The middle child of the Toyota SUV family is new again. The Prado has had a complete workover in almost every area, from the chassis and body up through the V6 petrol engine and the camera protection systems.
It's now more luxurious than ever for suburban work and tougher and more flexible for off-road use. As you would expect with a seven-year gap between model changes.
Toyota Australia claims everything from improved fuel economy to better value and improved refinement, but it all comes at a cost. The new Prado has put on at least 150 kilograms from the previous model and the starting price is up by more than $4000 to $55,990. In fact, only two of 14 Prado models now hit below the Luxury Car Tax threshold and the top-line seven-seater Kakadu turbodiesel auto costs a whopping $88,990. But more than 1500 people have placed orders and Toyota is expecting to have trouble satisfying early demand.
The fourth-generation Prado is longer, wider but lower than its predecessor and, for the first time, there is a three-door model. But it's not a stripped-out bush-basher, coming with the seven airbags, ESP stability control, airconditioning, cruise control, smart-start system, alloy wheels, USB input and Bluetooth, and power steering that is standard on all models.
"We wanted comfort and peace of mind, anytime and anywhere," says Prado's chief engineer, Makoto Arimoto, speaking at the Australian press preview in Orange over the weekend. The range runs from the basic GX through GXL and VX to Kakadu, which even gets a standard sunroof and leather trim.
The Prado is available as either a five or seven-seater and Toyota has tweaked the cabin with a sliding second-row seat in the five-door models. There is also an electrically-operated third-row system in the luxury cars.
Like every new model from Toyota there are hundreds of changes and updates in the suspension and engines and electronics and entertainment systems, and it's all important stuff. But the styling is . . . questionable. The basic body is basically bland and the final finishing, particularly the grille, is overpowering. So it's a good thing that around 50 per cent of Prado buyers add a bullbar.
The new Prado is everything you expect, and more. It is just plain phenomenal in the bush, where the latest range of driver aids - but particularly the 'Crawl' system and driver-selectable multi-terrain package - mean it can practically drive itself. You only have to steer as it walks up and down the toughest terrain. There are also cameras to check obstacles anywhere around the Prado, provided you pay enough to get the right package, and the transmission has the low-range setting and differential locks you need for serious stuff.
Pay enough and you can also have height-adjustable suspension, an extra diff lock and the multi-terrain deal which means you choose the sort of conditions - from sand through to rocks - and let the electronic brains decide the best settings for fuss-free travel. Get back on the bitumen and the suspension feels more plush, there is more 'stuff' to enjoy, and the cabin is a little more roomy and significantly more practical.
The latest V6 has definitely got more go that you can feel for more of the time, even if less than 20 per cent of Prado buyers go for petrol power. But the turbodiesel does not cope as well with the extra weight in the new car and overtaking performance is fairly ordinary, with relatively leisurely acceleration from standstill.
So the biggest question on the new Prado is the price. More than $55,000 for a starter car is a lot of cash for any SUV buyer, and the top-end stickers are right in the luxury car class. It's a good thing, but is it that good?
Price: From $55,990
ANCAP safety score: Not tested
Safety equipment: seven airbags, ESP, traction control, anti-skid brakes with brakeforce distribution Fuel economy: from 8.3L/100km
Emissions: Not available
Body: 3-door wagon, 5-door wagon
Seats: five, seven
Engines: 3.9-litre V6, 3-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power: 202kW/5600revs, 127kW/3400revs
Torque: 391Nm/4400 revs, 410Nm/1600-2800 revs
Transmission: Six-speed manual, five-speed automatic, constant switchable all-wheel drive