Now in it’s 20th year on the Australian market, the Toyota LandCruiser Prado continues to be an incredibly important vehicle for this market's top-selling brand.
The Prado, as we know it, has been a favourite among the Toyota faithful for the two decades it’s been on sale (indeed, it's been the top-selling SUV on the market, full-stop, since its launch in 1997) despite being increasingly lumbered with ageing engines.
That fact has changed with this new 2016 Prado though. Things might look much the same outside, but there's a welcome all-new diesel engine that's a significant step forward, especially in terms of noise refinement. There’s also, finally, a new six-speed automatic transmission.
The petrol V6 engine option, which represents a tiny percentage of sales (less than two per cent this year to date), has also been tweaked a little. However, due to time constraints on the local launch this week, we didn't get a chance to test it.
Despite being smaller, the new diesel makes more power and torque while using less fuel than the old oiler. The new engine weighs in at 2755cc against the 2982cc of the old powerplant and generates 130kW and 450Nm (the manual gets less torque, rated at 420Nm). That’s a 2.4 and 9.7 per cent increase over the old model respectively.
The ADR combined fuel usage is 7.9L/100km with the manual transmission and 8.0L/100km with the automatic. This represents a 10.2 percent improvement from the outgoing model.
You can read our 2016 Toyota Prado pricing and specification breakdown here.
At launch, CarAdvice drove a Prado GXL (starting from $59,990 plus on-road costs) with the manual, a Prado VX (starting from $73,990) with the auto, and a Prado Kakadu (starting from $84,490) with the auto, to glean a solid cross-section of model grades.
The big news for the 2016 Prado thanks largely to the new diesel engine is absolutely the significant improvement in refinement and quietness, a factor from outside at idle and inside the cabin at any speed. While the old Prado is a bona fide tough as nails workhorse that has proven its worth over many years, there’s no doubt whatsoever that the engine was very truck-like. Even at idle, it sounded like a mini Kenworth, let alone when you buried the accelerator pedal and asked it to work a little harder. There was little in the way of refinement under the bonnet.
That lack of refinement and manners has gone out the window with this new Prado. At start up, there’s barely any chatter and once settled into idle, the four-pot turbo engine barely gives away that it’s a diesel. On the highway, you could almost trick passengers into believing you’re driving a petrol engine such is the subtle nature of the oiler at work. Even when you kick down to roll-on overtake, there’s no nasty roar, clattering or even any whistling from the turbo.
We headed out of the city behind the wheel of the GXL manual and found the gearbox to be easy and smooth to operate. The clutch pedal didn't feel perfect, with a slightly heavy feel, but the gear shift itself was smooth enough for this segment to keep buyers happy. A 50km run along the highway to our off-road test facility illustrated the easy, loping nature of the overdriven fifth and sixth gears.
However, we reached the tipping point some years back where automatics became a smarter choice than manuals for SUVs and now, with a more modern six-speed backing the diesel engine, that’s even more relevant in a vehicle like the Prado. Shifts up or down through the ratios resulted in no loss of momentum or composure. You could argue that more ratios is better than fewer, but with two proper overdriven gears, six does the job nicely.
The ride, especially, is comfortable and the Prado absorbs corrugations and potholes with dismissive ease. It still wallows a little when pushed harder into corners, but personally, I prefer my SUVs to be less about outright handling and more about comfort and bump absorption.
That factor comes into play the more time you spend off-road too, but with our urban road networks as average as they are, it can be a factor on sealed roads. The Prado has always had one of the cushiest rides in the large SUV class and that continues to be the case.
Once we reached the off-road facility, we got to tackle a genuinely challenging half-hour circuit behind the wheel of the VX grade. One run round as a driver and one as a passenger means we get to assess the Prado’s off-road chops more comprehensively.
There were a few factors that quickly impressed in the dusty stuff. The on-road refinement of the new diesel engine translates to heavy-duty, low range off-road work and there’s still nothing nasty about the new engine no matter how tough the terrain. The power and torque delivery, in either high or low range, is suited to challenging terrain and your input as driver translates smoothly to drive at all four wheels. On the subject of torque, up to 80 percent of the maximum available output is available just off idle at 1200rpm, something you'll appreciate in just about any driving environment.
Low range is a properly deep system, with first gear dropping even lower from the outgoing model. Shift the automatic lever across to ‘Sport’ from ‘Drive’, lock it down into first gear, and you can safely crawl down steep inclines without gathering unwanted speed. The way in which the auto transmission holds gears is also impressive. It makes proper off-roading a lot easier than it otherwise would be, and once again drives a nail into the coffin of the manual gearbox argument off-road.
The Prado has impressive approach, departure and ramp-over ability as well as excellent wheel travel. Deep ruts and wombat holes don’t upset the balance of the vehicle as you crawl your way through. We dropped the tyre pressures down to 20psi just to be safe. There’s a cosseted sense of comfort to everything the Prado does. It also easily negotiated a 400mm deep water crossing. There was barely a spun tyre around the whole course as the Prado gently transferred its power to the ground.
The VX and Kakadu get a suspension system called Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that improves wheel travel through swaybars that disconnect.. The KDSS has the reciprocal effect of improving on-road handling over the GX and GXL by stiffening the swaybar response (but it remains extremely comfortable and compliant nevertheless).
Our trip back to base was behind the wheel of the range-topping Kakadu grade. While we’ll need to make the final call once we’ve had a few model grades through the CarAdvice garage, it seems to us that the mid-spec VX is the sweet-spot in the range. While the Kakadu offers everything the Prado is available with, you could argue that the smart buyers will save a bit of money and go for the VX.
One decision we find strange is the lack of a rear diff lock option with any model. The diff lock is standard under the bum of the range topping Kakadu but not available even as a cost option throughout the rest of the range. Given buyers would be more likely to bash around off-road in a cheaper model grade, that option not being available doesn’t quite make sense.
Is the Prado the perfect seven-seat family SUV? Probably not, but is any vehicle perfect? The third row seats, which fold flat into the floor, rob owners of some luggage space and lift the floor height a little. Still, the third row will accommodate adults so there is some payoff there.
The Prado isn’t at the cutting edge of technology either with screens and controls that don't sit at the leading edge of what's currently available. Some might complain about handling at speed or the outright performance of the diesel engine as well. On the flipside of that argument, most Prado owners love the way their SUV soaks up the worst road surfaces with ease.
With all that said though, the Prado remains genuinely capable, comfortable, user-friendly, and more refined than it’s ever been with the diesel engine. So much so, the minuscule number of buyers who opt for a petrol engine currently might even make the cross to diesel in the near future. If you do bulk kilometres or head off-road into remote areas, you’d be silly to even consider otherwise.
While there’s never been much in the way of excitement when it comes to Prado, you have to admire it’s rugged toughness, all round ability and family-friendly packaging. I wouldn’t hesitate to head way off-road at the controls of a Prado and you can rest assured you’d be doing it in safety and comfort.
Most Prado owners we speak to are behind the wheel of their second or third example of the breed. This new, more refined version will give them even more reason to keep that pattern going.