OUR RATING: 7.5 / 10
By James Ward
- Great size and packaging for family duties;
- Plenty of power from a big V6; and
- Solid and stylish throughout.
- Lack of satellite navigation in a Kshs. 4 million family SUV is a huge downside;
- Ride and performance is compromised when loaded up; and
- Value for money is not what it should be.
Since its arrival in 2014, the third-generation Toyota Kluger has won over plenty of buyers globally, with its practical space and somewhat laid-back approach to life. The Kluger is not directly available in the Kenyan market and can only be had through individual importation. The older generation Kluger did very well in the Kenyan used car market as it had many positives to boasts.
It was a really nice car that made functionality look rather cool. Similar to wearing a polo and chinos from Mr. Price, not Little Red – getting the job done in style without too much fuss or pomp. Easy to drive, easy to live with and pretty good-looking that’s its way too easy to like.
There’s a choice of nine colours (ours being a lovely Dynamic Blue) and all suit the muscular, modern design of this family soft-roader.
On the other hand, with the fresh arrival of the all-new Mazda CX-9, and the Kluger’s 2017 facelift still a good six months away, does the 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL AWD still have enough to keep it in buyers’ minds?
Interestingly enough, in all global car markets, Australia is the only country where a Kluger is a Kluger and not a Highlander. The SUV was not sold beyond its first-generation in Japan, and since Hyundai own the ‘Highlander’ trademark name, there can be only one.
Priced from US $38,600 (price exclusive of options and on-road costs), the Kluger GXL is the mid-level trim grade in the line-up. It’s about US $6,000 up on the entry GX AWD and a solid US $9,000 more affordable than the top-spec Grande.
Given all cars share the same 201Kw of power and 337Nm of torque 3.5-litre V6 engine, those price differences are predominantly found in the cabin. All variants come with a six-speed automatic transmission with selectable all-wheel drive.
You get tri-zone climate control, a leather accented interior with an electric driver’s seat and front row heating in the GXL; but that’s about it in terms of options.
Unfortunately though, there’s no sunroof, no power tailgate, no memory seats, no driver assistance systems and no satellite navigation.
There’s a 6.1-inch display with Bluetooth phone and audio, integrated rear-view camera and support for the ToyotaLink mobile app suite. Ridiculously, on a car this size and price, there’s no navigation function.
Even mentioning the ToyotaLink function feels a bit pointless, as most of the features that are useful only work on navigation-equipped vehicles. There’s not even an option to add navigation. If you must have it though, you need to spend an extra US $9,000 for factory integrated navigation on the Grande. The Kluger; in typical Toyota fashion, has no CarPlay or Android Auto integration on the horizon either.
Plus, in a world where everyone in the family has their own mobile device, you can’t expect the kids to call “shotgun” when there’s only one USB charge point right up in front near the transmission lever.
It may seem like a fixation on a small issue, but the Kluger is a family car every day of the week and we are getting to the point where some modern technology should simply be a must-have in this segment.
On the other hand, being an SUV, technology isn’t the only consideration. Family hauling is what the Kluger does best.
Best believe, there is plenty of space in the front and middle row. The 60:40 split second row is on sliding rails to add (or remove) leg room for those in the third tier. Plus there’s a 195-litre boot with all seats up (expands to 529-litres in five-seat configuration). The cabin feels airy and voluminous throughout, giving a real sense of comfort and security to driving the big Toyota. Outward vision is good and the giant dashboard makes the width of the Kluger even more apparent.
While we’ve said almost enough about the touch screen, it’s fair to note that the buttons for each menu function aren’t expertly responsive which can be frustrating on the move. Audio from the six standard speakers is pretty good for a family car though.
The climate control is easy and clear to use, and the ability to control rear temperature is a welcome addition.
Something that we’ve always liked about the Kluger is the cavernous centre cubby. The integrated shelf is handy, but the size of storage in there is terrific. I’ve seen it swallow a whole handbag without a moment’s hesitation.
On the road, that big V6 feels punchy and smooth off the line. The Kluger pulls well when accelerating and actually feels quite sprightly.
Peak torque and power both arrive late in the rev range (6200rpm and 4700 rpm respectively) so the delivery of power is very progressive, resulting in a smooth driving experience.
The ride too is very compliant and comfortable; the Kluger dispatching speed humps and poor-quality roads with ease.
It’s relatively economical as it managed 8.8L/100km on a highway cycle (against the claim of 8.4L/100km).
We took the Kluger on some really open country roads, and it was here that the Kluger showed its strengths and weaknesses in equal number.
First up, loading five adults and a boat load of luggage and gear into the big Toyota was not that hard a task. We experimented with seating layout and ended up opting for a five-seat configuration to access the whole boot. Three adults-across is pushing the limits of the Kluger but everyone had enough head and leg room. However so, if you’re upwards of six feet tall then you’ll find the middle seat to be a tad uncomfortable over longer trips, but that is the worst of it.
While the boot managed to swallow all the luggage and gear, the weight was more than what you’d expect from some third row passengers and would have pushed the Kluger close to its 675kg payload limit.
The change in dynamics from a near-empty Kluger was instantly noticeable. The car sat low on the soft rear suspension and the front felt light and disconnected from the driving experience. It seemed to struggle under acceleration and was nowhere near as enjoyable to run on the highway cruise.
With that said, once back safely to town, our combined fuel consumption for the week was 11.6L/100km, again close to the claim of 10.6L/100km from Toyota.
The country road driving was perhaps at the extreme end of the Kluger’s everyday usage, but driving around solo is very much at the other. Keep things in between and you should enjoy plenty of happy journeys.
What is more important for the Kluger to address though, is value.
The new Mazda CX-9 can be had in a mid-level AWD specification for US $32,500; well over US $6k less than the Kluger, and it comes with navigation.
The Toyota’s traditional rival, the Nissan Pathfinder, lists in ST-L AWD guise for US $40,300 although, Nissan are offering the slightly lower-spec ST for US $30,800 at the moment. While it is also feeling a bit dated in terms of technology, it remains a solid US $8K under the Toyota.
The updated Kluger that was shown at the 2016 New York auto show promises some revisions to the level of on-board technology (including some extra USB points) but it really feels like Toyota needs to define a specification between GXL and Grande to roll-in some of these basic, and honestly expected, functions.
Perhaps for 2017 we’ll see a GXL i-Tech that saves the LED lights, chrome wheels and ventilated seats for the Grande, but throws in the navigation and driver aids to help satisfy a tech-centric audience?
Until then, the 2016 Toyota Kluger GXL is still a great family car. The size, power and everyday packaging still impress, as long as you campaign hard for a discount and don’t fill it up with too much stuff.
- Toyota Kenya is the official and sole distributor of all new Toyota vehicles in Kenya. They are located along Uhuru Highway, adjacent to Nakumatt Mega.
- They also have a number of showrooms countywide and countrywide. In Nairobi, they have two other showrooms along Ngong Road and along Waiyaki Way.
- The company offers after sales service as well as comprehensive warranties for all their vehicles.
- Check out their official website or visit their showrooms for more information.