26 September 2023

Kluger Hybrid Set To Star

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By Paul Gover.

Hybrid power will ensure the new Toyota Kluger is a sell-out in Australia.

It’s the eighth model in the Toyota family to get a petrol-electric powertrain and, like others from the Corolla upwards, is certain to be hugely-popular with inner-city families who can bank the twin advantages of improved fuel economy and a contribution to the greening of Australia.

The changeover for the new Kluger is a complete overhaul that runs up from the road with the same basic mechanical package that’s also under the Corolla.

But the Kluger is for full-sized families, and blended tribes, so it’s a genuine seven-seater and the basic engine – for many people and even hybrid fans who are not prepared to wait – is a petrol-powered V6. There is also a choice of front and all-wheel drive and a range of equipment packages.

Toyota’s heavy focus on safety in 2021 is reflected in a 5-star ANCAP package with all the electronic assistance devices, and the car has the traditional final finishing that’s made brand T a long-term favourite down-under.

It’s not cheap, with pricing from $47,650 for the petrol GX through to $75,400 for the all-wheel drive Grande hybrid, but that’s about par for the course these days.

This is the fourth generation of the Kluger and there are no real changes to the formula, although the body is bigger and much bolder with a hulking grille on the front. The seven-seater cabin is easy to mix and match for a variety of jobs, with good space in both the second and third rows.

But, jumping into a mid-level petrol GXL – which lands at $56,850 before on-roads – I’m not finding enough improvement to tip me in favour of the big new Toyota.

What was once the clear benchmark in its class has now been overwhelmed by a huge range of rivals who promise cheaper or prices, longer warranties, better service packages, or a combination of those strengths.

And then there is the Kia Sorento, my personal favourite in the class and my latest pick for Car of the Year honours in Australia.

Compared with the Sorento, the Kluger feels roomier and it’s definitely spritely with its punchy V6 engine.

But it is soft and pillowy in the suspension, which means it bounces over suburban speed humps and lacks grip and control in countryside cornering. It also dips violently in a simulated panic stop, which is not particularly comforting.

The Kluger also tugs at the steering during even moderate acceleration, although the all-wheel drive model would obviously eliminate that problem, and at times spins one front wheel briefly before the traction control can take control.

What it signals, to me, is a car which has been tuned for ’near enough’ driving instead of making the effort, as Kia has done in Australia with the brilliant ex-Toyota engineer Graeme Gambold, to get the car spot-on and driving more like an old-fashioned station wagon than just another modern SUV.

There is a lot to like in the Kluger, from USB ports and classy display screens and comfy seats and the usual Toyota quality, but it’s not nearly enough to put it ahead of the Sorento or its Hyundai twin, the Santa Fe.

So that means it’s a car for hybrid fans, and not families who want the best in affordable seven-seater motoring.


Position: family SUV

Price: from $47,650

Engine: 3.5-litre petrol V6, 2.5-litre hybrid

Power: 218kW/350Nm (V6) 184kW (hybrid)

Transmission: 8-speed auto, front or awd (CVT hybrid)

Safety: 5-star ANCAP

Plus: big, comfy, Toyota, hybrid

Minus: under-done driveline, not as good as rivals

THE TICK: only as a hybrid

Score: 7.5/10

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