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Toyota’s original Kluger was one of the founding fathers of the large crossover SUV segment, beating the local hero Ford Territory to market in late 2003.
Such models have greatly contributed to the still-expanding SUV boom, with their balance of car-like dynamics, relative fuel economy and passenger carrying ability becoming a new stereotype for family buyers.
Few have been concerned with their lack of outright off-road ability compared with traditional 4WD wagons, and thousands have embraced their general style advantage over traditional people-movers and station wagons.
Now with the arrival of the new US-sourced third-generation model, the Kluger’s segment has grown to include representatives from more than 10 manufacturers, and in 2013 the once-dominant second-generation Kluger fell behind the Ford Territory, Holden Captiva 7 and Jeep Grand Cherokee in terms of overall sales.
Toyota is banking on a new bigger body with seven-seats as standard, updated features and engineering to bump the Kluger closer to top spot.
With the boosted standard seat count, the Kluger’s entry price has crept up to $40,990, up $500 from the current $40,490 five-seat KX-R. The previous KX-R and KX-S model grades have been replaced by the more Toyota-traditional GX and GXL, but the Grande moniker still adorns the top spec. All grades are available in either front or all-wheel drive, with the latter’s $4000 premium now $500 less than before.
The base $40,990 GX is $2,200 less than the previous seven-seat front-drive KX-R, and Toyota claims it packs at least $2000 worth of extra features. Standard equipment includes a 6.1 inch multimedia display with a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, the Toyota Link connectivity interface, three 12V power sockets, auto headlights, conversation mirror, LED daytime running lights and 18-inch alloys.
The 2WD GXL starts at $49,990, and gains three-zone climate control, leather trim accents, power driver’s seat, proximity keys, and unique 18-inch alloys.
The top-line Grande starts at $63,990 in 2WD guise, and adds heated and ventilated front seats, active cruise control, an 8-inch multimedia display with SUNA live traffic updating satnav, DAB+ digital radio, sunroof, second row retractable sunshades, a 9-inch overhead rear seat entertainment screen with Blu-ray and three sets of wireless headphones, powered tailgate, a 4.2 inch colour instrument display, LED headlights with auto-high beam and 19-inch alloys.
The new Kluger’s all-new sheetmetal is significantly more aggressive than the previous model, and looks very much the big brother of the current RAV4. Riding on the same 2790mm wheelbase as the second-generation model, the new Kluger adds an extra 80mm in length –most of which is behind the rear wheels – to now total 4685mm, with the extra length benefitting second and third row passengers and cargo.
Also aiding accommodation and cargo space is a more compact double wishbone rear suspension design, replacing the MacPherson strut arrangement that is retained at the front.
Third row occupants now have 110mm more shoulder room and 83mm more hip room, and the access gap from the side doors has been widened by 70mm. The one-motion fold mechanism also now incorporates a reclining function.
With the third row in place, cargo space has grown by more than one-third to 195-litres - leaving enough room for a small esky - which expands to 529-litres with the third row flat, and 1171-litres (to the window line) with all rear seats folded. Loading to the window line is also made easier with the Grande's glass hatch component of the tailgate.
Toyota’s recent success with interior design continues with the Kluger, with an impressive variety of textures and colours used to good effect, with an excellent perception of quality and array of storage spaces punctuated by the large padded under dash tray and a gigantic 24.5-litre centre console cavity.
Despite its increase in size and standard features, the new Kluger’s weight is little changed at 1935-2065kg thanks to greater use of high-tensile steel in its construction. All traditional US-origin foibles are absent from the Kluger, with a right-hand indicator stalk, left-side oriented third-row access, right-side oriented gear selector display and a right-hand bonnet release – despite Australia and New Zealand being the Kluger’s only right-hand drive markets.
Payload ratings range between 675-735kg for both drivetrains, and the previous model’s 2000kg braked tow rating and full-size alloy spare underneath the rear overhang are retained.
Those hoping for a hybrid or diesel version of the new Kluger will have to keep wishing upon stars, with no current plans for either to join the Australian lineup. Following a similar formula to its Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-9 and Subaru Tribeca rivals, the new model continues with the 201kW/337Nm (at 4700rpm) 3.5-litre petrol V6 of the previous generation, but the automatic transmission is now a six-speed unit, up from the previous five-speeder.
All-wheel drive versions upgrade from the previous full-time system to a new torque vectoring part-time system, which along with flexible lockup of the new transmission has helped to achieve marginally improved fuel consumption of between 10.2-10.4L/100km for 2WD models, and 10.6L/100km for AWD versions – down from the 11-11.6L/100km for previous versions. The Kluger continues to do its best on regular 91RON fuel, and an open-road range of at least 680km can be expected from the 72L tank.
The new Kluger is expected to continue with the existing model’s five star safety rating, but is yet to be locally accredited. All models come with seven airbags – with curtains extending to the third row - reversing camera and rear sensors, traction and stability control, hill-assist, and all-wheel drive models add hill-descent control. Grande models also come with active cruise control, lane departure alert, pre collision safety alert, brake assist, and blind-spot monitoring.
We sampled both 2WD and 4WD versions at the Kluger’s Australian launch, and were able to assess its abilities over wet and dry bitumen and gravel roads. On dry bitumen, you’d be hard pressed to pick the 2WD model aside from a gentle tug at the wheel under heavy acceleration from rest. In the wet or on loose gravel though, easily available wheelspin from rest reminds you of the 201kW being fed through the front wheels. This is quickly reined in by the traction control, but could be a little antisocial in unexperienced hands.
This issue is absent in all-wheel drive versions though, with the new torque vectoring system quickly arresting slippage, and capable of sending up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels to do so. When embarking on properly slippery terrain like mud or sand, a centre diff clock can maintain a 50/50 split at speeds up to 40km/h.
Despite being US sourced, Australian Klugers benefit from increased rear spring rates and revised damper tuning developed by local Toyota engineers to suit Australian roads and tastes. The result is impressively tight body control for this segment, with bodyroll and pitch contained beyond expectations.
The steering has also been sharpened, with a tighter 14.8:1 ratio (down from 17:1) reducing twirl to 2.74 turns lock to lock, and there’s good feel from the electric assistance.
The ample performance from the 3.5-litre V6 will come as no surprise to anyone who’s driven a second-generation Kluger, and Toyota claims 0-100km/h acceleration of 8.3 seconds for 2WD versions, and 8.7 seconds for AWD models.
Toyota’s attention to noise reduction is also clear, with 30 percent more sound-insulating material applied throughout the cabin. Make no mistake, the new Kluger would make an excellent environment for long family journeys.
While it’s not revolutionary, the new Toyota Kluger represents a significant step forward from its predecessor in terms of packaging, features and drive experience, and it’s once again firmly at the pointy end of the large crossover SUV segment.
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|Altitude (FWD) 7 Seat||3.5L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO||$21,340 – 27,060||2014 Toyota Kluger 2014 Altitude (FWD) 7 Seat Pricing and Specs|
|Grande (4x2)||3.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$26,990 – 39,990||2014 Toyota Kluger 2014 Grande (4x2) Pricing and Specs|
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