Change is afoot for the Toyota Kluger. It’s more expensive than it was a year ago, and the V6 has been dropped for a turbo-four. Is it still worth considering?
For many years, Toyota’s Kluger has consistently ranked as one of Australia’s most popular large SUVs by sales, and justifiably so.
The Kluger is a big family car, bundling Toyota dependability with compelling practical features and manners that make it easy to live with.
But, as part of an update in early 2023, the venerable Kluger has undergone a significant change that might put off a loyal customer who’s living by the old ‘if it ain’t broke’ adage.
For its (somewhat early) mid-life update, the popular hybrid drivetrain continues on unchanged, but the longstanding 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine has been retired in favour of a four-cylinder.
The new, downsized 2.4-litre petrol engine comes with a turbocharger, and that has increased torque to 420Nm and boosted fuel efficiency by four percent at the cost of a minor power reduction to 198kW.
A handful of other technological updates accompany the refreshed Kluger, but should its latest evolution into turbo territory make fans of the popular model take a closer look or keep walking?
There continue to be three Kluger trim levels on sale in Australia.
The most affordable is the GX, while the mid-range spec is the GXL and the Grande is the range-topper. All are offered with three different powertrains—turbo front-wheel drive, turbo AWD or hybrid AWD— taking the line-up to nine choices.
The most affordable GX gets front-wheel drive, the new turbo engine and costs $51,120, with AWD adding $4000, while the AWD-only hybrid is $57,620—a substantial $6500 impost over the cheapest way in. At the pointy end of the family, the Grande ranges from $73,120 to $79,560.
Here though, we’re focusing on the mid-range Kluger – the GXL coupled with the turbo AWD powertrain. This mix costs $64,640 before on-road costs, or just shy of $70,000 on the road.
A smaller update to the Kluger in 2022 brought some updated interior kit, including Toyota’s latest operating system, while the digital displays in each became larger. The GX retains its 8.0-inch central screen but gets a larger 7.0-inch multi-information screen in the instrument cluster (up from 4.2-inch).
Higher-grade GXL and Grande now have a 12.3-inch central touchscreen (up from 8.0-inch), while the Grande gets a second 12.3-inch screen to replace the analogue instruments with a fully digital version.
Beyond that, equipment levels carry over almost unchanged.
Highlights for the entry version include seven seats, LED headlights, wired Apple CarPlay was upgraded to wireless with the update but Android Auto remains plug-in, digital radio, rear privacy glass, cloth interior, two USB-C points, one USB-A and a pair of 12-volt sockets in the front row, two USB-C ports in the second row, leather steering wheel and gear selector.
GXL versions add to that with electric adjustable and heated front seats, power tailgate, mock leather upholstery with higher-quality interior trims, the upgraded central screen and roof rails.
Grande Klugers have 20-inch alloy wheels in place of the 18-inch versions of the lower grades, projector-type LED headlights, hands-free tailgate, panoramic glass roof, heated and ventilated front seats, part-leather upholstery and mock wood trims, ambient lighting, JBL 11-speaker sound system and the digital instrument cluster.
While not especially sophisticated, the superseded 3.5-litre petrol V6 was a decent pairing for the Kluger, with reasonable balance of torque and power and a smoothness that many owners appreciated, which is why some might be apprehensive about a smaller four-cylinder replacing it.
However, the promising figures on paper translate to across-the-board improvements in practice.
The new turbocharged 2.4-litre unit might be down on power with 198kW compared with the V6’s 218kW, but it brings a significant increase in torque of 70Nm to 420Nm and that’s made all the difference to the Kluger’s drive.
Increased peak torque now starts at just 1700 rpm and lasts through to 3000 rpm which is earlier and longer-lasting than the V6, imparting a greater sense of effortlessness to the Toyota.
There’s no need to rev it out as the useful work is all done lower in the range and at no point did we miss the top-end power of the V6, even if the silky sound of the old six-cylinder has been replaced by a more subdued four.
But the new engine is refined and has very low noise intrusion in its peak torque band. If revved beyond the 3000 rpm maximum grunt, it can get a little thrashy but all that low-end torque means there’s rarely a need to do so.
The turbo pairs well with the carry-over eight-speed automatic transmission. There is a satisfying immediacy to gear changes and the eight ratios are tight. Suddenly demand 100% power, though, and the automatic can be momentarily flummoxed.
Ride quality continues on unchanged with excellent comfort for all on board. Despite its good cruising manner though, the Kluger is surprisingly rewarding to drive.
With the smaller and lighter engine positioned slightly further back in the chassis, the big Toyota has responsive steering and good front-to-rear weight distribution, translating to good dynamics and improved comfort.
Combined with the boosted performance, many Kluger owners may not fully appreciate how capable the updated Kluger is at covering kilometres in a hurry.
As this particular Kluger is the AWD variety, it demonstrated no traction issues in the wet and was equally well tied down when exiting junctions in a hurry for example. It’s here where saving $4000 and going for the front-wheel drive version will show up negatively.
Although the Kluger has a number of all-terrain driving modes and has proven itself to be one of the better reasonably priced ‘soft-roaders’ it isn’t a full-fat four-by-four like its Prado sibling.
That said, it’ll still take on a variety of unsealed surfaces and has a decent 2000kg maximum braked towing capacity.
There are large SUVs that can offer cabins more striking in their design, made from more memorable materials and full of better practical features. Take any of the Korean alternatives from Kia and Hyundai, for example.
In the Kluger, sticky fake leather—vinyl—feels downmarket and while there aren’t really any examples of poor quality materials, the interior is best described as plain.
For coping with children armed with crayons, pets and load hauling, most owners will regard this of little consequence though, or potentially even an upside. It’s not meant to be exciting, but the Hyundai Palisade and Mazda CX-90 punch for more premium territory.
We appreciated the neat shelf built into the dash which includes a clever slot for routing device cables down to the power sockets without tangling.
That said, it would be better to offer wireless smartphone pairing for Android devices which would eliminate one more reason to plug things in at all. Wireless mirroring is CarPlay-only right now.
Door pockets are a little skinny and can’t accommodate anything other than the most slender bottles but the Kluger’s cabin is great for stowing odds and sods generally speaking.
At the back end, the boot measures just 241 litres with all seven seats in place, but opens up to a more respectable 552L when in five-seat configuration and a cavernous 1150L with all rear seats stowed.
Top marks for a full-size spare wheel that’ll be welcomed by anyone wanting to take this Kluger off-road or for more remote country touring.
A power tailgate is included for GXL and above but its operation is accompanied by an annoying beeping throughout the entire opening and closing, and is obnoxious enough to annoy anyone around you. We couldn’t find a way to silence it but we’re told it’s possible
Easily the biggest news however, is the Kluger’s new touchscreen. Now measuring 12.3 inches, the proportionally better balanced central display elevates the Kluger’s interior feel notably.
The dated mechanical buttons surrounding are gone and it’s filled with sharper graphics and an operating system that is more intuitive to navigate.
The grainy image quality from the rear-view camera doesn’t match the posh new screen’s sharpness but it’s otherwise an improvement.
Included for 12 months are Toyota’s Connected Services that offer access to safety, comfort, and driving features along with multimedia application via a connected smartphone.
Graduating to a fully digital instrument cluster takes the Kluger cabin into even more premium territory but that’s only possible with a step up to the Grande.
However, the large digital screen between two traditional gauges is full of information if a little small in its presentation. A head-up display is also only offered for the flagship variant.
Space in the third row of seating is adequate for adults and comfort features include air vents and cup holders. Entry/exit is also relatively simple thanks to carefully thought out second-row tilt and slide seats.
Speaking of which, the second row is very much the place to be with tons of space a pair of USB-C ports, its own climate control panel and comfortable seats with lots of adjustment.
Heated seats were most welcome during Melbourne’s mid-winter as was a cabin heater that warms up faster than just about any other.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Toyota Kluger its full five-star rating in 2021.
This SUV scored a high 90 percent for adult occupant protection but as the curtain airbags don’t protect third-row passengers, child occupant protection was rated 88 percent, which is surprisingly high.
ANCAP also rated its standard AEB as the most sophisticated type offering protection for all vulnerable road users along with back-over protection and protection at junctions. Places for two Isofix child seats are provided in the second row seating.
The same high level of safety equipment and features are offered to all Kruger’s regardless of the grade thanks to the Toyota Safety sense suite.
This includes highlights such as rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors front and rear, and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection and junction assistance.
There’s also a lane-departure monitoring system with steering assistance, automatic high beam headlights, speed-sign recognition, and active cruise control which works down to topped traffic speeds and has with curve speed reduction and lane assistance.
The Kluger is sold with a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty and capped price servicing for the same period which costs $1325 over the five years. That is more affordable than nearly any rival in this segment. Service intervals are 15,000km or 12 months.
With a V6 under its bonnet, Toyota claimed the Kluger used 8.9 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle and it’s dropped to 8.5L/100km with the introduction of the turbo four-cylinder.
At the same time, the Kluger has become repeatedly more expensive to buy than the old V6, wiping out simple economic arguments.
But we’re not convinced the claimed fuel economy improvement is entirely accurate.
During our time with the updated version wow managed an indicated figure of 7.9L/100km thanks largely to the turbo torque allowing a different driving style.
Rather than revving the engine out to peak power which the V6 preferred, maintaining low revs with the 4-cyl appears to have a more beneficial effect on fuel economy than its maker claims.
It’s easy to see why Toyota’s Kluger is so incredibly well represented on Australian roads. It bundles a deserved reputation for reliability and enjoyable ownership experience, into a vehicle that is impressively stoic in day-to-day duty.
While plenty of other large SUVs can offer something that’s more memorable to both look at and drive, the Kluger’s secret to success is in getting a job done effectively and not shouting about it.
The addition of Toyota’s newest information and entertainment system has addressed probably the most frequently bemoaned element of the model, while the new turbo engine is a wise move in future-proofing.
Its update comes at a not insignificant cost however.
Fuel consumption improvements are not significant enough in themselves to warrant the price rise, but when combined with the updated technology, it’s unlikely the extra cost will deter much more than a small fraction of the Kluger’s loyal following.
And while there are those who lament the passing of Kluger silky six power, it doesn’t take long to realise that downsizing to a turbocharged engine is enabling SUVs of all types to become more efficient without sacrificing performance and practicality.
In the case of the Toyota Kluger, it still firmly deserves its place in the top five.
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Key specs (as tested)
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