In the face of challengers like the Jeep Grand Cherokee (from $48,000) and an extremely competitively priced Land Rover Discovery (from $69,200), the Toyota Prado hasn’t had things all its own way recently in the large SUV class.
Historically, the Prado has dominated the burgeoning segment, but ageing engines and pricing that has been creeping up has taken a toll on the vehicle that was previously the runaway sales success. Prado still leads the way, despite sales dropping by 15 per cent this year.
That said, the experts do say not to change something if it isn't broken. However, subtle changes have been made to the Prado’s portfolio, and the question needs to be asked as to whether generational change can keep the Prado at the summit, swatting off contenders as it has done since launch in Australia.
If you’re on a tighter budget that doesn’t extend to the range toppers in the large SUV class, necessity means you need to be smarter when you’re considering the model range. With that compromise between price and features in mind, the GXL has always been the sweet spot in the Prado line-up. Some of the extras delivered by the step up to Kakadu spec – leather trim for example – don’t really add to the driving experience and the smart money has traditionally gone in the direction of the GXL. As such, the model accounts for nearly three quarters of all Prado sales.
For me, Prado makes the most sense with a diesel engine under the bonnet backed by an automatic transmission – I’m still surprised by how many petrol Prados can be seen running around town. Interestingly, the GXL is available with a manual transmission paired to the diesel, but the automatic is definitely the way to go, especially if you spend time in traffic. You name the discipline; on-road, off-road, towing, around town - the five-speed auto is an excellent transmission.
The Prado range starts out with the GX diesel manual for $55,990 cycling up to the top of the range Kakadu for an eye-watering $92,590. As tested here, Prado GXL with the diesel and automatic combination costs $64,190. That’s up $555 from the pre-facelift model.
Refreshingly our test vehicle has been sparingly optioned, with a Toyota tow package and electric brakes the only addition. This gives us a good understanding of exactly what you get if you opt for a GXL and don’t tick any of the often-tempting option boxes.
The 2014 Prado is subtly different to the outgoing model and the mid-life-cycle upgrade has brought with it changes that are both noticeable and under the skin. The headlights are new and there’s a more aggressive front bar filled with an all-new grille.
Out back, 2014 Prado gets new tail-lights and a LandCruiser logo incorporated into the light cluster itself – funny that, given no one calls it a Toyota LandCruiser Prado anymore.
The new look is somewhat divisive, but Prado has always been a capable tool of trade, with function outweighing form, appealing to families wanting an SUV with enough room for the kids and a bunch of gear; anyone who needs to tow long distances; or people who want to head off-road in reasonable comfort.
Toyota stated at launch that the dynamic frontrunner in the class, the Land Rover Discovery, had been benchmarked. As such, changes have been made to Prado’s steering and suspension systems. Benchmarking is admirable, but you can’t always turn one thing into something else. As such, if you’re stepping out of a Disco into a Prado, don’t expect the same level of on-road finesse and handling. Prado simply can’t match Discovery for outright handling and chassis balance on-road.
The steering system has been retuned, with changes made to the rack itself. The main changes have been directed at improving steering response and delivering a more connected feel to the road, especially when you’re cruising along the motorway at 100km/h. Previous Prados felt a little disconnected at highway speeds – this new Prado doesn’t, and that’s a good thing. It doesn’t have the same taut, firm feel to the steering that a Discovery has, but there’s a noticeable improvement over the outgoing model.
Along with the engineering tweaks made to the suspension and steering, Toyota has also fettled better access for third-row passengers, extra safety features and subtly enhanced switchgear throughout the cabin.
Highlights of the standard features list include a reverse-view camera, rear parking sensors, 17-inch alloy wheels, wider cross-section tyres, steering wheel mounted audio and telephone controls, and an audio system controlled via a central 7.0-inch screen and featuring six speakers. Cruise control, push-button start, Bluetooth phone connectivity and USB/auxiliary inputs are standard across the range.
The exterior mirrors are both powered and heated, which was extremely handy during the torrential rain and cool weather over our week-long test. If you live in regional areas with frosty mornings, you’ll love this feature.
The GXL also comes standard with three rows of seats (seven in total) and has three-zone climate control, side steps, fog lights, privacy glass, leather steering wheel and shift knob trim and importantly for many buyers, a retractable cargo cover (it's surprising how many SUVs don't offer one as standard).
Prado’s interior is more workmanlike than luxurious. The velour trim looks to be typically hard-wearing and durable, but can’t match the leather offered on Discovery 4 for example. Comfort, visibility and ergonomics are – as you’d expect from Toyota – exceptional. The high and mighty driving position especially affords excellent all-round visibility in or out of town.
Prado has always impressed off-road and fans of the model who want to get dirty will rejoice in that fact not changing anytime soon. Full-time four-wheel drive is also a reassuring safety back-up out of the city environs or when it’s tossing it down like it did during our test.
The low-range system works seamlessly with the auto ‘box and is switchable electrically at low speed. The locking centre diff is also standard for GXL and is a handy off-rood tool to have in the kit bag when the going gets tough. It has to be said though, that such is the overall grip and composure of the Prado when you’re off-road, you’ll only need to employ the centre locker in the toughest of surroundings.
While I’m tempted to hammer the 3.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo diesel engine for being too old, it has to be said that it does the job required of it easily. It’s no technical tour de force by any means, but 127kW and 410Nm are more than enough to get the Prado up to speed and keep it there without working too hard.
It’s loud and there’s more clatter than we’re used to from the current crop of high-tech Euro diesels. but there’s in-built toughness and genuine durability under the Prado’s bonnet. The auto isn’t as exotic as some, either, but it also gets the job done without any hesitation, slurring or harsh shifting.
Roll on overtaking and acceleration isn’t the diesel engine’s forte, with the Prado never feeling especially nimble or sprightly, but you probably won’t be driving like an F1 pilot with six passengers in the car either. Where the Prado feels a little spongy at times, it has an innate ability to iron out potholes and really poor road surfaces with comfort. Rutted dirt roads are no match for the Prado’s composure either.
The official fuel consumption figure of 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres is impressive when you consider its somewhat hefty weight of 2330 kilograms. On test, with plenty of urban running, the Prado returned a measured 9.8L/100km.
The Prado can tow 2500 kilograms with the tow set-up our test vehicle had installed. That’s more than enough capacity for the average family caravan, and with a 2000-kilogram boat and trailer hitched up, the Prado got to work effortlessly.
Toyotas are known for their longevity, though the brand still offers just a three-year/100,000km warranty. Ownership prospects are enhanced by affordable capped-price servicing for the first three years of ownership, with scheduled visits every six months or 10,000km, at a cost of $210 per service.
More competitive offerings have entered the large SUV fray of late and the 2014 Toyota Prado has more to contend with than ever before. Regardless, the Prado remains a strong all-round family SUV.