FOR many years the Toyota Prado has been held in high esteem by all of the CAR test team because it had just about everything you could want for in an SUV. So much so in fact that if faced with the challenge at a moment’s notice, we would hop in behind the wheel and head for the great unknown confi dent of reaching any final destination in fine fettle.
With its unstressed powertrain, numerous drivetrain settings and reasonably compact size, it was the ideal explorer’s companion. But when the latest petrol-fuelled TX arrived for test we were a little taken aback. It looked huge, yet it is actually only 45 mm longer and a mere 10 mm wider, but 10 mm lower, too, so nothing really significant. Proof that appearances can be deceptive.
However, the bigger dimensions have been put to good use in the cabin, which is now 35 mm longer and 5 mm wider, with the space between the two front occupants increased by 30 mm.
Space is one thing, comfort and convenience another and although the cabin is clearly roomier, the support afforded by the leather-upholstered seats is a bit disappointing. Front chairs feature heaters and electric adjustment including cushion height – the driver’s with lumbar support and memory too – but the sofa-like padding makes them more “sit ons” than “sit ins” and simply do not support as they might when cornering or bobbing over obstacles in the undergrowth.
The middle row of seats is split in a nominal 40:20:40 (the middle section is narrow) with independent fore/aft movement of 135 mm and a limited range of backrest angle adjustment, is mounted higher than the fronts and, helped by the large glasshouse (“privacy” tinted for middle and rear side glass), offer a good view out. Even if the front seats are well back, there is still plenty of head- and legroom. However, some of the latter has to be sacrifi ced if either or both of the rearmost seats are (electrically) raised from their underfloor home to carry anyone bigger than the average youngster.
In turn, these rearmost seat bases are higher than those of the middle row, but the position still necessitates a severe bentknee pose. All seats have threepoint seatbelts and adjustable head restraints, and grab handles are provided above all the outer seating positions as well as on the A- and B-pillars.
Not surprisingly, luggage space is compromised when all seats are upright – we managed just 88 dm³ of our ISO-standard blocks – but press the switch to lower the back row and a more useful 344 dm³ can be loaded over the protected bumper onto the fl at but 875 mm-high floor, which incorporates locating tracks on either side. Pull levers to flip down the middle row and a substantial 1 528 dm³ of utility volume is realised. To help create the space, the full-sized, covered spare wheel is mounted on the right-hand-side hinged tail door.
From a driver’s perspective there is much to admire – and frustrate. Matching the door trim, the ornate four-spoke wood/leather/ plastic-trimmed multi-function steering wheel is electrically rake and reach adjustable, and its positioning adjusts in conjunction with with the seat memory. Switchgear is big and user-friendly – but spread all over the place in what is an ergonomic nightmare, with some controls requiring GPS to locate, which is ridiculous because such haphazardness is unnecessary.
Auto-on headlights and wipers plus three-zone climate control (front left/right and rear) are standard along with a radio/CD/ DVD/aux-in/Bluetooth entertainment and ‘phone system that includes touch-screen and voice actuation. The HID adaptive headlamps have washers and auto beam height adjustment. Large exterior heated mirrors are retractable and house cameras for the proximity monitor, with images displayed on the standard sat-nav’s screen, which also provides a steering angle display when appropriate.
On-road the Prado is naturally a bit cumbersome, its jiggly ride in particular being a tiresome irritant, and do not even try to hustle its 2,3-ton bulk through mountain passes.
The hydraulically-assisted variable power steering is communicative enough but there is some natural body roll, the 265/60 R18 Bridgestone tyres squeal early and the onset of typical 4WD understeer is almost immediate, the vehicle’s traction control abruptly stepping in to calm the storm. This imposing Toyota is not designed to be a road burner, so “easy does it” is the order of the day. Full-house ABS brakes with ventilated discs all round do an excellent job of retarding the Prado’s progress.
The 4,0-litre V6 engine incorporates variable valve timing to help deliver class average peak power and torque outputs of 202 kW at 5 600 r/min and 381 N.m at 4 400, respectively. A five-speed autobox with manual select and shift lock options apportions drive to all four wheels with the aid of a lockable Torsen limited-slip centre diff and a selectable rear diff lock.
Performance-wise, the Prado will sprint from zero to 100 km/h in a surprisingly brisk 9,68 seconds and flat out will reach 180 km/h. Using kickdown, 60 to 120 km/h takes 9,34 seconds, so the Toyota will never be embarrassed in traffic. Of more interest is the petrol consumption, CAR’s fuel index working out at a reasonable 13,56 litres/100 km, which means over 1 100 km is achievable from a single fi ll-up thanks to a walletemptying 150 litre tank capacity.
But when it comes to off-roading – and we mean serious offroading – then it is easy to forgive the Prado its foibles in return for the confi dence it instils to not only get you to wherever you are headed, but bring you back as well.
Repeatedly, despite the high level of electrickery now commonplace in vehicles designed to go where no man has gone before – this VX features the following controls: Vehicle Stability, Active Traction, Adaptive Damping (does it really need a Sport setting?), Multi-terrain Select (with monitor), Hill Start and Downhill Assist and Crawl. And there is a Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which by means of electronics and hydraulics adapts the stiffness of the anti-roll bars to prevailing conditions. You could argue that some of these techno items are a bit OTT, but off-roading has become a high-tech pursuit.
Add in niceties such as the ‘screen header “conversation mirror”, the air-conditioned floor cubby and a green “eco light” that shines when you are driving economically, and you still fall short of listing all of the Prado’s comprehensive equipment. After all, when in the middle of nowhere it becomes the occupants’ “home from home” so needs to be fully equipped.
The Prado remains one of the best SUVs around for anyone who lives the truly outdoor lifestyle and needs dependable transport to – and from – any point on the compass.
The voortrekkers would likely have conquered the world with a train of Prados at their disosal. Our only real major gripe concerns the facia layout, which badly needs a major revamp.
If nothing else though, adventure types are a rugged bunch and might view function with style as a bit of frippery, urbanites perhaps less so…
Either way, there is no denying the Prado’s prowess.