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Kluger – the ultimate soft-roader?
  |  First Published: June 2004



KLUGER is a German word meaning ‘clever idea’, and this pretty well sums up Toyota’s capable soft-roader. Marketing the car to slot in between the smaller Rav 4 and the dedicated line of Toyota four-wheel-drives is indeed clever work by Toyota, considering the generous array of features standard on the Kluger, plus the easy manner in which the car drives.

The Toyota Kluger is certainly large enough to be a ‘proper’ four-wheel-drive but it drives more like a Camry wagon than its nearest Toyota four-wheel-drive cousin, the Prado. Yet there is limited off-road capability thanks to constant four-wheel-drive and some quite reasonable ground clearance, although it’s noted that Toyota has opted to provide road tyres (Toyo Tranpaths) rather than chunky dirt grippers on this new kid on the block.

Styling wise, the Kluger doesn’t set the world on fire. It’s pretty bland, but any styling shortcomings are more than compensated for by the features within the cabin, plus the performance provided by a zippy 3.3-litre V6 engine mated to a four-speed automatic transmission that’s very willing to work.

Many people, I feel, are going to find the new Kluger exactly what they want in a family wagon. There is the right mix of overall larger size, a good high seating position, a feeling of safety inspired by the car’s general presence and the enhanced road handling of constant four-wheel-drive.

LAYOUT

This very practical wagon adapts to a variety of uses at the mere flick of a lever to lower and fold the rear seat. The Kluger has the most efficient and user-friendly rear seat fold-down system I’ve ever seen – an easily located lever is gently moved and down go the seats, providing an entirely flat rear cargo area. With the rear seats down there’s an enormous amount of room in the cargo section – approximately a square metre – and it’s easily accessed via the lifting tailgate door. And there is still plenty of room available even with the rear seat in place; far more than we usually see in a cross over, or ‘soft road’, vehicle.

The Kluger is generously roomy. Head room is there in spades, and this is one of the very few wagons where the driver can simply slip behind the wheel quickly without banging his or her kneecap on a section of projecting dash unit. Even the very largest four-wheel-drives are culprits here, in that the dash corner protrudes into the door space and seeks out kneecaps to punish as you enter the car.

Interior-wise, there’s heaps of room for front passengers and even more for those seating behind. Cabin space is very impressive, thanks to the manner in which engine and transmission are kept well and truly out of the way of the passenger area of the car. There is no traditional transmission hump as such because the selector for the auto unit is located on a neat arch extending forward of the two front seats. The arch is unique in that there is a large dual lid storage unit built into the rear of it, which is useful for storing valuables.

RIDE AND HANDLING

And now for some of the features that tend to make the Kluger a very easy to like car.

I’ll start with the performance. The 3.3-litre V6 churns out 172kW of power and 382 Nm of torque, and when you put the foot down hard the Kluger really responds.

While underway the Kluger feels more like one of the big two family wagons than a four-wheel-drive such as the Prado – but the elevated feeling of the high seating position certainly drives home the fact that this is no family sedan or wagon. This, of course, gives the Kluger a major advantage over rivals such as the Subaru Outlander, Rav 4, Honda CRV and the like. Those vehicles might offer similar ground clearance but they’re still far lower vehicles overall.

The Kluger’s handling is excellent. It’s willing to work and is entirely predictable thanks to the all-wheel-drive system. Muddy tracks and forest trails are fine, and so would be the beach at low tide, but remember there is no low range available. Ground clearance, at around 184mm, is quite reasonable.

Interior goodies include cruise control, dual air bags, a radio/CD player ABS braking system, climate control air conditioning, power windows and mirrors and about as many cup holders as I’ve ever seen in any vehicle.

A fuel consumption test involving both city and country driving returned figures of 49 litres over a distance of 440km. That indicates a figure of some 11 litres per 100km, which is very reasonable. The Kluger is by no means a thirsty car, and at around $43,990 for the base model it certainly has a lot of appeal.

[CAPTIONS]

1) The Kluger is a roomy wagon with strong family appeal.

2) Seeing is believing. All that camping gear, including the author’s 4m X 4m tent, went into the cargo area of the Kluger.

3) The Kluger is generously roomy and the central dash layout is uncomplicated and functional. The Grande model’s dash, pictured here, features wood trim and satellite navigation.

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