7 / 10
It’s certainly bigger, but is it better?
Words – Paul Maric
The Toyota Prado has an illustrious history in the Australian market. It has become popular with city dwellers that need the flexibility of a part-time off-road vehicle, but don’t want the cumbersome size that is associated with the bigger LandCruiser.
Competing against the likes of the Mitsubishi Pajero, Nissan Pathfinder, Land Rover Discovery, Mitsubishi Challenger, et al. the Prado strikes a balance between driveability in the city and rock hopping in the bush.
It’s clear that Toyota didn’t need to do much with the Prado’s styling. The outgoing 120 Series was and still is quite a handsome vehicle. The 150 Series introduces a muscular grille, curved headlights and a new rear end.
The improvements to design are not only for styling purposes. The coefficient of drag has been reduced from .37 to .35, further helping reduce the Prado 150 Series fuel consumption.
The Kakadu model tested sits at the top of the Prado tree, priced from $88,990. The three-door ZR variant also tested is priced from $65,990.
As part of the price tag, the Kakadu features an all-new camera trekking system used in the Lexus LX570. The system uses one wide-angle fish-eye camera mounted on the front grille, along with two wing mirror mounted wide-angle fish-eye cameras and a reversing camera to help judge wheel position and objects in front and behind the car.
It’s inside the cabin that the Prado really shines. While some people won’t like the simplistic design Toyota has chosen, it is extremely effective with all controls in logical, easy to reach places.
Touch screen satellite navigation doubles as a touch screen for audio, climate and vehicle setup functions. The improved satellite navigation system has further refined the class-leading offering. The easy to use system is now faster and predicts street addresses intelligently.
Get used to stopping to type your address in though. The navigation destination entry only works when the vehicle is stationary, as it assumes the driver is typing the address, even if the passenger is controlling the screen.
Kids are kept happy with a roof mounted DVD player that comes with three wireless headphones and AV inputs. The DVD player is also linked to the car’s 14-speaker Pioneer sound system. The sound system is excellent and offers plenty of bass and very crisp treble.
New steering wheel controls now manage the selection of 4WD modes. The Multi-Terrain Selector on the steering wheel allows the driver to switch between four modes, ranging from Mud and Sand, Loose Rock, Mogul and Rock. Each mode can vary wheel slippage and cater the stability control to the driver’s needs.
Height adjustable suspension is also standard on the Kakadu model. The system increases the standard 220mm ground clearance and allows a maximum wading depth of 700mm.
Unfortunately, Toyota hasn’t improved the maximum power or torque output of its four-cylinder diesel engine. While Toyota has improved fuel injection and changed from a top-mount intercooler to a front-mount intercooler, the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel motor still produces 127kW and 410Nm of torque.
Fuel consumption has been improved by 8.6 percent, with the ADR figure now 8.5L/100km. This figure was hard to achieve on test, despite over 1400km behind the wheel. The best average I returned was 9.1L/100km, with the rest sat north of 10L/100km.
The diesel engine struggles to keep the Prado’s 2.4-tonne weight up to speed with traffic. Considerable throttle is required to keep the Prado moving with the flow of traffic – especially with a full load of passengers on board. It would have been nice to see some more torque out of this carry-over engine.
Transferring the power to the road is Toyota’s five-speed automatic transmission. The five-speed unit does a good job shifting cogs, but an extra gear could yield further fuel consumption reductions in my opinion.
Behind the wheel in the city, the Prado doesn’t feel anywhere near as cumbersome as it looks. While it’s a big unit to keep tabs on, the light steering and tight 11.4m turning circle make it easy to place in city traffic. Parking is also a breeze with the raft of cameras, including front and rear parking sensors.
Cabin comfort is exceptional. A third row of seats can be controlled electronically and accommodates kids in comfort and adults for short journeys. Front and second row leg room is very good, which can only be expected from a vehicle of this size.
Toyota claims to have improved handling with the new Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS). KDSS claims to electronically modulate individual suspension members to provide a flatter ride through corners and to help absorb bumps off-road.
On-road, the Prado still carries a considerable amount of body roll when put through corners. Even in the Sport mode, KDSS seems to simply firm the dampers, opposed to improving body roll and ride quality. Off-road it’s a similar story. The system seldom reacts quick enough to prevent the body from crashing on the rebound.
To put the Prado through its paces, I ventured through a selection of off-road conditions ranging from mogul in the Grampians Nation Park, through to sand in the Big Desert, hoping to see just how good the Prado was off the beaten track.
It didn’t start well. Our first hill climb featured loose rocks and a considerable 400m long gradient. Around 1/3rd of the way up the hill a warning light came on indicating the automatic transmission was getting too hot and that we should stop on flat ground to cool the system.
Unfortunately, stopping wasn’t going to happen as the end result would be far worse than a warning. Upon reaching the top of the climb, we pulled over and let the Prado cool down. It took around five to ten minutes for the warning to disappear and from the looks of it, it was all back to normal.
From there, a set of challenging mud ruts followed. The mud ruts were tackled with the suspension height fully extended. The lack of bumps and crashes from the undercarriage indicated the added ground clearance courtesy of the height adjustable suspension was worth its weight in gold.
The low range gearbox worked well during a very steep decline over loose rocks. Engine braking was sufficient to keep the car from running away. The hill descent control also worked well, but I didn’t choose to trust it when not slowing down enough meant going over the edge of a very steep drop.
It didn’t take long before the transmission warning popped up again. This time around it was on a relatively meagre climb up a gravel hill. High range was selected with all four-wheel-drive modes off.
After stopping to let the system cool down, we were off again. The final stint of off-roading was on sand. This is where the Prado really excelled.
With some pressure let out of the tyres, the Prado’s power delivery pulled it through flat and steep sand dunes. Although the sand mode selected via the Multi-Terrain Selector was useful in holding gears, it kept interfering during cornering. The stability control would continuously beep each and every time you turned the wheel to go around a corner in the sand.
It became so frustrating that I ended up disabling all the on-board computers and stability control. That move resulted in care-free driving, without the constant nagging of the computers.
Unfortunately, during the period driving on sand, another five transmission temperature warnings came up. Every time a warning came up we had to stop and wait for the system to cool down.
I wasn’t too impressed with the brakes on sand and loose gravel either. If you had to get onto the brakes hard, there would be a momentary lag between brake application and full brake intervention. It was almost as though the system had to think about how much braking force to apply before it went ahead and did it.
The braking anomaly is probably due to the onboard ABS that prevents the wheels from skidding.
As a 4WD, the Prado still ranks as one of the best. With the transmission issue aside, the Multi-Terrain modes generally worked well and helped assist during tricky situations. The front and side cameras were also a godsend in situations where it was impossible to see the other limits of the car.
My only real gripes with the Prado are the engine’s lack of torque when it’s needed on-road and the continuous issues with the transmission off-road.
Toyota was contacted in mid-January regarding the problems we had with the transmission. The vehicle is still being investigated and we will report back once we receive a definitive report with regards to the issue.
The Prado’s exceptional list of standard features, in addition to passenger comfort levels and interior room place it ahead of the field, certainly in this price bracket. While I wouldn’t hesitate recommending the Prado, I’d hold off until the verdict is out on our transmission issue.
If the problem is limited to the vehicle we drove, we will retest the Prado to ensure the issue can’t be replicated on other vehicles.