Riverdeep mountain high
NOTHING CAN STOP THE PRADO
PLAYING car spot to on a road trip through Outback Queensland is an exercise in futility. It goes like this: Toyota LandCruiser. Toyota HiLux. Toyota LandCruiser. Toyota HiLux. Nissan Patrol. Repeat ad infinitum.
Much better to try roadkill spot to instead, where there’s lots of variety and hours of fun to be had. Toyota 4WDs are as ubiquitous in this part of the country as big hats, blue skies and barking mad politicians. Other makes barely get a look in and any European SUV is regarded as worse than useless.
We’re in a Toyota Prado Kakadu, so wherever we pull up we have instant street cred. “Ow’s yer Prado goin?” “Great.” “Yeah. Nice truck, mate.” Our two weeks, three states, 4500km Outback trip, with camper trailer in tow, takes us west, initially along the NSW/Queensland border, then via Hungerford, Thargomindah and Noccundra to Coongie Lakes on Cooper Creek in South Australia, before heading back to civilisation via Tibooburra and Sturt National Park in the north-western corner of NSW.
This fourth-generation Prado, introduced in 2009, is just the tool for the job, but (cue sharp intake of breath) at $91,135 for the top-spec Kakadu, Toyota is surely making a spectacular earn for what is, under the leather, shag pile, touch screen navigation and other big bucks bling, a pretty basic, antiquated piece of machinery.
That said, there’s more to a car’s value for money story than a low price and Prado trade-in values are as bankable as they come. Toyota’s 3.0-litre four-cylinder oiler, a lazy, languid slugger that has been around for eons and also does duty in the HiLux, has now drifted back to the tail end of the 4WD wagon field in power and torque outputs.
It’s matched with a fivespeed automatic, full-time 4WD and a high/low range transfer case for the serious off-road stuff. Kakadu spec adds a locking rear differential to extract the plot should things get desperate.
Toyota overlays the hardware on Kakadu with adjustable traction control for different surfaces such as mud, sand and gravel. It’s more gimmick than game- changer because in most situations the Prado’s proven, robust mechanicals are perfectly capable of taking you as far as you want to go, though the mud setting is useful if you’re confronted with a deep, sloppy, evil outback boghole. Select “Mud” on the dial, keep the boot in and the traction control should, eventually, get you to the other side.
Kakadu has adjustable air suspension at the rear (useful for towing), adjustable dampers and a hydraulically-assisted anti-roll set-up (also on the $77,635 VX). All of this gives it much more disciplined handling than the boat-like $61,135 GXL, which makes do with conventional double wishbone front and far too soft live axle/coil spring rear suspension that can launch the back end skywards and/or sideways if you hit a sequence of particularly vicious bumps or corrugations.
Unladen, the Prado averages 8.0-9.0L/100km on the highway; our 1.2 tonnes of gear and trailer raises this to 12-13L/100km, so you can travel a long way on the 150-litre tank.
It’s rated to pull up to 2500kg. Good luck with that. The 3.0-litre chugged along fine with our modest avoirdupois, but with 2.5 tonnes on the back it would struggle. Torque is what counts and the Toyota engine’s 410Nm is underdone compared with rivals such as the 3.2-litre Mitsubishi Pajero (441Nm), 3.0-litre V6 Land Rover Discovery (520/600Nm in TDV6/SDV6 specification) and the 550Nm generated by the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s 3.0-litre V6. The Pajero will pull
up to 3000kg; the Jeep and Land Rover up to 3500kg.
We use low range in the desert sandhills around Coongie Lakes where its aggressive gearing, easy controllability and low pressures in the big, baggy tyres make short work of the track.
On or off road, few wagons at any price are as comfortable as the Kakadu. Its supple, longtravel, properly controlled suspension irons out any surface; factor in a luxurious, supportive driver’s seat and you climb out at the end of a long day’s drive in top shape.
Your 90-plus large for the top model also buys a surround camera system, chilled centre console box, a spacious middle seat with a DVD player and three wireless headphones to keep the kids happy, a pair of power operated back stalls that fold up from the boot floor and a 220-volt AC outlet.
Prado’s side-hinged singlepiece rear door is a clumsy, cumbersome, oath-inducing device — especially if you’re towing, because depending upon what’s on your drawbar it’s sometimes only possible to open it half a metre or so. A mate had a previous model Prado GXL (with eight seats rather than the current version’s seven) and loved it.
Although he never took it off road, he really liked being able to take half his kids’ soccer team to the game on Saturday morning in one trip instead of two. It gave him no grief, either, unlike the Audi Q5 he traded it on.
The fact that it’s still Australia’s top-selling 4WD, 23 years after its introduction, says much about the Prado’s breadth of appeal, because as we found it’s also a highly capable, comfortable and bulletproof Outback tourer, albeit one that, in Kakadu spec at least, is overpriced and overdue for a new engine.
The facelift arrived this month (see panel). Trailer sway control has been added to the stability system, the decorators have given the cabin the once-over and a nose job makes the front end look even uglier than it does now, which is no mean feat.
Guaranteed it will still be love at first sight in Outback Queensland, though.
Prado, pride of
the Outback: Bill mcKinnon’s
4500km trip took in Coongie
Lakes (right) and Currawinya