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Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Toyota Tarago GLi auto with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Few cars have achieved the kind of brand recognition the Toyota Tarago can boast. On Family Feud, if you asked the two duelling thrill seekers to name a people mover, "Tarago" would be the number-one hit.
It's all the more impressive because the name itself is exclusive to the Australian market. Tarago has been synonymous with tipsy celebrities tumbling out of a nightclub and moving on to the next, as well as being the first choice of families without access to contraception or even a television to watch Family Feud on. That's two very different markets.
Toyota Australia gave the Tarago the lightest of goings-over earlier this year, perhaps to celebrate this iteration's 10th anniversary but more likely because competition is unusually stiff from the cheaper Honda Odyssey, the Kia Carnival and a wave of seven-seat SUVs. Whatever the reason, it was about time we took the iconic celeb-carrier/family-bus out for a spin.
The GLi auto four-cylinder opens the range at $45,490 and the GLi V6 adds $2500. The range then heads up through GLX and Ultima spec levels - the GLi and GLX are available with a choice of engines, while the $65,600 Ultima is V6-only.
Just last month (August 2016), the entire range had at least $1500 knocked off the price and a chunk of standard gear added in, including the much sought-after reversing camera. When you're parking a car with almost zero rear visibility, it's a handy inclusion.
Our car was the entry-level four-cylinder GLi Auto. On board you'll find dual-zone climate control with rear controls, remote central locking, cruise control, front fog lights, power windows front and rear, reversing camera, sat nav and cloth trim throughout.
Access to any seat is easy, with the front doors opening wide to a sensibly low floor that makes it easy for front-seat occupants to get in and out.
A six-speaker stereo is run from a 6.1-inch screen familiar to Toyota 86 owners. Without wishing to put too fine a point on it, it does the job in an adequate fashion if you've got tiny Trump fingers and plenty of time to take your eyes off the road. It looks and feels like something a Toyota accountant saw during a slightly drunken evening on Alibaba. "Ooh, 700,000 stereos for $350,000? Sold!" You could probably rip it out and spend a couple of hundred at Supercheap Auto or Aldi and end up with something demonstrably better.
The bottom line here is that a carmaker with the kind of cash Toyota has should do a far better job. A quick peek at a top-of-the-range Ultima reveals things don't get much better; it just gets a bigger screen. The cheaper Honda Odyssey has a slightly superior unit and the Kia Carnival belts them both back into last decade, albeit with a smaller screen on the lower models.
If you need to carry eight people including driver, there aren't many choices this side of a commercial van with seats bolted to the floor. The Tarago is built and fit for purpose, but down here in the cheap seats, the name of the game is people rather than things, as the spec list has already attested.
Access to any seat is easy, with the front doors opening wide to a sensibly low floor that makes it easy for front-seat occupants to get in and out. Manually operated sliding doors feature on both port and starboard sides, while the floor is flat throughout, making it effectively a walkthrough proposition, even from the front seats.
Both rear rows are fitted to super-smooth tracks, allowing you to slide all six seats back and forth to tune the space, with a just a modicum of effort. The third row folds down and can also tip forward to increase the available cargo area. It's worth noting that the seats fold flush with the floor on the V6 models, but not on the four-cylinder GLi or GLX.
The passenger has two gloveboxes to choose from and when you open both it looks like the dash is trying to eat you, which is mildly diverting.
Under the boot floor is a sizeable hidey-hole and if you want to know the boot capacities, you've come to the right place - Toyota doesn't hand out that super-secret information on their website, you know. Needless to say, it's quite a bit. With the rear seats occupied, there's a hatchback-rivalling 466 litres. When you fold both back rows away, the space runs up to 1100 litres - and the latter figure feels a mite conservative.
Up front, storage is a bit weird - there's a pop-out pair of cupholders (small coffees only, please), a bizarre storage box that seems like it was made for a conductor to store a short baton, and a tiny drawer that is probably meant as a coin holder or ashtray. Between the front seats there's nothing but floor, giving you unobstructed access to the rear. The passenger has two gloveboxes to choose from and when you open both it looks like the dash is trying to eat you, which is mildly diverting.
The middle row might have three seats but there's just a cupholder in each door, while the back row's three seats feature four cupholders built into the side of the cabin. All four doors also contain a bottle holder.
As far as an egg crate on wheels goes, the Tarago is a bit of a looker. The sharper look introduced a few years back has a lot of current Corolla/Camry in it and makes the nose quite distinctive, with the headlights and bonnet shutline drawing the eye to the centre of the car and a big Toyota badge. It doesn't look nearly as big as it is, unlike the slab-sided Carnival or overdone Odyssey.
There's so much glass on the Tarago, it almost looks like the roof floats along overhead, a visual concept helped by blacked-out pillars on the almost-obligatory white of our test car.
Only Boomers or Opals would complain about the available leg and head room once you've done all you can to accommodate your passengers. Again, all that glass makes the Tarago feel huge, light and airy although the gigantic, racily raked windscreen suffers terribly from dashtop reflections.
The general interior design is fairly austere in the GLi and is all the better for it when you see the chintz of the up-spec models.
The instruments are centrally placed in an ovoid cut-out, which is probably one of the more ill-conceived ideas in modern motoring, although top marks for trying something different.
Unlike the old Echo, which had the same idea on a smaller scale, this dash gets it all wrong. The driving position is awkward enough as it is - the relationship between wheel, pedal and seat are all just that little bit off - and it is made worse by the placement of the analogue speedo, which is obscured by the steering wheel unless you drop it right down low and/or jack the seat right up. If you can't easily see how fast you're going, then the concept has failed. Give me a big digital speed read-out any day. Like the (long-departed) Echo's.
The general interior design is fairly austere in the GLi and is all the better for it when you see the chintz of the up-spec models. It's distraction-free but also sparse, missing quite a lot of the tech toys or storage you might expect, or need, in such a busy cabin - eight seats means lots of people to keep occupied.
In front of your feet is a 2.4-litre, naturally aspirated four cylinder, labouring under the code 2AZ-FE. The engine is even older than the car itself, first appearing in Toyotas in 2002. Of course, it's quite different these days, developing 125kW and 224Nm of torque and, as part of the recent update, it now conforms to Euro 5 emissions standards, but doesn't get even a solitary extra kW or Nm.
Something surprising happens when you get behind the wheel of a Tarago...
The power reaches the tarmac via a seven-speed CVT, which is more of a concept than a reality, because it simply means that Toyota's engineers added seven theoretical gear ratios to make its constantly variable transmission feel like a normal automatic. Seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to when you could just put an automatic in instead, which would also improve the experience no end.
The Tarago is rated to tow 600kg unbraked and 1600kg braked.
Toyota claims the Tarago will drink standard unleaded at the rate of 7.9L/100km on the combined cycle. A week of gadding about in Sydney traffic saw us return 10.4L/100km, which isn't great, but not terrible either when you consider that an 1800kg kerb weight is a big ask for a four-cylinder engine. The need to keep that tiny engine on the boil to maintain momentum certainly doesn’t help economy.
Something surprising happens when you get behind the wheel of a Tarago. Once you get past the slightly iffy driving position, and the supremely irritating foot-operated parking brake, and the even more irritating gear selector. And the unsighted speedo. And the reflections on the windscreen...
So, a few hours in, you actually find yourself completely chilled and almost having fun. Handling is perfunctory, at best. The GLi rides on skinny, cheap tyres, the engine and transmission are only on nodding-in-the-corridor terms with the accelerator, and you've got a postcode worth of real estate behind you.
There's little road or wind noise to speak of and the ride would impress the genie from Aladdin.
It’s not the driving dynamics that make you happy, it's the fact that you're at the wheel of a car that everybody loves, and it's a surprisingly relaxing place to be.
Accepting the car's limitations - which is to be expected, given the trade-off for all that space and all those seats - is the key here. Arm on the window, one hand on a steering wheel that is completely insulated from the road surface, and you can blissfully glide along in the Tarago. There's little road or wind noise to speak of and the ride would impress the genie from Aladdin.
Indeed, a drive from Sydney to the car's namesake, the sleepy country town of Tarago, would be comfortable for all (490km round trip, if you're interested), especially given the rear of the cabin has air-conditioning vents in the pillars and ceiling.
Seven airbags (including driver's knee airbag), ABS, stability and traction controls, brake assist.
The curtain airbags reach all the way to the third row and every occupant has a three-point seatbelt. ANCAP awarded the Tarago a maximum five star safety rating in October 2011.
The Tarago has Toyota's three-year/100,000km warranty and a fixed-price servicing regime called Service Advantage. This covers the first three years or 60,000km and costs $180 per service. You'll need to visit your dealer every six months or every 10,000km, whichever comes first.
Tarago is to the people mover what Hoover is to vacuums - everyone calls people movers Taragos. It drives well (enough), it's safe, contains plenty of people and stuff comfortably and, in Gai form, is quite good value when compared with its main competitor, the Kia Carnival. The Odyssey is quite a bit cheaper, but it is also noticeably smaller.
Australians love the Tarago and we've bought 100,000 of them over the last 30 years, which is pretty good going. The recent price cut strengthens its value and no doubt every rock star over 40 remembers their time in Australia as a blur of Taragos. There might be other eight-seat people movers, but there's nothing else on Aussie earth like a Tarago.
|GLi||2.4L, ULP, CVT AUTO||$19,000 – 26,400||2016 Toyota Tarago 2016 GLi Pricing and Specs|
|GLi V6||3.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$21,500 – 29,150||2016 Toyota Tarago 2016 GLi V6 Pricing and Specs|
|GLX||2.4L, ULP, CVT AUTO||$20,700 – 28,050||2016 Toyota Tarago 2016 GLX Pricing and Specs|
|GLX V6||3.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$23,700 – 32,120||2016 Toyota Tarago 2016 GLX V6 Pricing and Specs|
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