Now here's an off-roader worth getting excited about!
While 'crossover' vehicles have been blurring the line between road cars and off-roaders, the new Toyota Kluger blurs the boundaries even more. Spawned from the highly acclaimed Lexus RX330, the Kluger has a prestige feel along with real on-road performance. Take the Kluger for a blast down your favourite winding road and you'll be mightily impressed; it's only when you step out and close the door you remember you've been driving an off-roader.
So what makes the Kluger such a pleasure to drive?
Let's start with its engine and driveline. The Kluger is powered by a VVT-i 3.3-litre V6 that offers a solid 275Nm of torque all the way from 1500 rpm and a maximum of 328Nm at 3600 rpm. Such a generous spread of torque enables you to accelerate from any rpm. In the top-end there's a healthy 172kW available at 5600 rpm - and the sweet revving nature of the engine makes every one of those kilowatts very accessible.
The Kluger comes fitted with a standard 5-speed automatic transmission, which - combined with clever electronic throttle control strategies - is always smooth during changes. It's also willing to kick-down and we found it always in the ideal gear. The only thing missing - and we noticed it on several occasions - is a sequential style shift arrangement. Given the Kluger's on-road performance, a sequential shifter is a logical fitment.
The entry-level Kluger CV and mid-range CVX employ a constant AWD system comprising a viscous centre coupling and a limited slip rear differential. In contrast, the top-of-the-line Kluger Grande and CVX with the optional Safety Pack (as tested) use an electronic torque-split AWD system in place of the viscous coupling. This is said to "provide more precise and smoother traction." Note that the optional Safety Pack also adds electronic stability and traction control and four extra airbags.
None of the Kluger range comes with a centre diff lock.
The 'seat of the pants' feeling that this is one very rapid SUV is confirmed when you look at Toyota's official performance figures. Able to rocket from standstill to 100 km/h in a scant 8.1-seconds, the Kluger can genuinely embarrass 'performance' cars at the traffic lights.
And don't think that you pay for this performance at the petrol bowsers. We averaged 14 litres per 100km during our reasonably hard-driven test, but expect to achieve better in normal situations. Fuel tank capacity is 72 litres.
This top-notch driveline is only part of the Kluger's appeal.
The Kluger's steering is linear in response, well weighted and direct - it's extremely car-like. Pick your cornering line and the Kluger offers greater precision than any other crossover vehicle we've driven.
The suspension is also impressive. The Kluger employs a monocoque chassis riding on a MacPherson strut front-end and a strut-type rear with dual lower transverse links and a lower trailing arm. Ride quality is very good - with a couple of small exceptions. There is the sensation of having considerable unsprung mass (caused by the relatively large wheels, tyres, etc) and the ride is quite firm at low speeds whenever there are no passengers or cargo onboard.
As mentioned, our CVX test vehicle was optioned with the Safety Pack that includes the electronic torque-split system along with stability and traction control. This configuration means the Kluger is extremely stable and somewhat uneventful to drive. The vehicle's natural tendency is to understeer, but you never need to bother about it - simply keep your right foot planted and let the electronic control systems do the work! The stability program intervenes early enough that there's barely any chance of having an 'off'.
During understeer, the stability program automatically reduces throttle opening and - depending on severity - it will apply the front and the inside rear brakes. In an oversteer situation, the "engine output is controlled" and the brakes may be applied to the outside front and rear wheels. Without question, the combination of electronic controlled torque-split AWD with stability and traction control systems give the Kluger brilliant real-world handling and immense primary safety.
The Kluger stops well despite weighing around 1800 kilograms. Ventilated 296mm discs can be found under the nose while solid 288mm discs are fitted to the rear. More impressive are the brake control systems - 4-channel ABS, EBD and brake assist (a system that helps optimise brake force during emergency stops) come as standard. No problems with the brakes during our test.
The Kluger CVX with electronic torque-split seems quite capable when venturing off the bitumen. Toyota emphasises the long suspension travel, 184mm ground clearance and entry and departure angles comparable to anything else in the category. We did notice the lack of a centre diff lock, which allowed wheelspin over extremely undulating surfaces. If you plan on serious off-road expeditions we suggest you look at a more dedicated off-road machine.
The Kluger loses none of its points when it comes to interior flexibility, comfort or quality.
The Kluger CVX can carry up to seven people in three rows of seats - twin buckets at the front, a three-seater centre row and a foldout two-seater third row.
The front and second row seats offer plenty of space and comfort, but the foldout third row seat is clearly intended for children. Think of the Kluger as a five seater with the ability to take a couple of extra kids home from soccer training if necessary. The second row seat is 60/40 split, has the ability to slide 120mm fore-aft and incorporates a centre armrest.
Note that all seven seating positions have 3-point seatbelts and adjustable head restraints, but child restraint anchorages are provided for the second row seat only.
All seats onboard the CVX are trimmed in quality leather and occupants enjoy exceptionally low NVH levels (thanks to many of the noise reduction measures originally developed for the Lexus RX330). The occasional in-cabin exhaust resonance is the only criticism in this department.
The CVX cabin is comprehensively equipped without including anything gimmicky. There's an easy to use digital climate control system, trip computer, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, power front seats with fold-down centre armrests, remote central locking and immobiliser, rear seat heater, auto-off headlights and more. A foot operated park brake is fitted, but rest assured it is very simple to use. High quality tunes come from a double-DIN tuner/cassette/6-disc system with a 35W x 4 amplifier wired to 6 speakers.
Cargo space is not a problem. The third row seat folds completely flat to provide ample cargo area for the majority of instances. If the need arises, the second row seats can also be folded almost flat with the rest of the floor; this is a simple one-step action. A security blind is stowed in a compartment under the cargo area floor, while the full size spare wheel is accessible from beneath the rear of the vehicle.
From a safety perspective, the Kluger offers front seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters along with twin airbags as standard on the CV and CVX. As mentioned, however, our CVX test car was equipped with the optional Safety Pack. This adds front and rear curtain airbags and front side airbags - a total of 8 airbags. High-strength steel is used throughout the body, which incorporates a rigid safety cell. The visibility afforded by the Kluger's relatively high driving position also has major safety benefits.
The Kluger is conservatively styled which means it's easy to walk past without recognising it as anything out of the ordinary. It is handsome, though, with good proportions, accented wheel arches, multi-reflector headlights, privacy glass at the rear, roof rails and front fog lights (standard on the CVX and Grande). The CVX is equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels and 225/70 tyres, while the Grande flaunts 17s and lower profile tyres.
Build quality is to a very high standard. Paint finish is very good, panel margins are even, fabrics are excellent, switchgear is positive and there were no creaks or rattles in our test example. The only gripes are 'orange peel' in the paint and the absence of an anti-rattle lining inside the flip-out storage compartment near the driver's right knee. Nothing major.
Having read the read this far you'll have learnt that the Toyota Kluger is a very impressive package. But does it stack up as good value for money?
We think so.
The Kluger CVX model kicks off at $48,990 plus ORCs, while the optional Safety Pack (as fitted to our test car) adds a modest $2200. The Australian off-road market is difficult to divide, but we believe the Kluger will attract buyers of vehicles such as the Mitsubishi Outlander, Holden Adventra, Subaru Outback Premium, Volvo XC models and, dare we say it, Lexus' own $70,000-odd RX330... Many owners of 'proper' 4WDs will also gravitate toward the slick Toyota.
If you're in the market for a high quality crossover vehicle with some real on-road performance and sophistication you should be very excited. We are!