Toyota’s Prado GXL looks big, but it sure doesn’t drive big.
LARGE SUVs can be an acquired taste, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. In the case of Toyota, the Prado has actually proved a very popular taste and a key part of its stable.
Prado is Australia’s best-selling large SUV, so clearly there’s a decent market for a vehicle with the capacity to seat seven, be robust enough to head off road with confidence but not look out of place around town.
And the new version released this month should do nothing to lessen that appeal.
It may look the same as the version released about two years ago, but it is a different story under the hood, where there is now the choice of a new turbo-diesel engine, a revised petrol V6 and new six-speed automatic transmission.
Carsguide had the chance to get behind the wheel of the middle-of-the-range GXL the day after it was delivered in Geelong. As with its predecessor, it is likely to prove a popular choice here; the GXL accounts for more than three-quarters of all Prado sales.
The first thing to strike the unaccustomed is the driving position. It feels like I’ve never sat as high above the road in a passenger car (the side step should have been an indication of what was to come).
But that slightly disconcerting perspective soon disappears as the Prado swings out into traffic. It looks big but doesn’t “drive big”. The new 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel is smaller than its predecessor, yet output has been increased (up to 450Nm of torque) while both fuel use and emissions are down, thanks in part to a particulate filter.
It’s a similar story with the 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine, which gains new injectors for improved fuel flow and atomisation.
Both engines are euro 5 compliant for emissions for the first time in Australia.
Meanwhile, the new six-speed automatic transmission marks the first use in a Toyota of technology that monitors acceleration and other driving conditions to select the most effective use of high-speed gears.
Toyota claims fuel efficiency of 8.0 litres/100km (combined cycle) for the automatic and 7.9 litres for the manual — representing a 13 per cent fuel economy gain for the manual and 8.5 per cent for the auto.
What all that means is navigating West Fyans St is as easy as picking your way through deep ruts down by Lake Connewarre.
Immediate impressions are of a big family vehicle with an emphasis very much on practicality as opposed to luxury.
There are grab handles to help the vertically challenged clamber up on to the cloth-trimmed seats (although leather is available as an option on the range-topping Kakadu).
The liberal use of hard-wearing plastic on the interior will be a lot easier to clean when the great outdoors are invariably tracked inside the Prado.
Towing capacity when you and the tribe go in search of the great outdoors is 2500kg (maximum). Not that you’re exactly slumming it. There is a nine-speaker sound system (up from six in the old model), Bluetooth, USB input and iPod control, audio and phone controls on the steering wheel, hill-start assist control and downhill assist control.
Satnav is now standard on the GXL, as is climate-control three-zone airconditioning, rear parking sensors, roof rails, two additional cup holders (always a bonus for larger families) and heated and powerretractable exterior mirrors
The Kakadu also gains rear cross-traffic alert, which warns of approaching traffic when you’re reversing.
The only thing to be mindful of is that the tailgate is hinged like a door, meaning you need to allow plenty of space when opening it. But the full-size spare attached to the tailgate should serve as a handy reminder.
On the plus side, the tailgate also serves as a handy storage place for the basic tool kit and there is a 220-volt accessory socket in the rear.