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Big Space: Toyota Kluger GXL AWD

Toyota has built its name on reliability and offering a car for the right segment. The Land Cruiser, Corolla and, lately, the 86. Some time ago it created a new market by releasing the RAV4. There’s now 4 models in Toyota’s SUV range: Land Cruiser, Prado, RAV 4 and Kluger, a range released just over ten years ago. It’s gone from being a medium sized vehicle to one almost as large, in all dimensions, as the Land Cruiser. With four distinct vehicles to choose from across quite a few variations, just WHERE does the Kluger fit in, especially the GXL AWD A Wheel Thing tested for a week? Updated and released to the Aussie market in March of 2014, it’s an evolution of the previous model yet it’d be hard pressed to be recognised as the great grandchild of the original.Kluger profile

The Donk.
Toyota have thrown a 3.5L petrol powered V6 under the acre sized bonnet of the current model Kluger. There’s 201kW and 337 Nm of torque on Kluger engineoffer; Kluger consolehowever it’s got to move a 2020kg (sans passengers and fuel) vehicle that’s 4.8 metres long, just over 1.9 metres in total width and 1.73 metres in height. As a result, fuel economy is not great, call it 12L/100 kilometres from a 72 litre tank as an average. Around town it slurped harder than a shearer on a beer after a hard day in the paddock. The issue is not the torque, it’s WHERE that maximum figure comes in, a stupidly high 4700 revs. This means the engine is working harder at lower revs to get and keep the bulk moving. There’s no diesel offered for the Kluger either, consider that when you’re shopping for a people moving SUV…it’s mated to a six speed auto, the only transmission available, plus the GXL comes with either a two wheel drive (front driven) or, in this case, an all wheel drive setup that is part time but can be locked. There’s descent control fitted as well, which all works well enough however the Kluger seems to slot into the rarely and barely used for off roading segment. The auto is smooth, silky smooth; with low throttle applications the change is barely perceptible and it’s only by the flick of the rev counter’s needle that you know something’s changed.


The Suit.
Kluger frontOf recent times, there seems to have been a push back to blunt, vertical noses for SUVs. Kluger rearAlthough this may seem non aerodynamic (and could very well be), there’s other tricks designers and engineers apply to try and make a brick on wheels a bit more slippery. There’s some extension to the headlight and taillight structure, to divert and bend airflow. There’s a rake to the rear window line, the headlight cluster is swept back into the fenders, with a front on view giving some idea of how the aero has changed for the 2014 Kluger.The taillights flow though into the tailgate (non electrically operated in the GXL). The grille is taller than the outgoing model whilst each and and the wheel arches have tough polyurethane shrouding. The GXL came with tidy 18 inch alloys, shod with 245/60 Michelin Latitude rubber.

On The Inside.
Kluger front seatsIt’s a leather look and plastic interior, setup forKluger rear seats folded five seats with two hidden in the rear cargo section. The rear seats are configured for slide and tilt to give a completely flat load surface and there’s also rear seat aircon controls and vents. It’s typical Toyota ease of use and sensibility. Kluger rear seatsThen we look at the dash and wonder how the styling could be so….unusual; there’s a double fold to the top of the dash with one surface coming from the passenger airbag and vent before disappearing behind the second surface, the dash binnacle, which runs across through the centre and across the audio block. Squeezed in between and not altogether harmoniously, there’s a clock whilst lower down, the plugs for the USB and auxiliary inputs are almost inaccessible and hidden from view. Front aircon controls are sensibly laid out Kluger console dashKluger dashhowever the touchscreen surrounds look and feel low rent. It sits above another storage section that’s deep and big enough for mobile phones and sweeps across to the passenger side air vent. Kluger console storageAudio quality was good, with nice depth, clarity and separation. The dash dials have a standard look to them however the info screen tucked in between them seemed to lack the Kluger cargooption to show the velocity. Kluger rear ventsThe tiller is comfortable to hold and has the now almost mandatory assortment of buttons for audio, Bluetooth etc. The seats themselves are reasonably comfortable, have a good measure of under thigh support and at the front they bracket a rather large storage console. It’s deep enough to hold bottles or a handbag which gives a subtle clue as to the Kluger’s target market.

The Drive.
Nowhere near as lumbering as its big brother, the Land Cruiser, the Kluger is quite agile, belying its size. Of immediate note, though, was the thump from the front suspension as the Kluger goes over one of the larger school sized speed humps at low velocity, sounding as if the strut towers were being pulled out. Although there’s little free play in the steering rack, it still requires a bit of turn for it to bit and send the front Kluger wheelwheels where you want them. Once loaded up there’s some nice bite, some good feedback and tight response, with the front end going where you point and the rear follows faithfully, like a well trained pup. The suspension settings are taut initially, rolling smoothly into a good level of compliance and there’s little of concern body roll wise as it corners nice and flat. Acceleration is decent, at the cost of fuel consumption but stopping the 2000 kilo plus Kluger wasn’t always confidence inspiring. The pedal seemed long and lacked true bite, with a number of not so quick stops feeling as if the car in front was about to have a Kluger in the boot. The GXL came loaded with a locking diff and hill descent control as well but it’s not, in A Wheel Thing’s opinion, the vehicle people would use for anything other than a bit of gravel work.

The Wrap.
It’s a crowded market that this new Kluger comes into, with SUV offerings from almost every major manufacturer. Toyota’s off road heritage is well known, its reputation almost unbreakable and they stand as the company effectively responsible (or blameworthy, in some eyes) for the SUV market. With around a half dozen Kluger variants available, in three trim levels and two or four wheel drive configurations, it covers the bases. However, its size and price points, compared to its opposition, plus its thirst and lack of a diesel variant, has A Wheel Thing questioning the relevance of the Kluger. There’s cheaper, more suitable soft and off roaders, Jeep has announced a diesel engine for one of its range, Hyundai’s Sante Fe and Kia’s Sorento offer the same seating configuration options and a better looking interior in a more compact body without sacrificing room or comfort. If you want a big, proper offroader, you buy a Land Cruiser or Patrol. If you don’t need something that big and don’t ned to go offroad there’s plenty to choose from. Then there’s the dollars. The GX 2WD starts at just shy of $41000, the GXL AWD is nearly $54K and then there’s the onroad costs… As dynamically good it is for such a big vehicle, I was left wondering which round hole this peg is meant to fill.
For info:

Car: Toyota Kluger GXL AWD.
Engine: 3.5L V6.
Fuel/Tank: Unleaded, 91 RON, 72 litres.
Power/Torque: 201kW @ 6200rpm, 337Nm @ 4700rpm.
Fuel Consumption (claimed): 10.6L/100km combined, 14.4L/100km urban, 8.4L/100km highway.
Transmission: six speed automatic.
Weight: (dry) 2020kg, (gross) 2740kg.
Towing: 2000kg (braked), 700kg (unbraked).
Warranty: 3 years/100000 kilometres, whichever occurs first.
Seating: seven, third row flush with floor, middle row 60/40 split fold.
Cargo: (all seats up) 195L, (third row folded) 529L, (all folded) 1872L
Dimensions, L x W x H (mm): 4865 x 1965 x 1730.
Wheelbase (mm): 2790.
Tyres/Wheels: 245/60 on 18 inch diameter alloys.
Off road approach/departure: 18/23.1degrees.