Toyota Kluger's evolution complete

YOU don’t climb to the top of the heap unless you are doing a lot right. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do things better.

The Toyota Kluger has been such a solid performer in the mid- to large SUV category since it was introduced about 10 years ago that it has become one of the default choices for Australian families. It offered a compelling mix of roominess, versatility, dependability and practicality.

What it has lacked was a bit of pizazz. The first two generations were conservative inside and out to the point of being bland. The third generation – built in the United States rather than Japan – finally takes a bit of a risk style-wise. It is a risk which has paid off.

We like the bolder, brasher look of the new Kluger.

We like the bolder, brasher look of the new Kluger. The essential shape is still there but the lines are more ‘out there’, and the design of the nose and tail far more purposeful.

The interior is a leap forward too. We sampled both the GXL and the top-of-the-range Grande. The layout in each was still neat and functional, but stylish and attractive too. It’s about time.

The feel and look of the materials and controls are also more accommodating to the point of being Lexus-like.

Mechanically the changes have been modest. The 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine is still at the heart of the matter, with 201kW peak power and 337Nm of torque. There remains no diesel variant, nor a hybrid for those wanting to cut their fuel bills. The V6 is impressively quiet and smooth and, while it is not as torquey as some, has adequate pull.

In order to improve fuel economy a little and for smoother gear changes, the automatic transmission is now a six-speed.

Recognising that this variety of SUV spends most of its live in bitumen, the Kluger is available in either front- or all-wheel-drive versions. The AWD is an additional $4000. Either way, Toyota has improved the on-road handling to the point where it rivals the Ford Territory and new Nissan Pathfinder. We took the GXL for a long drive on a loop up to Maryborough and back, which included country roads in various states of repair, a bit of freeway and some stuff around town. There are few SUVs which would have handled the trip with greater comfort and surety, and we were able to appreciate the Kluger’s user-friendliness.

All new Klugers including the base model GX from $40,990 plus on-roads, have a reversing camera and rear parking sensors – which we think should be mandatory now for large SUVs.

The mid-level GXL grade adds three-zone climate-control air-conditioning, keyless start, leather upholstery and other extras, while the Grande has a sunroof, 19-inch alloy wheels, power tail gate, extra safety technologies such as blind spot warning and active cruise control, and a very impressive sound system complete with an eight-inch colour display and satellite navigation.

We have always considered the Kluger a sensible buy. It is now a desirable one too.

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