Back in July 1996 Sydney residents looking skywards would have seen a skywriting aeroplane spelling out the letters P-R-A-D-O. The name would no doubt have puzzled the vast majority of those who saw it, unaware that it was part of Toyota Australia’s launch of a new, slightly smaller version of its long-established LandCruiser 4WD.
Prado sales have been similarly flying high with more than 200,000 sold in the past 17 years including top spot in the Large SUV category for 2012. Toyota Prado is almost as capable in heavy-duty off-road work as the LandCruiser 200 it complements. It can certainly do a lot more than the typical SUV role of carting kids and shopping in the mundane suburban commuting runs.
There’s plenty of variety within the Prado range with both five-door and three-door variants and petrol and diesel engines. The short wheelbase three-door is only offered with the diesel powerplant while the diesel five-door comes with the choice of five or seven seats in the entry-level GX model.
Engine options are a 4.0-litre V6 petrol and 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel. Our review Prado had the diesel, which is a modern common-rail unit that puts out 127kW of power. Diesel torque of 410 Newton metres is available at a very useful band that runs from 1600 to 2800 rpm, so most drivers will have the torque at its peak most of the time.
After a week in which we travelled over 400 kilometres the range indicator still showed another 900km available before we needed to refuel. That’s partly from impressive official usage of just 9.2 litres per hundred kilometres, but mainly due to 150 litres in twin fuel tanks. Drive is permanently to all four wheels with a two-speed transfer box that’s controlled by a dash mounted switch.
The five-door Prado wagon is sold in four models: GX, GXL, VX and Kakadu. The sportier Prado three-door comes tagged as an XR or ZR. A limited edition variant called the Prado Altitude went on sale in May. Based on the GXL variant it added around $10,000 of features with a $5000 price surcharge. Production ceased at the end of June so you should hurry along to your local dealer if you want to grab one. Toyota Prado is covered by Toyota Service Advantage capped-price servicing at $210 per service.
Our most recent test car was the diesel Prado Kakadu five-door but we have tested the three-door previously and found it to be nimbler, lighter and more enjoyable to drive than its larger brother. It’s also more arguably stylish. We found the five-door Prado wagon to be rather too soft in the suspension and light in the steering for our liking, but it holds the road well enough.
The average owner of a vehicle like this isn't looking for sporting dynamics. Ride comfort in the Prado is good and, despite its size, it’s easy to drive, with excellent outward visibility and a tight turning circle (for a large 4WD). Handling is nothing special, with the suspension leaning in the direction of providing a good ride.
However, road grip and overall dynamics are fine for the typical buyers in this SUV market segment. Parking can be a problem until you get used to the bulk of the vehicle so people moving from cars to a big SUV may struggle at first although all but the GX variant now come with a reversing camera. Inside the Prado there’s excellent room all round with the rear seats able to slide back and forward. The third-row seats where fitted fold flat when they are not required to increase the already-good load area.
Off-road the suspension works brilliantly, virtually switching to a different mechanical mode to give much greater wheel travel. Complement that with advanced traction electronics, that are more and more complex as you pay extra for the high-end models, and the Prado upholds its reputation as being a real 4WD in a vehicle class that's mainly occupied by pretenders.
We were able to do some semi-serious off-road testing on some steepish slopes and thanks to our recent wet spell, over some slippery gravel. It coped well and is certainly the vehicle for someone who wants to do some real off-road work.
GXL 4.0-litre petrol five-door wagon: $62,635 (automatic)
VX 4.0-litre petrol five-door wagon: $76,635 (automatic)
Kakadu 4.0-litre petrol five-door wagon: $90,135 (automatic)
GX 3.0-litre turbo-diesel five-door wagon: $55,990 (manual), $58,254 (automatic)
GXL 3.0-litre turbo-diesel five-door wagon: $61,135 (manual), $63,635 (automatic)
VX 3.0-litre turbo-diesel five-door wagon: $77,635 (automatic)
Kakadu 3.0-litre turbo-diesel five-door wagon: $91,135 (automatic)
SX 3.0-litre turbo-diesel three-door wagon: $56,090 (automatic)
ZR 3.0-litre turbo-diesel three-door wagon: $67,135 (automatic)
Toyota Prado Kakadu 4.0-litre petrol five-door wagon
Price: from $90,135
Warranty: three years/100,000km
Engine: 4.0-litre 6.0-cylinder, 202kW/381Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, no manual offered, 4WD
Turning Circle: 11.6 metres
Kerb Mass: 2240-2355 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 150 litres
Towing Ability: 750 kg (2500 kg with braked trailer)