Toyota’s standout new Kluger SUV tested
Toyota's popular Kluger SUV is about to shed its image as a gas guzzler.
The new hybrid version uses less fuel in city driving than the petrol version of Toyota's smallest car, the Yaris, yet it can carry seven people in comfort and tow 2000kg.
It's a compelling sales pitch, although it could have been more compelling with a cheaper front-drive model.
Customers choosing the hybrid pay a $2500 premium for the petrol-electric engine and an extra $4000 for all-wheel-drive. That's a big jump from the cheapest model in the range. RAV4 buyers pay only $2500 more because a front-drive model is available, while the rival Hyundai Santa Fe costs $3500 more for all-wheel-drive and a diesel engine that is almost as frugal as the Kluger hybrid on the open road.
Nevertheless, Toyota predicts more than 50 per cent of Kluger buyers will opt for a Hybrid.
The brand's vice president of sales and marketing, Sean Hanley, says close to a third of the brand's sales are now hybrid models.
"Over the last three years we've seen strong demand for hybrid variants.
"I think that hybrid right now is certainly engaging the market because it's practical, affordable and certainly doesn't have any range anxieties attached to it," he says.
The hybrid, which is powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine teamed with three electric motors, uses roughly half the fuel of the standard V6 model in city driving and 20 per cent less on the freeway. It takes premium fuel, though, while the V6 takes regular.
Toyota says the petrol-electric unit puts out a combined 184kW of power and is capable of reaching 100km/h in 8.4 seconds.
The standard all-wheel-drive V6 puts out 218kW and 350Nm and is roughly half a second quicker to 100km/h.
Hybrid technology isn't the sole drawcard for the 2021 Kluger, though.
The new model is bigger, safer and more capable on and off-road than its predecessor.
Toyota has stretched the cabin by 60mm and the wheels are wider apart to liberate more space for passengers in all three rows and more room for luggage.
The centre screen is bigger than before, while GXL and Grande models get a small digital display in front of the driver.
There are more soft-touch cabin materials than before, but the presentation lacks some of the hi-tech feel and features of its rivals.
Second and third-row passengers are looked after with air vents and those in the second row have USB outlets as well.
Access into the third row is tight for adults and tall teens, but the middle row can be slid forward to make more room.
An impressive standard safety package includes auto emergency braking, blind-spot and lane-keep assist and rear cross-traffic alert for backing out of driveways.
Prices start at $47,650 for the front-drive V6 GX model, rising to $56,850 for the GXL and $68,900 for the Grande. The hybrid is only available in GX and GXL AWD models.
For the extra spend over the GX, the GXL has synthetic leather seats, a power tailgate and satnav, while Grande buyers also get a head-up display, leather accented seats and a premium audio system.
All-wheel-drive models have a new Trail mode that adjusts throttle sensitivity and distributes drive to different wheels to improve grip on slippery surfaces.
On the hybrid models up to 80 per cent of torque transfers to the rear axle if needed. Grande models have a more sophisticated torque distribution feature.
On the road, the new Kluger feels more planted and composed than its predecessor, pitching and leaning less through corners and recovering more quickly over large bumps.
It remains a comfortable highway cruiser, but is more fun to drive. The V6 is a potent unit and some care is needed with the throttle out of tight corners. A new eight-speed auto provides decisive and smooth shifts.
The hybrid is less responsive but adequate for family duties. A short run through city traffic and winding country roads suggests the fuel claims are achievable.
Both engines are quiet and refined and the Kluger's cabin does a good job of cocooning occupants from road noise.
It's not cheap, but the new Kluger has all the ingredients for success: clever technology, comfort, space and performance.
TOYOTA KLUGER GX HYBRID VITALS
Price: $54,150 plus on-roads
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric, 184kW
Warranty/servicing: 5 years, unlimited km, $1250 over five years
Safety: Auto emergency braking, blind spot alert, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, radar cruise control
Originally published as Toyota's standout new Kluger SUV tested