USED CAR: Why Toyota’s Kluger SUV is a family favourite
FOR fans of large Toyota SUVs who spend their time ferrying kids to school rather than crossing deserts, the Kluger is the smarter and cheaper alternative to a Prado or full fat LandCruiser.
Hugely popular for many reasons - it's spacious, practical and solidly built with strong mechanicals - the Kluger is generally a safe bet as a used family SUV, with many owners heaping praise their way.
Helping Toyota dominate the large SUV segment in Australia for years, the Kluger has five or seven seats, more car-like handling than a LandCruiser, a 3.2-litre V6 and, for all variants, front-wheel drive or 4WD.
It has been around since 2003 but we'll focus on preloved Klugers from October 2010 - when a facelifted and upgraded version launched - to March 2014 when the current generation arrived.
Don't expect to find many cut-price bargains. The Kluger's desirability means prices hold up well but the good news is they are plentiful in the classifieds, so buying a decent one in your preferred specification should be easy.
Facelifted Klugers, designated MY11 (model year 2011) or later, are recognisable by sharper headlights stretching to the chrome front grille. The five-star safety rating is thanks to family-friendly full-length side curtain airbags.
The grade line-up kicked off with a five-seat KX-R, followed by a seven-seat KX-R, KX-S and flagship Grande.
The base model came with 17-inch alloys, aircon, cruise control, CD audio with steering wheel controls and Bluetooth. Adding the pair of split-folding third-row seats cost $2500.
KX-S grades had seven seats, leather trim, power front seats, climate control, MP3 player, roof rails, keyless entry and 19-inch alloys.
Grande models cost more than $60,000 new and added a woodgrain-look trim, colour monitor, DVD player with rear screen, moonroof, auto headlights and electrochromatic mirror.
Optioning all-wheel drive on any model also brought hill-descent assist and added $4500.
In late 2012, the Altitude spec (based on the seven-seat KX-R) came with Grande gear such as a touchscreen, satnav, moonroof, rear TV screen and 19-inch wheels.
The sole engine and transmission combo was the brutish 201kW 3.5-litre V6 mated to a five-speed automatic.
It helped the big Kluger hit 100km/h from rest in a shade over eight seconds; impressively quick for a two-tonne SUV, but the trade-off was a drinking problem.
Claimed thirst was 11L/100km combined but road testers and owners found this to be optimistic. Klugers can be considerably thirstier around town.
Massive inside and truly versatile with all seats foldable and a sliding centre row, the Kluger's a capable tool for hauling large families.
Four-wheel independent suspension endowed decent handling despite its size and it would tow 2000kg.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The vast majority of Kluger owners will attest to Toyota reputation for reliability. The sole recall was to fix a master window switch. However, long threads on Toyota forums relate to front differential problems on 4WD versions. If you hear a whining from the front end when cruising between 60-70km/h, walk away.
A knocking from the steering shaft is also a common grumble but the biggest red flag should be any white or blue smoke coming from the exhaust on start-up.
If not serviced properly or if the wrong oil is used the V6 can sludge up, sustaining considerable damage and resulting in a huge repair bill.
Less common issues include water pump or aircon failures and poor Bluetooth connectivity. Check the full-size spare wheel is still there - it's apparently quite easy to steal from a Kluger.
Pick of the Klugers are those that have had an easy on-road life. If there's evidence of off-road use such as underbody damage, rust, salt, mud or sand inside, negotiate a good deal or look elsewhere. There are plenty of pampered versions.
Due to their popularity with families, some Klugers have endured cabin abuse via careless kids. Again, target used ones that have been spared such punishment. Klugers have foot parking brakes rather than hand brakes, so check you can operate this comfortably.
They're big, remember - on a test drive, check whether you're comfortable manoeuvring and parking a Kluger.
If high fuel bills annoy you, search for a large diesel SUV instead, but the Kluger remains a strong choice for large families thanks to its practicality, size and general reliability. Don't go for a 4WD version unless you really need one: you'll save money on initial purchase price and servicing.
Stephen Harrington: I bought an AWD new and it has not missed a beat. The interior space is enormous, including when set up as a seven-seater that can carry adults, not just kids. The V6 has all the power you need and from my observations when driving around it outsells competitors such as the Mazda CX-9 and Hyundai Santa Fe 10 to one.
Geoff Crockett: We bought the 2WD version new and we chose it for the space and the Toyota reliability. We can fit Nanna in easily, even with another child and a car seat in the middle row. It's not the cheapest to run (seems to have a small tank), it's a bit more challenging to park than our previous Mazdas.
Keith Harding: I bought my 2010 KX-R AWD five years ago and it has covered more than 269,000km trouble-free - it has been twice around Oz towing a 16-foot caravan. I previously had a 3.0-litre turbo diesel (not a Toyota) and there was no comparison. The Kluger's comfort, performance and handling are superb. I average 9-11L/100km around town and 18L towing at no more than 95km/h. Seats and trim show no signs of wear. It gets regular logbook servicing at 10,000km intervals and the transmission oil is changed at 20,000km. Is by far the best car I have ever owned - I have had a few in my 71 years - and I'll replace it with a later model Kluger when the time comes.
Peter Smith: We bought our KX-R AWD new in 2013. It's a great car. We have had no problems. Fuel economy gets down to 7.8L/100km on long trips and 10-12L. We'd buy another and have recommended one to family.
THE EXPERTS SAY
The refreshed second-generation Kluger notched about 40,000 sales in the nominated years, with 2012 the biggest annual tally. In used listings, front-wheel drive versions make up a narrow majority.
The KX-R grade accounts for nearly half the listings, followed by the upmarket Grande.
The base KX-R front-driver ($40,990 new in 2010) is worth $13,500 in good condition with up to 120,000km. A Grande AWD from the same year ($65,490 new) is about $21,550. All variants retain the same percentage (roughly 33 per cent) of new price.
For 2013 examples, pay $21,750 for the KX-R FWD ($40,490 new) and $35,200 for the Grande AWD ($65,490 new).
The 2010 Kluger holds its value better than the Holden Captiva and Ford Territory of the same period but trails the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the hard-core Prado sibling.
Much the same is true for 2013 models but the Kluger's retained value (as a percentage) is closer to the Jeep.
TOYOTA KLUGER 2010-14
PRICE NEW $40,490-$65,490
SAFETY 5 stars
ENGINE 3.5-litre V6, 201kW/337Nm
TRANSMISSION 5-speed auto; FWD/AWD