In 2017, the Toyota Prado was the biggest-selling large SUV in Australia, with nearly 16,000 finding new homes. Its off-roading abilities are legendary. The Prado sits comfortably in the LandCruiser family, and that badge alone leaves 4WD tracks in a quivering mess. However, most are bought simply as a vehicle to drop off or pick up the kids at school.
We seem to have a strange fascination with large 4WDs in Australia, though, they rarely tackle more than a dirt road and the occasional water crossing that I could manage in a Toyota Corolla, and never really fulfil their true calling.
That said, the other calling of the Toyota Prado is its recognition as an excellent tow vehicle. With the endless charge to hit the open road, caravan in tow, it sits on the first rung below the LandCruiser and Patrol when anyone is looking for an effective, large tow vehicle. It is also more affordable than a LandCruiser, at least.
For 2018, Toyota set about making some changes. Among those a new bonnet, revised headlights and new bumpers to improve off-road approach and departure angles. Not that mounting a gutter outside a school was ever an issue. Importantly, Toyota also increased towing capacity from 2500kg to 3000kg.
It achieved this by keeping the same 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, but revised the power train ECU calibration. It now seems much smoother and better at selecting the appropriate gear in the six-speed automatic gearbox; changes Toyota is obviously unable to make to manual variants, which retain the 2500kg towing maximum of the previous model.
Toyota has also improved the engine cooling to cope with the extra weight and stress. This now draws it level with competitors such as the Ford Everest, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Holden Trailblazer and Isuzu MU-X.
My own experience with a Prado ended only recently, having driven extensively in a 2008 model up and down the coast with boat in tow. On first impressions, this newer model is much smoother and more composed.
The Prado on paper is able to tow quite a heavy load. For reference, a Northbank 760HT or a Jayco 25ft Silverline Off Road caravan is within the limits, provided you have an electric brake controller fitted inside the cabin of the car.
We decided to go for considerably less. We added a 19-foot boat, one we have used before for towing reviews, and one we are therefore familiar with. This boat weighs 1950kg and has a downball weight of 190kg. It is one full tonne below the limits placed on the car.
The car itself is comfortable with a great driving position, where you can see the front corners of the vehicle and a long way ahead. In the Kakadu, the seat is electronically adjustable and set high in the cabin. When you’re towing a load, this is not only helpful but also an important safety aspect. It takes a little longer to stop the car with the added weight, so being able to see further ahead gives you more time to act.
The side mirrors extend out from the sides of the vehicle, giving a great view of the trailer. They are large enough to negate the requirement for extended mirrors on some caravans. You are best to judge how comfortable you feel with the vision, but you can certainly add extended mirrors to the car if you feel it necessary. The standard mirrors also tilt downwards when reversing, which helps you to see gutters and driveways.
The steering in the car is light, and at times there is a lack of feel with a trailer on the back. The car does go where you point it, but smooth movement of the wheel will deliver the best control underway. It also has a great turning circle, which means the car and trailer are easy to manoeuvre into position in a tight caravan park. Combined with a lock-to-lock that only takes three full turns of the wheel, even if you get yourself into trouble, you can quickly recover.
I have read some complaints about laggy throttle response, but personally, in all conditions tested, the engine response was excellent. The power delivery on the freeway is as you would expect when you put the foot down. In parking situations, the response is instant and you can make small measured movements of the trailer.
With all these features and a torquey engine, towing in suburban areas is easy for the Prado or any of the other four-cylinder options. But, it is the open road where the limitations of the four-cylinder platform become evident. These engines simply don’t have the power required when hills come into play.
Remember, we were towing two tonnes, well below the limit assigned to the SUV. In this case, the Toyota Prado was unable to maintain speed up a hill and dropped to 80–90km/h. Anything heavier and we may have been down to 60km/h. I found myself leaning forward in the seat in a futile attempt to get some extra forward go.
This represents a dangerous situation as streams of other vehicles and impatient drivers attempt to pass a large and long slower vehicle, often on roads that are simply dangerous. I am yet to meet anyone who is happy to sit behind a slow car and trailer.
The new engine mapping has certainly done the job and it will keep plugging away. It does this in a much neater, quieter and smarter way than the old engine, with much less gear shifting on the downhill slopes you will undoubtedly cover, and engine braking from the 2.8-litre four-cylinder power pack is excellent. The car doesn’t run away from you, even when being pushed by a trailer.
Despite the lack of power up hills, the car is extremely stable and takes the weight perfectly with little to no sag and therefore no ensuing lack of suspension range. You can certainly feel the weight, not so much around suburban streets where speeds rarely exceed 70km/h, but certainly on the freeway. There was some tugging noted on the tow ball on undulating roads.
We towed in Eco mode, and I highly doubt anyone is going to be belting around towing in Sport mode. For the two days prior to the tow test, I registered 11.8 litres per 100 kilometres in a mix of Sydney peak-hour traffic. Our tow loop involved suburban roads in Sydney and then up the Pacific Highway to the Central Coast. The fuel use crept up with a boat on the back and settled around 14.7L/100km, which is pretty good considering that other four-cylinder platforms we've towed with were up near 17 litres.
There is no doubt the Toyota Prado Kakadu is an exceptional tow vehicle. It’s comfortable and capable, to a point. I’d happily own one to tow a small boat or off-road camper trailer. Toyota has done wonders with the engine management update and the resulting 3000kg maximum braked trailer towing capacity. But if I was touring Australia and doing big kilometres, I wouldn’t head out with anywhere near that hanging off the back. Remember, this car alone weighs 2455kg.
Considering the LandCruiser is powered by a V8 twin-turbo diesel, I can’t help but think the Prado could at least do with a six-cylinder single-turbo diesel engine, as the next step down, and leave the four to the Fortuner and HiLux. That would make it even better than it already is.
Toyota Prado – Numbers that matter
Options Fitted: Tow bar
Engine: 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission: Six-speed auto
Towing Capacity: 3000kg (braked)
Maximum Tow Ball Weight: 270kg