Australian first drive: 2021 Toyota Kluger

Apart from the allure of a hybrid drivetrain, is the new Kluger's functionality, versatility and tech enough to make this the complete seven-seat family SUV?

2021 Toyota Kluger Hybrid  Australian review
Gallery31
7.7/10Score
Score breakdown
7.5
Safety, value and features
7.5
Comfort and space
8.0
Engine and gearbox
8.5
Ride and handling
7.0
Technology

Things we like

  • Excellent ride comfort
  • Hybrid’s fuel efficiency
  • Spacious cabin
  • Improved safety features

Not so much

  • Some rivals are cheaper yet have more features
  • Poor infotainment system
  • No child seat anchors for third row
  • Limited electric-only driving
  • Premium unleaded needed for hybrid

Among Toyota’s myriad multi-seater options, the fourth-generation Kluger installs itself as the singular car-based choice for buyers more focused on crossing suburbs than going cross-country.

And a new, headline-making hybrid drivetrain combines with the imminent axing of the Prius V people-mover to establish this large SUV as the only petrol-electric Toyota with seven or more seats.

Toyota’s hybrid system is well overdue as an alternative to the V6 petrol that has powered the Kluger in Australia since its 2003 debut. A hybrid option has been available in the US, where the model is called Highlander, for a decade and a half.

Not that the omission has cruelled local sales. While Toyota Australia expects the hybrid to become the dominant drivetrain in a sales mix that includes the carry-over V6, the Kluger was last toppled by an external rival in 2013 (the Ford Territory).

Wheels Reviews 2021 Toyota Kluger Hybrid Australian Model Side
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Despite being consistently outsold by its 4x4 Prado stablemate, the Kluger will pass 200,000 local sales with this latest model.

Pricing has gone up, however, across a range that again comprises GX, GXL and Grande trim grades.

For a model that once started below $40,000, the Kluger now starts a bit higher than most of its direct rivals – priced from $47,650 before on-roads – with higher grades taking the nameplate past $70,000 for the first time.

All grades start with a front-wheel-drive V6, with a $4000 premium for all-wheel drive and a further $2500 for the AWD Hybrid.

The most affordable Hybrid is priced from $54,150, more than $17,000 higher than the entry-level petrol-electric RAV4. The range-topping Grande Hybrid will set buyers back more than $80,000 with on-road charges factored in.

Wheels Reviews 2021 Toyota Kluger Hybrid Australian Model Rear
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Natural rivals remain the likes of the Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe and Mazda CX-8, though a 76mm increase in body length also takes the Kluger closer in size to Hyundai’s larger Palisade as well as the Mazda CX-9.

Luggage space behind the third row has increased by 46 litres to 241 litres – ample capacity to accommodate a family’s weekly grocery shop or multiple sports/school bags.

An auto tailgate is standard only on the GXL upwards, with the Grande adding gesture-activated open/close.

Drop the 50:50 rearmost seats, via flap-style levers on the seat shoulders, and boot space moves from above average to a below-average 552L with five seats in use. Even most RAV4s offer up to 580L.

Wheels Reviews 2021 Toyota Kluger Hybrid Australian Model Front
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Access to the third row is wider compared with some rivals, making ingress/egress relatively easy. The second-row seats tilt/slide forward in one step via the same style of lever on the back seats, though SUVs such as the Sorento and Palisade provide cleverer one-touch electric tumble operation.

Longer travel for the sliding 60/40 second-row makes it easier to give third-row occupants some semblance of knee space.

There’s more legroom than you’ll find in the Sorento or Santa Fe, and unlike those SUVs the Kluger’s curtain airbags fully cover the third row not just the glass area. Toe space is good, and there are ceiling vents.

It’s still a cosy, knees-up affair even for average-height adults, while the third row’s versatility is limited by the lack of child seat anchor points as provided in some competitor vehicles.

The previous Kluger was roomy, yet the six centimetres added to the wheelbase make the second row feel truly spacious.

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Unlike the Palisade or CX-9 Azami LE, though, captain’s chairs aren’t available as an alternative to the second-row bench.

There’s dedicated air-conditioning with temperature and fan controls on GXL and Grande variants, plus USB ports. Grande models also add manual blinds.

Kluger Grande models feature a panoramic moonroof as standard, with a no-cost tilt-slide sunroof available for buyers keen on the $1500 Blu-Ray player option (we imagine more parents would be happy with iPad holders for the front seatbacks).

Storage options aren’t anything special. While occupants get a centre armrest with dual cupholders, the door bins could be wider and some rival SUVs offer smarter functionality – such as dual rather than single seatback pouches (CX-9 and Sorento) or cupholders that are integrated into the doors (Sorento).

Virtually every competitor offers better cabin technology, too.

Wheels Reviews 2021 Toyota Kluger Hybrid Front Seats
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The Kluger’s infotainment system is formed around an 8.0-inch touchscreen that’s at least 20 per cent smaller than most rival displays, compounding this with uninspiring graphics and poor resolution. The latter lowers the image quality of the rear-view camera (and surround-view camera on Grande).

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are no excuse, especially when, as we discovered, some phones are seemingly incompatible. Wireless charging is also a surprising omission.

The Kluger doesn’t follow the modern trend for fully digital instrument clusters, either, and only the Grande comes with a head-up display.

Wheels Reviews 2021 Toyota Kluger Hybrid Australian Model Interior
31

The Grande cabin is given extra lashings of leatherette, which creates a higher perception of quality without allowing the Kluger to match the more luxurious vibe of a CX-9 Azami or even the less expensive Sorento GT-Line or Peugeot 5008 GT.

Fake, plastic wood trim and a lack of LED interior lighting don’t help, while the Grande’s leather-accented seats aren’t the Nappa variety commonly found at this price point. The front seats also lack cushion extenders and, ironically, can’t match the comfort and support of the base GX’s fabric seats.

Not every buyer will be fussed about a contemporary-looking interior, and few again will be bothered that Toyota’s 3.5-litre has been around the block a few times and retains the 218kW/350Nm outputs and eight-speed auto of the previous Kluger.

The Kluger doesn’t follow the modern trend for fully digital instrument clusters and only the Grande comes with a head-up display
Wheels Reviews 2021 Toyota Kluger Hybrid Australian Model Engine
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The V6 is the pick over the Hybrid for those who prioritise performance.

Toyota says the FWD V6 is the fastest-accelerating Kluger, using its near-100kg-lighter kerb weight to nullify the AWD V6’s traction advantage – 7.5 seconds playing 7.8 in the 0-100km/h run. Or versus 8.4sec for the Hybrid.

There’s some minor torque steer in the front-drive V6 and a sunny day meant we couldn’t assess whether this variant, as with its predecessor, has a propensity to spin its wheels excessively in the wet.

The V6 certainly remains a smooth and pleasant-sounding engine, with a clear rolling acceleration advantage over the Hybrid.

A stop-start system improves the V6’s official fuel consumption, which is now as low as 8.7L/100km.

That’s still well above the Hybrid’s 5.6L/100km – an efficiency advantage likely to be magnified in everyday driving.

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We got close to that lab-derived number, too, registering an indicated 5.9L/100km after about 100km of inter-suburban driving, and never climbing higher than 6.4L/100km after further weekend suburban driving with some family members aboard.

A separate country road drive, where the hybrid system is more reliant on the petrol engine, still registered only 6.7L/100km.

Toyota has equipped the Kluger with essentially the same hybrid set-up as the RAV4 AWD, though with the wick turned up. The larger SUV has combined power of 184kW compared with 163kW.

An important note for those anticipating lower fuel bills, however, is that the tweaks have resulted in the 2.5-litre four-cylinder requiring 95 RON premium unleaded.

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On a light throttle, the hybrid drivetrain with e-CVT transmission feels more initially responsive than the V6 but needs to be stirred more for performance – which comes at the expense of refinement. The petrol four becomes overly conspicuous with its gruff nature.

It’s difficult to prevent the petrol engine from kicking into life even at low speeds, and the EV Mode that prompts the car’s computer to stay with electric power cancels itself at just 30km/h.

The Kluger Hybrid’s ability to self-charge, via both the petrol engine and regenerative braking, is a double-edged sword. Although this simplifies the ownership experience, Kia’s forthcoming Sorento plug-in hybrid promises even better efficiency, much lower emissions and up to 70km of pure electric driving.

The Kluger Hybrid’s ability to self-charge, via both the petrol engine and regenerative braking, is a double-edged sword
Wheels Reviews 2021 Toyota Kluger Hybrid Australian Model Ride And Handling Review
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It’s still possible to run at higher speeds using the electric motors but only once the Kluger has momentum and on flattish roads, with Toyota’s hybrid system switching as seamlessly between its dual forms of power as it has done ever since the early days of the Prius.

When the Kluger is coasting or cruising, the drivetrain’s near-silence is complemented by minimal noise from the tyres on coarser surfaces. This includes the Grande’s 20-inch wheels – the biggest available on any Toyota – which also avoid spoiling the wonderfully relaxed suppleness of the Kluger’s suspension.

With smooth, effortless steering and good body control, the Kluger becomes the latest Toyota nameplate to have had its driving manners transformed by the company’s TNGA modular platform – if never feeling as tied down on a country road as Mazda’s CX-9.

All-wheel-drive systems differ between models, with the Hybrid’s axles unconnected and instead using an extra electric motor for the rear wheels. V6 models feature Rock/Dirt and Mud/Sand modes; Hybrids have a Trail mode to aid traction.

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Capped-price servicing costs are low – just $250 per visit that’s either every 12 months or every 15,000km. A five-year warranty extends to seven years for the engine and driveline.

While the patchiness of the new Kluger’s cabin functionality, versatility and technology means it’s far from being the complete seven-seater family SUV, the big Toyota has never been more spacious and never better to drive. And, for many parents, that first-ever hybrid drivetrain will undoubtedly hold huge appeal.

7.7/10Score
Score breakdown
7.5
Safety, value and features
7.5
Comfort and space
8.0
Engine and gearbox
8.5
Ride and handling
7.0
Technology

Things we like

  • Excellent ride comfort
  • Hybrid’s fuel efficiency
  • Spacious cabin
  • Improved safety features

Not so much

  • Some rivals are cheaper yet have more features
  • Poor infotainment system
  • No child seat anchors for third row
  • Limited electric-only driving
  • Premium unleaded needed for hybrid

 

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Jez Spinks
Journalist

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