The Toyota Kluger, more widely known as the Toyota Highlander, is a mid-size CUV or crossover SUV produced since 2000 to the present. Toyota introduced it at the 2000 NY International Auto Show as the Toyota Highlander. It is the car-based SUV equivalent of the truck-based SUV Toyota 4Runner.
The Highlander arrived in Japan in the latter part of 2001 and Australia in 2003 as the Toyota Kluger. Toyota had to rename it because Hyundai Terracan had a trademarked Highlander trim in these markets. The word 'Kluger' in German refers to someone who is smart.
Under both nameplates, this crossover enjoyed the status of being Toyota's top-selling SUV until the launching of Toyota RAV4 in 2006, which outperformed it in the market.
It went through four generations in the last 19 years with successive updates occurring in the first generation.
First Generation: XU20 (2000–2007)
Built on Toyota’s K platform, the first generation (XU20 series) rolled out of the Miyata facility in Fukuoka, Japan in November 2000 for the 2001 model year. Production continued until 2007. Like the SUVs at the time, the Kluger had an angular and boxy body. It had a front-engine FWD/AWD layout and 5-seat or 7-seat configuration.
While its SUV relative, the 4Runner, built on off-road endurance, the Highlander/Kluger aimed at on-road manners and comfort, courtesy of its independent rear suspension and unibody frame. When it first came out, it had a longer body than the 4Runner at the time (2000-2001). The 4Runner, however, received a 2002 update and edged out the Kluger in terms of length.
Throughout the first generation, the Kluger utilized three engines, which were available depending on market regulations and demand. The powertrains offered consisted of the following:
- 2.4L 2AZ-FE inline-four (119 kW) – for MY 2001-2007
- 3.0L 1MZ-FE V6 (164 kW) – for MY 2001-2003
- 3.3L 3MZ-FE V6 ( 172 kW) – for MY 2004-2007
The transmissions were either 4-speed U140E/140F/241E automatic or 5-speed U151E/F automatic.
The 4x4 Klugers arrived in Australia in 2003 equipped with the 3.3L 3MZ-FE V6 engine (172 kW, 328 Nm, 12.3 L/100 km, 0-97km/h in 7.8s) paired with 5-speed U151E/F automatic transmission. There were three trim levels available, starting with the base CV, mid-range CVX, and range-topping Grande.
The base model featured dual front airbags, ABS, auto air-con/climate control, alarm, brake assist, cruise control, central locking, cloth trim, EBD, LSD, power mirrors/steering/windows, radio CD with six speakers, and front pretensioner seatbelts.
The CVX trim added 16-inch alloy wheels, CD with 6-CD stacker, front fog lights, leather-accented upholstery, power front seats, and third-row seats. The Grande meanwhile had 17-inch alloy wheels, leather steering wheel, power sunroof, rear spoiler, side airbags, Sat Nav, vehicle stability control, and wood-grain trim on top of the CVX equipment.
A hybrid version, called the Toyota Highlander Hybrid in North America, became available in 2005 but was not released in Australia.
Second Generation: XU40 (2007–2013)
Still constructed on the K platform, the XU40 series continued production in Japan, with additional assembly facilities opening in China and the US. Kluger XU40 entered the North American market both as hybrids and purely petrol-powered. In Australia and some markets, they remained solely non-hybrid. Australian buyers could choose between FWD and AWD versions for all trim levels. Five-seat and seven-seat configurations were available for the base model, while the rest were all in seven-seat setup. The Australia-spec’d powertrain for this period was:
- 3.5L 2GR-FE V6 (201 kW, 337 Nm, 11L/100km) mated to 5-speed U151E auto transmission
There were three guises for the second generation, namely, KX-R, KX-S, and Grande. What used to be high-level features were now standard for all models. Apart from the previous base offerings, the base features now also included front and rear air conditioning, hill descent control, engine immobiliser, traction control system, vehicle stability control, power front seats, power tailgate, power sunroof, CD with 4-CD stacker, DVD player, head and side front airbags, heated front seats, leather-accented upholstery, leather steering wheel, Sat Nav, reversing cam, voice recognition system, and 19-inch alloy wheels.
An update in 2010 introduced a revised front end, new headlights, and a restyled front grille. The ANCAP gave the second-generation Kluger a 5-star rating but 1-star for pedestrian protection.
Third Generation: XU50 (2013–2019)
Toyota revealed the third generation at the NY International Auto Show in 2013. Underpinned by the same platform, the XU50 series has started curving its corners and adopted a more streamlined shape. It has grown in length and width, and with this added space, would now sit eight people.
The Kluger now packed some state-of-the-art equipment for added safety, handling, and comfort. Notable additions include updated instrument panel, soft-touch trim, lane-departure and pre-collision warning systems, blind-spot monitoring sensors, Bt connectivity, enhanced multimedia system, and Entune app suite as an option.
In Australia, the initial models carried over the engine from the previous series but took on the revised version in the 2016 facelift release which came with improved power and fuel economy. The specs of both powertrains are as follows:
- 3.5L 2GR-FE V6 (201 kW, 337 Nm, 10.2L/100km) mated to 6-speed U660E/760E auto transmission – from 2013 to 2016
- 3.5L 2GR-FKS V6 (218 kW, 350 Nm, 9.1L-9.5L/100km) paired with 8-speed UA80E/UA80F auto transmission – from 2016 to the present
As in the previous generations, the XU50 series has three trim levels top-spec’d by Grande. The base GX and mid-level GXL contain all the previous standard equipment but now with more luxurious trims and a levelled-up safety suite. These new standard features include multi-zone climate control, active high-beam control, active/intelligent cruise control, multi-purpose centre console box, heated exterior lights, heated front seats, mobile phone connectivity, power mirrors with indicators, PreSafe, and roof rails.
The refreshed version in 2016 brought a restyled fascia with new headlights and taillights and the upgraded powertrain described above.
The NHTSA gave the 2016 Toyota Highlander/Kluger a 5-star overall rating and the following detailed safety scores:
- Frontal (driver) – 4
- Frontal (passenger) – 5
- Side (driver) – 5
- Side (passenger) – 5
- Side pole (driver) – 5
- Rollover (AWD) – 5
On a separate test, the 2015 Toyota Highlander/Kluger received the following grade from the IIHS:
- Moderate overlap frontal-offset – Good
- Small overlap frontal-offset – Acceptable
- Side impact – Good
- Roof strength – Good
Fourth Generation: XU70 (2019–present)
We’re looking forward to the release of Toyota Kluger 2020 model year. For the first time, it will follow a new architecture – the TNGA-K platform – as revealed by Toyota at the 2019 NY International Auto Show. It will be both hybrid and non-hybrid versions, though, for Australia, there's no announcement yet about the likelihood of a hybrid Kluger hitting its shores any time soon.
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