There’s a lot of chat about evolutionary perfection in the automotive world. An expectation that on an approximate seven-year gestation cycle, every new car will out-Darwin the variant that came before.
Refine, adapt, and innovate is the general order of the industry. Sometimes for good, sometimes just to keep things fresh, or sometimes just to make things different.
But what if a car doesn’t need or want to change? What if, for better or worse, it has reached its evolutionary zenith? Not like some hyper-advanced, top-of-the-food-chain predator mind you. I’m thinking more like a giraffe who is clocking up some 12 million years and counting of being a high-riding deer with leopard upholstery.
The high-clearance ruminant has found its happy place. It walks tall, eats green, and that’s about it, just as it has for millennia.
And it’s here, a suspense-building five paragraphs in, that I link this all back to the 2021 Toyota LandCruiser Prado Kakadu.
As yes, despite a new media system and improved output from the 2.8-litre engine, the savannah-grazing Prado hasn’t really changed that much, even in high-spec Kakadu trim. And like the giraffe, I’m suggesting that we just draw a line under it and be happy that this is as evolved as the Prado is going to get.
|2021 Toyota LandCruiser Prado Kakadu|
|Engine configuration||2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power||150kW @ 3400rpm|
|Torque||500Nm @ 1600–2800rpm|
|Drive type||Permanent 4x4, Torsen LSD centre diff, locking rear and centre differentials, low-range transfer case, Multi-Terrain Select traction control|
|Power to weight ratio||61.1kW/t|
|Fuel claim (combined)||7.9L/100km|
|Fuel use (combined)||11.9L/100km|
|Main competitors||Ford Everest | Nissan Patrol | a better value Prado|
Priced from $87,030 before options and on-road costs, the Kakadu is a hefty $10,650 on top of the already well-equipped VX ($76,380), but still $5666 less than the LandCruiser 200 GXL ($92,696).
More crucially, it is $2804 more expensive than it was last year.
You can add metallic paint like our Peacock Black for $600 (there are 10 paint choices including two solid colours), and a flat-back swing-out door without the spare tyre remains a no-cost option.
Like the VX, the Kakadu includes 18-inch alloy wheels, illuminated side steps, heated seats in the first and second row (two outer seats only), ventilated seats in the front row, the panoramic multi-terrain monitor camera and, of course, the console-mounted fridge.
All variants include the new 9.0-inch colour infotainment system with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as integrated satellite navigation, plus the Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver-assistance technology.
This adds autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, adaptive cruise control and road sign recognition. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert systems are added on the VX grade and up.
|2021 Toyota LandCruiser Prado Kakadu|
|Boot volume||120L / 620L / 1800L|
For your extra 10 gorillas in the Kakadu, you score the nifty KDSS suspension (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System), Multi-Terrain Select (traction/terrain control) function, a powered sunroof, powered third-row folding seats, and the roof-mounted media screen with Bluetooth headsets.
I’ll be honest and say that none of this is worth the investment over the VX (or even GLX), but more on those specifics shortly.
Equipment and price rise aside, the big update for 2021 is the remapped engine tune that increases power from 130kW to 150kW and torque from 450Nm to 500Nm.
It’s no V6 swap, but like we found in the updated HiLux, it does make the car feel smoother and more responsive both off the line and at highway overtaking speeds. Fuel consumption is claimed to be marginally improved (7.9L/100km against 8.0L/100km), but we found our week sat around 12.0L/100km for combined urban and extra-urban driving (with freeway as low as 7.5L/100km).
Power delivery still peaks at 3400rpm, whereas the peak torque band has extended slightly from 1600–2400rpm to 1600–2800rpm, giving the car just a little bit of extra oomph as you rev it out. That low torque hit is the key, though, and there is no doubting the Prado does feel considerably more refined.
When you activate Sport mode, you can feel the throttle sensitivity free up, but there are no other dynamic changes. The Economy mode, too, simply makes the throttle feel lazier around town, so you’re ultimately best to just leave the car in its regular setting.
Like its long-legged compatriot, though, the Prado is never going to be the fastest thing down by the waterhole, so consider the revised driveline more of a ‘tweak’ than anything. The car is still offered with a 3000kg tow rating, so even with more shove underfoot, don’t expect the 2021 car to be a revelation if you are used to hitching a load to the back.
To be clear, the engine update is a worthwhile improvement, and as the giraffe of the highway, the Prado is still very much about doing what it does reliably and comfortably.
For touring is the LandCruiser Prado’s absolute forte.
|2021 Toyota LandCruiser Prado Kakadu|
|Colour||Peacock Black Metallic|
|Options as tested||$600 (paint)|
|ANCAP safety rating||5-star|
You sit tall, your vision is good, and the car is easy to get used to. Sure, the cabin itself looks and feels dated, with scores of buttons on every possible surface, but it works. So, why bother changing?
The seats, in particular, offer great support on a long cruise, and you can eat up plenty of miles without stress. Rear passenger room is great, and you can slide the second to offer more room in the third row.
And while the split rear window is handy, where you can open the glass independent of the swing-out door, the boot with all seven seats in play is still pretty useless (120L) and only really works when you run the car as a five-seater (620L).
That said, there’s a hard-wearing, well-built honesty to the Prado that does make it a likeable machine. I am particularly fond of the wood-rimmed steering wheel, but there’s no denying it feels a bit old.
The only thing on the cutting edge you’ll find in the Prado is the cheese knife you’ve packed for your picnic lunch. The big Toyota is not here for shock and awe, but to take you from one end of the country to the other, on any and all surfaces in any and all weather. And it is here to do it the same way, every, single, time.
But, in knowing that, it is still very much the tamed off-roader around town. The ride is firm for general duties and can be quite busy over choppy surfaces. There’s no absorbing smoothness like you’ll find in a Kluger.
Things are more palatable on the open road, where arguably the Prado is designed to spend the majority of its time. Bump absorption is better at speed and the adaptive cruise-control system is easy and intuitive to operate. The CarPlay integration, too, is a far more usable interface than the native Toyota system, and the display is crisp and clear.
The 4.2-inch display between the analogue instruments is easy to read, and offers a broad amount of information, albeit in a simplistic ‘one thing at a time’ way. Is a full digital instrument display on your wish list? Hah! Good luck.
But the Kakadu isn't totally devoid of tricks. Where the Toyota does have some clever goodies up its sleeve is for exploring off the beaten track.
The KDSS suspension package is great when off-road, but as I said last time we had a Peacock Black Kakadu, the car is impressively capable without it, and you have to ask, is this really the car you will be putting through the most challenging terrain?
The KDSS feature enables the swaybars to dislocate when the car is articulating, so you get better wheel travel and thus more traction on uneven surfaces. On the road, they reconnect and allow the car to be stiffer and more balanced through the bends.
The same goes for the MTS (Multi-Terrain Select) function, which again works very well in extreme off-road situations, but doesn’t do anything the rest of the time. You can dial in the type of terrain you are driving in, and the car will adjust steering, throttle and traction control to suit.
It’s very good, but so is a standard Prado.
Even the media system that requires DVD or Blue-ray discs to play is pretty redundant in a world of iPads and AirPods. But, as I said earlier, the Prado is not about exciting change and innovation, this is a place of comfortable consistency.
If you’ve owned a Prado, this is simply the new one. There are no surprises.
It still has strong resale. It still requires six-month (or 10,000km) service intervals ($260 a pop for the first three years, totalling $1560, but then increasingly expensive thereon for a total of $3803 for five years).
I’d argue that the 2021 Toyota LandCruiser Prado Kakadu is perhaps being left behind, with newcomers like the Hyundai Palisade offering more space and refinement for urban duties, and the Ford Everest adapting to offer buyers stronger value and capability lower in the range, particularly for ‘adventure’-focussed models.
None of this will upset Prado sales or deter Prado buyers, though.
Like the giraffe, the Prado’s evolution has ended. It’s in for a peaceful lifetime of reliable and predictable behaviour doing what it does, unperturbed by what is going on around it. If this speaks to your needs, then do take a look, but I'd suggest you stick to the VX as the Kakadu has tried to take that evolutionary step too far, which only puts it one step closer to extinction.