LET'S face it, getting into a Tarago is hardly an adrenalin rush is it? Not if you've just been in a two-door sports car for a week. Especially not then.
The last time I found myself in a people-mover of this kind was some eight years ago. We were in Australia for a friend's wedding and he had hired a Tarago to ferry the overseas contingent around.
Underwhelmed is an adjective that comes to mind, underwhelmed and frustrated. With seven people packed into it we could barely get it to move. It strained and whined and was flustered by the sight of an innocuous speed bump.
In fact its only saving grace was the respite it provided on an especially chilly night from our two-man tent in the host's back yard.
So you can imagine the less than exciting feeling in the pit of my tummy as I approached the latest model at Toyota's Brisbane depot.
But a touch of the electric sliding door and the sight of the sumptuous interior within was a solid indication that the Japanese manufacturer had indeed improved on earlier offerings. A more powerful 3.5-litre V6 engine was the icing on the cake.
Still not a sports car, but not merely a tent either.
With its plush cream leather interior, wood-grain highlights and above-average levels of creature comforts our Tarago was certainly at odds with Toyota's par for the course finishes.
The heated front seats are enveloping and supportive with the smooth adjustments allowing the driver to easily find the optimum position.
But the second row of the top-of-the-range Ultima is where you want to be - relax in captain's chairs with fully adjustable integrated ottoman and centre armrests complete with cup holders.
The third row, itself not short on comfort, can be stowed flat at the push of a button when not needed. The centralised instrument cluster is quite trendy but uncluttered and easy to navigate with steering wheel controls taking care of those everyday uses. Storage options, both big and small, are plentiful with the dual sunroofs and speakers concealed in the ceiling adding a nice finishing touch.
On the road
The Tarago is obviously more a point and go vehicle rather than a top-notch performance machine but manages to deliver a pleasant no-fuss driving experience. The 3.5-litre V6 Aurion engine is a credible worker and the Tarago handles well with minimum body roll. It has decent dynamics and a well-balanced suspension which allows for a smooth effortless drive.
The Tarago is served well by a good turning circle and a sloping nose making it easy to manoeuvre even in tight spaces. Acceleration is greatly improved with the people mover able to jostle along even under load.
What do you get?
Our Ultima - which we think is probably the only way to go - was jam packed with all the niceties you could desire. Leather interior, 17-inch alloys and a 22cm LCD rear display for backseat occupants is a nice place to start.
Add to that rear air cooler, electric windows, auto headlights and wipers, rear privacy glass, AVN satellite navigation with Bluetooth compatibility, a hands-free compatible audio system, reverse camera with clearance sensors and a smart entry and start system and you can see why the Tarago may continue to be a popular choice.
Safety is a priority when you are carrying a lot of people and this people mover is equipped seven SRS airbags, anti-skid brakes with EBD and brake assist as well as traction control and vehicle stability control.
Seven-seater SUVs have taken a chunk out of this market but the main competition lies with the Kia Carnival (from $38,990), Volkswagen Multivan (from $49,990) and Hyundai iMax (from $39,990) with the Honda Odyssey (from $39,990) and Dodge Journey (from $36,990) also weighing in.
The space and comfort make the Tarago a natural choice for large families, corporate uses, as government cars and hotel shuttle buses. The ease of use is a great advantage as are clever features like the electric sliding doors which can be operated by a switch on the dash, a button on the key fob or by the handle on the door.
The Tarago also uses Toyota's Safe-T-Cell design which will help reduce impact damage inside the cabin structure in the event of an accident.
Official figures stand at 10.3 litres for every 100km and although we tottered closer to the 11-litre mark we admittedly did many shorter trips during our test week.
Toyota offers a three-year/ 100,000km warranty as well as $170 capped price servicing for the Tarago for 60,000km or three years. There is also a good spread of dealers.
So the Tarago is far too boxy to generate much interest in the looks department - its strength obviously lies elsewhere - but Toyota has tried to spice things up with a new sleeker design that makes for better fuel efficiency.
Choice, by its design, is subjective but the Tarago has always enjoyed a strong following and the recent upgrade to features and looks is likely to attract new buyers. It is not everybody's cup of tea but will be a welcome option for families looking for a no-fuss, spacious vehicle. The price remains steep despite new inclusions.
What matters most
What we liked: Comfort, extras and effortless drive.
What we'd like to see: More appealing design at a lower price.
Warranty: Toyota offers a three-year/100,000 kilometre warranty as well as $170 capped price servicing for 60,000km or three years.
Model: Toyota Tarago.
Details: Four-door front-wheel drive people mover.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 DOHC petrol generating maximum power of 202kW at 6200rpm and peak torque of 340Nm at 4700rpm.
Consumption: 10.3 litres/100km (combined average.)
Bottom line: From $48,990 (Ultima as tested $71,490).