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Toyota Kluger back with attitude

No one at Toyota Australia likes to be beaten. When the Ford Territory began its domination of the all-terrain wagon class, it stung the company that has dominated in the outback for a generation and become Australia's No.1 carmaker.

Toyota then argued the Territory wasn't a real four-wheel-drive because it was also sold with only rear-wheel-drive to tantalise families and boost value.

Its answer to the blue oval's Falcon-based wagon was the mid-sized Kluger, which was great off-road but felt floaty on the tarmac, lacked torque and looked as plain as a paper bag.

The Territory outsold the original Kluger three to one, but Toyota never gives up.

This time around, the new 2007 Kluger is bigger, more powerful, has more safety gear and actually has some style.

Toyota also realised more than half the Territories sold in Australia are rear-drive, so it now has the Kluger with front-drive or the regular all-wheel-drive.

It will be interesting to see how many people go down the all-paw path, which adds $4500 to the price across the range.

The Kluger is all-new, with a stiff new body that is 95mm longer and 85mm wider and has 22mm more ground clearance. It is also 95kg to 160kg heavier. The Grande model tips the scales at a hefty 2035kg.

Ground clearance for all Klugers has been jacked up from 184mm to 206mm.

The braked towing capacity has been increased by 500kg to an impressive 2000kg.

The official fuel economy figures go from 11 litres for 100km in ADR81/01 testing to 11.6 litres, which is about 1 litre/100km less than equivalent Territory models.

All have the smooth-revving 3.5-litre dual-overhead camshaft V6 that also serves in the Aurion. This time it is tuned to pump out 201kW and 337Nm.

It is linked to a five-speed automatic gearbox in both drivetrains, with the AWD model using a system that feeds 50 per cent of drive to the front.

Toyota has followed its main rivals and introduced Electronic Stability Control as standard across the Kluger range. It has gone a step further with seven airbags in all models.

Also standard is a small dashboard-mounted reversing camera.

There are three models, the base KX-R at $39,990, the KX-S at $49,990 and the Grande at $59,990.

The KX-S and the Grande come standard with seven seats, which can also be ordered for the entry-level KX-R for an extra $2500.

Apart from the impressive safety gear, standard gear for the KX-R includes 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, 3.5-inch multi-function display, cruise control and single CD sound with MP3 input jack.

The KX-S adds 19-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior details, fog lights and leather trim. The electrically adjustable driver and passenger seats are also heated. The dual-zone climate control has separate controls for rear passengers. It also has six-CD sound and Bluetooth phone preparation.

Stepping up to the Grande brings a sunroof, more chrome, wood-grain inserts, keyless start, automatic closing hatch, DVD rear seat entertainment, satellite navigation, larger rear-view camera display (6-inch).


On the road

Almost everyone will rate it ahead of the Holden Captiva, apart from its price. The Kluger is now roomier, has better performance, looks better and has an impressive array of standard safety features.

A week in a two-wheel-drive Kluger SX-S revealed there is a lot to like about the big family hauler, but also revealed suspension flaws that could see the Kluger lose out in a comparison with the Territory.

But the first thing you notice is the styling. The Kluger now has a bit of attitude.

Painted black, with its tinted windows and chunky 19-inch wheels, the Kluger test car is imposing. The interior looks good, too, with a high level of surface quality you expect from a Toyota.

The rear-view camera, which sits between two air vents and doubles as an info screen, is tiny, but it is better than nothing.

The KX-S gets leather seats, which feel nice, and the heater function is great, but the seats aren't the most supportive around.

The Kluger really has only six useable seats. The middle seat of the second row is only 20cm wide, does not sit flush with the other seats and is only good for a very small or skinny child.

The Kluger's engine is quite nice, though it can be a bit peaky. A lot of the grunt comes up high in the rev range and the engine could do with some more torque down the bottom end.

Even so, the fuel consumption of 12.4 litres/100km is a big plus.

The engine is smooth, though it is not the quietest engine around, especially under hard acceleration.

If you push, you also notice the steering wheel tugging, especially if you are turning.

This (torque steer) happens because there is too much power going through just the front wheels. You can live with those sort of niggles, but it is the suspension of the two-wheel-drive Kluger that is a big let-down.

Despite being incapable of off-road work, the front-drive Kluger still has a hefty 206mm of ground clearance. On bumpy roads it pitches and rolls like a serious mud-plugger. A back-to-back test with the lower-riding Territory backs up the view the Kluger is too soft.

The Kluger feels like an off-roader. The Territory feels like a car.

But it's not the same in the all-paw Kluger, which feels firmer and much more planted. And it will definitely go as deeply into the bush as most families want to travel. So the all-wheel-drive is the driver's choice, but people on a budget will head for the new front-driver.

The bottom line

The Kluger ticks most of the family wagon boxes. An unnecessarily high ride height and soft suspension spoil the fun. 78/100

Fast fact

Kluger KX-S and Grande have three-zone climate control for all occupants. Each of the three rows of seats has a temperature display and control dials.


Inside view

Toyota Kluger KX-S 2WD

Price: $49,990 as tested

Engine: 3.5-litre V6

Power: 201kW at 6200 revs

Torque: 337Nm at 4700 revs

Transmission: five-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

Body: Five-door wagon

Seats: Seven

Dimensions: Length 4785mm, width 1910mm, height 1760mm, wheelbase 2790mm, tracks 1630/1645mm front/rear

Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion

Suspension: Fully independent Macpherson strut front and multi-link rear

Fuel tank: 72 litres

Fuel type: Regular unleaded

Fuel consumption: Average on test 12.4 litres/100km

Weight: 1930kg

Spare tyre: Full size steel

Brakes: Anti-skid discs

Wheels: 19x7.5 alloy

Tyres: 245/55 R19

Safety gear: Anti-skid brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, front and side driver and passenger airbags, three-row curtain airbags.

Warranty: Three years/ 100,000km



Airconditioning 4

Cruise control 4

Alloy wheels 4

Climate control 4

Leather seats 4

Heated seats 4

Parking sensors 8

Automatic wipers 8

4 standard equipment

8 nonstandard equipment


How it compares

Ford Territory Ghia: 80/100 ($52,090)

Holden Captiva Maxx: 70/100 ($42,990)

Mazda CX-7 Luxury: 73/100 ($45,560)

Nissan Murano ST: 68/100 ($49,990)


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