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Cars don't come much simpler than the Toyota Kluger. Twenty kilograms short of two tons of American-built iron equipped with an unstressed V6, it's big and straightforward.
The Kluger nameplate predates our new love of seven-seat SUVs, but this third-generation car seems to have really taken hold. And there are good reasons for that. Folks love the Toyota badge, and they love that the Japanese brand’s cars are built to outlast about eighteen Australian Prime Ministers.
The big Kluger might not be cheap, but it doesn't stop us buying a ton of them every month, even in the face of rising fuel prices.
So we spent a week in a GXL variant to find out why.
|Toyota Kluger 2019: GXL (4x2)|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Kluger really does set out to be a big car, right from the get-go.
The cliff-face front end is pretty masculine and reminds me of various science-fiction villains. Apart from that, it's a big box on wheels, which is no bad thing. It's not meant to wow the soccer mums, and Toyota was more than happy to riff on that in a recent Kluger ad campaign.
Inside is all terribly conservative, with okay materials (apart from the horrid plastic of the central console lid). The rubber lining of the shelf that splits the upper and lower dashboards is a nice touch, but I'm not particularly fond of the shade of brown used.
Everything is clear, concise and built to last.
To paraphrase Douglas Adams, the Kluger is big. I mean really big. Except, it isn't even the biggest in its class, at least in its external dimensions. But the Kluger's square shell delivers a huge interior.
Being a Kluger, it has seven seats across three rows. The front row is hugely spacious, with two cupholders, a shelf for phones and bits and pieces that stretches from the passenger side to the driver side of the centre console (very clever, that), and a huge 24-litre storage bin that seems absurd at first but turns out to be enormously useful.
The second row is again very roomy, and is home to two more cupholders, but the third row isn't particularly spacious and is really only good for small kids. They’ll be spoilt for cupholders, though, with four in total (all up, the cupholder count sits at eight, which means one lucky passenger can bring two cups, for some reason…), as well as third-row air-con vents.
The boot starts at 195 litres with all three seating rows in use. In wagon form, you have 529 litres, and with all the back seats down, you've got 1117 litres. But the space feels much bigger than those numbers suggest.
It's worth noting that the jump to the GXL from the GX variant below is a very steep $10,000 for what I think is a very limited benefit. Even the $4000 price difference between the AWD and 2WD seems exceedingly cheeky. There's also only one free paint colour, the rest slapping you for another $550.
Above the GX, you get fake leather, a slightly bigger screen with the same awful software, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and not much else. And you still can't get LED headlights, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which at this level in 2018 is near-scandalous.
The GXL has 18-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, sat nav, DAB digital radio, active cruise control, front and rear cameras, rear parking sensors, auto headlights, keyless entry and start, power windows and mirrors, partial leather seats and an electric tailgate with a separate glass hatch.
The 6.1-inch screen from the GX is replaced with an 8.0-inch unit here, and it pairs with a six-speaker stereo which is nothing special. A rarity these days, you get a CD player.
The Kluger can haul a trailer of 700kg unbraked or 2000kg braked.
The windscreen sticker suggests the Kluger will manage 9.1L/100km on the combined cycle, which is a noble goal but hugely unlikely. Our time delivered an indicated 13.3L/100km, and no, I wasn't thrashing it. Last time I had an AWD Kluger, the difference was about half a litre.
Apart from a general commitment to efficiency, the Kluger's V6 has nothing like stop-start to cut fuel use. The big 72-litre tank means you'll still get a week of average motoring in before you need to fill again. Thankfully, it drinks the cheaper 91RON fuel.
My heart is not in big soft SUVs, but after a long day doing, erm, things, the Kluger is a welcome, relaxing haven. Once you've hoisted yourself in, the wide seats are just right, the big steering wheel suggests an easy time of things and the complete lack of distraction and visual clutter ensure mental calm.
The starter button seems to start an engine three cars away - it's all very smooth and quiet. You could probably drive the Kluger for the whole time you owned it without once going past half-throttle, so you'll never hear it. You float about on soft suspension, marvelling at the completely different approach this American tune takes to most of its rivals.
I'm only being half-facetious here. Of course the Kluger rolls around a bit, its high centre of gravity apparent every time you put on more than two degrees of steering lock at more than 10km/h. But it is also extraordinarily comfortable. Put it this way; until I drove a Kluger, I'd always been baffled by its appeal.
It doesn't have the chassis to amuse you if you're a bit of a hoon. But here in the two-wheel drive version with cheap tyres, there's a lot of fun to be had spinning up the front wheels without much provocation. Hilariously, the traction control can be switched off with a single, casual tap of the button.
It still has one of motoring's most annoying things; a foot-operated parking brake. I'm sure you get used to anything, but a) I kept forgetting to engage it, b) I kept swearing at it when trying to reverse out of my driveway, and c) I have awful visions of it doing unspeakable damage to my shins in an accident.
5 years / unlimited km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
The Kluger arrives with seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, and rear parking sensors. For the 2018 model year, Toyota added new safety features in the GX and GXL, meaning pre-collision warning, forward AEB, lane departure warning, pedestrian avoidance with braking, lane keep assist, active cruise and auto high beam.
Service costs are fixed via Toyota's Service Advantage pricing. For the Kluger, you’ll pay $180 per service for the first 36 months or 60,000km. You'll have to visit the dealer every six months or 10,000km, which is not so bad when you consider the sensible price of services.
|Grande (4x2)||3.5L, ULP, 8 SP AUTO||$65,519||2019 Toyota Kluger 2019 Grande (4x2) Pricing and Specs|
|Grande (4x4)||3.5L, ULP, 8 SP AUTO||$69,246||2019 Toyota Kluger 2019 Grande (4x4) Pricing and Specs|
|GX (4x2)||3.5L, ULP, 8 SP AUTO||$44,850||2019 Toyota Kluger 2019 GX (4x2) Pricing and Specs|
|GX (4x4)||3.5L, ULP, 8 SP AUTO||$48,850||2019 Toyota Kluger 2019 GX (4x4) Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||6|
|Engine & trans||7|
“While I do like wafting around in the Kluger (the forthcoming Rolls-Royce Cullinan better ride well...) I can't help but wonder why you'd pay this much money for the GXL. In isolation, there's nothing wrong with the car, but it's a lot more than the GX for not very much gain. ”
The Kluger takes a fairly old-school approach in a high-tech world. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Tell us what you think in the comments below.