2016 Toyota LandCruiser Prado 2.8L GXL Manual Review

Rating: 8.0
$59,990 Mrlp
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We've never tested a Toyota LandCruiser Prado with a manual transmission, but there's a first time for everything...
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You won't find too many buyers opting for a 2016 Toyota LandCruiser Prado with a manual gearbox when they stroll into their local dealer – so few in fact, that Toyota sold only 990 last year. Weighed against the 16,112 LandCruiser Prados the brand sold in total in 2014, that's not a whole lot – six per cent in fact.

That’s not a direct reflection of the 2016 Toyota LandCruiser Prado’s abilities with a manual shifter though, as we found after a week behind the wheel – the first manual Prado to pass through the CarAdvice garage believe it or not.

On test then, we have the 2016 Toyota LandCruiser Prado GXL 2.8-litre turbo diesel with six-speed manual gearbox. Devoid of options like our black test vehicle, this Prado will set you back $59,990 plus the usual on-road costs. The GXL is in fact, one step up from the launching pad for the Prado range, the GX model, which is the most affordable way into what is one of Toyota’s most popular off road vehicles ever. The five-seat manual GX Prado starts from $52,990 plus on-road costs.

Firstly, lets get one thing out of the way. Despite what the traditionalists might tell you, there’s good reason the manual gearbox has largely gone the way of the Dodo in the large SUV class for starters and in the broader off road market more to the point. Modern autos are better everywhere than their manual counterpart.

An auto is obviously light years better in stop/start traffic around town, but it is also smoother and more precise off-road regardless of how heavy the terrain might be and they win the contest towing as well. If you’ve driven in heavy, powdery sand in low range and needed to shift gears to keep momentum, you know just how much drive you can lose - no matter how rapid your shifting might be. You don’t have that issue with an auto equipped off-roader.

The auto’s durability has long been proven now as well and even some died in the wool off-road fans will now freely make the switch to an auto and never look back. I even know a few personally who won’t buy their ideal genuine off-roader – a 70-Series Toyota – simply because there is no auto option. With long distance towing the key discipline, they just aren’t interested in a manual gearbox anymore.

With that said though, manual gearboxes can still impress, and after a week behind the wheel of this Prado with the turbo diesel/manual combination, we’ve been left admiring its broadly impressive attributes. We didn't expect to like it as much as we did, and everyone in the CarAdvice team who spent some time behind the wheel enjoyed the experience.

Read our 2016 Toyota Prado pricing and specifications story here.

Read our 2016 Toyota Prado launch review here.

There’s nothing new to report in terms of design, dynamics or driving experience behind the wheel. If you’ve driven a Prado in the last decade, driving any new variant is like slipping into your favourite old sloppy joe. It might not be the coolest piece of clothing, it’s sense of style might be far from avant garde, but it does the job asked of it with aplomb. Such is life with the Prado. Some criticise it’s conservative - read boring - styling, others criticise it’s bland ‘Toyota-ness’, but you’ll rarely ever find a Prado owner who has been let down badly. In fact, speak to a Prado owner and you’ll find most are on to their second or third.

Every manufacturer and most models have their smaller glitches, so we’ll expect the raft of complaints from readers reminding us of how certain Prado models are alleged to have certain issues that aren’t acceptable. All we can say is that we don’t hear that from too many Prado owners - quite the contrary.

Immediately as we headed out into peak-hour Sydney traffic, we were impressed with the Prado’s smooth shifting precision. The clutch is nicely weighted, it’s never too heavy even in stop/start traffic, and it doesn’t feel dead or spongey either. It’s just right. The gearshift itself is precise and sharp, the throw not too long and the time taken between gears short enough for you to drive the Prado in a more spritely fashion than you would ever have expected. The slab of torque delivered just off idle no doubt helps here, you don’t have to row through the gears if you don’t want to, rather you can simply ride that wave of torque in third gear for example, almost down to crawling speed.

Head for a freeway on-ramp and roll on to 110km/h and as you work through the gears at speed, the smooth nature of the gearbox remains evident. Whichever way we looked at the diesel/manual combination, it was one we liked. The speed didn’t matter, neither did the load we placed on the engine. Short shift or spin it out to redline, in typical Toyota fashion, it could not care less.

When you’re going to head off road, or around Australia towing a caravan, you’ll require reliability, ergonomics and comfort and the Prado delivers on all fronts. Toyota’s vast service network doesn’t hurt either. Around town, the Prado wafts over potholes, poor surfaces and nasty speed humps with ridiculous ease. Its sense of comfort is never disturbed, and despite the fact it’s handling at the limit is a little wallowy, for this class the payoff of a more comfortable ride is worth it.

I like my SUVs to be comfortable especially if you’re surrounded by average road surfaces. In a market flooded with large European SUVs that routinely feature sporty handling and 20-inch plus wheels, the Prado is a refreshing reminder of what you might be missing. Head off-road for any length of time, especially on corrugated dirt surfaces and that point is really rammed home.

The high and mighty seating position affords excellent visibility and the cabin benefits from the added insulation and refinement that comes by way of the new 2.8-litre turbo diesel engine. It barely clatters at start up and once warmed into a smooth idle, you’d be hard pressed to even pick it as a diesel if you walked past. Even under load as you build up speed, or roll on along the highway, the engine remains quiet.

On the subject of highway cruising, the Prado’s six-speed ‘box feels perfectly long-legged. Fifth and sixth ratios are both overdriven gears and the Prado will happily lope along between 90-110km/h in either. Those two relaxed gears offer twofold benefits. First they reduce the stress on the engine over the longer term, and they also assist in keeping the fuel usage figure low. On that note, against an ADR claim of 7.9L/100km, we managed an indicated return of 9.8L/100km over more than 300km. Consider the fact that the Prado is a full-sized, seven-seat SUV and that figure is even more impressive.

A short off-road evaluation session highlighted the relationship between the torque delivery and the spread of ratios, especially in low range 4WD mode. The transfer of drive in low range is a little harsher than high-range - as you’d expect - but it’s never too violent or jerky as some systems can be.

The Toyota Prado 2.8L GXL Manual is covered by Toyota’s standard three-year, 100,000km warranty and the Toyota Service Advantage scheme. What that means is you get up to six standard services costing $220 each for the first three years or 60,000km, whichever comes first. Service intervals for Prados are every six months or 10,000km, whichever comes first.

Will the fact that the Prado with a manual ‘box is actually a good thing entice more people to buy them? Probably not. If the manual’s days are numbered in the sports and supercar worlds, then it’s surely not far behind in every other mainstream segment. Despite that imminent end though, there’s a lot of positives to be noted following a week behind the wheel of this Prado - namely the smoothness and general refinement of the engine and gearbox pairing.

If you need a seven-seat SUV that’s as tough as nails and you absolutely have to change your own gears, you could do a lot worse than take a Prado for a test drive. It’s more enjoyable and liveable than it’s ever been, the only problem is that might have come at the end of its life cycle.

Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Toyota LandCruiser Prado images by Mitchell Oke.