It was no real surprise when the 2017 Toyota LandCruiser Prado Altitude was added to the Japanese brand’s stable of off-roaders earlier this year: every year or so for the past half-a-dozen, there's been an Altitude 'special edition'. The Altitude model has been part of the Prado range, on and off, since 2012.
The new model – of course, with a catchy press release claiming the brand had “taken the Prado to new heights” – follows a similar formula as it has in the past; that is, dump the spare off the tailgate and tuck it under the body of the vehicle, put in an opening rear windshield, and offer plenty of value for money.
Toyota reckons the Altitude special edition has “at least $10,000 of extra features” over the GXL Prado upon which it is based, for a $5000 premium. That means the Altitude variant is $68,230 plus on-road costs.
That makes it a little bit dearer than the last Altitude model, which came out in 2015. It had black wheels and may not have been to the more conservative tastes of Toyota shoppers. This time around it still gets 18-inch alloy wheels (in silver), and continues to be offered with an electric opening sunroof. New items include auto-levelling LED headlights with daytime running lights, and chrome exterior highlights.
Those headlights proved handy during my time with the new Prado, which saw me take it up to the Hunter Valley for a family weekend away – I used all seven seats, had people complain about the lack of a boot when those seats were all in place, and saw one or two drunk uncles stumble from the back row ever so gracefully. More on that soon.
First let’s consider what you get for the money.
There’s the aforementioned new LED lights, sunroof, and 18-inch wheels, not to mention a touchscreen media system with satellite navigation, digital radio (DAB+), Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a rear-view camera with static parking guide-lines, and three-zone climate control. There’s also a leather-lined steering wheel and gear-shifter, leather seat trim and keyless entry with push-button start.
There are no parking sensors, which is a pain in a truck this big, and the Prado doesn’t have any of the safety equipment you might think a near-seventy-grand SUV should. There is no blind-spot monitoring, no lane-departure warning or lane keeping assistance, no rear cross-traffic alert, no digital speed readout, and no forward collision warning or autonomous emergency braking. There’s no adaptive cruise control either, but the Prado has seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee).
While it may not be as safe as some more modern SUVs on the market – you can get a lot of the safety tech this thing misses out on in a Mitsubishi Pajero Sport – Toyota remains a safe bet when it comes to maintenance. There’s a three-year/100,000km warranty, and the Toyota has a capped-price service plan – but it requires maintenance every six months or 10,000km, which is a lot for a diesel. The cost isn’t a lot, though – the service cost for the first six visits is capped at $240 each time.
The Prado has been around for quite some time now – it launched here in 2009 – and it is really feeling old inside compared with its Toyota contemporaries. A C-HR interior is light years ahead of where this thing is; but the Prado does have a big cooled centre console box to keep your snacks from melting, and there are large door pockets all around and plenty of cup- and bottle holders. The storage box below the screen is very handy.
The front seats offering electric adjustment: four-way for the passenger (forwards/backwards and incline/recline), where the driver gets eight-way adjust (with height variability). It’s worth noting that taller occupants – like my six-foot-four brother in law – will find the front passenger seat too tight for headroom, because the base is set quite a way up.
Headroom was similarly tight in the second row, mainly due to the flip-down Blu-Ray player that is positioned between the first and second rows, arrears of the sunroof. With three adults across the back, my passengers had multiple instances of head bumps as they readied themselves to get out – and not all of them are tall. Another question came up: “Who even uses Blu-Ray nowadays?”
If you’re one such person, or your kids like to watch Blu-Ray discs, the 9.0-inch screen with 5.1-channel surround sound via three sets of wireless headphones should suffice. As I said, though, the reaction from my up-to-date passengers was one of “Aren’t kids addicted to smartphones now?”
Third-row space (with seven grown men!) was found to be tight, too: head-room, toe-room and knee-room were all adequate for the short half-hour jaunts from location to location, but not much longer. If you’ve got little kids, or smaller-statured adults, it could be bearable for a fair while longer.
The plus sides are the tilt-and-slide second-row seat on the kerb-side to make third-row access easy (the rear seat splits 60:40, with the larger portion on the driver’s side – it doesn’t offer the same tilt-slide motion), and the three-row air conditioning ventilation with controls either in the passenger area, or up front for the driver to manage the temperature and where it goes.
As a people mover there are better options. But none have the off-road kit this has: a proper low-range transfer case with switch on the fly, not to mention hill descent control, hill-start assist, and a centre differential lock.
We’ve driven the Prado fairly extensively off-road in the past, but this time around we were limited to some damp gravel roads, and there was hassles with grip or control, though as we found on-road, it is pendulous at speed.
Our road trip saw a decent test of the standard-fit JBL 14-speaker audio system that offers decent clarity and good bass, but the controls for the system are fiddly. No-one at CarAdvice likes the fact the screen disables your ability to enter locations in the sat-nav on the move (unless you’ve already been there) and it seems impossible to quieten down navigation instructions. And you can’t select contacts or dial a number when you’re driving. The DAB+ digital radio is only really useful if you’re spending most of your time in built-up areas – and that’s where this version of the Prado is aimed at.
The side-opening tailgate remains, which is a bit of a pain if you’re in a tight parking space and there’s another SUV behind you. But if that is the situation you find yourself in, the opening glass section of the tailgate helps out; but remember, with all seven seats up, there’s just 120 litres of boot space (enough for about six shopping bags), and with the third-row folded down there’s 480 litres of space (or 1833 litres with the five rear seats down). There’s a 220-volt power-point in the boot to charge devices, which is handy.
The Altitude not only sees the spare wheel drop to under the boot floor, it also means that the sub-tank fitted to regular Prado models is removed. Toyota says that gives “added convenience to owners who do not require the extended driving range”, with the main tank offering a capacity of 87 litres of diesel. The usual tank size for the Prado is a huge 150L.
If you can get anywhere near Toyota’s claim of 8.0 litres per 100 kilometres, that means a theoretical range of more than 1080km – but we saw 10.8L/100km over our time with the Prado.
While this isn’t exactly the model you’d be buying if you were planning to hit the road for a long-distance towing adventure due to its smaller fuel tank, it also falls short of towing ability in terms of weight. It can tow 750kg un-braked, and 2.5 tonnes braked – well down on the best SUVs in the class, and short on almost all dual-cab utes, too.
The Prado Altitude runs the same 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine with 130kW of power (at 3400rpm) and 450Nm of torque (from 1600rpm-2400rpm) as its non-Altitude donor, with constant four-wheel drive, matched to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The drivetrain can feel a bit underdone, particularly with seven adults on board. Maintaining highway speed is doable unless there’s a hill, and it will lose momentum in that situation. The gearbox can be a bit busy between 80-110km/h, jostling between fifth and sixth (or fourth if the road is hilly), but on a freeway with less weight on board it gets along with honest progress.
At lower speeds the engine is decently refined, offering strong pulling power in the first few gears.
The Prado has never been a benchmark for driving dynamics, and it still isn’t. The steering is fine – accurate and well weighted, making it manageable on the highway and easy enough to park in town.
The suspension, though, is wallowy. Of course, it isn’t designed for corner carving, but as one of my passengers put it, it “feels like a row-boat in wavy waters”, the way it wobbles over bumpy sections of road. It feels heavy on the road, understeering and exhibiting plenty of body-roll even at 70-80km/h. “Corners!”
It was commended for offering good vision for rear-seat occupants, and it was quiet, even on coarse-chip roads. Gravel roads show up some wheel-arch stone noise, but it’s not to a deafening level.
In the end, if you need a seven-seat SUV that can go anywhere – if not quite as far as a Prado with the regular fuel tank – there are a few other options you could consider, and with change. A Pajero Sport would be our pick. But if you’re keen on a Toyota SUV with seven seats, a Prado makes more sense in this spec than, say, a flagship Fortuner.