4 x 4 Australia - - Driven -

THE Prado clearly stands out. Its chas­sis is shared with that of the Amer­i­can Ta­coma ute, but its body is unique and larger than most in its class. That said, the Prado has a shorter wheel­base than the MU-X and Ever­est.

Still, in­te­rior space is great, from the ad­justable rear seats to the tall roof that in­creases the sen­sa­tion of space. That’s some­thing no­tice­able in­side, where there’s plenty of room for a fam­ily, es­pe­cially across the cabin. Three-zone air­con­di­tion­ing is a win, too, al­low­ing those in the rear to ad­just tem­per­a­tures.

But for $61,990, the Prado isn’t spec­tac­u­larly well-equipped, miss­ing out on trin­kets such as smart key en­try (in­creas­ingly com­mon in this mar­ket) and mak­ing do with ba­sic seat trim. Yet other touches help jus­tify its price pre­mium, such as the 220V power point in the back.

The ex­tra in­te­rior roof height and fold­ing seats meant it was the des­ig­nated wa­ter-car­ry­ing car. By the time we’d loaded it up with drums, an ex­tra spare tyre and some camp­ing gear it was close to its 2990kg GVM. That GVM may sound high, but the Prado is no feath­er­weight to start with – 2.3 tonnes – so it’s pretty easy to hit that limit.

As a re­sult, the sus­pen­sion was quite soft in the rear, mak­ing it prone to the oc­ca­sional un­der-belly scrape. It was more no­tice­able on faster sec­tions with big peaks be­tween wheel tracks. Per­haps the 220mm of ground clear­ance didn’t help (it was at least 5mm less than the claim of its three ri­vals), although we’ve never had is­sues with the Prado’s clear­ance be­fore. This is where the more ex­pen­sive

Kakadu’s self-lev­el­ling rear air sus­pen­sion may have come in handy, as well as the VX and Kakadu’s KDSS sus­pen­sion that gives bet­ter body con­trol.

Points are made up with the full-time 4WD sys­tem. It’s a small thing, but be­ing able to roll into Halls Creek with­out hav­ing to worry about dis­en­gag­ing the front wheels sim­pli­fies things. With a de­cent trac­tion con­trol sys­tem it meant we never needed the cen­tre lock­ing diff.

The Prado is be­gin­ning to show its age on the in­side. Its size­able slabby dash dis­plays the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem close to the driver’s line of sight. That dash dis­liked the Can­ning’s un­for­giv­ing cor­ru­ga­tions, jump­ing around like a hy­per­ac­tive two-year-old.

Not that any­thing ever sep­a­rated from where it should have been. The Prado is a tough beast and one that dealt ad­mirably with the blows. Im­por­tantly, it was com­fort­able. The chunky steer­ing wheel tops off a de­cent driv­ing po­si­tion, too.

Fur­ther aft the Prado is one of a rare breed of mod­ern off-road­ers with a swingout door, which is both a plus and a mi­nus. The big plus is how eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble it makes the spare wheel; although, for quick road­side stops it lacks the sun or rain pro­tec­tion a rising tail­gate can pro­vide.

The big change in the Prado, that is oth­er­wise largely un­changed since the 150 Se­ries ar­rived in 2009, is the en­gine. De­spite its new­ness, the 2.8-litre is some­what un­der­whelm­ing, par­tic­u­larly when paired with the heft of the Prado. It isn’t over­loaded with grunt – although the 450Nm is pretty handy and ar­rives with gusto by 1600rpm, en­sur­ing ef­fort­less midrev progress.

De­spite hav­ing the low­est claimed fuel fig­ure of our quar­tet, 8.0L/100km, the Prado was the thirsti­est in the real world, us­ing 14.9L/100km – at least 15 per cent more than its near­est ri­val. That said, it was car­ry­ing a heav­ier load.

No com­plaints with its fuel ca­pac­ity. At 150 litres it’s the big­gest stan­dard tank in a pro­duc­tion car (see ‘Fuel for Thought’ side­bar), some­thing that al­lowed it to travel the en­tire CSR with­out any­thing more than the reg­u­lar re­fuel about mid­way through.

So, you call this a wa­ter cross­ing? Full-time 4WD is handy on red, bumpy tracks.

The rougher it gets, the hap­pier it seems to be.

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