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Car reviews - Toyota - LandCruiser Prado - VX 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Much improved looks and dashboard, better value, massive standard fuel capacity, hugely over-engineered, towering off-road ability, newly competitive towing capacity, visibility, thoughtful touches
Room for improvement
Wallowy and cumbersome on-road ride, engine is underpowered and noisy, difficult second- and third-row seat folding, dated infotainment, VX variant loses trick KDSS suspension

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Toyota logo22 Jan 2018

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Overview

TOYOTA’S 150 Series LandCruiser Prado has been around since 2009 and the latest version tested here represents the biggest cosmetic makeover since 2013, while an all-new engine and transmission combo arrived in 2015 to address Euro 5 emissions requirements.

Despite its age and relatively high price, the Prado’s reputation as a tough, reliable, go-anywhere Swiss Army knife on wheels has helped maintain its position as Australia’s best-selling large SUV with a dominating 13.8 per cent market share in 2017 and sales that grew by 8.5 per cent in a segment that was down 2.0 per cent during the year.

Arguably the best-looking Prado yet inside and out, this latest update finally receives a segment-competitive 3000kg towing capacity along with price cuts and equipment upgrades across the board – including the democratisation of active safety tech for lower-grade variants.

We tested the second-from-top VX that has benefited from a number of trickle-down treats from the flagship Kakadu, resulting in a luxurious off-roader with none of the complex suspension and electronic driveline adjustments that can be perceived as more stuff to go wrong when travelling in remote locations.

Price and equipment

With the 2018 model year Prado, Toyota has continued its democratisation of active safety technology, lavishing autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, radar-guided adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and automatic high beam on automatic versions of the base GX and lower-mid-spec GXL variants. Previously only the up-spec VX and flagship Kakadu had these systems as standard.

Apart from a $400 price hike on the manual, five-seat GX range-opener that is now $53,490 plus on-road costs – or $3000 more for the automatic and another $2550 for the inclusion of a third seating row exclusive to the auto – all Prado variants received price drops of between $560 and $1200.

The trickle-down effect continues with the GX now having standard satellite navigation with SUNA traffic updates and the GXL ($59,990 manual) picking up LED tech for the headlights, daytime running lights and front fog-lights. On this variant, Toyota also now throws in illuminated vanity mirrors behind the sun-visors.

Both GX and GXL have a reversing camera, keyless entry and start, and 17-inch alloy wheels, while the GXL has tri-zone climate control, an upgraded multi-function steering wheel, roof rails, side steps, rear privacy glass and seven seats as standard.

In addition to getting all the active safety gear, paying $3000 more for the automatic upgrade on a GXL nets a rear diff lock and upgraded instrument panel including a colour multi-function display in place of the manual’s basic trip computer.

Another $3500 spent on the GXL adds black leather upholstery with heated and ventilated power-adjustable front seats plus bum-warmers for the second row.

Auto-only VX variants like the one we tested cost $73,990, or $7500 more than a GXL with an automatic transmission and the leather upgrade, both of which are standard on the VX variant, along with electric steering column adjustment.

Trickling down from the full-size 200 Series LandCrusier to the Prado and now standard on the VX and Kakadu are 360-degree cameras with a choice of view from the front, rear and two side cameras that can help position the vehicle while off-road or parking in tight spaces. They also combine to provide a bird’s-eye view of the Prado’s surroundings.

Meanwhile, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert make their way down from the Kakadu to supplement the VX variant’s refrigerated compartment between the front seats, 14-speaker JBL premium audio system with DAB+ digital radio reception and 18-inch alloy wheels. A choice of black or beige leather – with matching dashboard plastics – is also available on the VX and Kakadu.

New to the $84,490 Kakadu is a five-position drive mode selector dial for adjusting the drivetrain, suspension and air-conditioning settings, in addition to this variant’s existing ride-height, multi-terrain select and crawl control adjustments, plus the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) Toyota quietly dropped from the VX, which can slacken the sway bars for additional off-road axle articulation and tighten them for flatter on-road cornering.

Also over the VX, the Kakadu has a wood-look steering wheel, ceiling-mounted Blu-Ray rear seat entertainment system with three sets of wireless headphones, a sunroof, electric third-row seat deployment.

Our VX was finished in Wildfire Red, one of the $550 premium paint options also comprising Crystal Pearl, Silver Pearl, Graphite and Eclipse Black plus the new Peacock Black and Dusty Bronze hues. Glacier White and Ebony are the two no-cost colour options.

Interior

The main changes are to the Prado’s updated dashboard are a classier instrument panel and a new central stack that like the redesigned front-end, is clearly intended to provide a family resemblance with the larger 200 Series LandCruiser and has resulted in a much more resolved, better integrated look than before.

No longer does the central stack look like a set of modules that had been added on top of the other during the many Prado updates, all designed by a different person, without thought as to how they looked next to one another.

Also, shorter drivers will appreciate the new, lower central air-conditioning vents that help provide a better view than the unfathomably tall unit that went before, helped by the new and deeply scalloped bonnet beyond that we found to help position the Prado’s otherwise precipitous nose.

Unfortunately the angle of the new touchscreen – now an inch larger at 8.0 inches – results in sun-glare regularly obscuring it from view, a usability fail. And despite the overall cleaner and more modern appearance, there are still too many patches of grouped switchgear all over the place.

But at least these panels and their various switch blanks provide somewhere for those who modify their Prados to add buttons for things like trailer brake controllers, spotlights, air compressors and so-on.

One part of the new Prado dashboard that will be appreciated by off-roaders and people who frequent boat ramps is the return of a ‘2nd start’ button, which is much easier than the previous menu screen method of forcing the automatic transmission to take off in second gear to avoid wheel-spin, whether in high- or low-range.

Apart from that, it’s mostly business as usual for the Prado cabin. The touchscreen is unresponsive, lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and in a nanny-like way that lacks consideration for the fact a passenger might be using it, limits too many functions while the vehicle is in motion.

The Prado remains one of too few vehicles in the Toyota range to include a digital speed display and when the adaptive cruise control is being used, the speed readout – or any trip computer function – is obscured by an icon informing the driver it has detected a vehicle ahead.

It would be less of a problem if the cruise control could maintain a steady speed down hills, but it does not and can gather enough momentum for some flagrant breaches of the speed limit if you are not paying attention. How this oversight is possible, when the system can control the brakes if a vehicle in front slows down, remains a mystery.

Other bugbears? There is some ghastly thin, hollow plastic on the steering wheel that would feel unacceptable on a $14,000 city car let alone an $80,000 large SUV. The same stuff is used on the dashboard’s outer air-con vents too, hardly hidden from sight or touch.

While we’re having a moan, we get that the LandCruiser badge means everything has to be over-engineered but does this have to extend to the seat folding mechanisms? The second- and third-row seats require a fair bit of muscle to manoeuvre and preferably somebody quite tall who can reach far enough to get the required leverage to heave them about.

The worst example of this is the catch to deploy the third-row seats that is hinged the opposite way to the direction you need to pull the seat up, especially as it is located so far into the boot, with its high floor and large protruding rear step, that the whole effort is a hernia waiting to happen.

Sliding the seat base cushions out of their crevice requires another solid effort. To avoid all this, buy the Kakadu that has electric motors doing the heavy lifting, but at a snail’s pace.

On a steeply cambered road, the side-swinging tailgate – that renders the boot inaccessible if the vehicle is reversed against a wall or someone parks close behind it – is also a heavy thing to move. There is a strut that can be locked to prevent gravity or the wind from closing it, but on our test car it was pretty unconvincing in its ability to do so.

A small but oh-so thoughtful and useful feature we continue to really appreciate about the Prado is the lock/unlock button beside the tailgate release handle. Provided the key is close by, it enables quick, keyless ability to lock the car and walk away.

There’s nowhere on-board for the cargo blind to be stashed when not in use and it is another cumbersome piece of kit to remove and reinstall. Also, the method of coping with the central seats’ sliding and reclining ability without exposing boot contents is a bit of a joke. But in Toyota’s defence, few car-makers have come up with a decent solution to this.

But if you’re upgrading from another Prado – and owners are very loyal – you’ll know all of this.

The rest is pretty good news the VX we drove provided spacious, flexible family transport for almost 1200 kilometres over the three weeks we had it.

Seating is comfortable, the driving position is good provided you crank its height right up to make the most of the Prado’s massive headroom, the central seating row has a 60:40 split for the sliding and reclining action plus a 40:20:40 split for folding it flat that combine to provide almost infinite combinations of space for harmony among people in all three rows as well as large objects of cargo and pets.

Careful setting of the front- and middle-row seats enabled a six-footer to sit in the third row. Headroom back there is a bit compromised and the floor height results in a knees-up seating position, but we were able to demonstrate the Prado can at least carry seven above-average-height adults if required. Boot space is pretty small with all the seats up, though.

At the other end of the size spectrum, installing child seats to the Prado is easy, with outboard positions of the middle row having Isofix points and sensibly located top tether anchorages on the seat backs. The middle seat is a bit more challenging as the seatbelt buckle is located under where the child or booster seat base would go. There are no Isofix or top tether points for third-row passengers.

With a full load of people on-board, everybody gets air-con vents from a system that can turn the Prado cabin into a fridge, even with outside temperatures in the mid-30s and the kind of cloying humidity typical of a Queensland summer.

Talking of fridges, the one between the Prado’s front seats is so effective that it chilled two litres of warm drinks we dropped in there to a seriously refreshing temperature in less than an hour. As you can guess from the prevailing conditions during our time with the Prado, we used that fridge all the time.

With the fridge turned off, it provides a huge storage compartment to go with the big glovebox, two well-sized cup-holders in the centre console and another big lidded bin in the central stack where the top-spec Kakadu has its drive select controller dials. Likewise, both and front and rear door bins are large and can accommodate bottles.

More cup-holders are provided for middle-row passengers in the fold-down central armrest and the third row has another pair of big drinks holders in the plastic over the wheelarches. There are net-style map pockets in the back of the front seats, too.

But apart from an odd L-shaped recess next to the handbrake and close to a single USB port, auxiliary audio jack and separate cigarette lighter style 12V power outlet there is nowhere obviously suitable for keeping smartphones.

Another 12V socket is located beneath the rear zone climate and seat-heater controls, with a 220V mains style power outlet provided in the boot for charging larger items. There are also a couple of shopping bag hooks in the boot.

On the move, the Prado interior is mainly disturbed by noise from the over-worked turbo-diesel engine, with the brick-like shape also resulting in a fair bit of wind rustle at higher speeds. But the 14-speaker JBL stereo sounds excellent, with great clarity and separation.

Visibility is mostly excellent owing to the super-high seating position and deep windows, only the boot-mounted spare tyre obscuring the view. We can also vouch that parents also love the convex mirror that drops from the ceiling to enable them to keep an eye on the little critters sitting in the back.

The Prado VX now has five cameras that can provide extra visibility from the nose of the car when driving out of blind junctions or a view right down the sides for judging distances from kerbs or parking space markers. They combine to provide a top-down view of the vehicle relative to its surroundings as well, and are just as suited to spotting off-road obstacles as urban ones. It is a shame, then, that the image quality is so poor.

Overall, the updated Prado interior is a step in the right direction from an aesthetic point of view. But the rest is very much business as usual in that it’s comfortable, spacious, flexible, tough and a bit dated.

Engine and transmission

It’s business as usual under the sculpted new Prado bonnet, too.

A perfect contrast to when Toyota introduced the 130kW/450Nm 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine and six-speed automatic transmission in 2015 with no other changes cosmetically or equipment wise, the driveline remains untouched for this update while the looks and equipment levels have received plenty of attention.

Except for one significant difference. Automatic Prados can now tow 3000kg braked due to the front-end redesign necessitating a revision to the transmission cooler that resulted in better heat dissipation and an extra 500kg of rated towing capacity.

It speaks volumes that Toyota only stumbled upon this upgrade due to a decision from the design department.

The engine is still louder than it should be for a vehicle of this price and it still feels underpowered with just the driver on-board. Progress with three tonnes slung out back and a load full of people and possessions would be glacial.

On road, standing-start acceleration is OK for keeping up with traffic, but the Prado soon runs out of puff and it struggles up hills that are steep or long.

Combine the two and it’s not pretty. Overtakes require as much courage as they do planning.

The transmission calibration also likes to lug the engine in a way that feels distinctly uncomfortable way for anyone who can drive a manual properly.

Flicking the shifter to Sport mode goes too far the other way, leading to a gravelly high-revving soundtrack from the engine. The only real solution is to row the auto’s manual gate, but surely this misses the point?Like the Prado’s dynamics, the engine makes more sense in an off-road setting.

Peak torque is available from just 1600rpm to 2400rpm, enabling the car to walk its way across obstacles at low speed. The low-down response also helps when a quick jab of extra power is required.

But like many owners, our three weeks with the Prado was biased toward suburban trips with a few motorway journeys, resulting in average consumption of 11.6 litres per 100 kilometres, while we got 8.2L/100km on a long haul.

These results are way off compared with the Prado’s official combined-cycle figure of 8.0L/100km and make the official urban figure of 9.7L/100km look like a joke. For perspective, we got similar results from a V6 petrol Kluger! But we enjoyed the long time between drinks, despite the Prado’s thirst, thanks to the huge 150L fuel tank that also provides real remote-area touring ability right out of the box.

We reckon the engine is simply overworked for the size and 2385kg kerb weight of the Prado. It badly needs a six-cylinder.

Put it this way, the 200 Series LandCruiser weighs 2740kg in VX trim and gets a 200kW/650Nm 4.5L twin-turbo V8. That’s a lot more engine pulling not that much more weight.

Come on, Toyota!

Ride and handling

We don’t need to go into detail about the Prado’s already well-established off-road credibility, apart from the fact Toyota has improved this slightly for this update, due to the restyled bumpers that have improved the approach angle from 32 degrees to 30.4 and the departure angle from 25 degrees to 23.5.

In terms of fitness for purpose, the Prado is about as good as it gets for off-road touring.

But we have mixed feelings about the fact Toyota quietly removed one of the reasons Prado customers went for the VX over the GXL: Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS).

In addition to adaptive dampers that can react and fine-tune themselves to changing terrain and feature driver-adjustable firmness settings, KDSS reduces the compromise of off-road ability and on-road handling by allowing the sway bars to decouple when extra axle articulation is required on tough terrain and enables a more tied-down set-up for carving corners on blacktop or gravel.

This tech is now gone from the Prado VX and on the one hand, represents a reason this more luxury-oriented feels even more compromised on-road than it did previously.

On the other hand, the less complex your off-roader’s suspension the better your chances of improvising a fix if there is a failure during remote area travel. From this perspective the VX could be seen to represent a more luxurious ship of the desert that might tempt tough-touring GXL owners to trade up.

The Prado will still go almost anywhere you point it, but the extra wheel travel enabled by KDSS has real-world off-road benefits and helped on-road too.

It is now the exclusive domain of the Kakadu that also gets the other off-road toys such as multi-terrain select for the traction control system and Crawl, which is like an off-road cruise control that lets the driver concentrate on steering. The Kakadu also has trick height-adjustable and self-levelling rear suspension.

Again, more stuff to go wrong, or at least be hard to remedy if it is damaged or fails out the back of Bourke. And is someone with the absolute top-spec Prado really going to risk scratching it by deploying all that technology? Probably not, but neither is an expensive diving watch going to be used 200 metres deep – it’s just nice to know it can and you can brag about that at the pub.

We digress. The Prado is great on a long stretch of straight road leading to the bush, unstoppable through the bush and will get you all the way back again.

And good news for regular road-trippers is that straight roads and motorways are dispatched in absolute comfort (unless you’re going 110km/h and the engine gets a bit noisy, in which case you can turn up the excellent stereo.

But it’s utterly wasted and downright annoying to drive in the urban environment.

Around town or on a twisty road the Prado is comically – perhaps tragically – nautical. After driving almost any other type of vehicle the Prado’s pitching, rolling and wallowing is confronting and difficult get used to. After three weeks we reached a kind of acceptance of these traits, but no more than that.

Just coming to a gentle halt has the Prado nose-diving and then rocking back and forth before it eventually settles. It’s embarrassing and uncomfortable for all occupants. GoAuto’s youngest car reviewer, at a tender two years old, announced “too rocky” from the back seat as we bounced along a sinuous suburban street.

From this perspective, we struggle to fathom why so many people buy Prados and then confine them to round-town duties.

If you never go off-road, there are better cars for the job. A Mazda CX-9 or Kia Sorento would make a fine alternative and while sticking with Toyota to go for a Kluger will reduce your seasickness on faster twisty roads compared with a Prado, it is almost as bad when it comes to urban handling.

But to us the key selling point of the Prado is that the moment its tyres leave bitumen and hit dirt, gravel, sand or other unpaved surface, this car suddenly makes complete sense. It’s an instant transformation that has to be felt to be believed.

And the tougher the going gets, the more the Prado impresses.

Safety and servicing

In 2014, ANCAP awarded the 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 two out of two in the pole test. Pedestrian protection was judged ‘marginal’. The test pre-dated whiplash protection assessment.

In addition to the range-wide active safety tech upgrade, the Prado’s 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.

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 $240 each when carried out within the first 3 years or 60,000km (correct at time of writing).

Government, rental, fleet and not-for-profit customers are not eligible for capped-price servicing and are instead offered the ‘maximum logbook service price’ but these were not yet published at the time of our Prado test.

Verdict

During our three weeks with the Prado, everyone we spoke to about the car – including unsolicited comments from bystanders – agreed that is looks much, much better than before.

Of course, the big news of this restyle is the fact it resulted in a segment-competitive 3000kg towing capacity – not that this harmed sales much in the past. A bit of extra off-road ability courtesy of improved approach and departure angles helps, too.

Sharper pricing and more of the tech that probably matters to buyers – but we’re not letting Toyota off the hook for deleting KDSS from the VX – makes this the most appealing Prado yet.

But we must reiterate our advice that this supremely capable and comfortable off-roader represents a serious compromise if you never take is off the beaten track.

If bumping up onto a nature strip is as off-road as you ever get and you rarely venture beyond the city limits, the not inconsiderable sum of money Toyota asks for a Prado would be better spent on something else.

RivalsFord Everest Titanium ($74,990 plus on-road costs)
Will give the Prado a run for its money off-road, while offering a substantially better experience on-road. It also packs better infotainment, a head-up display, autonomous parking and a more powerful engine. But its smaller fuel tank and lack of bulletproof reputation limit its appeal for serious overlanders.

Mitsubishi Pajero Exceed ($65,990 plus on-road costs)
Even older than the 150 Series Prado and last updated in 2015 with the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring for the infotainment system. Lacks the Prado’s axle articulation off-road but is a nicer drive on-road. Five-year warranty is a plus on this tried-and-tested vehicle, for which Mitsubishi has so far not committed to replace when it inevitably gets retired.

Land Rover Discovery 5 TD4 S AWD (from $71,560 plus on-road costs)
Compared with Toyota’s LandCruiser brand, Land Rover is nowhere in terms of reputation for reliability. It’s a shame because the cleverly engineered Disco’s excellent breadth of off- and on-road abilities, sheer family-friendliness and sumptuous interior mean there is lots to like. But for similar money to the Prado VX we are talking an almost base-spec Discovery and a visit to Land Rover’s super-expensive options catalogue to obtain the same level of creature comforts. Also, the fuel tank is thimble-sized, counting it out for remote travel.

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