I’d be 100% lying if I said I was excited to review the 2023 Toyota Kluger (or Highlander as it's known in other markets like North America).
Frankly, it was a tick box exercise. It’s a popular SUV we at CarSauce have been getting a silly amount of requests to review.
I’m going to say it now, I was wrong.
The Kluger / Highlander has just received a major change (some say upgrade, others say downgrade!) where gone is the 3.5L naturally aspirated V6 and in its place is a hot-hatch-esque 2.4L 4 cylinder turbo petrol engine.
With that, new safety tech and updated infotainment - is it enough for us to recommend you buy? Let’s talk about that in today’s review!
How much does the Toyota Kluger cost?
The model we are testing today is the mid-specification, GXL. You can get into one of these bad-boys for $66,828 AUD including on-roads. That nets you the front-wheel drive (FWD), turbo-4 cylinder.
Spend an extra $4,000 as our car is fitted, and you will gain all-wheel drive (AWD).
But as you’ll find out later, spending an extra $2,500 on top of that for the Hybrid is definitely worth it in the long-run.
This pricing applies whether you buy the GX base model at $56,905 driveaway or Grande top-specification at $81,066 driveaway
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What do we think of the Toyota Kluger's exterior looks?
You wouldn’t look twice at a Kluger. How can I prove this? I was definitely 8km/h over the speed limit (by accident!!) and the Highway Patrol driving past me didn’t pull me over. Riddle me that one.
That did happen, but in all seriousness, it’s a pretty decent looking rig. The headlights are nice and bright LEDs, the grille is very much in-line with some of its American market exclusives - i.e., its definitely heavily American market oriented. Not a bad thing, just an observation.
I have to say, the colour we have spec’d here which we have lovingly dubbed ‘Baby-boomer blue” is not to our taste. But to each their own. It’s actually called ‘Galena Blue’ for anyone interested.
The 18” wheels look really small compared to the big body of the Kluger, but that is a GREAT thing. It means there is wider rubber (i.e. thicker tyres) to help soak up a lot of road bumps. More on that later.
Then at the rear are some smart looking tail lights, with an out-of-place mega SUV spoiler at the top; though I kinda like it.
Also shoutout to the thing you can’t see - the hidden full size spare under the boot. Good to see Toyota including that, especially considering this thing is made for long distance touring.
It’s a basic, utilitarian design that just works. Thumbs up from me.
What’s the interior like on the Toyota Kluger?
The interior is where I was genuinely wowed. Having recently come out of the Toyota Fortuner, I was not excited to be reviewing the Kluger. But this is night and day better.
Yes the interior is a sea of black plastic, but its good black plastic. It has that classic Toyota solid build where even the doors close with a satisfying *thud*.
Storage is plentiful, with a smart cubby below the climate vents with a cable passthrough. That’s copied by another storage area above the glove box. Speaking of, that’s pretty huge too. And the centre armrest is huge to the point where I can fold my arm into it… don’t ask me why I know that.
So yes, it’s really thought through.
The biggest upgrade is the new 12.3” infotainment display. It has been a much needed addition, and elevates the interior massively from the tiny 8” screen that came before it. It’s bright, sharp, mega-responsive; everything you could really want. Best of all is the wireless Apple Carplay that is faultless. Android auto is still wired though, that’s a shame.
Speaking of, in the GXL you don’t get a wireless charger but you do get two USB-C chargers and one USB-A.
The instrument cluster is probably the most disappointing part of the interior… which isn’t a bad thing. It’s one of those digi-analogue setups with a very washed out, kinda-hard to read digital screen in the center but it does show plenty of information. The analogue gauges do what they say on the tin, so no complaints there.
And then there are the seats. They look like any other seat right? Well they don’t feel like it. Sit in it, and you are pleasantly surprised by just how comfy they are. Over my week of testing with over 1000km added to the car, I was always stoked to be sitting in these seats. Nice one Toyota.
What about the back seats of the Toyota Kluger?
At 5’11”, I’m very comfortable sitting behind my driver's position. I have heaps of head room, leg room and toe room.
The seats are just as comfy as up front, and you can slide them and/or recline them. You do you. I’m always a sucker for customisability.
In the GXL you gain a third zone of climate control, with a couple of vents in the roof. Shoutout to the 2 USB-C chargers in the back too, the large map pockets and centre arm-rest with a couple of cupholders.
What about the third row seats in the Toyota Kluger?
For this test, we did what’s fair. If you’re taking 7 adults in a car, everyone needs to compromise a bit. Well, at least the back seats. We slide them forward by 1” so there was still plenty of room.
Then slipping into the back, even at my average male height, I could fit in there great. No, it’s not the best - there is no toe room for instance. But its the third row, what can you expect.
Good for kids, okay for adults.
How much can it fit in the boot of a Toyota Kluger?
The boot opens automatically, which is great for when you’ve got your hands full of kids and groceries to be battling opening the tailgate.
The Kluger provides a total of 241 liters of cargo capacity when all three rows are in use. Folding the third row increases the cargo capacity to 552 liters, while folding both the second and third rows provides a maximum cargo capacity of 1150 liters.
It’s a little better than a Mazda CX-9, a little worse than the Hyundai Palisade.
What’s under the bonnet of the Toyota Kluger?
This is probably the biggest change for the Kluger, and a lot of people are upset. Should you be?
Gone is the naturally-aspirated 3.5-litre petrol V6 engine producing 218kW of power and 350Nm of torque. 🙁
In its place is the 2.4L turbocharged 4 cylinder engine, which pumps out less power at 198kw, but more torque at 420nm. Even better, is that unlike the naturally aspirated V6 - which means it has no turbo or supercharger to give extra performance - the turbocharger means it has its pulling power (torque) from pretty much as soon as you put your foot down.
It does keep the same 8 speed torque converter automatic transmission as before, which is a solid pairing. And as mentioned before, our unit is fitted with AWD. It’s definitely the choice, because quite frankly this thing has so much power and torque that it will just spin the front wheels on takeoff - trust me.
How does the Toyota Kluger drive?
Jacob hates me saying this, but it is almost a hot hatch in how it launches.
We timed the 0-100km/h sprint at 7.85 seconds - and this thing feels strangely quick.
Plant your foot down and you can hear the turbo induction sound which almost feels unnatural. This thing just keeps building power as it rows gently through its 8 gears, and boy does it feel weirdly… fun.
But that exacerbates its biggest problem, which is fuel economy. Toyota claim a combined fuel cycle of 8.3L/100km. That couldn't be further from the truth based on our testing.
Driving this thing about 50% on the highway and 50% around town, we averaged 11.4L/100km which is just as thirsty as the outgoing V6. So yes you can definitely have a bit of fun, but boy does this thing suck fuel.
Buy the Hybrid is what were saying, and you can expect ~6.0L/100km in the real world.
Driving on the straights of back roads is great. This thing has extremely soft suspension, so you essentially float along the road. That’s not the best thing though, because as soon as there are undulations in the road this thing feels unsettled.
Turning a corner at speeds above 70km/h are also more chore than fun. We’re probably exaggerating, but this thing handles like it looks - a boat.
Steering is a great weighting though, and toggle into sports mode and the electric steering rack feels a lot heavier even if that is a disconnected feeling from the enormous body roll you experience.
Around suburbia is where this thing thrives though. It just coasts along effortlessly in traffic, thanks to its suite of active safety features (more on that later). At lower speeds, bumps are just absorbed thanks to the soft suspension and thick rubber.
And noise isolation is good too, which is always a plus.
Does a Palisade drive better overall? Sure. But for what you spend, this is pretty dang good.
What does the Toyota Kluger cost to service?
The Toyota Kluger comes with a warranty that lasts for five years and has no limit on the number of kilometres driven. The warranty for the engine and driveline is even longer, lasting up to seven years.
To keep your Toyota Kluger in good condition, regular maintenance is required every 12 months or after travelling 15,000km. The Toyota capped-price program offers the first five services at a fixed rate of $265 each.
Is the Toyota Kluger safe?
Yes. The Toyota Kluger received a 5 star ANCAP safety rating, scoring 90% for adult occupant protection, 88% for child occupant protection, 76% for vulnerable road user protection, and 82% for safety assist.
The list of safety features for the Toyota Kluger includes:
Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)
Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD)
Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
Hill-start Assist Control (HAC)
Downhill Assist Control (petrol AWD only)
7 SRS airbags
Seatbelt warning (available for all 7 seats)
Toyota Safety Sense, which includes:
Pre-Collision Safety system with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection
Intersection Turn Assistance
Lane Departure Alert with steering assist
Automatic High Beam
Active Cruise Control (all speed) with curve speed reduction
Lane Trace Assist
Road Sign Assist (speed signs only)
Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert
Rear parking sensors
Front parking sensors
Reversing camera with Back Guide Monitor
3 child restraint anchorage points
Luggage area hooks
Engine immobiliser system
Final thoughts - should you buy one?
The Toyota Kluger is a solid choice for those who want a spacious and comfortable seven-seater SUV with a wide range of safety features. Its new 12.3” infotainment display and comfortable seats are standout features, while the car's soft suspension makes for a smooth ride. However, its fuel economy is not great, and its handling can feel a bit sluggish around corners.
Overall, the Toyota Kluger is a reliable, family-friendly car that ticks a lot of boxes. While it may not be the most exciting car to drive, it gets the job done and provides a comfortable and safe ride for both driver and passengers. If you're in the market for a seven-seater SUV, the Toyota Kluger is definitely worth considering.
Matt Brand, the esteemed car critic from Car Sauce, offers unparalleled expertise on all things automotive. From new car releases to pre-owned options, he provides in-depth analysis and honest evaluations to guide readers through the car-buying process. Join us as he delves into the exciting world of motoring.