Australian families are about to have a new seven-seater SUV on their shopping lists. The third-generation Toyota Kluger is due in Australian showrooms in March, just three months after it went on sale in North America.
Pricing for the new line-up is yet to be confirmed but it’s tipped to remain the same as the current model, which ranges from $40,000 to $65,000.
More than 100,000 Toyota Klugers are already on Australian roads, but the former king of the large faux-wheel-drive wagons slipped to fourth place in the category last year, beaten in the sales race by the Ford Territory, Holden Captiva7 and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The Kluger is the first Toyota sold in Australia sourced from the USA. Instead of Japan, the new model comes from Indiana. Which is why we found ourselves behind the wheel of the new Kluger in North America, taking a preview drive after the Detroit motor show.
Hard to measure this when we don’t yet know the price. But we do know that the entry price will likely creep up a little because the new Kluger will be a seven-seat-only proposition. The current range starts at $39,990 for a five-seater.
The current starting price of the seven-seat version is about $42,000 for a front-wheel-drive and $44,990 for an all-wheel-drive. This places the Toyota Kluger at the expensive end of the class.
A seven-seat Ford Territory can be had for less than $40,000 drive-away during special promotions, and the Holden Captiva has dipped below $35,000 drive-away some months.
As with most new models, discounts will be few and far between when the new Kluger arrives, so it would be best to wait until the second half of the year if you’re looking for a good deal.
The coolest in-car app for parents yet. Top-end models of the new Kluger have a function that broadcasts the voice of the driver to the rear speakers. It means you don’t have to yell at the kids any more, or, if you do, you can really make their ears ring. That was a joke. The volume is limited.
It means mum or dad can keep their eyes on the road because they don’t have to turn their head to project their voice to the second- and third-row seats.
As before, a rear camera is standard across the Kluger range, but the screen is larger and every model gets rear parking sensors as well.
Top-end models also get lane-wander alert (a camera checks you’re driving within your lane and the system beeps if you’re step out of line) and radar cruise control, which maintains a safe gap between you and the car ahead.
But for all the clever gadgets, Toyota still has not included a digital speed display on the screen between the analogue dials in the dash.
If you think it looks like a truck, that’s because it was designed in Toyota’s California studios, in the land where big is usually better.
At least it’s not an optical illusion. The new model is bigger inside and longer overall. The downside is it will be slightly harder to park than the previous model because you need to find a bigger space.
Inside, the cabin has taken on a more upmarket appearance. There are ample storage pockets and cubbies, including a massive 24.5-litre centre console that could swallow handbags, manbags, and possibly a litter of puppies.
The centre section of the second-row seats can slide forward (independently of the seat on the other side) for better back-seat access. And the middle seat can be removed altogether to turn the Kluger into a six-seater with a step-through middle-row seat.
A neat trick that I hope makes it onto the Australian models: the driver and passenger sun visors extend when they're swung alongside the door glass, so you can block the sun when it’s blasting the side of your face.
Seven airbags, stability control and (likely) a five-star safety rating. The US has more stringent crash test requirements than Australia, in particular with regards to “roof-crush” roll-over protection. Of course, we won’t know for sure until ANCAP does gives its blessings, but this is a pretty safe bet.
First impressions? The new Toyota Kluger is quieter than before. Presumably Toyota has added sound deadening and made some other refinements to cut noise from the engine, tyres -- and the breeze as the box-shaped two-tonne wagon pushes through the air.
The 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine is the same as before, but a fraction more frugal thanks to the fitment of a six-speed auto rather than the five-speed. Toyota is yet to publish fuel economy figures for the new model in Australia.
The Toyota is relatively efficient when compared with other six-cylinder petrol engines in the class, but a diesel is not available – and unlikely given that the car is now sourced from the US where diesel isn’t popular for passenger cars. A fuel saving stop-start system (which cuts the engine when idle) was also conspicuously absent. And, this time around, Toyota elected not to offer the 2.7-litre four-cylinder petrol that was available in the US on the previous model.
What’s it like to drive? We only got to sample the all-wheel-drive models, which has changed the way it operates. The previous model was a permanent all-wheel-drive system sending an even split of power to all four wheels most of the time.
The new model has an “on-demand” all-wheel-drive system that only sends drive to the rear wheels when it notices a loss of traction. This explains why you can feel some tugging of the steering wheel on initial brisk acceleration, as the front tyres try to follow the contour of the road. The previous front-wheel-drive was also a bit of a handful in this regard, especially on wet roads.
The new Kluger steers securely enough and, although a big improvement, still not as confidence-inspiring as a Ford Territory or Mazda CX-9. The top-end model on 19-inch Toyos was a nicer experience than the mid-grade version equipped with 18-inch Michelin tyres. Ride over bumps was excellent on both models, however.
Much of this is academic, however, as Toyota says it has tuned the suspension of the new Kluger for Australian roads. We’ll find out in March what it drives like on local roads.
A big improvement on the current Toyota Kluger, but we reserve final judgment until we know the price. As good as the new model is, Toyota needs to sharpen the pencil to bring the price back to the competition that’s currently out-selling it.
Explore the 2014 Toyota Kluger range