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
- Exterior styling
- Interior and cabin appeal
- Rear space, and space overall
- Lack of boot space
- Driving position not too high for some
- Engine noise slightly un-sexy
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|
Apparently there is an ugly Kardashian, but you don’t care, or if you do, you shouldn’t, so let’s talk about the Hemsworth brothers instead.
In any other family, Luke Hemsworth would probably be called handsome, if a little short. Unfortunately for him, standing next to Liam and the God who walks amongst us that is Chris (I had to interview him once, he really is dreamy), Luke looks like he’s barely keeping his chin above the water line at the shallow end of the gene pool.
The Mercedes-Benz SUV range has quite a variation of lookers in its family tree as well, but I would argue that the new, entry-level GLA is pretty much the Chris of the range, or at least the Liam. The unfortunate, slightly large-foreheaded GLB would obviously be the Luke.
The only problem with all this, of course, is that the car that originally gave birth to the GLA - the A-Class - is more attractive than all of them, and Craig Hemsworth, sire of the family, doesn’t quite pull that off.
The point is that the new GLA is going to be even more popular than the original one, which sold a staggering one million units worldwide, because it is not only bigger and taller, but better looking, inside and out.
And let’s face it, no one is buying an urban SUV like this for the way it can climb a snow-covered alpine pass. Even all-wheel drive is optional.
But the GLA has this niche nailed, and the new one - thanks to its style, space and the effortless way it rides - is going to be an even bigger success.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
You can tell that this car is going to be a success just by looking at it. For a lot of people, to see one will be to want one, and when they sit in that hugely high driving position and gaze upon the future-fabulous interior they’ll be even more sold.
It’s fair to say the GLA 250 does everything well - aside from providing boot space - and with great comfort, and in terms of looks, inside and out, it reaches the level of outstanding.
Personally, I’d take the lower and sleeker A Class every time.
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.
I have to say that it’s quite an effort for a car company to get me interested in the look of an SUV, but from its tough, bold and yet stylish grille to its taut back end and BMW-aping rear light cluster, the new GLA really is a looker.
I had the good fortune to bring our GLA 250 test vehicle home and park it right next to the previous model, in the same colour, thus properly ruining the day of one of my neighbours.
The growth in size is clear - the new car is 12cm taller, 30mm wider and has a 30mm-longer wheelbase, yet overall it is 14mm shorter, which makes it look neater as well as stronger - but it’s the little tucks and tweaks of design that have really improved the look. The rear-light cluster is worth mentioning again, as it's just so much nicer.
While the original GLA was simply a case of making an A Class on stilettos, its success has encouraged Benz to really pour some effort into its successor, and the result is clear. This thing is a real looker.
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 main goal of the GLA’s new, more SUV-like shape, in practicality terms, seems to have been to lift the driver even further off the ground, because the command-seating position is obviously a big selling point for someone who finds the A Class too ground-hugging.
So, while some of that growth in height has been used to increase head room to the point where I could easily wear Abraham Lincoln’s hat while driving, much of it has gone to making the driving position a full 10cm higher than in the previous GLA (it’s also 14cm higher than in an A Class).
Personally, the height of the seat drove me slightly spare, and every time I got in I tried to lower it, only to find it doesn’t go any lower, but, tellingly, my wife - who is not far off being an elf - loved it.
What I did like was the back seat, which is truly voluminous. Through clever packaging, Benz has managed to liberate no less than 12cm of extra legroom back there, and I could properly stretch out.
With its standard double-paned panoramic roof and huge windows (part of huge doors, which do come close to scraping on any gutter higher than a match box), it’s a very glassy interior indeed, and visibility is excellent.
There are two cupholders between the front seats, and there’s storage for big bottles in each door. Oddment storage is plentiful, although they could have more if they did away with the now redundant mouse pad and the so-called “arm rest” behind that, which feels more like a gear-shift lever they forgot to remove when they put the shifting functions up on a column stalk.
There’s no need for the track pad any more because the giant and truly very lovely 10.25-inch touch screen does everything via touch, and sits next to another screen the same size that acts as your dash readout, making the whole thing look like a particularly long iPad.
While other car companies, including Audi, which has long been the winner in any interior-design conversation, are still just jamming big screens on top of dashboards, Benz has turned its entire dash into a digital display, and it looks amazing, and futuristic. Like a concept car you can actually buy.
The overall feeling of quality and tech - particularly at night when it all lights up beautifully in a colour of your choosing - in this alluring interior is one of the main reasons buyers will flock to the new GLA.
The seats are not as sporty as some, but they’re comfortable enough.
The one letdown, however, which comes as a shock with all that space in the rear, is the boot, which is just 435 litres, compared to the Audi Q3’s far more practical 530 litres. It really is a surprise when you open the back and see so little there, and that really does lower the practicality mark.
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.
I find it hard to believe I’m saying this about a Benz, but at a starting price of $66,500, the GLA 250 4MATIC does seem like quite a lot of car for the money. This might be influenced by the fact that I know a couple who recently dropped more than $70K on the smaller A Class (they actually went shopping for a GLA, but then fell in love with the look of the little hatch).
There, are of course, always issues with the Germans when it comes to what you do and don’t get for your tempting entry price, and in the case of our test vehicle it would stick in my craw quite badly to pay $385 extra for its Polar White paint. Yes, white paint costs extra.
While the Titan Grey Pearl and Black Lugano Leather is nice, it’s only in the car as part of the $2838 AMG Exclusive Package. Throw in the Sports Package at $1915, which gets us the sexy 19-inch AMG alloys, and the Driving Assistance Package for $1531 worth of extra active safety, drop on a dollop of LCT at $1329 and the asking price for our urban SUV hits a less-enticing-sounding $74,498.
Your standard inclusions for the $66,500 are a very lovely panoramic electric sunroof, heated and electronically adjustable front seats, with memory function, lowered comfort suspension and sports-direct steering, plus the Off-Road Engineering Package, while the standard, non AMG wheels are also 19-inch alloys, presumably just less sexy ones.
And you don't have to pay extra for Apple CarPlay, which is nice.
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.
The GLA 250 comes with 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that makes a handy 165kW and 350Nm, which is sent to all four wheels using 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The claimed 0 to 100km/h time is 6.7 seconds.
Your silky smooth gearbox is an eight-speed, or 8G-DCT automatic, in Benz speak.
The engine feels powerful enough, without being exciting, and sounds pleasant enough, without sounding sporty - it's pretty much Goldilocks for an urban SUV.
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.
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.
With such a high driving position, the worry is that you’re going to feel like you’re sitting on the new GLA rather than in it.
But the fact is that, once I became accustomed to the fact that I couldn’t get the seat as low as I wanted to, it all became comfortable enough, and I could get on with fully appreciating the ride quality.
While the GLA has a good, Germanic solidity to the way the interior is bolted together - the doors are almost too heavy, I fact, and can be tough for little people to close - it’s the way it sits on the road that really impresses.
The little Benz soaks up the bumps, particularly in Comfort mode, and provides the kind of ride and handling quality that you’d expect in a six-figure German car. Or a Benz of old, you might say.
Critics of A Classes past were heard to complain that they just didn’t ride as softly or richly as a Mercedes should, but the company has put things to rights with its smaller cars in recent years and you really feel like you’re getting the badge you paid for here.
Step out of the cruisy, snoozy Comfort setting into Sport, however, and the CLA feels out of its, well, comfort zone. It’s almost too toey for its own good, wanting to lurch around, holding each gear desperately and making noises that are merely loud rather than sexy.
Engine noise is a little intrusive whenever you try and accelerate fiercely in the GLA, in fact, but there is some handy pace there if you really need it.
Fast driving does feel out of character for the GLA 250 variant, however, and those who want that kind of thing should wait for the AMG-fettled version that will arrive in the next month or so, bringing 225kW and 400Nm.
As a cornering weapon, this car is more of a butter knife, smoothing its way around bends with minimal bodyroll. It’s an urban SUV, and it drives like one, albeit a very good one.
Typically, the steering is also light and easy to use rather than heavy and talkative.
Being the 4-MATIC variant, the GLA 250 also offers an Off-Road mode, which takes full advantage of its torque-on-demand all-wheel-drive system, but sadly our slightly brief introduction to the car didn’t provide us with the chance to hurl it down a scree-covered mountain side, nor to test out its version of hill-descent control.
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 has not been ANCAP or Euro NCAP crash rated yet, but the first car got five stars from the Euro test and was never ANCAP tested. It’s safe to say they design their cars around being damn sure they get five stars.
You’ll also be getting no less than nine airbags - front, pelvis side and window bags for driver and front passenger, sidebags for the rear occupants and a knee bag for the driver.
In terms of active safety, the Active Brake Assist - which works up to 60km/h - is standard, as is Blind Spot Assist, with exit-warning function, which alerts the driver to approaching cyclists or vehicles when they’re about to open their door. Active Lane Keep Assist is also standard, as are the Active Bonnet, Traffic Sign Assist and Cross Wind Assist.
But you will have to stump up for the Driving Assistance Package to get things like Active Lane Change Assist, Active Emergency Braking Assist and Evasive Steering Assist.
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.
Your GLA comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is Japanese good, if not Korean good.
In terms of servicing, you can choose to purchase a Service Plan or pay as you go with capped-price servicing.
The costs for three annual services are $2050 for the Service Plan, or $2550 with the Capped Price Servicing (first is $550, second is $750, third $1250).
Service Plans can be bought in four or five-year lots, at $2950 and $3500 respectively.