yet to confirm if these variants will be sold in Australia. They too are unlikely given the marginal fuel economy benefit of the four-cylinder version in real-world driving (in part because the V6 is already so efficient) and the belief that the hybrid would be too dear for local tastes.
The original Kluger released in 2000 and the current model released in 2007 were both made in Japan, but Toyota will switch to building the new generation Kluger in Indiana, North America.
This means the Toyota Kluger will come to Australia under the Free Trade Agreement with the US, avoiding a 5 per cent tariff on SUVs in the process. This should equate to a modest price trim on the new model, or more equipment -- or both.
The current Toyota Kluger range starts at $39,990 for a front-drive model and $44,490 for the all-wheel-drive model.
2014 Toyota Kluger
Price: From $39,990 (estimated)
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Transmission: Six-speed auto
Safety: Eight airbags
Length: 4853mm (longer)
Height: 1729mm (lower)
Width: 1925mm (wider)
Wheelbase: 2789 (same as before)
Towing capacity: 2200kg (US model)
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling