Too tough for town
It’s built rugged for the bush but the new Prado will spend more time on city roads
GREY nomads dream about the Toyota Prado. It’s big and tough and has a rock-solid reputation.
Me? Not so much. I’m not a caravan man and I’m not big on a crawling 4WD adventure into the unknown. The people who like to tow and who like bogs, beaches and outrageous climbs, think the Prado is perfect.
Now it must be more perfect, because it’s just had a tickle with a six-speed automatic gearbox, a new turbo diesel that’s cleaner, thriftier and with more torque.
The top-line Kakadu now has rear cross-traffic alert in its safety package and adds leather seats and rear DVD screens.
But do the dreamers really want to drop $85,000 on the Prado Kakadu that’s just left my driveway? And will they settle for something rated to tow only 2.5 tonnes, predictably lower than the flagship LandCruiser but also well behind a lot of 4WD utes including the new HiLux?
The Kakadu is far more likely to be spotted on a suburban school run than deep into the namesake national park in the Top End.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, and the new Prado. The update is a significant change as Toyota rattles through its SUV line-up — now with seven models from RAV4 to LandCruiser — with a wave of changes and additions.
The HiLux is now new, and more like an SUV than a ute for a lot more people who want a flexible four-door family conveyance. There is also the HiLux-based Fortuner, which is most likely to pinch Prado buyers, with outback toughness at a more-affordable price.
I check with the neighbours, Jason and Cherise, for their take as former Prado owners who now have an Audi Q5 in the driveway. They really like the plushness of the Kakadu over their dearly departed GXL and can feel the improvements to
the engine and the cushiness of the suspension.
They also like safety gear including radar cruise control and blind-spot monitoring and the rear-view camera, as well as the moonroof and refrigerated cool box. If it was up to them, the Prado would definitely get The Tick.
But it’s my turn and my vote, ... on a vehicle that I struggled initially to like.
I can feel the plushness and wheel control in the suspension, which I know will work anywhere thanks to rear air control and variable settings, and it’s completely unruffled on my roughest test road. Steering and seats are fine, while the sixyear-old is loving the DVD player and his personal headphones.
The Prado has nearly 10 per cent more torque and claimed fuel economy of about 8.0L/100km — though not when towing or crawling — yet it still feels slow and sluggish. It’s very slow off the mark, is not great for overtaking and needs pushing to hold at 110km/h on the freeway. And it feels, well, old. “That’s because it’s a proper four-wheel drive. It’s body-onframe, remember,” says Toyota spokesman Mike Breen.
But the world has changed and it’s a reality that the vast majority of 4WDs, even Prados, do not go off-road. So a lot of the gear in the car — from the low-range super-grip transmission to the giant wheels and heavyweight tyres — is wasted as extra mass.
There’s the contrast and conflict in the Prado.
There is, equally, sense in looking at the lesser Prado models, which now start at $52,990 for the five-seater GX manual diesel. It adds $2000 for an auto, while the diesel has a $1000 premium over the equivalent petrol V6 petrol.
There were price cuts earlier this year when the import duty dropped so overall the update brings price increases of 0.5 to 2.6 per cent. Toyota trumpets its capped-price servicing at $220 a visit.
The Prado (like the larger LandCruiser that provides most of its building) is usually one of the most expensive vehicles to run in Australia, from the purchase price and (lower now) thirst, to replacing tyres.
Still torn, I put the numbers aside and go for one last drive to try to think like a Prado owner.
I can’t resist comparing it with other SUVs recently in the Carsguide garage .
There’s the excellent Kia Sorento that’s my choice for a suburban seven-seater. The Land Rover Discovery Sport can match the big Toyota offroad, is much more modern in every way though it rates even lower for towing capacity.
So there are SUVs that are cheaper, and more modern, and are far more family friendly in the real world where the outback heroes really live.
The neighbours might like a new Prado instead of their Q5 but I can’t see the Audi leaving any time soon. They have come to love the quality and refinement, they like weekends away but don’t have a big caravan and they’re definitely neither grey nor nomads.
TICK OR NO TICK
So it comes back to me. I can’t see what’s so special about the Prado in 2015. No Tick.