The seven-seater SUV segment is changing, with old stalwarts like the Car of the Year award-winning Ford Territory and Holden Captiva making way for hot new stars such as the high-flying Mazda CX-9 and Kia Sorento.
But of all the monocoque (rather than 4x4 chassis-based) contenders, it’s the Toyota Kluger that is the most popular, luring family car buyers in with huge space, practical interior, driving ease, and the peace of mind of dependable and reliable engineering.
The 2017 Kluger facelift, though, aims to keep the leader fresh in the face of increasingly stronger competition.
- Oh what a heart transplant! Out goes the long-lived 3.5-litre V6 for a heavily revamped direct-injection version with a higher compression ratio, improving efficiency as well as power – to the tune of 8.5 percent. Outputs jump from 201kW to 218kW, while torque rises to a heady 350Nm. Expect to see this engine in the next-generation, Mk8 MY18 Toyota Camry V6.
- Eight is enough. When the Kluger series was first launched in Australia in 2003, it featured a smooth 3.3-litre V6 driving all four wheels via a five-speed automatic gearbox. That changed to a 3.5 in 2007, while in 2014 the third-generation version ushered in a six-speed auto. Now that jumps to an eight-speeder, bringing with it efficiency benefits to the tune of 10 percent better fuel economy! The base front-wheel drive GX now returns 9.1L/100km. No manual transmission is offered (or even built).
- Diesel won’t do. Unfortunately, the Kluger’s biggest market by some margin is North America (Canada and USA – where it’s also built, at Toyota’s modern assembly plant in Indiana), where it wears Highlander badges. But as the Yanks (and Canucks) aren’t real fans of diesel, none is offered. That’s why more frugally minded buyers up there have the choice of a rather lethargic 2.7-litre four-cylinder petrol version, as well as a 3.5-litre V6 petrol/electric hybrid. The thing is… both are only made in left-hand-drive configuration, so Aussies miss out.
- AWOL AEB is not AOK. In North America, every Kluger/Highlander for 2017 offers AEB Autonomous Emergency Braking as standard equipment. But for Australia, Toyota deletes that crucial safety item from the specification on all variants except for the top-line Grande, which usually ends up costing well north of $65,000. That’s not very egalitarian now, is it Toyota? Meanwhile, the Mazda CX-9 has AEB standard on all models, and other rivals will be following suit soon enough.
- Aussie tunes rule! All Australian-bound Klugers have a different (and believe us, much better) steering and suspension tune, as a result of a two-year local-road shakedown designed to make the big seven-seater SUV handle and ride in a manner Australians prefer. This has been the case since this current-generation (U50-series) Kluger was released here in early 2014. For the MY17 model, there have been no changes to the chassis.
- Last platform standing. The MY17 Kluger, which is derived from the 2011 US-market Camry and Avalon series, will be the company’s last major model before every new Toyota from here-on in switches to the all-new Toyota New Generation Architecture (TNGA) platform. The latter promises to bring significant improvements to strength, rigidity, and refinement, while cutting down on weight and consumption. To be based on the Mk8 Camry released at the Detroit Motor Show in January 2017, expect the next-gen Kluger to hit the streets by about 2020.
- USB gone! One of the biggest selling points to families for the face-lifted US 2017 Highlander is the addition of three extra USB ports, primarily to stop passengers squabbling over the previously single outlet. Unfortunately, the rear-seat entertainment system that these plug and play with are simply not compatible with the Australian set-up, meaning that our MY17 Kluger sticks with the old single USB outlet. Boo! We also miss out on the new-fangled driver-to-third-row intercom system devised for the Highlander.