First drive: Toyota Kluger 2021 launch review

Three parked Toyota Klugers

Toby Hagon

Posted June 11, 2021

Toby Hagon takes the new seven-seat Toyota Kluger for a test drive.

The Toyota Kluger has been a part of Toyota’s family car line-up in Australia since 2003. That first car was more of a side show to the large cars that dominated family garages back then, but the all-new fourth generation model is very much the main act. While it doesn’t mess with the formula of the model it replaces, the Kluger has an all-new body, albeit with evolutionary styling.

With seven seats and a large SUV form it suits families looking for space and car-like manners. Whereas the similarly-priced Fortuner and Prado are designed for serious off-road work, the Kluger is focused on the suburbs. Now an entrenched part of the furniture in a Toyota showroom, the seven-seat Kluger also provides a logical step-up from the mid-sized RAV4 SUV.

And the Kluger is being offered as a hybrid for the first time, answering one of the concerns buyers have about large SUVs: fuel use.  

Toyota Kluger side view

The Kluger has an all-new body, albeit with evolutionary styling.

What is the starting price for a new Toyota Kluger?

The Kluger arrives in a diverse market segment that includes the Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder and Hyundai Palisade. While they’re slightly smaller, the Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe also cross over into Kluger territory.

Like all but the Palisade – which is available as an eight-seater – the Kluger has seven seats across three rows.

There are three trim levels in the Kluger range and the choice between V6 front-wheel drive, V6 all-wheel drive and hybrid all-wheel drive configurations.

That makes for nine variants in total. 

The most affordable is the V6 front-drive, starting at $47,650 plus on-road costs. The AWD adds $4000, for a $51,650 start price.

If you want the hybrid – available only as an all-wheel drive – it’s another $2500, with prices kicking off at $54,150. Those good at maths will realise it’s a $6500 step-up from the base V6 into the most affordable hybrid.

Those are the prices for the GX, which comes with a healthy smattering of equipment that includes seven seats, smart key entry, front and rear parking sensors, 18-inch alloy wheels and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as five USB ports (three up front, two in the rear). Hybrid versions also get tri-zone automatic air-conditioning.

From there it’s a sizeable $9200 leap to the GLX ($55,850 as a 2WD V6, $60,850 as an AWD V6 and $63,350 as an AWD hybrid), which get a partial digital instrument cluster, roof rails, different-looking 18-inch wheels, fake leather seats, powered tailgate, tri-zone ventilation on all models and heating and power adjustment for the front seats.

It’s an even bigger leap to the flagship Grande, which is another $12,050 more than a GXL ($68,900 as a 2WD V6, $72,900 as an AWD V6 and $75,400 as an AWD hybrid).

For that you pick up some real leather in the trim, a panoramic sunroof, ventilation for the front seats, ambient lighting, retractable blinds for the back doors, kick sensors for opening the tailgate, head-up display, 360-degree camera and an 11-speaker JBL sound system. 

There are also 20-inch wheels and a chrome grille, among other cosmetic tweaks.


How safe is it?

The Kluger has been awarded a 5-star crash rating from ANCAP. The Kluger was subject to ANCAP’s most stringent test protocols and the rating covers all variants. 

There are seven airbags including curtains down each side, front-side airbags, front airbags and a driver’s knee airbag. As with rivals, the curtain airbags stretch to the third row but won’t necessarily cover the occupants’ heads in a side impact. There’s also a seatbelt warning system covering all seven seats.

Blind spot monitoring is now standard, as is rear cross traffic alert to warn of vehicles approaching from the side when reversing out of a driveway or parking space.

Toyota Safety Sense incorporates autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with cyclist detection during the day and pedestrian detection.

Toyota has included three child seat top tether points for the middle row. But unlike the rival Mazda CX-9 and Kia Sorento child seats cannot be fitted in the third row.


Toyota Kluger interior

The interior has gone through a wholesale change, too.

What's it like inside?

In line with the all-new exterior, the interior has gone through a wholesale change, too. There’s a protruding pod in the centre of the dash that houses major controls, and nicer finishes are spread across the broad dash.

All models get an 8.0-inch touchscreen incorporating Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. While it’s not as large as some – there’s space around the screen – it’s nicely positioned high on the dash and is easy to navigate.

No issues with occupant space, either. The cabin is wide and adjustability to the driver’s seat good. Broad front seats are snug but don’t appear as cossetting as those in the RAV4; a smidge more side support would be nice.

Even in the middle row there’s adult-friendly leg- and headroom, at least if the seat is slid towards its rear-most position. Those in the middle row can trade off between their own legroom or legroom for those further aft. Plus there are vents in the roof to keep fresh air circulating.

The sliding seat functionality also allows slightly more luggage space, which is up to 552 litres with five seats being used (the third row folds into the floor).

If you are using all seven seats then an additional 50mm of length to the luggage area makes it more useful. Granted, you won’t be loading seven people up for a trip to the international terminal (remember those?), but the 241L of boot space will easily swallow a couple of bags.

Similarly, storage is well thought out. There’s a deep centre console and useful cupholders up front. Two small shelves on the lower part of the dash are perfect for phones; the central pod even has a hole to feed a charging cable through to the shelf.


What's under the bonnet?

For the first time, there’s a choice of engines under the bonnet of the Kluger – and one of them is a four-cylinder (albeit with electric assistance).

The familiar 3.5-litre V6 carries over to the new Kluger making the identical 218kW and 350Nm it did previously and it’s still mated to an eight-speed automatic. But it now comes with stop-start function to save fuel when stationary.

It’s a punchy engine and one that suits the Kluger nicely, building to a crescendo of smooth revs. The stop-start system is well calibrated, too, cleanly refiring the engine on command.

But it’s the hybrid that is the big news for the new Kluger. It’s the same basic drivetrain used in a Camry or RAV4, although the outputs have been increased. The 2.5-litre petrol engine muscles up with 142kW and teams with two electric motors to take the combined output to 184kW.

The first motor assists in driving the front wheels, making up to 134kW and 270Nm. The second motor drives only the rear wheels and generates 40kW/121Nm. Like the RAV4, the petrol engine never drives the rear wheels and there’s no driveshaft to the back. Instead it’s just that smaller electric motor providing the grunt to the back wheels. All of which works fine.

The electric motors provide some useful initial shove before the petrol engine adds to the mix with more power as revs rise. A continuously variable transmission varies engine revs according to what the driver is asking for.

A hard take-off can occasionally trigger the traction control as the front wheels scrabble for traction, but it’s all sorted very swiftly and for the most part it’s decidedly unflustered.We recorded fuel consumption of 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres after a week of extensive driving, a little more than Ford’s 5.3L/100km claim. 


Is it efficient?

Predictably there’s a big difference between V6 and hybrid when it comes to what comes out of the exhaust.

The bigger, more powerful V6 uses plenty more, although the official fuel figure has dropped to as low as 8.7 litres per 100km for the front-driver or between 8.8 and 8.9L/100km when matched to the AWD system. Carbon dioxide emissions follow a similar path, with a range from 202g/km to 208g/km on the V6 models.

That’s an improvement over the last car (9.1-9.5L/100km) but will use plenty more than that around town, where stop-start driving is more common. The official “urban” figure is between 11.6 and 11.9L/100km, but we’re prepared to wager it’ll easily head well north of that.

The hybrid is a lot thriftier, with an average consumption of just 5.6L/100km and CO2 emissions of 128g/km. The claimed fuel use doesn’t change much around town either, only creeping up to 6.0L/100km.

During our stint that took in a mix of highway and city running it used more than that, but at around 6.5L/100km it’s impressive for the size of vehicle and the useful performance on offer.

There’s some bad news in the fuel the hybrid variants use. Whereas garden variety Toyotas have typically sipped regular unleaded, for the Kluger Hybrid it needs more expensive premium unleaded brew, which can be around 10 per cent more expensive.


Kluger dashboard close up

The Kluger comes with a raft of safety features as standard.

How does it drive?

The Kluger is a big car and it’s carrying plenty of kilos – upwards of two tonnes on some models - something that has an influence on how it drives.

Yet it also does a decent job of hiding its mass when it counts. When manoeuvring around carparks, for example, the steering is light.

Our first taste was in a GXL with 18-inch wheels and it made a good first impression. The cabin is respectably hushed and the ride relaxed, albeit without smothering every blow. 

There’s a dullness to the steering on initial applications, something more noticeable with quick direction changes. But the body behaves faithfully, settling into a bend in a reassuring manner.

Shifting to the 20-inch wheels of the Grande added some firmness to the ride, especially over sharp-edged bumps, but there was also added nous in bends, albeit with that occasionally lifeless feel to the tiller.


The verdict

The Kluger is towards the pointy end of a truncated large SUV field and the availability of a hybrid drivetrain certainly adds to its appeal. But it’s towards the lower end of the model range – the GX V6 front-wheel drive or Hybrid – where the Kluger is most tempting.

While it’s an improvement over the previous model, some more pizazz inside would complete the picture. And it’s a shame the hybrid isn’t available as a 2WD, something that would sharpen the steep price leap to the fuel miser.