Riverdeep moun­tain high


Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@carsguide.com.au

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

(cen­tre right)

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