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Car reviews - Toyota - LandCruiser Prado - Kakadu

Our Opinion

We like
Great on-board tech, comfortable interior, mile-munching ability, off-road cred
Room for improvement
Engine noise, disappointing fuel consumption, weight makes engine feel lethargic, road manners outclassed by Ford Everest

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Toyota logo14 Jan 2016

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

THE $84,990 Kakadu variant tested here is the flagship of the LandCruiser Prado range and was optioned with handsome $550 Wildfire metallic red paint, which certainly drew the attention of other road users, particularly those driving more conservatively coloured Prados.

The Kakadu rides on 18-inch alloy wheels and adaptive variable suspension that is height-adjustable and auto-levelling at the rear. There are auto-levelling LED headlights with daylight running lights, front foglights roof rails, side steps, rear privacy glass and a sunroof.

Entry is keyless with push-button start and there is an anti-theft alarm.

Inside are leather seats, a 7.0-inch touchscreen providing satellite navigation with SUNA traffic updates, USB/Bluetooth/auxiliary audio/iPod connectivity and DAB+ digital radio through a 17-speaker JBL premium surround sound audio system and tri-zone climate control.

Other interior luxuries include a refrigerated cool box, woodgrain-look multi-function steering wheel and a BlueRay rear seat entertainment system.

The steering column, front seats and door mirrors are electrically adjustable with key-linked two-position memory. Upholstery is leather, with the front and central rows heated (as are the electrically retractable door mirrors) while the third row seating is electrically folding.

For when the going gets rugged are off-road CRAWL control with multi-terrain select system, hill-start assist, hill-descent control and centre and rear differential locks.

Driver assistance and safety aids include automatic headlights and wipers, a four-camera multi-terrain monitor, front and rear parking sensors a pre-collision safety system, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and radar-guided adaptive cruise control.

Interior

Those who are buying a Prado Kakadu as a family car will spoil the kids rotten, especially in the central row where a BlueRay player and screen descends from the ceiling with three sets of wireless headphones and a remote controller. If only the outboard positions are used, central-row occupants also get an incredibly plush central armrest containing two cupholders. And their seats are heated.

Families will be kept happy with the Prado’s interior storage too, which includes a huge fridge beneath the central armrest, a big glovebox, two generously sized cupholders in the centre console and a cubby in front of that which houses the rear entertainment system remote but would be just as suitable for smartphones, both and front and rear door bins can accommodate bottles.

Every row also has air-conditioning vents for the tri-zone climate control system.

Although marketed as a seven-seater, the Prado’s central position in the centre row is narrow, with an uncomfortable bulge in the backrest from the armrest mechanism and a head-restraint with only limited height-adjustment. Small children in booster seats might get away with it.

The 60:40 split-fold bench independently slides and reclines to reach a compromise of boot space and comfort for central- and third-row passengers, but for the central position to be genuinely usable, both sides must be identically adjusted. But should space allow, the recline angle provides for a highly relaxed position.

It provides those in the central row with a range of adjustment from Corolla to Camry levels of legroom and everything in between. Of course the Prado’s height means headroom would not be an issue for even the most exuberant of hairstyles.

That changes in the headroom-restricted third-row seats, which rise electrically from the boot floor and do not provide much of a well below the squabs for the long of leg to sit without feeling as though they are squatting.

The boot is still a side-swinging tailgate, which renders it inaccessible if reversed against a wall or someone parks close behind. Inside is a 220V power outlet in addition to all sorts of audio, USB and 12V sockets scattered throughout the cabin including independent left/right rear volume controls.

Boot space is large with the third-row folded flat into the floor but significantly reduced with them upright, meaning the tots in the back are very close to the windscreen and exposed to rear-end shunts.

For the grown-ups at the front, we found the front seats to be very comfortable with their plush leather upholstery and electric memory adjustment, but the Kakadu’s fake wood trim on the steering wheel and centre console is unconvincing and confronting at first sight.

Overall though, the dashboard layout with its large and not-too-numerous buttons is pleasant and of high quality, as are the touchscreen infotainment system and clear instrument dials.

The air-conditioning takes a little while to get going but once in its stride, has impressive cooling power. The air quality button also quickly dispatches of whiffs from smoky vehicles and helps eliminate dust from entering the cabin.

Owing to the Prado’s dominating height, visibility is good. That is, apart from having to peer over the spare tyre that protrudes over the rear windscreen, which can entirely hide small cars (we lost an MX-5 behind it), so the addition of rear cross-traffic alert is a valuable addition that we found ourselves relying on. The LED headlights are excellent too.

The numerous camera views are also handy for both urban manoeuvring and off-roading. For example a top-down view down the sides of the car both helps positioning it in narrow parking spaces in town and spotting potentially damaging rocks in the bush.

Both the Kakadu’s blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert systems are some of the best we have encountered, making multi-lane driving much more relaxing, especially in challenging conditions. Sometimes the rear cross-traffic alert was a bit over-sensitive and we thought it would help if its audible alert was different to that of blind-spot warnings.

Considering the Kakadu has both these technologies along with adaptive cruise control, it seems strange that it lacks a lane-departure warning. Of these systems, the adaptive cruise control is the biggest letdown, to the extent that we avoided using cruise control altogether. The Toyota/Lexus system is simply not as good as those used by other manufacturers and has the opposite of its intended effect making driving less stressful.

The adaptive cruise control system also regularly hijacks and overrides the digital multi-function trip computer in the instrument pack, which like other modern Toyotas does not display information logically.

Engine and transmission

Unfortunately, we were not hugely impressed with the Prado’s new engine and saw it as something of a missed opportunity. The new six-speed automatic is not the best either, sometimes flaring and sometimes abruptly dropping down a ratio under deceleration resulting in a slam of engine-braking that is shocking and uncomfortable for occupants. Passengers would ask us what the hell we were doing, but it was the car.

Yes, the diesel is undoubtedly an improvement on the ageing donk it replaces, but it is still not the quietest, smoothest or most economical unit in this application. That’s a shame and a bit embarrassing because it works well in the lighter (and much cheaper) Fortuner and HiLux.

There is a noticeable amount of low-down torque that gets the wheels in motion, will drag the Prado up and over obstacles at low speeds without fuss and lugs away happily in sixth at motorway speeds, but for almost all other circumstances the new engine never feels as though it is entirely overcoming the Kakadu’s 2435kg bulk – plus passengers and luggage.

When piling on the power, the steering wheel vibrates and transmits a lack of refinement into the cabin. It makes it feel like more of a commercial vehicle engine than a passenger car. There is always an omnipresent background rumble from the engine and at idle or low speeds the clattery rattle is so loud that we had to turn off the engine to be heard when ordering at a drive-through.

Our week with the Kakadu involved a lot of motorway driving, but we averaged a thirsty 10.2 litres per 100 kilometres, a far cry from the official 8.0L/100km and higher even than the quoted urban figure of 9.7L/100km. Good job it has a 150L tank.

It was impossible to not think the Prado could do with a bigger, beefier powertrain, or a gruntier version of what is obviously working overtime in the weighty Prado.

With an all-new engine in a not-inexpensive car, we feel Toyota could have done better.

Ride and handling

As ever, ride comfort in the Prado is strong and despite its soft ride, the car feels well tied town and stable at motorway speeds. Occasionally the suspension was a bit bouncy but the Prado is impressive in how it suppresses the chassis shudder typically found in vehicles with body-on-frame construction.

But its towering off-road ability and ride-height contribute to less than ideal on-road dynamics. It is a wallowy SUV of the old-school and pretty unpleasant to drive around town, where taking 90-degree corners at intersections must be done quite slowly to avoid some queasy pitching and rolling.

But on straight roads and the motorway it cruises along in absolute comfort.

We struggled to discern the difference in suspension settings between sport and comfort, with sport mode causing a little extra deflection over bumps and a subtle overall tightening effect on body control that made a small improvement to passenger comfort in cut-and-thrust urban driving.

However it is not fun for the driver on fast and bendy country roads and even less fun for passengers as it heaves around corners, which have to be taken frustratingly slowly to maintain comfort.

It also took us a long time to get used to the Prado’s artificial, quite heavy and springy feeling steering, which has an unnaturally strong self-centring habit that is probably more useful off-road than on (the trip computer also has a wheel direction display to help with this).

Around town the Prado feels bigger than it is mainly due to its height. But all the sensors and cameras add up to take away any concerns about positioning it in the urban environment. Its 11.6-metre turning circle on the other hand, can make entering and exiting tight spaces tricky.

Road and wind noise is hushed, helping secure the Prado’s credentials as a long-journey cruiser – so long as those journeys don’t involve many corners and preferably involve some off-roading.

Safety and servicing

The Prado is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty and service intervals are every six months or 10,000km.

Under Toyota’s capped price servicing scheme, the first six scheduled services cost $220 each when carried out within the first 3 years or 60,000km.

In 2014 ANCAP awarded the facelifted 150 Series Prado a maximum five-star safety rating with 35.11 points out of a maximum 37. It scored 15.11 out of 16 in the frontal offset test and perfect scores of 16 out of 16 in the side impact test and 2 out of 2 in the pole test. Pedestrian protection was judged ‘marginal’. The test pre-dated whiplash protection assessment.

Standard safety gear includes dual front, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags, electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, trailer sway control, anti-whiplash front head restraints and front seat seatbelt monitoring.

Verdict

We are not convinced by the Prado’s new engine but suspect its application in this vehicle is more flawed than the drivetrain itself, because the Fortuner and HiLux we drove back-to-back with the Prado were significantly better.

In those vehicles it seemed quieter, smoother, more economical and lively rather than lethargic. But then it had less weight to move and, without the inertia of a permanent four-wheel-drive system, fewer transmission losses too.

Toyota might have shot itself in the foot somewhat because the differences meant we would rather drive a Fortuner than a Prado.

As a family seven-seater SUV, unless you are planning to go off-roading on a regular basis and require the Prado’s many talents in that area, think carefully about whether the Prado’s bush-bashing credentials are needed or whether you are better off elsewhere.

Never venture off sealed or well-maintained gravel roads? You would be better off with something like a Ford Territory Titanium AWD, which as it happens, can tow 200kg more than a Prado Kakadu and is $28,000 less expensive. That’s a lot to put toward a boat to sling behind it.

The Prado’s ground-clearance and height make climbing in and out a chore, cause worry with height-restricted carparks and compromise the ease with which it drives around town or on bendy roads. An SUV that is not quite so tall and high off the ground, without the separate chassis construction would make more sense.

No matter what we say, the sales figures say more: The Prado is Australia’s best selling large SUV and its all-time sales record puts the Prado on the podium of biggest-selling SUVs this country has seen.

But this is the real killer: After driving the Prado for a week we took a brief spin in a Ford Everest and thought, ‘wow this is nice to drive’.

Rivals

Ford Everest Titanium from $76,990 plus on-road costs
Lacks some of the Prado Kakadu’s toys such as rear-seat entertainment, fancy suspension and LED headlights but makes up for it with lane-keeping assistance, better infotainment, a head-up display, autonomous parking, more power and torque and higher maximum towing ability. Most of all, it has superior road manners. The difference in price would buy a pretty hot rear-seat entertainment system for the kids too.

Land Rover Discovery 4 SDV6 SE from $84,880 plus on-road costs
Toyota has a reputation for reliability that Land Rover lacks, which is a shame for the erstwhile British brand as although the Disco might be getting old and ripe for a lighter, aluminium-rich replacement, it has an excellent breadth of off- and on-road abilities, great towing capacity and purposeful yet sumptuous interior. But to match the Prado’s long equipment list would mean visiting Land Rover’s very expensive options catalogue.

Mitsubishi Pajero Exceed from $65,990 plus on-road costs
Even older than the 150 Series Prado but Mitsubishi keeps refreshing it with up-to-date tech, price cuts and more standard equipment. Five-year warranty is a plus, but this is a model on borrowed time, if reports are anything to go by.

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