Sixteen years after the first Kluger Hybrid debuted in Japan, Toyota Australia has finally introduced its large petrol-electric SUV here in all-new fourth-generation form, and it appears to be catching on.
The modern world is changing faster than many of us are willing to admit, though one thing’s for sure – offering a large SUV solely in petrol V6 form in 2021 is a mug’s game.
Not that a large V6 SUV doesn’t still make sense for many people – it’s a solid option for off-roading, country cruising and effortless towing – but if you’re a city-dwelling type, how do you ignore the fact that the Kluger’s petrol V6 is 50 percent thirstier than its four-cylinder Hybrid alternative?
You’ll pay a premium for the privilege of owning the Hybrid variant ($2500 more than a V6 AWD) but sales show that almost 60 percent of new Kluger buyers are choosing to do so.
Indeed, the Kluger Hybrid AWD, tested here in entry-level GX form, combines very few downsides with one irrefutable upside – fuel efficiency.
Thanks to its Australian suspension tune, the third-generation Kluger (2014-21) was actually pretty good to drive, though in order to make it handle well, its ride suffered. On brittle surfaces or over big road hits, the old Kluger felt club-footed and heavy.
The all-new fourth-generation version, on the other hand, has a much broader dynamic repertoire – blending the ability to not only handle neatly but also ride with cushy absorbency.
In the ride-quality stakes, the Kluger GX Hybrid AWD is old-school plush. Riding on relatively high-profile 235/65R18 Toyo Open Country tyres, it has a lounging lushness on scarred urban roads that allows it to effortlessly obliterate the surface beneath. Only when tasked with big undulations, especially while carrying a load, does the Kluger GX begin to feel too soft.
It blends this comfort focus with a pleasantly neutral handling balance and nicely accurate steering – making the five-metre-long, two-tonne Kluger feel smaller and more agile than its vital stats would suggest. And if the steering feels too light for your tastes, flicking the drive-mode toggle to Sport adds a satisfying layer of weighting firmness without stoking the drivetrain too much.
Speaking of which, the Kluger Hybrid is very much an SUV of two halves in the engine department. At a gentle pace, it’s whisper quiet and effortless as the (nickel-metal hydride) battery feeds electric torque to (mostly) the front wheels. But when you squeeze the accelerator deeper, the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine instantly comes to life, flaring in the background as it plumps acceleration.
While there’s a starkly audible switch in tone, the petrol engine is reasonably smooth, though it’s a little too vocal to sound expensive. Hustle the Hybrid over twisty mountain ranges or along fast-moving freeways and you’ll become very familiar with its CVT transmission sending engine revs soaring.
There’s respectable performance though – Toyota claiming 8.4 seconds for 0-100km/h for the Hybrid AWD compared to 7.8sec for the V6 AWD and 7.5sec for the front-drive V6.
As for safety features, the Kluger GX is generously stocked … with a few caveats.
While offering impressive tech such as junction AEB, lane centring and steering assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, and auto high-beam, the adaptive cruise control is very conservative and applies braking too early when approaching other vehicles.
Similarly, the lane-trace assist should be much more subtle in its operation. And even though the Kluger Hybrid is AWD – with the ability to send up to 80 percent of drive to the rear wheels – it frequently spins its front wheels when accelerating from a standing start, especially in the wet.
Better tyres please Toyota!
If ‘identifiably Kluger’ and ‘substantially better’ seem like a good combination, then you’ll like the new Kluger’s cabin.
It’s functional in many of the ways the old one was (like the centre shelf that has a thread-through hole for phone cords plugged into one of the USB ports), and offers an easy-to-see, easily navigable arrangement that’s a big improvement from Toyota’s scattered switchgear of the past.
In terms of surprise-and-delight, the base Kluger GX performs beyond expectation with its keyless entry and start, four one-touch power windows, auto-folding mirrors and parking sensors at both ends, not to mention a surprisingly powerful six-speaker stereo with (wired) Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
But it then manages to drop the ball with no height adjustment for the front passenger’s seat, awkward access to its large 15-litre centre bin, small and distant front door armrests, and oddly sized bottle holders in the doors that only accept 700ml items (one in each front door; two in each rear door).
Thankfully, the GX’s cloth trim allows passengers to sink into the seats rather than sit on top of them (as in the faux-leather GXL) and the Kluger’s spacious middle row is a terrific place to spend time … if you’re in the outer positions and not the hard centre seat.
With fore-aft adjustment and eight backrest positions, comfort is impressive, and Toyota has switched the single-seat slider (for third-row access) to the left-hand side for Australia, rather than emptying children onto the road like the previous Kluger.
However, both sides of the centre-row seat slide easily and return to the same position, which should be something all large SUVs do.
As for the third row, Australian Klugers only get two seatbelts (not three like some US variants) and no child-seat anchorage points (the middle row handles child-seat duties with three Isofix/top-tether mountings).
There’s air vents in the ceiling and acceptable headroom, not to mention okay room for legs, but the seat base is horizontal, making it great for folding flat to extend the generous 552-litre boot, but not so great when resting your bum on it for several hours.
In this respect, the Kluger is best treated as a comfortable four-seater with room for another three, on occasion, rather than an alternative to a people mover.
The official ADR81/02 government combined fuel consumption figure for the Hybrid AWD is 5.6L/100km, though after 225km of driving, we averaged a pretty exceptional 6.5L/100km, which puts the petrol-electric Kluger right at the top of its class for fuel economy.
The Hybrid does require at least 95-octane premium fuel, but that’s a small price to pay for its supreme efficiency.
Recommended servicing is every 12 months or 15,000km, with each service capped at just $250, making the Kluger Hybrid’s five-year service total a bargain-priced $1250.
We should add that our test GX Hybrid also featured some popular Kluger options, inflating its price beyond the standard $54,150 (before on-road costs).
These included Graphite metallic paint ($675), a 2000kg tow bar ($822), a tow ball ($38), a towing wiring kit ($213), roof-rack cross bars ($603) and side steps ($962), taking the GX Hybrid’s total to $57,462 (before on-road costs).
Toyota’s standard warranty is five years/unlimited kilometres, however the warranty for the engine and transmission extend to seven years if you get your Kluger serviced at a Toyota dealer at the recommended intervals.
There’s also a 10-year warranty for the Hybrid system’s nickel-metal hydride battery.
From a pragmatic perspective, there’s much to commend the Kluger GX Hybrid AWD.
It’s safe, solid, practical, well-equipped, exceedingly efficient for its vehicle type and effortlessly rewarding to drive. It makes minimal demands of its driver and is impressively comfortable when ferrying four people to pretty much whatever location they desire.
It’s also incredibly cheap to service and carries Toyota’s enviable reputation for reliability, resale value and parts support. But given that the fourth-gen Kluger is essentially a clean-sheet design, it’s not quite as thoroughly accomplished as, say, Toyota’s own RAV4, let alone the best large-SUV competition.
With greater thought put into its storage cleverness, seating comfort and design execution, the Kluger would go close to challenging the best in its class. But as it stands, it’s merely a good large SUV, rather than a great one.
The Kia Sorento GT-Line plug-in hybrid may be expensive, but the closer you look, the more sense this seven-seater makes
Key specs (as tested)
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