SITTING on the endangered list, the Toyota Kluger has stared Australian extinction in the eye twice.
Not because of a lack of interest. The family friendly SUV has been a big success for Toyota in Australia, but production demands had put the squeeze on right-hand drive Klugers.
The second generation, which last year claimed more than 11% of the large SUV market, almost never made it…and the third incarnation faced a similar fate.
But the Yanks have proved our saviour, and now a new breed of Kluger manufactured in Indiana has reached our shores.
This is the perfect example of the modern-day SUV. Designed for the family with active lifestyles, the Kluger is consummate all-rounder.
While not designed for the beaten track (there is the Prado for that) it can handle gravel tracks with ease, you can haul seven and Australian tuning has ensured it's actually a car which is rewarding to drive.
Entry level prices have decreased, dropping to $40,990, but it is a steep hike the range-topping Grande which starts from $63,990.
Remarkably quiet, the new Kluger is almost Lexus-quiet when under way.
It makes for a wonderfully pleasant ride and spacious dimensions are at the forefront of a cabin with improved finishes and aesthetics.
Adults can actually fit in the third row, although the low seat position makes it more suited to those vertically challenged or kids.
All seats are relatively flat and could do with some additional support around the rump.
The driver's instrument cluster is clear and concise. On the left sits the speedometer, tachometer on the right with digital trip and vehicle information in the centre.
Finding your way around the operations is simple, with the touch-screen stereo taking pride of place, while the air-con controls sit below. It's all intuitive, with the most used features highlighted as individual buttons on either side of the touch-screen for faster operation.
On the road
Only one powerplant is available, a strong V6 which produces just above 200 kilowatts.
Its power delivery is smooth from low in the rev range. Step on the right pedal and there is ample grunt at the ready.
The bent six is partnered to a slick new six-speed automatic transmission which never put a foot wrong during our drive, even with some challenging climbs and descents.
Steering feels nice and controlled with confident feedback, although the two-wheel drive did suffer from some steering wheel shudder mid-corner when upset by undulations during our test, but the all-wheel had no such issues.
The Kluger has a nice planted feel in the bends, approach a corner with too much speed and you feel predictable SUV roll, but the big SUV is surprisingly nimble and smooth.
Many drivers would struggle to pick the difference between two and all-wheel drive, with the latter able to send up to 50% of torque to the rear wheels. It would be the best choice for those with towing intentions, and all-wheel drive vehicles also have a "lock" function for maximum torque to all four corners at speeds under 40kmh.
What do you get?
Base models are surprisingly well equipped. The GX has 18-inch alloys, daytime running lamps, tilt-and-telescopic steering adjustment, rear view camera and sensors, cruise control, air-con, seven airbags along with the full suite of safety gear, as well as an intuitive colour 15.5cm touch-screen system with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity.
Mid-grade GXL gets three-zone climate-control air-conditioning, keyless smart entry and push button start, 10-way power adjustable driver's seat, roof rails and leather-accented interior.
Range-topping Grande has all the bells and whistles, like 19-inch alloys, projector LED headlamps with Auto High Beam, tilt-and-slide sunroof, ventilated front seats, digital radio, second-row sunshades, 22.8cm rear-seat entertainment system with Blu-ray player, power-operated tailgate and woodgrain-look inserts.
It also gains the safety extras such as radar cruise control, lane departure alert and blind spot monitor.
There are a few extras worth looking at, including the integrated nudge bar for $780, sidesteps for $950, tow bar for $560 and the blind spot alert for $695 (standard on Grange).
Both the two-wheel drive and all-wheel drives have official fuel consumption of less than 11 litres per 100km. We achieved slightly more, which is starting to get thirsty by current day standards.
Insurance is expected to be at the lower end of the scale, while Toyota has an excellent capped price servicing plan for three years which is cheap at $170 per visit - although maintenance is required every six months or 10,000km.
One of the deepest consoles we've seen in recent years sits in the centre. With a 25-litre capacity it can handle a handbag or other valuables.
There is a useful shelf below the climate control buttons perfect for phones and other trinkets. It even has a hole to route connections to the USB and 12-volt ports.
There are large cup holders in the centre console and another pair in the fold-down armrest in the rear, was well as four in the third row - two on each wheel arch. Each door also has capacity for a bottle.
Extra cabin space has allowed for the middle row to be shifted forward to deliver additional leg room in the third row along with more luggage space - and there is now actually room in the boot with all three rows of seats in place.
Previous models looked slightly ungainly, but this new variant is a handsome beast. The big trapezoidal grille, a similar theme design at the rear and more muscular lines make for an alluring SUV.
Super quiet and with a more spacious cabin, this is yet another much improved car for Toyota.
Diesel is missing from the line-up, and while Toyota rightfully argues that the extra cost of an oil-burner would outweigh the gains on petrol, given nearly 50% of Klugers are sold with a tow bar we are sure they would love a diesel option. But there is no point wishing for what's not available, and if you are desperate for a Toyota with a diesel there is always the RAV4 or Prado.
This is one of the most refined Toyotas we have driven with brilliant on-road manners that can easily haul seven.
What matters most
What we liked: Spacious interior, standard features, tougher looking exterior style, massive centre console, outstandingly quiet.
What we'd like to see: Improved fuel economy, diesel engine option, front parking sensors as standard.
Warranty and servicing: Three years/100,000km warranty. Servicing is capped at $170 for the first six services with intervals every six months or 10,000km.
Model: Toyota Kluger.
Details: Seven-seat large two or all-wheel drive sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 petrol generating maximum power of 201kW @ 6200rpm and peak torque 337Nm @ 4700rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 10.2 litres/100km (2WD, combined average); 10.6L/100km (4WD).
CO2: 237-246g/km (depending on model).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 8.3 seconds (2WD), 8.7 (AWD).
Towing: 2000kg (braked), tow ball rating 200kg.
Bottom line plus on-roads: GX $40,990, GXL $49,990, Grande $63,990. AWD is a $4000 premium.
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