2 February 2024

Just what the family ordered

| Paul Gover
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The 2023 Toyota Kluger GXL sets the benchmark.

The 2023 Toyota Kluger GXL sets the benchmark. Photo: Toyota.

One family SUV has always been the benchmark: the Toyota Kluger.

The Kluger was an early SUV arrival in Australia and has provided the basics – and more – for people who want and need a flexible seven-seater.

The Kluger gives you exactly what you need and much of what you want for family motoring.

It’s not as flashy as some of its upscale rivals, notably the Hyundai Palisade and Mazda CX-9, but an update for 2023 brought an engine change, some extra equipment and an infotainment package – including wireless Apple CarPlay – in line with current expectations.

The Kluger is also available as a hybrid, which is growing in importance nearly as quickly as the waiting list for all hybrids in the Toyota family.

The Kluger also provides a choice of either front or all-wheel drive, with pricing from $49,720 all the way up to $78,160 for the all-wheel drive hybrid.

A return to the Kluger brings precisely what I expect, with a huge cabin, great all-round refinement and a new 2.4-litre turbo four-cylinder engine that improves fuel economy to sub-9 litres/100 km. It replaces the old-school V6, which had always been a staple with the Kluger. It promises more pulling power, although not that many Kluger drivers will do heavy-duty towing as it has a relatively low 2-tonne limit.

The new-ish Kluger is an eager family car, with spritely take-off and good pulling power, which is down to the engine change and typically Toyota tuning of the six-speed automatic gearbox. After the V6, the little four feels and sounds more refined without losing anything when you’re carrying the whole family or a big load.

Toyota has chosen higher-profile tyres to cut road noise and give a little more plushness to the suspension, a good move when too many brands have good-looking but impractical combinations of wheels and tyres, but the overall feeling is a bit disconnected. The steering is super-light, the ride can be floaty, and it’s not great for braking.

Then again, it’s a family SUV and most people these days are more worried about fluffy stuff, including the infotainment, as well as the necessary air-conditioning outlets, cupholders and USB sockets sprinkled around the cabin.

The latest dashboard has big displays and a user-friendly interface, unlike some brands that persist in hiding things in the operating system instead of relying on old-school buttons and knobs, meaning any trip will be enjoyable and easy.

In the end, that’s what the Kluger is all about.

The Palisade is a better choice if you’re going all-in on luxury and appreciate the upscale interior designed for families in the US, and there are Chinese choices if the budget is too tight for a visit to Toyota.

The bottom line on the Kluger is the same as always. It’s not the flashiest, fastest, newest or best, but it’s still the benchmark for its rivals and a great family car.

Toyota Kluger

  • Position: family motoring without the frills or thrills
  • Price: from $49,720
  • Engine: 2.4-litre petrol turbo four-cylinder
  • Power: 198kW/420Nm
  • Transmission: 8-speed auto
  • Plus: worthwhile updates, including new engine
  • Minus: can be bland, not a great drive
  • Score: 8.5/10.

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