First drive: Toyota Kluger

Toyota has finally released a Kluger worthy of its popularity in Australia.

Now sourced from its biggest and most influential market – North America – the large SUV kicks off from $40,990 for the base GX.

While that’s $500 more than the previous entry-level KX-R, which was made in Japan, Toyota claims buyers gain more than $2000 worth of previously optional or unavailable equipment.

Furthermore, it’s now exclusively a seven-seater, which previously cost $2700 more than a five-seat arrangement.

Standard kit includes touchscreen audio, the Toyota Link multimedia system, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, 18-inch alloys, front fog lights, cruise control, air-conditioning, seven airbags and Hill-Start Assist.

The mid-range GXL from $49,990 is $1500 cheaper than the KX-S it replaces, and brings keyless entry and start, leather upholstery, an electrically adjustable driver seat, heated front seats, three-zone climate control and roof rails.

However, stepping up to the $63,990 Grande will set Kluger buyers back an additional $3500 over the previous model, though Toyota calculates there is $7000 worth of additional goodies.

The flagship boasts radar-based cruise control, lane-departure and blind-spot warning, a Pre-Collision system that preps the brakes and seatbelts for more effective impact mitigation, LED headlights with an automatic high-beam dipper, sunroof, vented front seats, a larger-format centre screen with sat-nav and digital radio, rear-seat Blu-ray, rear side-window blinds, an auto tailgate, 19-inch alloys and surprisingly tasteful trim.

Toyota has reduced the all-wheel drive option by $500 to $4000.

Aside from the carryover V6 petrol engine, almost everything has been redesigned or modified for the 2014 model.

There is 40mm of extra overhang at each end, improving pedestrian impact safety up front while increasing rear passenger and cargo room out back.

A more compact rear suspension also contributes to making the interior larger than before, and it remains airy despite slimmer window openings.

The stylish dash combines pleasing symmetry with simple controls, big clear instrument dials, excellent ventilation and myriad storage options, including a clever full-width shelf/tray for keeping bits and pieces like phones and garage remotes at arm’s reach.

The strong yet smooth 3.5-litre V6 delivers 201kW of power at a high 6200rpm, with 337Nm of torque topping out at an also lofty 4700rpm.

Though not especially speedy off the mark (Toyota claims 8.3 seconds to 100km/h), a new driver-adaptive six-speed automatic with a sequential-shift function makes the most of what’s available, shifting through the ratios quickly and efficiently.

As a result, this two-tonne crossover is also slightly more economical, averaging between 10.2 and 10.6L/100km depending on grade.

However, there is no diesel available.

Toyota has attempted to improve the previous Kluger’s gravel-road behaviour with an Australian-specific suspension and electric steering tune, developed over two years at Toyota’s Melbourne technical centre.

Aided by a stronger and stiffer body, the local engineers added upgraded dampers and stiffer springs for better handling and improved ride.

The steering is lighter, with a faster ratio (14.8:1 versus the old model’s 17:1). This results in more linear steering with a welcome amount of feel.

Our initial drive reveals the latest large SUV from Toyota to be a roomier, more practical, quieter, better driving and comfier proposition than before, offering more equipment for (marginally) less money on all but the top-end Grande.

Toyota Kluger 50 Series

Plus: Improved dynamics, space, practicality, efficiency and refinement
Minus: No diesel option, vanilla design, low-fi trim plastics
Engine: 3456cc V6 petrol
Max power: 201kW @ 6200rpm
Max torque: 337Nm @ 4700rpm
Transmission: 6-speed auto
Weight: 1935kg to 2065kg
0-100km/h: 8.3-8.7s (AWD)
L/100km 10.2-10.6 (AWD)
Price: From $40,990
On sale: Now

Click here to read the full range review of the Toyota Kluger 

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