- A big improvement over the previous model
- Genius hybrid drivetrain
- Roomy and good quality interior
- More expensive than before
- Large hybrid premium
- GX should offer more features for $60k
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the world has – finally! – started shunning bigger-engined cars for cleverer, more eco-friendly options. Australians have taken a while, but sales of electric and part-electric vehicles are starting to take off. The latest vehicle to offer an electrified drivetrain is the Toyota Kluger, which has just launched with a ‘self-charging’ hybrid system that had been on offer overseas since the early 2000s. Considering that more than 70 per cent of RAV4 buyers go for the hybrid option now, can the 2021 Toyota Kluger GX Hybrid lead the electrification charge in the large seven-seat SUV segment? Let’s find out.
Price & Equipment: 7/10
Priced from $54,150 plus on-road costs ($59,688 drive away), the entry-level Kluger GX hybrid is priced $2,500 more than the V6 all-wheel drive Kluger, and a full $6,500 more than the two-wheel drive V6 car. Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, auto lights and wipers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearknob, tri-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, heated and auto-folding mirrors, cloth upholstery, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, selectable driving modes, multiple USB ports and a six-speaker sound system.
Safety kit includes seven airbags, auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian, cyclist and intersection assist, lane departure alert with lane trace assist, auto high beam, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, driver attention alert, speed sign assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors.
Extra cost colour options for the Kluger GX include ‘Galena Blue’, ‘Saturn Blue’, ‘Liquorice Brown’, ‘Atomic Rush’, ‘Silver Storm’, ‘Crystal Pearl’ and the ‘Graphite’ of our test car. The sole no-cost colour option is ‘Eclipse Black’ and grey cloth is the sole interior option.
Competing with the 2021 Toyota Kluger GX Hybrid are the Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD and the Hyundai Palisade 2.2L diesel AWD. The Kluger is unique in offering a hybrid option in the segment for now, and it’s priced $2,909 less than the CX-9 Touring and a full $4,373 less than the entry-level Palisade. Of course, neither the CX-9 or Palisade offer a hybrid drivetrain, but both models are worth consideration, especially the CX-9 and that it’s a second-tier model that offers comfortably more standard kit than even the mid-spec Kluger GXL. We think a two-wheel drive Kluger hybrid should be offered to lessen the cost of buying and running it.
The extra spend to the CX-9 Touring does add a lot more standard equipment such as leather upholstery, a larger 9.0-inch touchscreen with inbuilt satellite navigation, powered and heated front seats, a heads-up display and reverse auto braking. Spending the extra on the Palisade only adds leather upholstery and the Kluger still has more safety kit such as a knee airbag for the driver and LED lighting.
Performance & Fuel Economy: 9/10
While the standard Kluger comes with a 218kW/350Nm 3.5-litre petrol V6, we think most people will upgrade to the 2.5-litre hybrid drivetrain that comes standard with all-wheel drive. Also used in the Camry, the hybrid pairs a 142kW/242Nm 2.5-litre petrol engine with three electric motors that make 391Nm in total draw their power from a small battery located under the middle seat. Total power output is a healthy 184kW – 14kW more than the turbocharged petrol Mazda.
But what we found surprising is that not only is the hybrid vastly more efficient than the V6, but it’s also more drivable thanks to the slug of low end torque that’s provided by the electric motors. The Kluger hybrid almost always starts off in all-electric mode and the petrol engine kicks in not long afterwards, depending on your foot position – but it is possible to drive the car in EV mode in reasonable traffic and not hold up the people behind you. Both the V6 and hybrid Kluger will tow 2,000kg.
When the petrol engine does kick in, there’s no jolt like there was in previous generations of Toyota’s hybrid system. It’s seamless, and the only notifier of the added engine is that there’s now some extra noise to accompany the rising speed. Unlike the eight-speed automatic V6, the hybrid uses an e-CVT transmission, which can feel unnatural as there’s no rev counter and the eco counter that replaces it can move surprisingly quick from the eco end to the power end, for example. You do get used to it, though, and while the four-cylinder petrol engine can be loud when you’re caning it, the Kluger is mostly very quiet in everyday driving.
Aside from low-end punch and added refinement, the big reason to buy a hybrid is fuel economy and the Kluger doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Toyota claims 5.6L/100km on a combined cycle and we achieved an excellent 6.4L/100km over a week of mixed driving. The hybrid features a 65L fuel tank, which will give owners an average range of around 1,000km – the Kluger hybrid uses minimum 95RON premium unleaded.
Ride & Handling: 8/10
Now based on Toyota’s ‘TNGA’ platform – which also underpins every other new car the company makes, including the Camry and RAV4 – the Kluger rides and handles much better than the previous generation of the car. Unlike the previous car, there’s no disconnected feeling – you feel much more part of the action, and as a result, safer behind the wheel.
The steering is light but preferable to the CX-9’s heavy rack, and the ride quality is a touch firm on larger bumps, but it’s otherwise excellent.
There’s no denying that the Kluger feels large from behind the wheel, because at 4,966mm long and a 2,045kg kerb weight, it is a large car. But its dynamics do make it feel more car-like than before. Road noise levels are pleasingly low – thankfully as the hybrid system removes the engine noise for a lot of the time – while rear visibility isn’t the best with small windows, though thankfully large side mirrors.
If you’re choosing the hybrid drivetrain, all-wheel drive is your only option. Unlike the V6’s torque-vectoring mechanical all-wheel drive system, the hybrid’s is an ‘e-AWD’ system that provides no mechanical link between the front and rear wheels. Instead, the rear wheels are powered by the rear-mounted battery and while it mostly drives solely using the front wheels, up to 80 per cent of the car’s propulsion can be fed to them.
Interior & Practicality: 8/10
Like the drivetrain and dynamics, the 2021 Toyota Kluger’s interior has been improved as well. S a whole, it’s much more cohesive than before in material quality – though we still find the design to be fussy. But the materials are now higher quality with soft touch plastics and faux leathers used on the doors and dashboard, while the cloth on the seats is nice as well – we just wish there was an extra layer of finishing such as chrome switches or contract stitching to make it feel more like almost $60,000 drive away.
Centre of the Kluger’s dashboard is an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as digital radio. Unlike base models in other Toyotas such as the Camry and Corolla, you cannot option satellite navigation and must spend another $10,000 to get to the GXL to get it. We think navigation should be standard, as should the larger 12.3-inch screen offered in left-hand drive models. The screen itself is fine, though could offer better screen quality and a sharper response.
The Kluger’s cabin is immensely practical, with storage everywhere – large doorbins, a huge centre console box, large cupholders and even a few trays on the dashboard to place phones and wallets – don’t worry, they’re covered in a rubbery anti-slip material, so your phone won’t move while driving.
Thanks to the lengthening of the wheelbase by 6cm, the middle seat of the Kluger is huge, even for taller people. The legroom on offer is massive, as is the headroom and the seats themselves are quite comfortable too. Middle seat occupants get a separate climate zone from the front cabin, as well as two USB ports, big door bins and a centre arm rest – though no inbuilt sunshades. The seats can both slide and recline as well.
The third row of the Kluger is surprisingly spacious – six-footers will fit there fine, though they would have to slide the middle row slightly forward. Third row occupants get their own vents and cup holders, though no charging ports. The windows are also small but access to the third row is easy as the middle row tilts and slides forward on both sides. Both rows are also very easy to fold for when more luggage space is needed.
The boot of the Kluger is huge, as you’d expect from such a large car. Behind the third row is 241-litres of space and 658-litres lies behind row two. Fold the middle row and Toyota claims that you get 1,909L. It’s a flat and huge space and for those comparing hybrid and V6, the hybrid loses no space despite the inclusion of batteries and electric motors. It also has a full-size spare wheel.
Service & Warranty: 9/10
Like other current Toyota products, the 2021 Toyota Kluger GX Hybrid comes with a five-year/unlimited km warranty but with no roadside assistance. It requires servicing once yearly or every 15,000km, whichever comes first. Five years/75,000km of servicing costs a very low $1,250 ($250 per service). Both Mazda and Hyundai offer five year warranties as well, though the Hyundai comes with a single year of roadside assistance that can be topped up to five years in total with each scheduled dealer service and the Mazda comes with five years of roadside assistance.
Servicing the Mazda CX-9 all-wheel drive over the same time period (but to only 50,000km thanks to the Mazda’s shorter 10,000km service intervals) costs a higher $2,202 ($440 per service) and if you travel more than that, it will cost even more. The Hyundai Palisade diesel all-wheel drive costs $3,203 for the same time period and longer 15,000km intervals, which equals $640 per service – almost three times the service cost of the Kluger.
The 2021 Toyota Kluger GX Hybrid DiscoverAuto Rating: 8.2/10
The 2021 Toyota Kluger GX Hybrid is a genuinely full-sheet improvement on the previous model. Thanks to its new platform, it drives much nicer than before, while its interior is better quality and more cohesive. It offers a lot more standard kit as a base model and – the really big improvement – it’s capable of sub-6L/100km fuel consumption thanks to the refined and punchy hybrid drivetrain. Aside from the perennial Toyota reliability, the Kluger hybrid’s drivetrain gives it a unique selling point in the segment – at least, until the hybrid versions of the Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe arrive in 2022.
It’s not perfect, however. It’s a reasonable amount more expensive than the previous model, while the base car should offer more standard equipment, such as satellite navigation. The premium for the hybrid is also huge compared with the cheapest 2WD V6 drivetrain – largely because there’s no two-wheel drive option for the hybrid, which we think there should be. Many buyers would definitely see the clever all-wheel drive system as unnecessary. But those faults aside, the new Kluger is a much more likeable product than the previous car and Toyota’s mission to completely revamp its lineup continues successfully.