BMW X3 VS Toyota Kluger
- Scorchingly fast
- Gives its rivals a run
- Terrific chassis
- Apple CarPlay price is extortion
- Some (not me) find the ride too hard
- Needs more visual aggro
- Comfortable and easy to drive
- Hybrid is seriously fuel efficient
- $250 capped price servicing
- Not as modern looking as some rivals
- Interior feels a bit budget price
- Lacks cool in-car tech of some rivals
Big fast SUVs have long been a guilty pleasure of mine. My brain has been telling me for years, since the first time I drove one - the first-gen Audi SQ5 - that they're silly and wasteful and 'not my kind of car'.
The Europeans - and latterly, the Americans - seem to be playing to an audience of me, convincing my prejudiced head that my try-anything heart is right: over-engined, jacked-up, stiffly-sprung family wagons are as much fun as anything else.
The X3 M is BMW's first full-fat M version of the X3, a car that has never really fired the imagination until this third generation. First we got the very good X3 M40i, now we have a 375kW, twin-turbo straight-six screamer, the M Competition.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Toyota Kluger is an Aussie family favourite. It’s the Streets Viennetta ice cream of SUVs, the Hungry Hungry Hippos of transport, the Dunlop KT 26 equivalent of cars, and the new-generation model is here… and there’s a hybrid version now.
Not only did I attend the Australian launch of the new Kluger, I took one away with me and my family and I have been living with it – just like you will.
A test drive at a dealership might not tell you everything you need to know about the Kluger, but fear not, I’ve done the testing with my family for you. Here’s all you need to know, from what’s new and the practicality upsides and downsides, to what the hybrid is like to drive.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
As much as I love the mental GLC63 - complete with V8 bellow - the X3 M is the one for drivers. While that's a silly thing to say on the surface - what 'driver' is going to buy an SUV? - this is the new reality. We love these things and they're not going away.
While it may not be quite as comfortable as any of its competition or have the V8 cachet of the Jag and the Merc, it still takes the fight to them in what is easily the roomiest and most practical in this niche part of the segment. And it's an enormous amount of fun.
You have plenty of choices in the mid-size fast SUV market - X3 M, GLC63, Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio - what's your choice?
This new generation Toyota Kluger hasn’t gone as far as we’d expect in terms of modern styling, refinement and in-car tech. But there’s been a big improvement in how comfortable and easy it is to drive. And the arrival of the hybrid version is fantastic to see. This seven-seater SUV is as practical as ever and will continue to be an Aussie family favourite.
For us the sweet spot in the range is the GXL hybrid. The price is good, the powertrain adds to the smoothness of driving, and the fuel savings are outstanding.
The third-generation X3 is by far the best-looking and isn't as badly blighted by BMW's current oversized, hatchback-straining grilles. It's not small, no, but in the flesh, it looks fine.
The usual M accoutrements are present, with new front and rear bumpers, skirts and a whopping set of 21-inch alloys. It looks different and marginally more aggro than the M40i and just enough so a vaguely interested observer will notice.
A quick look at the rest of the similarly-sized hard-and-fast SUVs reveals a similar approach.
The seats add some serious excitement, they're a proper set of M seats, complete with the slightly naff light-up X3 M logos in the backrest. But it's predictably well-made, is very comfortable and is full of nice materials.
The Kluger is about as beautiful as its name, which isn’t very. Still, while it doesn’t have the elegant lines of a Mazda CX-9 or the futuristic face of the Kia Sorento it does look tough and serious.
This Kluger is totally new, but it’s instantly recognisable as a Kluger. But if you were expecting it to look cutting edge, I’m sorry, it doesn’t. If anything, the new Kluger looks like a larger version of the RAV4 with its moustache-like grille and blade headlights.
The Kluger isn’t as angular as its mid-sized sibling, and you can see the curves in the rear haunches which wrap around to the tailgate.
The GX and GXL have 18-inch alloy wheels, but only the Grande has 20-inch rims and they come with a chrome-effect paint which might be a bit OTT for some.
The new cabin is more functional than fashionable with a dashboard dominated by what appears to be one of those big pizza paddles which holds the media screen and climate control dials.
The entry-grade GX has black cloth-trimmed seats, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift lever; the GXL has synthetic leather seats and the Grande has actual leather upholstery.
There are soft touch surfaces with stitching, but all grades still have hard plastics galore and styling which lacks the premium look of some rivals.
The new Kluger is slightly bigger than its predecessor at 4966mm end-to-end (+76mm), 1930mm across (+0.5mm), and 1755mm tall (+25mm).
Please don’t take the Kluger too far off-road, that’s best left to Toyota's 'proper' four-wheel drives like the Fortuner, Prado and LandCruiser. But, for the record, the approach angle is between 17.9 and 18.2 degrees, while the departure angle ranges from 22.7-23.1 degrees, depending on whether your Kluger is front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
There are five new paint colours: 'Graphite Metallic', 'Atomic Rush Red Mica', 'Liquorice Brown Mica', 'Saturn Blue Metallic', and 'Galena Blue Metallic'. Carrying over from the previous model are, 'Crystal Pearl', 'Silver Storm Metallic' and 'Eclipse Black.'
This X3, if you need reminding, is bigger than BMW's first SAV (ugh), the X5. That means plenty of room up front, heaps of legroom for most in the back and enough room for five aboard.
Front seat passengers score a pair of cupholders with a cover and the centre rear armrest has two more for a total of four. Add to that bottle holders in each door and your beverage holding capabilities are pretty standard.
The boot starts at an impressive 550 litres, almost tripling to 1600 litres when you drop the 40/20/40 split fold seat. You get a good flat load space when you do that, too.
The Kluger is spacious for people, has great cabin storage, and a decent-sized boot. What’s missing is wireless charging for phones on all grades and there are no sunblinds for the rear windows on the GX and GXL.
I’m 191cm (6'3") tall with a 2.0m wingspan, so I never feel like I have too much room in most cars. But that’s not the case with the Kluger, where there’s so much space up front that my elbows don’t even reach the door armrests. The touchscreen also feels almost out of reach, even for me.
All Klugers come standard with seven seats – that’s two up front, a bench of three in the second row, and two in the third.
Legroom is excellent and I can arrange the seats behind my driving position so I can sit in the second and third rows without my knees touching any of the seatbacks.
Headroom in the second row is excellent and outstanding in the third (as far as third rows tend to go). Better than the CX-9's back seats.
Door pockets are on the small side, but there’s a giant centre console bin, shelves built into the dash for wallets and phones, plus two cupholders up front, two in the second row, and four in the third row.
As for the boot space, with the third row seats in place there’s 241 litres (VDA) of cargo capacity and with them folded flat into the floor the luggage room opens up to 552 litres.
These figures may seem small compared to capacities of other SUVs, but Toyota says these measurements are calculated up to the beltline of the Kluger which is the top of the rear seats, while other carmakers sometimes measure to the roof.
Price and features
For $157,900, before on-road costs, you may think this car should be absolutely loaded with stuff. And it is. Whether that's enough is up to you, but the price is about right for its segment.
It's worth remembering we only get the up-spec Competition version, BMW saw no point in offering the 'normal' version nobody was going to buy.
For your cash you get 21-inch alloys, multi-zone climate control, ambient interior lighting, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, electronic damper control, digital instrument cluster (not the new 'Live Cockpit'), sat nav, auto high beam, auto LED headlights, launch control, leather seats and steering wheel, electric front seats, head-up display, auto parking, power everything, auto wipers, huge panorama sunroof and a tyre repair kit.
The big central screen features BMW's iDrive, controlled by either the rotary dial or via touchscreen. It's a belter of a system and I reckon it's still the best, although you have to pay for Apple CarPlay - this remains controversial and I wonder how long the company will persist.
There are three grades in the Kluger range: the GX, the GXL and the Grande. You can have them all with either a V6 petrol engine or petrol hybrid combination. You have a choice of all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive with the V6 engine, whereas the hybrid is exclusively all-wheel drive.
How much then? Well, for the front-wheel drives the GX lists for $47,650, the GXL is $56,850, and the Grande is $68,900. For the all-wheel drive versions just add $4000 to each of those prices.
The hybrids cost more. So, the GX is $54,150, the GXL is $63,350, and the Grande hybrid is $75,400.
Coming standard on the GX is, LED headlights, 18-inch alloys, fabric seats, an 8.0-inch media display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a proximity key with push button start, leather steering wheel, a six-speaker stereo, and air con for the front and second row – or if you have the hybrid you’ll get three-zone climate control.
The GXL also scores roof rails, a power tailgate, sat nav, three-zone climate, plus heated driver and front passenger seats.
Leather seats don’t appear until you step up to the Grande, which also has ventilated front seats, an 11-speaker JBL stereo, head-up display, moonroof, gesture tailgate and 20-inch wheels, which are way too shiny.
Is the Kluger good value? Mainly yes, with a little bit of no here. The Kluger costs less than its Mazda CX-9 rival, but doesn’t get as many great features.
Engine & trans
The X3 M arrives from the US with a shiny new version of BMW's modular six-cylinder performance engine. While the M Performance M40i has a single turbo (B58) straight six, one tiny change to the name - from B58 to S58 - means a heck of a lot.
The S58 takes the same fundamental formula, bolts in two new single-scroll turbos, throws in forged conrods and a few other changes to boost the power to 375kW (500 horsepower) and 600Nm.
That torque figure is available across a nice wide 3350 revs, between 2600rpm and 5950rpm.
Getting all that to the wheels is the M version of BMW's all-wheel drive system xDrive and an active rear differential. The near-ubiquitous eight-speed ZF brokers the connection between that system and the flywheel and it's all impossibly smooth and feels bulletproof.
The big news is there’s a hybrid Kluger now and it makes so much sense when you consider these seven seaters will spend most of their time in traffic and carparks where they can move silently along in electric vehicle mode.
The hybrid Kluger isn’t a plug-in type of hybrid, instead its batteries recharge when you apply the brakes when you’re driving. The battery then powers the electric motors. There are two motors on the front axle and one on the rear, which work together with a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine.
The power output of the petrol engine is 142kW and the electric motors make 184kW. The engine torque is 242Nm. The front electric motors are able to produce 134Nm and 270Nm, while the rear can make 121Nm.
The hybrid Kluger is all-wheel drive.
As with the previous Kluger there’s also a V6 version which is more affordable than the hybrid variant, and comes with all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive.
The 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine makes 218kW/350Nm and shifting gears is an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The braked towing capacity for all Klugers is 2000kg (750kg unbraked).
The reality, of course, is different but not unexpectedly so - a week in my hands in the suburbs and a cobweb-clearing early morning run delivered a 14.1L/100km average. Again, not bad given the kind grunt that's on tap.
Toyota says that after a combination of open and urban roads the petrol V6 should use 8.7L/100km for the two-wheel drive and 8.8-8.9L/100km for the all-wheel drive. That’s not bad, although I didn’t have the opportunity to test this claim at the pump myself.
As for the hybrid, Toyota says you should get 5.6L/100km. I lived with the hybrid variant doing the school drop offs and shopping trips, with motorways thrown in, and after starting with a full tank and covering 179.2km, it took 14.18 litres to fill it back up.
That’s 7.9L/100km, which is excellent given I’d covered a lot of hilly urban terrain and at times the boot was fully loaded up.
The capacity of the V6 petrol’s fuel tank is 68 litres while the hybrid’s is 65 litres. The hybrid needs to run on 95 RON premium petrol while the V6 is happy with 91.
One of the things I love about BMW is the company's ability to produce a car that on one hand is so normal and competent for the every day but also produce a version that is completely doolally.
The fine folk at M obviously involve themselves from day one so that when they get a finished car they can get cracking on making it properly fast. Obviously, quite a bit has to change for that to happen.
The X3 M is very stiff. Pop the bonnet and you'll see a piece of whatever the metal equivalent of four-by-two keeping the two sides of the car apart.
This is something M does whenever it gets a vanilla BMW, as it has with the M2 and outgoing M3 and M4 pair. To name three. The difference from the driver's seat, when compared to, say, the M40i, is immediate.
The steering is super-responsive, the front of the car reacting incredibly quickly given the X3 M's two-tonne weight.
Even in Comfort mode, the X3 M's ride is pretty firm. That doesn't bother me especially, nor my wife, who has a keen sense of ride quality. It never really falls over the line of being uncomfortable but it's worth knowing if you're considering this and you have to carry passengers.
If you drive around town in either M1 or M2 (in the factory settings at least), you're mad - the suspension becomes very hard and the steering too heavy. In fact, the steering in its Super Sport setting is just too heavy and uncooperative.
Cheerfully belting the 7200rpm redline at every upshift, barking between gears and delivering torque the way a hungry Labrador delivers a headbutt if you get in between it and food, the straight-six is glorious.
The 4.1-second sprint from 0-100km/h is only part of the story. Not many cars can cover ground so quickly and fewer still SUVs of this size and weight can do it with such precision.
When you turn the wheel on the X3 M, the front goes where you want it, instantly. All that under-bonnet bracing prevents the front flexing and shimmying, which is the enemy of going fast. So that sorts out getting into the corner. The best thing is you can push through corners and slingshot out the other side, riding that huge torque slab, the rear wheels doing most of the work with the occasional wriggle to keep you smiling.
A good chunk of the applause goes to the way the xDrive all-wheel drive system and its 'M Active' diff at the rear work together in Sport+ mode.
As colleague Steve Corby discovered at this car's clay-pan launch, the front wheels aren't doing much of the driving when you've turned it all up to 11 in '4WD Sport'.
When the road goes from straight to twisty, the excellent brakes come in to play, hauling the car down from big speeds without complaint. Even better is that in normal driving, they're not grabby and the pedal always lets you know what shape you're in.
The Kluger is one of the best driving large SUVs in this price range, up there with the CX-9, but less sporty feeling and more comfortable. So much better than the previous Kluger, this new-gen SUV has an outstanding, composed and comfortable, ride.
My pick is the hybrid variant. The electric motors make the driving experience even smoother and more enjoyable, allowing the Kluger to move around silently at lower speeds while providing little electric shoves when you dab the accelerator.
The V6 provides a more ‘old-school’ driving experience, which suited the twisty country roads I piloted it along. Two-wheel drive didn’t feel hugely different from all-wheel drive, but on a wet road those front wheels will struggle to maintain traction under harder acceleration. Steering is super light, accurate and direct.
All-wheel drive isn’t vital, but I’d get it for extra traction and stability if you can afford it. If you’re concerned about the fuel usage of the all-wheel drive compared to the two-wheel drive then you might surprised by the mileages in the section below.
The X3 M rolls out the door of BMW's North Carolina factory with six airbags, stability and traction controls, front and rear parking sensors, around view camera (including reversing camera), forward and reverse AEB, blind spot sensor, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, reverse cross traffic alert, speed limit recognition and tyre pressure monitoring.
There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether restraints.
The X3 scored a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2017.
At the time I wrote this review the new Kluger hadn’t received it’s ANCAP score, but we’ll update this once the rating has been announced.
All Klugers come standard with AEB, including pedestrian and cyclist detection. There’s also blind spot warning, lane keeping assistance, rear cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control, as well as front and rear parking sensors.
For child seats there are three top tether anchor points and two ISOFIX locations in the second row.
It’s disappointing to see, however, that the Kluger’s curtain airbags don’t cover the third-row occupants.
BMW offers a segment standard, but increasingly mean-looking, three years/unlimited kilometre warranty. It's not just BMW, though, it's all of the premium Germans. You do get three years roadside assist into the bargain and you can pay to extend the warranty, too.
You can pre-pay your servicing, with a five-year/80,000km Basic package for $3685. If you think you're going to give your X3 M a proper walloping you can opt for the the 'Plus Package'. For a not-inconsiderable $8173.
BMW will cover your brake pads and rotors for the same period as the Basic package.
Service intervals are variable because, as ever, BMWs tell you when they need a trip to the dealer.