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The 2018 Toyota Prado remains the quintessential large SUV so far as Aussie family buyers are concerned, but not too many shop right down at the budget end of the range – like the GX manual we’re testing here.
In fact, I can’t remember driving a manual Prado during my time at CarAdvice, such is the ubiquitous nature of the automatic transmission and the GXL model grade in particular. While we still think the GXL is the pick of the Prado range combining value ($63,000 with an automatic) with build quality and standard features, the budget-conscious among you might want to take a look at the GX manual.
The 2018 model-year update for the Prado brought plenty of changes to the grades higher up the tree, but the GX only saw a price change and cosmetic upgrades – so it’s more affordable and arguably prettier than it was before (I use that word loosely), which means it’s definitely worth a look.
The styling changes help the more basic-looking GX arguably more than any other model grade – new headlights, a new front bumper and restyled grille add to the appeal – although the GX misses out on Bi-LED headlights. At the rear, the numberplate surround has been tweaked and there are new tail-lights. Does it still look like a Prado? Um, yes. Very much so.
Design changes have extended into the cabin too, with a new tiller, a revised dashboard, revised switchgear layout, and a lower profile to the highest point of the dashboard itself. That was executed to provide better visibility for the already high-riding Prado according to the original Toyota release.
Pricing starts from $53,490 before on-road costs, putting the GX Prado within reach of buyers who might have thought Toyota’s large SUV was just out of touch. It’s a little cheaper than the previous model as noted above too – $600 less on the list price in fact.
The equipment list isn’t as extensive as you’d expect, but standard inclusions are: keyless entry and start, 17-inch alloy wheels (no steelies here), LED DRLs, 8.0-inch multimedia screen, rear-view camera, Bluetooth phone connection and audio streaming, USB input, a CD player, satellite navigation and live traffic updates.
What we find most interesting, given the GX manual’s positioning as the most affordable (and you’d expect most likely to therefore head off-road) Prado, is the lack of standard off-road tech. There’s no hill-descent control, hill-hold assist or rear diff lock. There is, however, a centre diff lock. Despite the centre diff lock, though, you’d be inclined to think that more off-road-focused hardware would make sense in this model.
The familiar 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel is in place up front, and generates an also familiar 130kW and 420Nm. It’s backed here by a six-speed manual, but there is of course an optional six-speed auto, as well as full-time 4WD and proper low-range gearing. The auto gets more torque too, also adding to its off-road chops.
The ADR fuel claim is just 7.9L/100km, and on test we averaged 9.9L/100km largely around town. As with the GXL we tested recently, there’s a whopping 150 litres of fuel on board too, so touring distances are extensive between fills if you’re heading out of town for any amount of time. We’ve routinely spoken to Prado owners who easily pass 1000km per tank on the open road.
The cabin has the spacious feel we’re familiar with from any Prado, but the five-seat layout means the luggage space is a simpler affair in the GX than what we’re used to. That’s purely a result of not having to come up with inventive ways of storing seats under the floor.
That translates to a whopping 640 litres of space available thanks to a lower floor than models with the seven-seat layout. The side-hinged tailgate really is a love it or hate it affair, and the locking strut means you can stop it whacking you in the back and trying to slam closed, but it’s a heavy piece of kit to open, that’s for sure. You can imagine mum or dad with a handful of groceries, kids' sporting equipment or the like, tryingto muscle the door open on an incline – it can be a pain.
The second row is smart in that the bases fold forward, and you can then drop the backrests down into the floor. In fact, you could almost fit a full mattress into the back with the seats folded down, if sleeping inside your vehicle is more appealing than a tent. If you transport bicycles, surfboards, or any larger sporting equipment, the space is extremely handy.
You’ll find two ISOFIX points at the outer rear seats and three top tether points as well, making this an ideal family truckster. The front seats get two cupholders, storage for smaller items like wallets and keys, and decent door pockets with bottle holders. The console bin at the armrest has AC cooling, while the back door pockets also have bottle holders and there are air vents back there too.
Given the simplicity of the 8.0-inch touchscreen system, which does have Toyota Link app connectivity, Toyota’s refusal to integrate Apple CarPlay or Android Auto seems silly. The basic system works well enough, but a simple smartphone system would make life a lot more, shall we say, modern. The satellite navigation system is old-style in its appearance but works well, as do the live traffic updates.
Having tested the Fortuner with a manual gearbox not long before this GX, we expected the manual to be good – and it was – just not quite as good as the Fortuner. It might have needed more running in, a few more kilometres on the clock, but the shift action itself didn’t feel as smooth as the Fortuner. Nothing major, and not a deal-breaker by any means, just a little notchy.
While the manual is fine around town, and the engine’s torque is enough to get the Prado up and moving, you will notice the need to transition between gears on uphill sections of motorways. It’s here where you don’t even notice the automatic at work, but the manual requires some effort. The clutch pedal feels solid without being heavy, and the shift throw is a little longer than we’d like, but the experience is otherwise a good one.
The ride, steering and brakes are all Prado familiar. That is, luxurious, adequate and requiring some heft in that order. We’ll never tire of the Prado’s ability to iron out even the worst road surfaces around town, riding like an SUV should and sacrificing outright handling for comfort. To my mind, if I buy an SUV, that’s how I want it to ride.
Despite the brakes requiring a bit more pedal weight than we’d like, you get used to that, and the Prado is pretty easy to pilot around town. It tends to shrink around you, as Prados have always done, and is a lot less intimidating in the city confines than its size might indicate.
The only real negative, aside from the fact the auto gets more torque, is the manual’s 2500kg tow capacity. Again, if you’re a tourer, off-roader or rural buyer on a budget, that relatively low figure might put the Prado out of the reckoning, which is a shame given everything else that it does well.
The Prado is covered by Toyota’s three-year/100,000km warranty, not industry leading by an means, but the service network is, especially in rural areas. It’s why so many buyers who are heading bush opt for a Toyota. Servicing every six months or 10,000km is shorter than most now, but the pricing is capped at $240 for the first 60,000km or three years, whichever comes first.
A week with the Prado GX confirmed a few things for us – it’s a good 4WD first and foremost. It does, however, struggle in terms of not matching the auto’s torque output or tow capacity, and it misses out on some off-road mechanicals that could help too. It’s a solid price-leading entry into the Prado range, but you’d be smarter looking at an auto GX or the ubiquitous GXL.