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When Toyota introduced its all new Tarago in 1990 it was hailed as a major breakthrough in multi-passenger vehicle design. It set new class standards for handling, roadholding, driveability, safety, occupant comfort and convenience.
The Tarago lifted the benchmark as it was designed first and foremost as a passenger vehicle and was not a derivative of a commercial van. It is capable of carrying more than your average number of family members and was so successful in the early 1990's it was named best Family Wagon in NRMA's Best Car awards five times between 1990 and 1995.
The original range comprised six models in all, with four equipment levels - GLi in auto or manual; RV manual 4WD; GLX auto or manual; and the GLS 4WD automatic. In late 1993 there were upgrades of the GLX and GLi and the addition of the top of the range Ultima. In 1994 the Getaway II was introduced following its success as a limited edition model in 1992 and 1993. By this stage both 4WD models had been discontinued.
The Tarago's 2.4 litre engine has a large mass to carry around and is never going to perform like a Porsche when accelerating or overtaking. It does however have what it takes in the important field of low-speed response. It doesn't feel sluggish at all in city and suburban traffic, and cruises comfortably and quietly at highway speeds.
The five-speed manual transmission is light and easy to use, if a little notchy, and the four-speed automatic performs its tasks smoothly and quietly.
In spite of its height and width the Tarago handles more like a car than a van. This is aided by its low centre of gravity, good spread of mass, wide track and long wheelbase, all of which contribute towards stable, predictable handling and road holding.
Space and accommodation flexibility is one of the Tarago's strong points. It sets impressive standards for space efficiency by providing ample leg room for its three rows of passengers plus a generous-size load area. Head room is also good in all positions, even with the optional sun roof, and there are a range of seat fold options for greater flexibility. The walk through facility between the two front seats is another neat design feature.
The only limitation on space is the width of the second and third row bench seats which are a little narrow for three adults to have comfortable hip space.
As is common with Toyotas there are no real inherent problems with the Tarago. However, it is worth checking for vibrations from the auxiliary drive shaft and to keep in mind that a 100,000 km service is fairly costly due to the centrally mounted (and not as easily accessible) engine with long-life platinum spark plugs.
Minor irritations include not being able to open all the windows in the vehicle and some people may find parking difficult, particularly judging the front extremities of what is quite a large vehicle.
Drivers can expect a well maintained model to return an overall average fuel consumption figure of around 14.0 litres/100 km.
With such a wide range of models over a period of ten years, prices vary greatly. It's possible to pick up an early GLi privately for not much more than $10,000, but it will most likely have travelled near 200,000 km! At the other end of the scale, a dealer would probably ask at least $50,000 for a year 2000 Ultima in good condition with around 40,000 km on the clock. Near the middle of the range, you may be able to buy a 1995 GLX in good condition for under $28,000 from a dealer, and although it may have travelled around 130,000 km, it should give some years of reliable motoring if it has been well maintained.
While there were other 'cheaper' vehicles on the market from this era the Tarago remains the pick of the people mover crop due to its handling and road holding, interior layout and space and the typically Toyota high standards of fit and finish.