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Toyota Kluger 2020 review: GXL Black

EXPERT RATING
7.3
Does Toyota need to offer a special edition of its smash-hit Kluger? Well, apparently it couldn't do any harm, which is why we've now got a sparkling new Black Edition.

As if selling nearly 15,000 Klugers in 2018 wouldn't be enough to get even the most demanding executives to relax, Toyota wants more. And what better way to shift a few more units than the tried and tested Special Edition. Yes, here's a Kluger that will make you want to trade your old one in for an even better one, in theory.

These feats of marketing are not all created equal, however. Some special editions lay on loads of stuff from a higher-spec model, or preview a specification for the next model year. Some have stickers, and if the maker is feeling really excited, they might even slap a set of LED headlights on.

No such work for Toyota. Just take a Kluger GXL, paint some bits black, bolt on a bigger set of black wheels, charge the customer (not much) more and voila! It's the Kluger Black Edition.

Toyota Kluger 2020: GXL Black
Safety rating
Engine Type3.5L
Fuel Type91 Ron
Fuel Efficiency9.5L/100km
Seating7 seats
Price from$55,970

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

For a premium of $1020 over the GXL ($55,970 for 2WD and $59,970 for this AWD) you get 19-inch black alloys, roof rails, three-zone climate control, power tailgate, keyless entry and start, electric driver's seat, auto headlights and wipers, six-speaker stereo with DAB, front and rear cameras, active cruise control, sat nav, auto headlights and a full-size spare.

The 8.0-inch screen in the dash still hosts one of the worst multimedia interfaces avaialble in a car today. That wouldn't matter if it had Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but it has neither, so it really matters. It's hard to use, hard to find things and unpleasant to look at. I remain baffled by Toyota's resistance to fixing this.

The bigger 19-inch rims are also black and look terrific and almost fill the massive arches carved into the slabby sides. (image: Peter Anderson) The bigger 19-inch rims are also black and look terrific and almost fill the massive arches carved into the slabby sides. (image: Peter Anderson)

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

The Kluger is a decent-looking car in even its most basic form - strong surfaces and creases and a deep front grille are all unusual for Toyota, because it's all so confident, without being way too much. This is where the 'Black' part of the Black Edition comes in - blacked-out body parts and wheels add a little bit of stealth bomber to the Kluger. I'd have gone so far as blacking out the chrome around the windows, but I'm not in charge (which is probably for the best).

The interior is very much focused on utility, practicality and longevity. (image: Peter Anderson) The interior is very much focused on utility, practicality and longevity. (image: Peter Anderson)

The bigger 19-inch rims are also black and look terrific and almost fill the massive arches carved into the slabby sides. You don't have to get it in all black like the car I had, but it looked great. For a Kluger. Then again, you can pay $450,000 for a Bentley Bentayga that is objectively much uglier, so the Kluger works out pretty well on the styling front.

The cabin is the same as a GXL, so the $1020 extra the Black costs has all gone on the wheels and blacked-out stuff. The interior is very much focused on utility, practicality and longevity. The fake leather seems very hardy, as do most of the hard plastic surfaces. The dash is the usual model of clarity and quality and everything feels built to last.

It has LED taillights but not headlights. (image: Peter Anderson) It has LED taillights but not headlights. (image: Peter Anderson)

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

All Klugers arrive with seven seats and the Black is no different. Those rear seats are usable for humans of modest sizes, once you master the lever action to flip-and-slide the middle row to gain access. The rear backrests are close to vertical, though, so they'll never be truly comfortable.

If your passengers like to carry liquid refreshment, the Kluger is made for them. All three rows have generously-sized cuphodlers for a total of six and big door pockets for bottles (four of those).

  • Boot size starts at 195 litres with all seats in use. (image: Peter Anderson) Boot size starts at 195 litres with all seats in use. (image: Peter Anderson)
  • 529 with the rear jump seats folded away. (image: Peter Anderson) 529 with the rear jump seats folded away. (image: Peter Anderson)
  • And a curiously conservative official figure of 1117 litres with the middle row folded. (image: Peter Anderson) And a curiously conservative official figure of 1117 litres with the middle row folded. (image: Peter Anderson)

The centre console in the front is big enough to swallow a small dog (our small dog refused to model for a photo, citing various laws and dialling the RSPCA when I made a move to get her in the car). If you're of the boozy persuasion, I reckon two bottles of wine will just about stand upright side-by-side in there when you remove the handy tray. There is also a very clever shelf that splits the dash horizontally, with a cable-managing clip that means you can leave your phone on the rubberised surface of the shelf. The new RAV4 has picked up the idea, and it's a ripper.

Boot size starts at 195 litres with all seats in use, 529 with the rear jump seats folded away and a curiously conservative official figure of 1117 litres with the middle row folded. One tricky feature on the Kluger is the way the rear glass opens so you can deposit or retrieve items without opening the whole tailgate.

  • If your passengers like to carry liquid refreshment, the Kluger is made for them. (image: Peter Anderson) If your passengers like to carry liquid refreshment, the Kluger is made for them. (image: Peter Anderson)
  • The rear backrests are close to vertical, so they'll never be truly comfortable. (image: Peter Anderson) The rear backrests are close to vertical, so they'll never be truly comfortable. (image: Peter Anderson)

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

The Kluger carries the same engine no matter which spec you pick - a 218kW/350Nm 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6. Toyota now fits an eight-speed automatic to the big SUV and you can choose between front and and all-wheel drive.

You can tow 700kg with unbraked trailers and 2000kg braked.

The Kluger carries the same engine no matter which spec you pick - a 218kW/350Nm 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6. (image: Peter Anderson) The Kluger carries the same engine no matter which spec you pick - a 218kW/350Nm 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6. (image: Peter Anderson)

How much fuel does it consume?   6/10

Toyota says all-wheel drive Klugers use 0.4L/100km more than 2WD units, at 9.5L/100km. I think it's fair to say this is a somewhat distant dream as we clocked 14.1L/100km in a week of suburban and some highway running. That matched earlier figures from Klugers past.

Handily, the tank is 72 litres, so you won't spend your entire life filling up.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

Klugers have seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, pre-collision warning, forward AEB, lane-departure warning, active cruise and auto high beam. As the Black is based on the GXL, you also get blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

There are three top-tether anchors for the middle row as well as two ISOFIX points.

The Kluger scored five ANCAP safety stars in November 2016.

The GXL Black comes with a full-size spare. (image: Peter Anderson) The GXL Black comes with a full-size spare. (image: Peter Anderson)

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

Toyota offers a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is pretty impressive considering its earlier stubbornness with moving from its three-year warranty. Roadside assist is available from $89 per year, so you don't get everything for nothing.

There's good news and bad news on servicing. Each capped-price service will cost you a pitifully cheap $180, no matter what, for the first three years/60,000km. The bad news is you have to come in every six months or 10,000km. Toyota offers the carrot of 90-minute servicing, which may tip the balance back again.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

It's all situation normal here in the ship's bridge-like cockpit of the Kluger. You sit super high and feel like you can sweep through whatever is placed before you. I'm going to slightly torture the ship analogy a little and remind you that the Kluger is made in America for Americans and is therefore a bit of a barge.

First up is the spongy, long-travel suspension, which ensures the cabin is insulated from all but the biggest bumps. Even with the bigger 19s, progress is serene and almost entirely untroubling.

More troubling  is the feedback you get from the steering wheel, which is precisely zero. You could be on ice, tiramisu or the grippiest substance known to man and you'd never know. The driver is entirely isolated from the road surface. I understand the appeal of this, even if I don't enjoy it. My wife is rather less complimentary - she hates the lightness with a passion, although she concedes, as I do, that it makes it easier to park.

The cabin is the same as a GXL, so the $1020 extra the Black costs has all gone on the wheels and blacked-out stuff. (image: Peter Anderson) The cabin is the same as a GXL, so the $1020 extra the Black costs has all gone on the wheels and blacked-out stuff. (image: Peter Anderson)

It is a monster of a car, although one of the shorter of its kind. It feels big, though, so the GXL/Black's front and rear cameras, along with the reversing sensors, make parking less stressful than it could be.

The brake pedal is a tad on the spongy side, but you get used to it and soon realise the stoppers are pretty strong.

The Kluger a superb highway cruiser; while the 3.5-litre V6 isn't over-endowed with power or torque, once you've set the cruise control, it feels like it slips through the air, with just a hint of a whistle around the giant wing mirrors.

It's just a pity it's so heavy and thirsty, and uninvolving.

As special editions go, the Black Edition is hardly going to set the world on fire, but the numbers don't lie. (image: Peter Anderson) As special editions go, the Black Edition is hardly going to set the world on fire, but the numbers don't lie. (image: Peter Anderson)

Verdict

As special editions go, the Black Edition is hardly going to set the world on fire, but the numbers don't lie. Toyota pretty much has the large SUV market cornered, with the Kluger on one side and the Prado on the other, while the Fortuner sulks in the corner.

The Black Edition just adds some black to a big SUV, for which Land Rover buyers regularly pay good money. It doesn't take anything away from the solid if unspectacular package that is the Kluger, but it does make it look ever so slightly cooler.

Can big wheels and a bit of black tip you over the edge for Toyota's big SUV?

Pricing Guides

$55,970
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$55,970
Highest Price
$55,970
EXPERT RATING
7.3
Price and features7
Design7
Practicality8
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption6
Safety8
Ownership8
Driving7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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