ExplorOz test drives the new Prado range

Saturday, Nov 28, 2009 at 02:14


I've just got back from Orange in central NSW where I was a guest of Toyota for the media launch of the highly anticipated new generation Toyota LandCruiser Prado. Selling in dealerships as of last week, there are 14 model variances of Prado with the addition of a 3 door model and loads of technical changes that Toyota were keen to show off on a day of test driving in varied conditions.

The video above shows highlights of the day, which I must say was thoroughly and professionally orchestrated and gave the 16 journos and myself from various sectors of the industry an opportunity to get up close and personal with all models in the new range with lots of driving. As this was the first time ExplorOz has been invited to attend a new vehicle launch we were thrilled to know that manufacturers such as Toyota consider our audience seriously and value the connection with consumers made through online markets.

The official proceedings began at Orange airport where upon disembarking our plane onto the tarmac we found 9 Prados representing most of the model variance of the range and colours. Each of us were teamed up with a buddy from another organisation, given the keys and our routing maps/instructions for the day. The first car I was given was a rather smart, black, 3 door high-grade ZR model (SX is the standard model - both available as 3.0L Turbo Diesel 5 spd auto only). Toyota have targetted the 3 dr market intentionally yet anticipate only 10% of Prado buyers will choose 3dr over 5dr Prado. Not since the Bundera of '85-'91 has Toyota offered a 3dr LandCruiser but that's where the similarities end. The 3 door Prado has distinct features to fit specialised applications and it is expected that either weekend warriors or touring couples towing vans or campers will love this model. With a 360kg weight saving than its 5dr counterpart and fuel consumption down by 5% it brings a 20% greater towing capacity than the 5 dr model (rated to 3000kg). I took special interest in this vehicle and ensured I had sufficient time with it over the day to consider its suitability for the touring traveller from our market.

So let's look in detail at this vehicle. Prado 3 door ZR has some additional features over the standard SX model with CRAWL control (seen in the LandCruiser 200), four-camera Multi-terrain monitor (MTM), Multi-terrain Select (MTS), electronic locking rear diff, 18inch alloy wheels, leather-accented seat and door trim, 12-speaker Pioneer DVD mult-changer, touch-screen sat nav, refrigerated coolbox (where I mistakenly left my wallet for most of the day and later found it very chilled!), tinted moonroof, rain-sensing intermittent wipers, auto on/off headlamps, jet headlamp washers, privacy glass, front parking sensors, front-seat heaters, illuminated entry system, illuminated step and step cover, electro-chromatic interior mirror (ie. conversation mirror), power tilt/telescopic adjustment for the steering column, sun visor extension, high-gloss and metal-look instrument panel, chrome interior door handles and time-delay lights. ZR also has the same advanced safety option as 5-dr Kakadu (which features pre-crash safety system and radar cruise control). At $65,990 there's a lot of technology, comfort, practicality and style with ZR turbo-diesel auto 3-dr Prado but at $55,990 you get the same car with less options so that's quite a good entry price for a car of this capability as you'll soon see from my review.

So onto the driving. After our car allocation and departure from the airport we travelled in convory over a short 13km journey on bitumen roads to Duntry League for the formal presentation. During this drive I took a wrong turn (my buddy did warn me he was not a good navigator), so had to perform what I expected would be a 3 point turn on a single lane road with soft shoulders and embankments and found the vehicle had a good turning circle and we perfomed a u-turn. Speed limits varied along the drive and I got used to the sequential shift gear stick and took the opportunity at the 100km/hr sign to get a feel for its cornering, braking and general onroad feel at highway speeds. I personally felt pretty comfortable driving it within a short space of time.

The formalities of the Prado launch took place at Duntry League a beautiful historic building just outside of Orange. Proceedings were lead by Todd Connolly - Manager Direct Marketing/Emerging Media, Roxane Persehais - Public Relations Officer, & Ashyley Edwards - Manager Product Planning with a smick audio-visual you would expect from a vehicle launch. Much of the facts/figures I've noted in this review were taken from this presso and the media kit. The presentation was comfortably short yet detailed including a breakdown of the new generation Prado's features and changes. This segment, presented by the Product Planning manager highlighted many features and aspects that aren't necessarily obvious or clear in the consumer collateral I've seen so far and certainly nothing to this degree has been mentioned in the Forum at this stage. In fact it was quickly apparent that the new generation Prado is a totally new vehicle with LandCruiser DNA (their term not mine, but cute). Toyota were keen to explain, and later demonstrate, the capability of it's new offroad features and the next part of our day was a thorough walk-through of each vehicle in the range outside in the carpark conducted by none other than Toyota's Product Planning Manager who just loves this car.

Looking at the Prados cosmetically, there's not much to talk of in my opinion - whilst its had an update, it still is very clearly a Prado and has no major striking ugly bits. Admitedly, it is slightly larger than the previous generation - 80mm longer, 10mm wider and 15mm lower and this is said to give aerodynamic improvements (with the aid of front and rear spoilers, front spats, underbody covers and deflectors). The tyres might need beefing up (Grandtreks), and the 18" alloy wheels are nice. Wheel guards have gone with a fully moulded blocky front end that takes a bit of getting used to (all new vehicles look odd to me without a bullbar up front). The rear door problem seems to be fixed with a new bigger door bracket that can be easily put into lock position to avoid the wind taking hold of the big door and slamming it shut. One of our friends has had 4 door brackets replaced on their early model Prado for this reason so I took particular note of this modification. The solid spare wheel cover integrates the rear camera so has an unusal cutout shape (not a good market for EO wheel covers unfortuantely) and the keyless entry and start provides a challenge to change habits of people like me that are used to using keys and remote buttons. Various panels around the vehicle emit a signal that looks for the "key" in your pocket/handbag to enable keyless entry. I've heard mixed reactions from 200 series owners but Toyota seem convinced its a great innovation.

In terms of interior styling, Toyota are calling the Prado "intelligent modern" and by that they refer to the layout of the instrument panels and metallic trims but there's lots of technical gadgets in this car that do indeed set this vehicle into the "modern" category. In the 5 door models, the top end GXL, VX and SX have audio and telephone controls in the steering wheel, there's the conversation mirror, illuminated vanity mirror on the passenger side and other little extras every where you look. I particularly liked that when the engine was turned off the steering wheel lifted up to provide maximum space for the driver to exit the vehicle and when the engine is started it returns to it's last setting. There's also the 100Watt power outlet inside the rear door and other thoughtful additions that will make this car rather adaptable.

But its the chasis, suspension and driver assist technologies that are the main talking points and that's why we were all gathered here to get behind the wheel and drive.

With 9 vehicles at our disposal we were able to see most configurations of the 5 door wagon including top of the line TD auto Kakadu at $88,990 plus the two 3 door models starting at $55,990.

I was surprised at the extent of some of the features - not being a car editor and having not had much experience at assessing high-end gadgets I have to admit I was impressed.

Let's start with the Electronic Kinetic Dynamic Suspension (KDSS), which is featured in the 5 door VX and Kakadu models, and is a flow-on from the 200 series. This is a major offroad driving benefit providing long wheel articulation. It also provides roll-rigidity, which means better on-road high speed handling. This combined with the new ladder frame chasis, & lockable centre differ with Torsen LSD shows there are lots of dedicated 4WD biases to new Prado above the cosmetic and trendy changes.

3 door ZR and 5 door Kakadu also feature the CRAWL function and this is one heck of a strange driving experience that has to be experienced to be believed (the vehicle literally drives itself). Multi-Terrain Select regulates wheel spin - drivers have 4 modes to chose from using the steering wheel button to select and instrumental panel on dash to view the options based on the location: Mud & Sand, Loose Rock; Mogul and Rock. When MTS is in use, the Multi-Terrain Monitor (MTM) also kicks in - utilsing the four cameras - one with a 190 degree field of view on the radiator grille, one each under the exterior mirrors and one at the rear with vision displayed on the centre-console touch screen (VX, Kakadu, and ZR). You can even set the display to show the intended path of the front wheels - almost literally, a person with no 4WDing skills can negotiate very tricky terrain. Now I don't know if this is a good thing, but I did realise that these features are only available on the luxury models that would not be purchased by the more serious offroad driver or touring travelling who would opt for the more basic optioned SX 3 door or GX 5 door. These models are the only ones that lend themselves to totally removing the rear seats and installing rear storage drawers, fridge slides etc. With the higher optioned models the rear seats fold flat into the floor bay, which is not structural and therefore not suitable for interior modifications. So that makes sense. But I ask myself, would the novice offroad ever take their plush new Prado into such challenging offroad situations and get the use of the CRAWL and MTS features? Maybe not likely but the point is they can - and with confidence should the situation arise.

So enough of the spec talk and onto the action where I got to drive 3 different vehicles and used all these offroad driving aids across a 4WD competition course.

After our vehicle walk-around in the carpark outside Duntry League we teamed up with our driving buddies again and told to follow our maps and make our way onto private property called Toperi. Home to the Mt Canabolas 4WD Club competition grounds, the Pritchards had allowed Toyota bring in the vehicles to allow us to experience Prado's CRAWL functions on a modified comp course. 3 driving courses were setup, the first was the Mogul course, designed to show the capabilities of Prado's articulation and suspension. The second course had a wet decline, a dry decline and narrow turns. This enabled the test drivers to utilise the Multi-Terrain Select and Multi-Terrain Monitor - using four wide-angle caeras to help navigate the terrain. The 3rd course was designed to test CRAWL - a low range 4WD obstacle course on dry, rutted, narrow ascents and descents.

The video shows footage of most of these terrains, including some inside the cabin with me driving. It was a good couple of hours out on the course and we even got some light rain to top up the mud just for fun.

But the driving didn't end there. We swapped vehicles and I ended up with a 6 spd manual TD 5 door GX and 2 buddies. We headed up the beautiful Mt Canobalas and tackled the gravel roads, old fire trails and rutted hill climbs with just a touch of Low range work involved. I always find it alien to drive an unladen car so although it felt light, it was controllable all the way. I never got into 6th gear which was a shame even though we had a few 100km/hr zones it wasn't open road. When my buddy (Luke the Production Editor from 4WD Action) took over the driving and got the 4WD section of the route he quickly commented that 1st gear High range didn't provide the expected engine braking and felt the need to use the brakes. To compare, he found Low Range 3rd was equivalent and therefore disproportionate. So overall the comment was that the 6spd manual gearing was not ideally configured - this was literally the only comment I heard the entire day that come close to a negative.

There are many more features in the Prado such as pedestrian safety, radar cruise control and more and I'm sure they are all impressive features for would-be buyers but for the purpose of this blog I didn't experience these so I can't comment on them other than to say I'm blown away by the technology of cars today. Where will it end? The car's already literally drive themselves!

Just a few more specs I think will be of interest.
3 door fuel tank is 87 litres.
5 door fuel tank is 150 litres.

Written by Michelle Martin
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