Car reviews - Toyota - LandCruiser Prado - Grande V6 5-dr wagon
Refinement, ride quality, driver aids, performance
Room for improvement
Placement of some controls, handling limitations
19 Aug 2003
By TIM BRITTEN
EVOLUTIONARY rather than revolutionary, Toyota’s latest Prado comes to market with more of everything – including body dimensions, weight and power.
Toyota’s top-selling medium 4WD has had a dream run since it was introduced here in 1996, heading the market right through to the end of 2001 where, in the final throes of its life cycle it finally gave way to Mitsubishi’s Pajero.
But the fight back to supremacy has started with the latest model. All new in everything but basic concept, it closes the gap to Toyota’s full-size 100-Series LandCruiser in terms of packaging and carrying ability.
It comes as standard with three rows of seats, and the six-cylinder petrol version now displaces a substantial four litres. And despite the now all-alloy V6’s weight reductions (it’s 11 per cent lighter than the previous 3.4-litre V6), the Prado comfortably sails past the two-tonne barrier with the top-of-the-line Grande reaching no less than 2197kg. The turbodiesel Grande is even heavier at 2289kg.
The new petrol engine’s efficiencies take care of much of this, however, allowing Toyota to claim the 179kW six uses only five per cent more fuel than the 2.7-litre entry-level four-cylinder fitted to the base GX model (an averaged-out 13.8 litres/100km compared to 13.1 litres/100km for the 2.7-litre four-cylinder auto).
The slightly reworked turbo-diesel still reigns as the most economical Prado engine, however, with the auto version averaging out at 12.6 litres/100km.
Making the most of the not-unreasonable fuel economy is a mammoth, 180-litre fuel tank that enables cruising ranges easily exceeding 1000km.
There’s no problem identifying the new Prado on the road either, what with styling penned by Briton Lance Scott and a road stance that moves away from the narrow-gutted, vertical look of the first models.
The new Prado measures 80mm longer, 55mm wider and, depending on model, can be 10mm lower than before. The wheelbase has been bumped to 2790mm, while front and rear track widths have been increased from just over 1.5 metres to 1575mm front and rear.
This translates into a slightly better proportioned vehicle than before, as well as a larger interior that is also easier to access because of lower "hip points", by 40mm and 50mm respectively, for the first and second rows of seats.
The new Prado look picks up familiar Toyota styling cues such as the teardrop headlights, sweeping side panel ornamentation and high-set tail-lights.
On the Grande V6 model tested here, the grille is a blatant, toothy, and heavily chromed adornment that tends to contradict the European styling claims.
Inside, there’s no escaping the Prado’s roominess. Leg and shoulder space – in front and middle-row seats – is abundant, as is the headroom, which obviously benefits from the now lower-set seats.
The centre-row seats double-fold with commendable ease, revealing an unarguably generous cargo area that is marginally compromised by the third-row seats when they are folded up and away against the sides. It lacks the cleverness of the hideaway seats – and low-slung floor – of the Pajero.
The Prado driver is confronted with a more or less generic instrument panel featuring a hooded console for the main instruments (with high definition, Lexus-style "Optitron" illumination) separated from the passenger’s side of the dash by a bulky console-like structure containing climate control, audio and – in the Grande – satellite-navigation.
The display is generally, in Japanese style, non-confusing apart from the concealment of a number of buttons (including the trip computer mode control) out of sight behind the steering wheel. And the placement of the controls for the variable shock absorber settings at the back of the centre console is anything but ergonomic.
Generally though everything is pretty much where you’d expect it to be – right down to the conventional pull-up handbrake and hi-lo range selector just ahead of the leather-trimmed auto shift lever.
The Prado’s underpinnings generally err on the side of "serious" when talking about off-road abilities although the front suspension is independent rather than a simple, rugged beam axle as used in LandCruiser 100 or Nissan Patrol.
The Prado also uses a ladder chassis as a starting point, once again underscoring its off-road credentials.
Considering this, and placing it in the context of the many "true" off-roaders that are going for all-independent suspensions and monocoque body construction (Range Rover, Mitsubishi Pajero), the new Prado springs the odd surprise in terms of its on-road handling.
Undoubtedly the self-levelling air suspension at the rear and the variable shock absorbers that are part of the Grande’s technology package play a role here, but the Prado turns out to be a quite capable performer on tight and winding roads.
It offers decent grip and, despite a clear tendency to react noticeably to lateral weight transfer when being pushed, actually steers quite well and is not at all unpleasant to hunt along.
If the driver works smoothly, anticipating each corner and setting up the entry and exit paths carefully, the Prado will thread its way along with surprising precision. Constant 4WD helps here too.
The ride quality too is quite plush, especially when the suspension is in its softest setting, and a reasonable job is done of keeping it fairly and squarely on line when the road surface roughs up a bit. But there is a limit, a point where live rear axles and independent systems part company.
The Prado’s rear-end will begin to move around in places where a more sophisticated independent set-up will continue holding the chosen line.
Helping here – in Grande at least - is the array of electronic systems aimed at keeping the Prado and its passengers safe and secure.
The Grande gets a stability control system, four-channel anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, as well as an off-road hill-descent strategy that automatically applies the appropriate braking as the driver creeps downhill, right foot well clear of the brake pedal.
These systems are backed up by primary safety items including dual front airbags and seat-mounted sidebags, as well as full-length "curtain" airbags protecting front and rear seat passengers in side collisions.
The 4.0-litre V6 is definitely the strong, silent type. With its high-level specification – variable valve timing, twin camshafts per cylinder bank, four-valve cylinder heads - it will shift the Prado along with a surge of power that is almost exhilarating, certainly defying the substantial weight of the big new body.
And the four-speed automatic – hardly changed from the previous model and standard in Grande other models have a five-speed manual option – is quite adequate given the engine’s hefty mid-range torque.
It does not offer sequential shifting but does have a semi-gated actuation that allows a certain amount of selectivity.
Standard equipment in Grande includes dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning with a cooler box between the front seats, leather trim, power front seats, glass sunroof, cruise control, six-disc CD player, trip computer and satellite-navigation.
In reality, the new series Prado delivers a lot more than its predecessor, particularly in the areas that count: Space, comfort, performance and, to a lesser degree, economy. It might weigh more, but the benefits of the bigger body tend to override any demerits.
But it’s gone about as far as a conventionally engineered 4WD can go. What’s the bet the next Prado will be lighter, more agile and, most likely, faster and more economical? We’ll just have to wait and see.
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