Power has come to the people. A year ago I filled a four-cylinder Toyota Tarago people mover with six people and their luggage for an interstate family holiday. This year I had a chance to take the same people to the same place in the new six-cylinder Tarago to provide a rare back-to-back comparison.
The four-cylinder was praised last year for leg room and rear storage space but criticised for the lack of a centre console, the placement of the instrument display in the middle of the dashboard rather than in front of the driver and, importantly, for a lack of fully-laden pulling power up serious highway hills.
In comparison the new six-cylinder earns the same praise for storage, gains praise for a neat centre console compartment and deserves even more criticism for the instrument display location, which I find downright annoying, but more of that later.
But the most important improvement is the power. As someone who has driven people movers for years, there is now a clear rule to follow. Anything below six cylinders, or a four that can come near the 202kW of power on offer from the 3.5-litre engine in the Tarago, should be ignored if you can afford to do so. On that score, this year’s Tarago met the benchmark. It was not hunting gears or surging revs up hills like last year’s car.
In fact, it felt more like the power you experience in a large 4WD than just about every people mover I have driven before.
The V6 Tarago engine comes from the new Aurion sedan and the Lexus RX350, and boasts 60 per cent more power and 50 per cent more torque than the 2.4-litre four. The claimed combined fuel economy for the car is 10.3 litres per 100km. Our usage was a little higher, but was still acceptable considering the size and weight of the car.
We tested the middle of the three Taragos in the range, the GLX, which is priced at $56,990. The equivalent model in the four-cylinder is $52,490. The gap represents a $4500 expense that we would heartily recommended you spend. And there’s no mistaking the Tarago is a big car: at 4.8m long, it has three rows of seats in a 2-2-3 formation. The base model has an extra seat in the second row. Up front, there’s plenty of room for driver and passenger and a clever closing compartment between. Leather seats are reserved for the $69,990 top-of-the-range Ultima model, but the cloth material is fine here. The seats, too, are easily adjustable.
The six-speed auto shifts smoothly and there was no sign of it hunting gears under load. But the big bugbear is the centre placement of the instrument panel. It means the driver is looking side-on at the speedo â€” and in fact, the angle of vision also indicates a different reading from the passenger seat.
I found it a distraction to have to look away from the road to check my speed. The second row of seats provides two captain’s chairs that offer a pile of leg room and luxury.
The back reclines almost flat and in a nifty move, a front leg rest can be flipped out just like a Jason recliner lounge chair.
There were complaints that the two seats were too close together and the space available between the chairs and the doors meant the windows could not be used as a headrest. However, their positioning does allow the occupants a view ahead of the road less obstructed by the front seats.
The third row has plenty of room but the real gain, particularly when compared with all large 4WDs and some of the smaller people movers, is the abundance of storage space behind the third row. Once the false floor is removed the space is cavernous. It easily soaked up luggage for six people.
The rear seats fold down into the well to provide even more space. It’s fiddly, but you can master it with practice. And for only the second time with a people mover (the previous being a Chrysler Grand Voyager) we were able to fold down the rear seats, push the second row forward and create enough space to put two full-size bicycles in the back.
Toyota Tarago GLX V6
Engine: 3.5-litre V6, 202kW@6200rpm, 340Nm@4700rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic; front-wheel drive
Fuel: 65-litre tank, 10.3L/100km combined claimed
Body: 4-door wagon
Verdict: Adding a six-cylinder engine has redefined the Tarago as a truly versatile and capable vehicle, particularly for large families. It’s not cheap, but it is comfortable. The central instrument display is still annoying, however.
Chrysler Grand Voyager LX
Engine: 3.3-litre V6; 128kW@5100rpm, 278Nm@4000rpm
Transmission: 4-speed auto; front-wheel-drive
Fuel: 74-litre tank, 12.8L/100km combined claimed
Body: 4-door wagon
Verdict: Reasonably powerful engine but in an ageing package. Plenty of interior space.
Honda Odyssey Luxury
Engine: 2.4-litre 4-cylinder; 118kW@5500rpm, 218Nm@4500rpm
Transmission: 5-speed auto; front-wheel-drive
Fuel: 65-litre tank, 9.4L/100km combined claimed
Body: 4-door wagon
Verdict: Sexier and cheaper than the Tarago, but less powerful and smaller.
The Daily Telegraph