Quick! What’s Australia’s bestselling large seven-seater SUV?
If you rolled your eyes and muttered ‘Kluger’ you’d be incorrect, as that honour belongs to the latter’s unrelated ladder-frame chassis 4x4 sibling, the evergreen Prado.
But while more little devils’ parents purchase Prado, the Kluger did hold the number two spot for ages until stock shortages hit Toyota really hard this year, so it’s still close to many local seven-seater buyers’ hearts.
Now, there’s been a new one out since June – the fourth to wear the badge in Australia since 2003 – and, let’s not mince words, this fresh XV70-series redesign is substantially better than the (albeit handsome) old jigger it replaces.
Switching to the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, it shares little except for a name (which, by the way, should be Highlander, except Hyundai snatched that from a bitter Toyota decades ago so the Japanese domestic market badge is used instead) and a revised V6 petrol powertrain.
However, if we’re talking about the just-introduced Kluger Hybrid, well, then, we’re pretty much talking brand-spanking new, for Aussies at least. It steps in for the long-lived and underrated (though woefully underpowered) Toyota Prius V people mover, which – fun fact number two – remains very popular among the famous New York City taxi fraternity.
Given how important the latest Kluger is, as well as its potential to provide – at long last – an alternative seven-seater SUV to the burgeoning number of thirsty petrol and dirty/smelly diesel alternatives, we take a long, hard look at the promising mid-range GXL Hybrid AWD in the urban environs akin to where the late and lamented Prius V found so much favour.
The GXL hybrid is equipped with LED auto on/off headlights. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
Kia will soon add a Sorento PHEV grade to the existing petrol and diesel versions, but until then the Toyota is alone in offering hybrid efficiency in a large SUV.
In this case, it’s for a reasonable $2500 over the carryover V6 petrol AWD alternative, or a considerable $6500 more than the V6 petrol front-wheel-drive (FWD). The base GX can also be had as a Hybrid AWD from $54,150, saving $9000.
So, what does the GXL Hybrid AWD grade get you?
For starters, a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol working in conjunction with three electric motors, an electric continuously variable automatic transmission (e-CVT) and ‘e-Four AWD’ – which shuffles torque from 100 per cent FWD to 80 per cent rear-wheel-drive.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
Stepping up to the GXL ushers in synthetic leather upholstery instead of the standard cloth coverings, a power-operated tailgate, satellite navigation, powered/heated front seats, three-zone climate control and roof rails.
At this price level, the GXL is not very generously equipped, lacking items found in some other similarly-priced opponents like the Sorento GT-Line Diesel AWD.
For just $700 more, the latter ushers in safe-exit alert (to warn against dooring cyclists or other moving objects), surround-view camera, Nappa soft leather trim (instead of vinyl), powered folding mirrors with reverse auto-dipping function, driver’s seat memory, head-up display, sunroof, wireless smartphone charging, driver-to-back-row intercom, rear-door sunblinds and a seven-year warranty, among other goodies.
Some but not all of these can be found in the flagship Grande Hybrid AWD from $75,400. Is this what people mean by a ‘Toyota Tax’?
Adding premium paint costs $675.
Is there anything interesting about its design?
The only interesting thing about the XV70’s design is how timid its styling is.
At 4966mm long, 1755mm high and 1930mm wide, the fourth-generation Kluger is 76mm longer, 25mm higher and 5mm wider than before – though a 61mm wheelbase stretch (to 2850mm) and broader wheelarch flares help give the Toyota a better stance. Longer and larger competitors include the Mazda CX-9 and Hyundai Palisade.
The only interesting thing about the Kluger's design is how timid its styling is. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
Yet you’d be hard-pressed to tell new from old, revealing a surprisingly conservative approach after years of boldly-styled Toyotas post-TNGA platform. This probably reflects the vital importance of the US market, where sales this year are expected to approach or exceed 250,000 units. It’s what the brand diehards want. Familiarity plus freshness. This has it in spades.
In our eyes, new Kluger is not as handsome as its predecessor, looking like the old bus seen through a slightly distorted lens. We reckon it lacks the presence of the Palisade, suaveness of the Sorento and elegance of the CX-9.
The new Kluger is not as handsome as its predecessor. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
How practical is the space inside?
Literally and metaphorically, there’s a lot to take in here, so listen up.
Vast inside and out, the Kluger is shaped to fit the needs of most families and folk needing seven seats.
Is there an easier vehicle to get in and out of? Wide doors, massive seats and the room to move see to that. Sliding in and getting comfy in reassuringly familiar surroundings has long been this big Toyota’s way.
While many of the hybrid powertrain elements underneath are revolutionary for an Aussie-bound Kluger, the look and feel inside are clearly inspired by the outgoing model.
The chunky, completely restyled dash is still multi-layered in presentation, with a big new floating-style touchscreen and shelf area complete with access to charging ports carrying over. The centre console is wide, housing a massive bin (now with a single jalousie lid rather than two fiddly sliders). Ventilation is easily accessed and controlled, while vision is really no problem thanks to that large camera and even bigger exterior mirrors.
The completely restyled dash still has a multi-layered presentation. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
The driver’s seat is broad and flat in appearance but actually very accommodating and comfortable, no matter what your size. Being a GXL, there’s electrical adjustment including for height and lumbar support, which is a bonus. Their tombstone backrest profile also improve the feeling of space and airiness, especially for folks behind. Note, however, that the front passenger seat does not adjust for height – a long-time Toyota fail.
The instruments are essentially analogue based, but with a similar digitised middle section for additional vehicle functionality, multimedia and GPS data. And the same old cheap plastics abound everywhere where there isn’t stitched leather-esque material. The fascia’s more contemporary style does feature a few more trim flourishes than before that do help it seem less downmarket, but the Toyota’s overriding theme is utility over luxury. Don’t forget, this GXL Hybrid e-AWD is almost $70K on the road.
The instruments are analogue based with a digitised middle section. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
Perhaps the biggest departure for the Kluger here is the swapping over to an electric park brake, finally eliminating the dated old foot-operated item. There’s also a digital speedo at last.
Moving on to the rear seat area, it is clear this is created for kids of all ages. Middle row first. Entry/egress continues to be stupendously easy, on firm yet flat seats that recline a long way to optimise comfort – almost to the point where you can lean in and nap. They also slide forward as far as your legs will allow. Big feet can fit beneath the front seats too – another thoughtful detail.
The middle row is clearly designed for children. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
Middle-row amenities are generous, and include ceiling-mounted face-level directional air vents, overhead grab handles and twin reading lights, mid- and rear-seat climate control with fan, temperature and directional choices (though the driver has overriding control), rear-seat map pockets, twin USB-A ports, door pockets (good only for smaller bottles) and a wide centre armrest with cupholders that are too large for smaller coffee cups. Sorry, inner-urban baristas.
Thanks to the one-third centre-row split being on the correct kerb rather than dangerous road side, accessing the twin-seat third row only requires that one person and not two people get out first. It’s clearly been designed for right-hand markets like Australia and the UK – which is new to the Kluger universe (though as the Highlander).
Access to the third row is easy. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
Despite the Toyota’s big, boxy proportions, the third row is essentially a kids-only area, really, though adults should be able to handle smaller-distance journeys without too much discomfort. Width isn’t a problem, but headroom for people over 175cm is limited, with scalps sometimes even scraping the ceiling. Kneeroom is also very dependent on the generosity or otherwise of the middle-row travellers. Note that, vinyl aside, row number three is a sometimes noisy and dark place to be, though the windows are deeper than some, due to that cheap plastic finish that’s even more obvious back here.
A very low cushion means awkward knees-up seating for longer-legged passengers, but at least there is room underneath the middle row for feet, as well as a reclining backrest to ease a bit of pressure – again, as long as the middle-seat occupants are willing to slide their seats forward a little.
More overhead directional air vents are present (unlike in the Mazda CX-9), four large-circumference cupholders (which also act as storage for phones but not tablets) and a single centrally located light.
Exiting is made easy thanks to shoulder-height latches that automatically fold and slide the middle seat portions to allow egress, though their heft might have you wishing for the simple and easy press-and-push button that Hyundai and Kia use for their three-row chariots.
With all seven seats erect, there is 241 litres (VDA – to the belt line), which is sufficient space for shopping and other cargo; note that the carpeted floor also contains the luggage blind without you having to leave it at home – another thoughtful gesture. Given that there are batteries and an electric motor below, it’s quite impressive that Toyota also manages to package a spare wheel (full-sized too!) and a low-ish flat floor.
The Kluger has a full-size spare wheel. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
Of course, in five-seater mode the Kluger’s vastness comes into play, with a useful 552L, expanding to 1150L in two-seater wagon mode. Which is exactly what you’d expect from Toyota’s largest monocoque-bodied large SUV sold in Australia.
With all seats in place, boot space is rated at 241 litres. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
With the third row folded flat, cargo capacity is 552L. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
However, as the older CX-9 and latest Sorento highlight, the GXL’s ambience and perceived quality fall some ways short of expectations, even if the fit and finish are fine, with no squeaks or rattles detected.
Sorry, Toyota, but the new Kluger’s cabin feels cheap and downmarket for nearly $70K’s worth of mainstream family SUV motoring, compounding our disappointment over the lack of features compared to some others, and further raising doubts about its value for money.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
Thankfully the Kluger GXL Hybrid AWD starts to make up ground in other ways.
Behind that angry-looking grille topped by a winged Chrysler-esque blue-tinged badge is a powertrain that should be familiar to Camry Hybrid drivers – Toyota’s A25A-FXS 2487cc 2.5-litre double overhead cam, 16-valve, variable valve timing, direct-injection in-line four-cylinder Atkinson Cycle petrol engine.
It delivers 142kW of power at 6000rpm and 242Nm of torque at 4400rpm to the front wheels, via an e-CVT auto.
Being a series/parallel full hybrid system, it is assisted by a pair of permanent magnet synchronous electric motors – a 134kW/270Nm drive motor up front and a 40kW/121Nm motor on the rear axle, driving the rear wheels. There is no driveshaft between the front and rear axles. Hence the marketing term ‘e-Four’ AWD.
The 2.5-litre four cylinder engine combined with the hybrid system has a total output of 184kW. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
While the combined power output is 184kW, Toyota never states a combined torque output, so let’s stick with 242Nm. There’s also a 1.9kWh Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery pack that is charged in two ways: via the petrol engine and recaptured energy from the regenerative braking system.
Pure electric power is provided for under 2km, during very low speeds, when coasting along off-throttle or under very light throttle at certain speeds. The 0-100km/h claim is 8.4 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 180km/h.
Not bad for a 2045kg four-cylinder seven-seater large SUV. A favourable power-to-weight ratio of 90kW/tonne helps, despite this Toyota being no lightweight.
How much fuel does it consume?
Here’s the big acid test for the new Kluger Hybrid. Fuel consumption. Previous models suffered in Australia for not offering a diesel for economy-minded buyers, putting it behind the eight ball against the likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe, Sorento and Mazda CX-8. Not anymore.
We managed a respectable 7.7 litres per 100km at the pump, against an indicated (on the trip computer) 7.3L/100km. The official combined average is 5.6L/100km (for a carbon-dioxide emissions rating of just 128 grams per kilometre), so that’s not bad going.
For reference, a GXL petrol V6 FWD tested recently returned 12.5L/100km against an 8.7L/100km claim. That’s the sort of consumption previous-generation Kluger owners would expect.
We managed 7.7 litres per 100km at the pump. (image credit: Byron Mathioudakis)
Fitted with a 65-litre tank, over 1150km between refills is possible.
While much of the driving was in heavy traffic (with the standard stop/start system getting a big workout), there were plenty of freeway dashes as well as performance testing during this time.
Our only concern is the need for 95 RON premium unleaded petrol. You shouldn’t run the Kluger on the cheap stuff.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
Under the marketing term ‘Toyota Safety Sense’, all Klugers feature autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with intersection assist and pedestrian (day and night) and cyclist (day) detection, as well as lane support systems (that between 50km/h and 180km/h) that includes lane-keep and steering assist. There is also adaptive cruise control with full stop/go functionality, road sign recognition, high-beam assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors, anti-lock brakes, emergency brake assist, electronic stability control, traction control and Hill-start assist control.
Seven airbags are fitted, comprised of dual frontal, side chest, side head and driver knee SRS items, but note that the third-row occupants do not receive full head protection as in some other three-row vehicles, despite what ANCAP says in its report. Nor is there the front centre airbag as fitted to the Toyota Yaris launched locally before the Kluger – another disappointment.
Two rear-seat ISOFIX points as well as three top tethers for straps are fitted to the middle-row seats.
Finally, the Kluger’s AEB can detect and brake for cars between 10km/h and 180km/h, and for pedestrians and cyclists (including in reverse) between 10km/h and 80km/h.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
The engine and transmission are under a seven-year warranty, while the hybrid battery pack is up to 10 years as long as the owner undertakes an annual inspection “… as part of routine maintenance according to the vehicle logbook.”
And why wouldn't you? The first five annual scheduled services are capped at $250 each, with the work carried out detailed online. This is one of Toyota's biggest advantages over the competition.
What's it like to drive around town?
In many ways, the Kluger hybrid makes for a magnificent urban wagon experience.
Despite being nearly five metres long and two metres wide, the boxy proportions, lofty seating, deep windows, huge mirrors and big rear camera view make it easy to manoeuvre into tight spots, dart through small traffic gaps and zip along skinny side streets and cobbled lanes.
Aiding all the above is light yet nicely-balanced steering that’s neither heavy nor too sharp, making it a breeze to get used to quickly. Like most Toyotas. Never mind that the turning circle (at 11.4 metres) is on the large side; there’s plenty here to make you feel confident behind the wheel, even if you’re new to the Kluger.
The hybrid part of the equation adds further urban-driving benefits. Most people just love the way it silently sails off when you gently prod the go-pedal, gliding away in that smooth and effortless way that defines EVs. And once the petrol engine does start up, it integrates pretty seamlessly.
That electrified assistance really adds extra punch when you need to accelerate, with the Kluger whooshing forward when you want to merge quickly or get a move on. And when it comes to braking, Toyota’s hard work in eliminating that bugbear of earlier hybrids – a spongy and/wooden-feeling pedal action – seems to have paid dividends. There’s nothing odd or snatchy about the way the GXL stops.
If you’re expecting a ‘but’ here it is.
Riding on the standard 235/65R18 wheel/tyre package, the Toyota A43 Open Country rubber isn’t as quiet as we’d hoped, whether around town, in the ‘burbs our out on the open road. Tough and durable, they're designed to maximise tyre life and minimise rolling resistance in the name of economy but at the cost of refinement. You’re especially aware of their noisy ways in the centre and rear pews.
‘Disappointing’ is too strong a term to describe the GXL hybrid AWD’s firm-ish ride quality, especially after the massive advances new Kluger has made over the hard, unsettled and jiggly suspension tune of old; this one’s miles better than before, finally losing the queasy body movement that so marred previous iterations. And for that, we're very glad.
However, after enjoying the suspension absorption and suppleness of the C-HR (on the different TNGA GA-C platform) and to a lesser extent the current RAV4 (TNGA GA-K, like Kluger), the GXL just isn’t quite a comfortable or soothing to ride in. Most bumps and ruts are smoothed out, but occasional humps seem to thump on through. For the record, there are struts up front and a multi-link independent layout out back.
This isn’t a deal breaker by any means; but, combined with road noise, it isn’t at anywhere near the forefront of refinement that the five-year-old CX-9 is, even with the advantage of that slick hybrid powertrain. We expected more. Particularly for the money asked.
That said, the Kluger is a fast, capable and relaxing higher-speed touring machine that’s made for eating up country roads and motorways alike, with surprisingly little in the way of wind noise despite the boxy body that’s pushing through the air. About the only time you’ll notice the lack of capacity compared to the muscular V6 version is during freeway overtaking scenarios, where the 2.5-litre four-pot engine/CVT combo flare up through the revs, creating somewhat of a racket. But, mercifully, acceleration response remains strong and it things soon settle back down. Here we miss the sweet and soulful tune of that big old V6.
Find a tight set of turns, and you’re also likely to be impressed by the way the GXL handles and corners with reassuring confidence, thanks to that direct steering and a chassis that feels primed and planted. Here that firm suspension tune comes into play, providing a level of composure and control that eluded previous Klugers.
Of course, few consumers prioritise dynamic agility in their large seven-seater SUV search parameters, but it’s good to know that Toyota has at least tried hard to please keener drivers.
Note there’s a Trail mode for light off-road adventures – and by that, we mean loose gravel at best. A 208mm ground clearance rating is better than most large monocoque-bodied SUVs but nowhere near enough for bush-bashing. Towing capacity, by the way, is 2000kg braked, 700kg unbraked.
For packaging, practicality, space, active safety, fuel economy, driving ease, performance, handling and security, the GXL Hybrid AWD is right up there with the class leaders. Friendly and likeable, it leapfrogs all bar the as-yet untested Sorento PHEV for its unique petrol-electric tech in this segment.
However, the big Toyota is too expensive given what you miss out features-wise for the price, the interior look and presentation seems conspicuously downmarket against key rivals, there are a few specification anomalies and refinement levels can’t catch the segment best.
We feel, for the money, the GXL Hybrid AWD should be better-equipped as well as more polished, luxurious and comfortable. Way better than before… but still some ways to go.
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