Toyota Kluger VS Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class
- Quiet and refined
- GX is well-specified
- GXL and Grande are pricey for not much benefit
- Deeply ordinary entertainment system
- Better in every way than the A45
- Terrific front seats
- Relatively restrained looks
- Expensive servicing
- Some interior bits are cheap
- Getting old
Like the statues of Easter Island, the Toyota Kluger casts a huge shadow over the Australian motoring landscape. It's a strong seller for Toyota, having been around for ages and is one of three large SUVs in Toyota's armory next to the evergreen Prado and disappointing Fortuner.
Competition, of course, is growing ever more fierce. Hyundai is about to drop a new Santa Fe, the Kia Sorento gets better every year and more manufacturers are joining the party. Most notably, Mazda's CX-9 is also loaded with safety gear and a potent 2.5-litre turbo engine.
The intensity of the battle became apparent in my esteemed colleague Matt Campbell's recent comparison test where the Kluger came last behind the Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-9, thanks largely to Toyota's reluctance to fit the same advanced safety features.
They heard Matt (that's what he reckons, anyway) and recently added some important safety tech to the 2018 Kluger. Let's have a look to see if it's enough.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Buuuuuuuur, parp, buuuuuuuuuuuur, parp. Anyone who knows anything about cars immediately recognises the sound of a 45-engined A-class derivative. It's the sound you hear in a tunnel as old mate blasts past with a giant carbon-fibre wing atop his hatchback. It's the sound you hear at 3:00am on a summer morning (if your suburb has no speed bumps, of course).
Sure, the GLA compact SUV is probably a slightly unexpected source of all that noise. But then, Merc's Ingolstadt rivals stuffed Audi's stupendous five-cylinder engine into a Q3 to make the hugely improbable RSQ3, so why not do the same with their skirts-lifted A-Class?
To be honest, my expectations for this car were low. So do I owe Mercedes a grovelling apology? Or can I still claim the moral high ground after a week of GLA 45 "ownership"?
The 2018 Kluger is still a very solid car, with tons of room for you and your things. And your family and their things. It remains way out in front (although the new Santa Fe is lurking menacingly) and the boost in safety gear will help ensure it stays there.
The pick of the range is still the GX which is now a much stronger proposition with the extra safety features. There's little of real interest in the higher models, you can't get better headlights (a curious state of affairs) or a better stereo, so it's difficult to understand the appeal.
The Kluger will serve you and your family well in a solid and unspectacular way. Given most of us like that in our cars, it's easy to see why it's a hit.
Does the Kluger's new safety focus do enough to lure you away from the competition? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
My wonderful wife, who is not really into this kind of car, admitted to me in a quiet voice that she really liked the GLA45 as long as it was in Sport + mode. And I have to agree. While I'm very fond of the ridiculous Audi RSQ3 (that turbo five-cylinder sounds amazing), I think I'd stump up the extra for the GLA.
Importantly, it can be comfortable, it can be quiet and it's a better fit for most humans than the A or CLA. It is getting on a bit and could do with a further clean-out of the poor ergonomics, but in what is likely its final year on sale, it's still a belter.
Has Peter finally lost it? Can the GLA45 be the best of the A-side 45 trio? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The Kluger is handsome in a squared-off, what-are-you-looking-at kind of way. That big bluff front-end makes the car look rather bigger than it is, which is quite an achievement because it's pushing two metres wide and 1.73m tall. It's not the longest in its class, though, coming in at 4.89m.
Despite it hailing from the US, it's not too blinged-up, but neither is it CX-9 pretty. Some might find the grille reminiscent of a krill-hoovering whale or Bane from Batman, but it's certainly distinctive.
The cabin is like the exterior - nothing flash, but what you see is what you get. Materials are mostly pretty good and it leans towards thoughtful and practical rather than sexy. Normally I'd say, "just like me", but I'm none of these things.
The interior dimensions of the big bruiser match its eclipse-causing exterior. No matter your size - well, within reason - you'll find plenty of space in the first or second rows. The third row features decent space for kids and very patient adults for short trips.
The GLA45 isn't a looker, but then, none of the GLAs are. There's a certain blobbiness to it. A bit of Teletubby mixed with...um, another Teletubby. It's not ugly, it's just not particularly attractive. The 20-inch wheels do much to lift the appearance and negate the effect of the raised ride height compared to the A45/CLA45.
The body kit stops just short of lairy, which is heartening. So if you want to stand out, venture out into the aftermarket world.
Inside was a mild surprise. The last time I drove a CLA 45 I used the word "gaudy". While the GLA isn't amazingly better, the texture of the Alcantara replacing the brushed metal-look plastic, or the carbon of the option pack, was much more pleasant. The brightwork in the cabin is still a bit odd looking, and it's still overcooked with its red detailing, but it is an otherwise beautifully built and well-detailed interior.
The big question people ask me about the Kluger is "How many seats are in there?" - every Kluger packs seven seats, with two flip-up seats in the boot. Boot space dimensions are obviously dictated by whether they're up or down. With the seats down, you've got a decent 529 litres, leaving you with good luggage capacity and a cargo cover to keep it all hidden away. Lift the seats with the straps and you've got just 195 litres, about the same as a small hatchback.
Put the second and third rows down and Toyota says you'll have 1117 litres, but I reckon that's conservative.
The cabin is well-planned for families. Every row features cupholders - front and middle rows have a pair each, while those banished to the third row score two each, a total of eight across the car.
Back in the front row, the tectonic split in the dashboard is lined with a soft rubbery material, making it a great place to sling phones, keys and odds and ends. Between the seats is a massive 24-litre storage bin that a small grandparent could ride in. On second thoughts, that's probably not a great idea.
The front seats are utterly brilliant and feel as good as they look. On first acquaintance they may feel under-padded, but once you've adjusted them to your liking, you never want to leave. The AMG cars also feature one vast improvement over a normal GLA - the ergonomic disaster of a column-mounted shifter is removed, with a console-mounted shifter added where a small cubby once lived. It's so much better, although the Park button is oddly difficult to press.
When luxuriating in those snug front seats, you'll have access to two cupholders and door-mounted bottle holders, as well as a console bin (where the USB ports are) and a tray under the climate controls. Rear seat passengers will find legroom tight but headroom good, even with the huge sunroof.
The GLA's boot holds an entirely reasonable 421 litres, rising to 1235 when you drop both rear seats.
Price and features
There are three models in the Kluger range and how much you pay will vary depending on your thirst for standard features. Our price list features RRP prices and are a guide only - your dealer might be convinced to reduce the cost.
The GX opens with the lowest price - $44,500 for the 2WD and $48,500 for the 4WD. Specs include six-speaker stereo, 18-inch alloys wheels (no 17-inch alloy wheels anymore), front and rear air conditioning, Bluetooth, forward and reverse camera, active cruise control, rear parking sensors, remote central locking, auto headlights, power windows and mirrors and a full-size spare wheel.
The GXL adds an lazy 10 grand in comparison to the GX - $54,950 (2WD) and $58,950 (AWD). The GXL adds a GPS navigation system, DAB digital radio, rear-cross traffic alert, keyless entry and start, partial leather seats, and electric tailgate with separate glass hatch.
The Grande - again, for a further 10 grand plus, is available for $65,646 (2WD) or $69,617 (AWD). You'll get the same satellite navigation as the GXL, 19-inch rims, electric sunroof, rear-seat entertainment system with 9.0-inch screen and Blu-Ray and heated and ventilated front seats.
The entertainment system is powered by a 6.1-inch touch screen in the GX and 8.0-inch in the other models, which also include satellite navigation. The software package is distinctly 2006, painfully so in the GX. The system includes AM/FM radio, CD player and USB. There's no DVD option, however.
Colours include 'Crystal Pearl' (white), silver, 'Rustic Brown' (looks better than it sounds), 'Predawn Grey', 'Rainforest Green', 'Merlot Red' (dahling), 'Deep Red', 'Cosmos Blue' and 'Eclipse Black'. All but the black are $550 extras, which is not modest but not extortionate either.
Toyota's accessories list is well-stocked, with items like nudge bar (which is remarkably well integrated), side steps, cargo barrier, roof racks (no roof rails, though) and various plastic shields, driving lights, floor mats, towbar, parking aids and blind spot monitor.
You're out of luck if you want a Toyota-branded seat belt extender or bull bar.
For comparison, the cheapest CX-9 is $700 less (than the GX), but with a higher spec level, while the fully-loaded Azami is also around $800 cheaper (than the Grande) but - again - better-equipped.
The Korean rivals, while older and slightly smaller, are significant cheaper - the Kia Sorento is priced from $42,990 to $46,990 while the Santa Fe starts at $40,990 and finishes at $57,090 (albeit not a petrol V6). All these cars are well-equipped, with more modern features and tech.
The GLA 45 lightens your wallet by no less than $89,211 - more than double the GLA 180 front-wheel drive, and about $5000 more than the bonkers (and ancient) RS Q3.
Packed into the GLA's kit bag are 20-inch alloy wheels, a 12-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, comprehensive safety gear, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, electric and heated front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim (some real, some not), auto parking, powered and heated folding mirrors, a massive sunroof and dynamic dampers. There's no spare tyre, just a tyre-repair kit.
The multimedia system is Mercedes' COMAND unit and it is as user-unfriendly as ever. It does, however, power a very decent stereo, and also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Thankfully our car was bereft of both the carbon-fibre package ($990) and the aerodynamics package ($1990).
Engine & trans
Across the range, Kluger buyers are treated to the same engine specifications - a 3.5-litre V6 petrol. The big unit devlops 218kW/350Nm to help move the two-tonner.
As to whether the V6 features a timing belt or chain, it's the latter. The engine uses standard (OW-30) oil and 0-100km/h acceleration times are around nine seconds.
Towing capacity is the same for each model, coming in at 700kg for unbraked trailers and 2000kg braked. We haven't yet carried out a towing review.
AMG's fabled 2.0-litre turbo four lurks under that higher bonnet, still kicking out an improbable 280kW and 475Nm. Drive reaches the road via Merc's own seven-speed twin-clutch transmission and all four of its wheels.
All that power and grip translates to a 4.4-second dash to 100km/h for the slightly tubby (over 1600kg) GLA, but just between you and me, anything under five seconds feels scorchingly quick.
For its engine size and overall weight, fuel economy is always going to be marginal and continues to be the Kluger's weak spot. For the front-wheel drive, Toyota claims 9.lL/100km on the combined cycle. The heavier 4x4 version recorded an official combined fuel consumption figure of 9.5L/100km.
These mileage figures would be a stretch - in a week of gentle suburban running around in a GX AWD, we copped a figure of 13.7L/100km.
The fuel tank capacity is a handy 72 litres, meaning a decent run between fills, especially when you're out on the open road.
Obviously, without a diesel engine, there are no diesel fuel consumption figures.
The official combined-cycle figure suggests the GLA45 will consume 7.5L/100km. Obviously that figure is largely irrelevant, and not just for the usual reasons, but because you don't buy a GLA45 to potter about in. I got, uh, 12.5L/100km, so you can imagine how much I was enjoying it.
As you might expect, you'll need to feed it 98RON.
You never really forget that the Kluger is a big unit. Ground clearance is a not-inconsiderable 200mm and the turning circle a fairly lazy 11.8 metres. People don't seem to mind that it feels big, and is one of the few in the segment that I feel like I'm climbing up into with my 183cm (six-foot) frame rather than stepping in.
From behind the wheel you can practically see the curvature of the Earth you sit so high. Fire up the near-silent V6 and you're struck by how incredibly smooth it is. Also smooth is the ride - the long travel suspension is probably exactly the same as it is for our American cousins vs, say, Hyundai's habit of setting up its cars for Australia.
Everything is soft and squidgy but in a reassuring way, even the warning beeps aren't too shrill or irritating. The steering is light and with the occasional moment of vagueness but again, it's all very predictable. The brakes, though a bit spongy at the top of the pedal, are more than up to the task of washing off speed in the unlikely event you've overcooked things.
The engine continues unchanged. There's enough horsepower to get you going and hold a decent clip, it will keep you out of trouble and do what Toyotas generally do - look after you. Performance is hardly the key point of the Kluger - it weighs in at a fairly unapologetic 2005kg in AWD form - but, as I say, there's ample power to keep you moving.
We're yet to perform an exhaustive off-road review, but our experience is that the Kluger has reasonable off road ability.
When the 45-badged cars first launched, they were something of a revelation. BMW's turbo six-cylinder fans sniffed at the 2.0-litre's staggering outputs and all-wheel-drive chassis, but this car really captured the imagination. The GLA45 might be slightly unexpected, but it's better in almost every way as a daily driver than the A or CLA.
For a start, its higher ride height seems to translate to a much better ride quality. Anything on 20-inch wheels should have an appalling ride, but the GLA45 manages to be firm yet comfortable. Put the other two in Race mode and you'll need to up your private health insurance extras to include osteo, physio and whatever "o"-ending specialist fixes your back.
The improved ride quality meant I was far happier to chuck this car around. While it doesn't have the same ultimate overall performance of the lower cars, it's far more comfortable whether you're on it or just driving around. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, and the steering is excellent.
As for the engine...well, it still farts like toddler during a moment of silence at a funeral, but you can't deny its technical brilliance and huge power outputs. I remember the CLA45's engine as being a bit highly strung. Perhaps I couldn't separate the overall high-strung nature of the car from the engine, but I felt the same engine in this car wasn't as jumpy.
The way it propels this car into triple figures is tremendous fun. It's not as charismatic as the Audi five-cylinder, perhaps, but that doesn't matter in the end - it's properly fast, attached to a better chassis and offers a cabin with a driving position fit for humans.
The Kluger arrives from the US with seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls and rear parking sensors.
The 2018 Kluger is really about the battery of new safety features in the lower models. Added to the GX and GXL are pre-collision warning, forward AEB, lane departure warning, active cruise and auto high beam. GXLs also pick up a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert. As you can imagine, the Grande has the lot.
There are three top-tether anchors for the middle row as well as two ISOFIX points.
As before, the ANCAP safety rating stands at a maximum five stars, awarded in November 2016.
The GLA comes with nine airbags (including driver's knee), blind-spot sensors, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, forward-collision warning and mitigation and driver-attention detection.
Toyota's three year/100,000km warranty also comes with a fixed price servicing plan. It seems the Japanese company can get away with the short warranty because of the long-held reputation for reliability and few problems or faults.
I've certainly never heard complaints from Kluger owners, or Toyota owners generally for that matter. Having said that, Hyundai and Kia both smack Toyota out of the park for warranty length and in Hyundai's case, lifetime fixed price servicing.
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 for the stamp in your owners manual, which is always good for resale value.
Few owners report any genuine issues, such as engine problems or tranmission problems.
The Mercedes standard warranty is three years/unlimited kilometres with roadside assist to match. Service intervals are a very reasonable 12 months/20,000km.
The company also offers capped-price servicing - first service is $576 but the second and third are a whopping $1152 each. Three years will set you back $2880.