THE drive to and from school and kindy is a loud one in our family. Incessant chatter from little mouths that barely stop to breathe, shrills from random toys and the radio blaring is more often than not punctuated with increasingly impatient instructions from the driver's seat to not speak over each other and to keep hands and feet to oneself.
I love it though, knowing full well that it will not be long before the seven and four-year-olds will grow up and replace their sometimes beautiful but mostly mundane stories with grunts and silence.
Silence. That's what filled the car when we had the Klugers in our garage. My chatty little girls preferring to worship at the altar of the drop-down Blu-ray player instead, the huge headphones swallowing up their heads, and me left to enjoy just five minutes of quiet.
The Toyota Kluger has been a favourite for the brand since bringing the world of seven-seats to the family SUV.
This latest edition is, quite frankly, much better than the last, with all three variants - GX, GXL and Grande - sporting the same V6 engine and drivetrain.
Prices start at just over $40,000.
Take into account that the all-wheel drive system adds $4000 across the range.
Finally, a Toyota interior that is likeable. Spacious and roomy, it gives an instant feel of relaxation and comfort.
The plush leather seats (especially in the Grande) are beautifully easy to sink into and they drape themselves luxuriously across the widest of backs. They are easily adjustable, have excellent support, with a high seating position allowing for great visibility. The second row will accept three adults and house them in comfort, a handy rail ensuring leg room can grow if needed.
The third row, standard on all Klugers, is decidedly useable too, helped much in part to larger seats, personal air-vents and cup holders. You still can't access them with much dignity though, but the kids don't seem to mind a dot.
A large dash dominates the space with a clever and extremely useful under-shelf also echoing its length. Storage solutions present well around the cabin too, with a handbag-capable deep centre console box the star of the show. The boot is bigger than the outgoing model, 195-litres with all seven seats in place, growing to 529-litres and 1171-litres as respective rows are lowered.
On the road
The Kluger is helped immeasurably by a new six-speed transmissionRemember that this is a big, heavy car though and may be just short on the torque (337Nm) to deliver the grunt it really needs.
It feels comfortable to drive, is fairly easy to manoeuvre and will certainly not leave you in the lurch.
Handling is better, as is the steering, although the latter can still be a bit heavy and at times and slow to respond on occasion.
The Kluger is excellent for highway cruising and can keep its line through tricky corners. It is a bit top heavy though and you can feel that, more than not, along with a fair degree of understeer should you get too enthusiastic. It is civilised in terms of road manners, is accommodating over irregularities and is surprisingly quiet, with nary a rattle and only a tiny hint of roadside.
The AWD feels much better and weightier than the 2WD - as you would expect - the car sending that extra bit of traction to the rear when needed, a bonus in the wet.
What do you get?
Toyota is rarely one to push out the boat when it comes to inclusions, especially in the entry model, but nevertheless the GX does come with most of the niceties we take for granted at this price-point, including 18-inch alloys, power windows and mirrors, cruise control, dual-zone air-conditioning, reverse camera with sensors, Bluetooth connectivity and a 15.5cm LCD display.
The GXL adds leather seats, keyless entry and ignition, three-zone climate control and powered driver seat.
The top-of-the-range Grande also boasts 19-inch alloys, powered tailgate with opening glass hatch, 20.32cm LCD screen, sat nav, and a roof mounted Blu-ray player.
Safety features number seven airbags, stability and traction control, as well ABS brakes with EBD and brake assist.
The Grande adds a collision detection and warning system, active cruise control, blind spot monitor, lane-departure warning and auto high beam.
Toyota claims an almost 8% improvement in fuel consumption on the previous model, with figures of 10.2L/100km in the GX and GXL and 10.6L/100km in the Grande. We hovered around the 14.2L/100km mark.
Like the Ford Territory (from $36,990), the Kluger is a stalwart in this class but will also face a tough challenge from the Kia Sorento (from $38,990), Mazda CX-9 (from $44,525), Hyundai Santa Fe (from $38,490) and the outgoing Subaru Tribeca (from $53,990).
This is quite obviously the Kluger's strength, the seven seats making them ideal for growing families or families that need extra space.
There are a few things that irk though: a large A-pillar that obstructs vision; the fact the split tailgate - such a handy feature - is now only available in the Grande; and that you need to fork out all that extra for the latter before sat-nav comes into an equation - $40,000, even if it is for an entry-model, should be able to buy you a built-in sat nav.
The new Kluger certainly echoes the design elements we have seen in its other stable mates, most notably the smaller Rav4.
As always the Kluger makes practical sense as a family SUV.
It has space, comfort and versatility, with the Grande boasting a great suite of additional safety features and inclusions.
This model is a definite improvement of its predecessor but it is still a tad on the thirsty side.
What matters most
What we liked: Spacious interior, ride comfort, seven seats as standard.
What we'd like to see: Better fuel consumption, newer V6 engine diesel or hybrid option, split tailgate for all grades.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year or 100,000km warranty, with fixed-priced servicing of $170 for the first six services.
Model: Toyota Kluger.
Details: Five-door, rear-wheel or all-wheel drive large SUV.
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 petrol generating maximum power of 201kW @ 6200rpm and peak torque of 337Nm @ 4700rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 10.2 litres/100km (2WD, combined average); 10.6L/100km (4WD).
CO2: 237-246g/km (depending on model).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 8.3 seconds (2WD), 8.7 (AWD).
Towing: 2000kg, top ball rating 200kg.
Bottom line plus on-roads: GX $40,990, GXL $49,990, Grande $63,990. AWD is a $4000 premium.