The Landcruiser Prado is almost the perfect vehicle for Australia; it’s dependability, capacity and sheer off-road ability are nearly unmatched.
With a smaller, more efficient diesel under the hood, we took the GXL – the most popular Prado – to test it out.
The Prado absolutely slaughters its competition in the large SUV segment. Ever since it was launched as a ‘family friendly’ alternative to the full Land Cruiser, anyone with even a passing interest in getting off the beaten track has dropped by a Toyota showroom to test-drive one.
Part of its appeal was that it was unchallenged for a long time: nobody could make an affordable large SUV that was reliable, capable of carrying more than five passengers and could get stuck in when the paved roads ended. This allowed the Prado to build up a loyal following over 20 years that has seen it evolve from a fairly basic family wagon to a near ‘mini me’ of it’s big brother Land Cruiser 200.
When the Prado first arrived, it looked distinctive from the beefy Land Cruiser 100-Series, the 4Runner and Hilux Surf that were all in the same showroom at the time. Nowadays, it shares a lot of its styling cues with the 200-Series, although the full sized Cruiser still looks bigger.
This is either a positive or a negative depending on how you look at the flagship Land Cruiser, but to most people the Prado is the model for large four-wheel drives: what you would get if you asked any 10-year-old to draw an SUV – a basic two box shape that is aggressive in its size, but fairly inoffensive to the eyes. No sharp angles or way out-there design choices in the meeting rooms in Japan.
Inside, the interior of the GXL Prado is typical Toyota. Hardwearing plastics, tough cloth trim and smartly thought out, easy to use buttons and switches are all part of the Prado. For a sixty something thousand vehicle, it’s a little dated – we wish that the interior had been overhauled when the engine was, but everyone now must know that Toyota favours function over futuristic.
The Prado is available with a choice of two engines, a hefty 4.0-litre V6 petrol and the all-new 2.8-litre turbo diesel. The diesel runs circles around the petrol on the sales charts, despite being an option on every trim level from the GXL upwards – the entry level GX, popular with government and business fleets, gets the diesel as standard (which may explain why it thoroughly outguns the petrol at the checkout.)
For the last twenty years, you would’ve been able to find a 3.0-litre diesel in some form or another underneath the hood of a Prado, building a reputation for dependability and ability to keep delivering power under any condition.
The switch down to the new global 2.8-litre diesel in the name of efficiency and emissions compliance could have been a disaster – why fix something that wasn’t broken? But as Australia follows Europe’s lead to crack down on inefficient, polluting cars, the Prado has to shift with the times, hence the new, Euro 5-compliant engine.
Fortunately, though, it’s not a case of neutering the Prado in order to tick government checklists. The new diesel increases power and torque while reducing fuel consumption and noise levels.
In practice, the new engine works well, if not better, than the one it replaces. Around town and the suburbs, the Prado doesn’t feel dull and uninspiring at low speeds like a lot of torque heavy diesels, power delivery is even across the speed range; doesn’t matter if you’re at 40km/h for the school drop-off, or 110km/h on the way down to the coast.
Because it exists as a full-time 4WD, unlike some competitors, you can just turn and drive the Prado straight off-road – all you have to do is indicate. The transfer case doesn’t add any extra strain on the drivetrain, moving on to rough roads and tracks is as easy as driving on the road, the sense of confidence that is inherent with getting behind the wheel of a Prado means that you just have to find the clearest path and press the accelerator. On-road performance isn’t hampered by the full-time four-wheel drive capabilities, road holding is improved and doesn’t feel weighed down by having all four wheels powered at the same time.
This is largely a triumph of the gearbox, which manages to find the right gear for the speed, without overreaching or wringing a lower gear to death. Bumping the automatic up to six gears from the previous five also helped to squeeze some more fuel efficiency, while letting the Prado utilise the full breadth of power delivery available.
The ponderous steering that plagues a lot of large SUVs starts to show at highway speeds, and with a vehicle as large as the Prado you can feel a bit uneasy staying in the lines, but its minor – and given the lightness and ease of the steering around town, it’s a fair compromise.
Downhill assist is standard on the GXL, which helps provide sufficient engine braking and reduces occurrences of wheel lock to travel down on steep hills, especially on loosely packed surfaces off-road. Top trim Kakadu models take the off-road assistance even further to include CRAWL Control, which uses feedback from the cars sensors to operate the wheels independently to get you across a tough part of a track, like soft sand or a deep mud crossing. While it would be good to see this technology form part of the entry and mid-grade models, especially for drivers heading off-road that are a bit too over-confident or don’t have a lot of experience in properly tough off-road conditions.
There has been a trend, particularly in the last decade, towards vehicles that are larger or at least seem larger to increase the driver’s presence on the road. This has been reflected in the Prado which started to beef up starting with the 2003 model year and has grown become a quasi-Land Cruiser 200.
Despite that, the Prado switched down from an eight-seater to a seven-seater with the current body style, seemingly to create more room for passengers and cargo. It worked, but it’s not as if it was lacking space before. As a five seater, boot space is immense, and as a seven seater it works fine for everyday carry-on, plus the second row of seating can be brought forward 100mm (as a 60:40 split) to carry odd shaped loads.
There aren’t too many fancy bells and whistles on the GXL Prado, which for just under $65,000 might come as a shock to some buyers at this end of the market. It’s hardly as barren as you might’ve expected out of a 4WD in early days of recreational off-road vehicles: there’s a reverse camera, satellite navigation, Toyota Link and 3-zone climate control as standard on the GXL. Of course, the flagship Kakadu models get Blu-ray players in the back and radar cruise control to skew to families looking for an uber safe, super connected 4WD, but the GXL still gets features like speed warnings from the stern voice that lives in the multimedia system; so it serves as a fantastic entry point, finding the middle ground between simple, reliable off-road motoring and comfortable, convenient daily driver.
Fuel consumption is very good, especially considering how large the Prado feels. The word from the factory is 8.0L/100km, which could probably be achieved. Our test found it is closer to around a respectable 9.0L/100km if you’re using it around the city and suburbs. Going off-road, or towing a caravan will likely push this into the mid teens, and like the bigger Land Cruiser 200; the Prado has the luxury of an auxiliary fuel tank – this increases the your fuel capacity by an extra 63 litres.
The Prado was rated in mid-2013 to have a 5-Star ANCAP safety rating, thanks to a suite of airbags, alongside active and passive safety features. It also has its absolute size on side if you’re ever in a crash with a Prado: at nearly five metres long and weighing in at over 2.2 tonnes before you get into it, it’s a lot to contend with.
The entry model GX Prado comes in at $52,990 for a manual turbo-diesel rising through the trims to the top-spec Kakadu models at $84,490. The GX offers the only manual in the range, with an automatic option that becomes standard when you move to GXL trim and higher.
As tested, the GXL Prado will set you back around $61,990.
Prices are recommended retail prices and exclude on-road costs such as registration, stamp duty, luxury car tax and dealer delivery. Premium paint is available as an additional option; Glacier White is the standard choice for the GX and GXL, while Ebony (black) is also a no cost option for GXL Prado’s and higher grades.
After twenty years on sale, the Prado has evolved from a ‘family friendly’ stepping-stone to a full-sized Land Cruiser to a vehicle that has become aspirational in its own right.
The new diesel engine represents the first drastic change to the Prado in nearly 20 years, yet Toyota knows that you don’t bite the hand that feeds you: you’re not going to step into a Prado and wonder how they came up with their design choices. Toyota has carefully crafted it to ensure that.
Any 4x4 purchased comes with complimentary membership to join the Motorama 4X4XMORE Club, which includes invites to tag-along tours to explore some of Queensland's most iconic 4x4 locations.
Interested in a test drive? Motorama Toyota is the place to be - so make sure you come and see the Motorama Toyota team in Moorooka or Browns Plains.