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First drive: New Prado an ace for Toyota

Impressive: The new Prado is capable off-road and on-road.

Toyota aims to retake the mid-size off-roader crown with the new Prado

20 Feb 2003

TOYOTA plays its first ace in the high-stakes game to knock over Holden as Australia's number one vehicle seller in 2003 with its launch of the all-new Prado mid-size off-roader this week.

While staying true to the separate chassis eight-seat concept of its predecessor launched in 1996, the new Prado - or LandCruiser Prado to give it its full name - is sleeker looking and imbued with plenty of the latest technology.

The Prado earns the distinction of being the first off-roader styled at Toyota's ED2 studio in the south of France.

The European inspiration has resulted in a five door wagon that releases more room inside and outside, is longer overall and in wheelbase than its predecessor and wider in track, but slightly lower.

The claimed ground clearance varies depending on the model, but it is lower by up to 25mm than the old Prado.

While that's a negative in off-road terms, the Prado retains its permanent four-wheel drive drivetrain and low range transfer case, with the Australian-first addition of a Torsen toque-sensing limited-slip centre differential.

But the top-spec Grande also cops a host of electrickery to help it negotiate the hills and dales all wrapped up in a package Toyota calls Driver Assist Technology (DAT).

There's Hill-Start Assist Control - to help you get up the hill - which Toyota is dubiously claiming as a first. There's Downhill Assist Control - a feature of the type first seen on Land Rover Freelander back in 1998 - as well as traction control and stability control.

Grande also gets electronically controlled rear air suspension and Toyota's semi-active suspension system, which is a form of roll control designed to provide ride and handling more akin to a car. The system allows the driver to select between four suspension settings - comfort, semi-comfort, semi-sport and sport.

Prado's range nomenclature has been simplified with the base model RV, upper-spec VX and turbo-diesel TX badging all consigned to the parts bin.

GX is the new base model badge, while GXL and luxury Grande continue. The carry-over four-cylinder 2.7-litre petrol engine is exclusive to the base model, while all three grades get the existing 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine as well.

But the new IGR-FE 4.0-litre V6 is the star act under the hood. Equipped with Toyota's variable valve timing system, VVTi, the double overhead camshaft 24-valve unit generates 179kW at 5200rpm and 376Nm at 3800rpm.

Compare that with the old 3.4 that knocked out 132kW at 4800rpm and 303Nm at 3600. It's also cleaner meeting US LEV and European Step III emission requirements.

Claimed fuel consumption mated either to a five-speed manual or gated four-speed automatic is an identical 13.8L/100km according to ADR 81/101 testing. Our real world testing figures of the 3.4 a couple of years ago returned 14.4L/100km so for once the claim doesn't seem too outrageous.

Toyota says the other two engines have been upgraded to improve driveability and emissions, but there's no change to the petrol or t-d's figures, which are 112kW/240Nm and 96kW/343Nm respectively.

The rest of the mechanical package is completed by upgraded suspension - double wishbones up front and live axle at the rear - variable ratio rack and pinion steering, upgraded transmissions and brakes, including larger front disc rotors and new callipers front and rear.

Prado also gets a boost in equipment terms. The baseline now is that all 12 models get dual airbags, eight seats with three-point seatbelts and headrests all-round. Compared to RV, GX adds those airbags plus power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, CD player and 17-inch wheels.

New equipment for GXL includes ABS with EBD and Brake Assist, 6-CD in-dash player, air-conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels and 180-litre fuel tank capacity.

Grande adds satellite navigation, roof rails, side curtain airbags, alarm, trip computer, compass, barometer, altimeter and the 180-litre fuel tank.

So what does all this extra stuff cost? Well, the good news is that at the bottom-end of the range where the GX 4 replaces the RV 4, pricing actually dips by $250 for the manual grade - although air-conditioning is still an option at $2470.

Prices do climb for the higher grades, up to a substantial $7000-odd at Grande levels, but for all specifications Toyota is arguing that the increases are more than outweighed by extra specification.

Interestingly, Toyota has also decided to charge no premium for turbo-diesels in the GXL and Grande grades. All automatics are $2600 more than the manual transmission models.

Toyota is confident the Prado can reclaim mid-size 4WD sales honours from the Mitsubishi Pajero, which knocked over the old car by 518 vehicles last year. It would have hurt because Prado had been number one since 1997.

That Prado rebound is also vital for Toyota's ambition to return to the top of the Australian sales ladder in 2003, or to its "rightfull place" in the memorable words of sales and marketing senior executive vice president John Conomos.

But Toyota will have to defend its dominant 4WD position in 2003 as well as go on the attack, because Holden is weighing in with all-paw wagons and crew cabs over the next 12 months. And then comes Ford's E265 off-road wagon in 2004.

Let battle commence!Pricing:
Toyota Prado GX 2.7 manual $38,990
Toyota Prado GX 2.7 auto $41,590
Toyota Prado GX 4.0 manual $43,390
Toyota Prado GX 4.0 manual $45,990
Toyota Prado GXL 4.0 manual $52,360
Toyota Prado GXL 4.0 auto $54,960
Toyota Prado Grande 4.0 auto $71,990
Toyota Prado GX 3.0 t-d manual $43,990
Toyota Prado GX 3.0 t-d auto $46,590
Toyota Prado GXL 3.0 manual $52,360
Toyota Prado GXL 3.0 t-d auto $54,960
Toyota Prado Grande 3.0 t-d auto $71,990

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

SOMETIMES Toyota flexes its stupendous design and engineering muscle and something very special emerges from Japan's number one car manufacturer.

The new Prado is just such a vehicle. There is no significant area that has not been improved from its predecessor.

In the USA it is sold as a Lexus and that's obvious from the moment you fire the Prado up and drive away. Quiet, smooth and relaxed, there's barely a hint of wind rush, not even off the large rear view mirrors. Quite an achievement for such a bulky vehicle.

The new petrol V6 plays an important role in that serene progress, its quietness not muting its ability. There is some initial tardiness as it fights to overcome the Prado's substantial kerb weight, which is now over two tonnes in virtually all models, but as the rpm needle swings through 3000rpm and beyond it picks up its skirts and rushes along.

In the de-restricted Northern Territory 160km/h-plus cruising is easily within reach. Of course if bottom-end grunt rather than top-end is your go, there's always the carry-over turbo-diesel which has gained a reputation for being one of the best oil-burners in class.

The V6 mates sweetly to manual or automatic gearbox choices, the former betraying none of the baulkiness or weight normally associated with heavy duty off-roaders. The latter's gated shift is a bit of an oddity until you get used to it, but there's no question about actual shift quality.

Toyota is claiming a 60 per cent increase in torsional rigidity for the Prado's ladder frame and that certainly translates to excellent on and off-roader behaviour. At times it's hard to believe this is a separate chassis vehicle such is its aplomb on rutted, bumpy and lumpy tarred and dirt roads that would have many of its rivals skittering and jumping about.

This is also a tribute to the development work Toyota has done on the suspension, particularly damper . The Grande's air suspension is a further step forward in ride comfort. Australian suspension specification is unique and is the result of three visits here by the Prado development team.

The increased rigidity also contributes to better handling. It's still big and heavy and fundamentally an understeerer, but you can hustle Prado through corners surprisingly quickly. The new power steering even provides a modicum of feel and weight at speed - another rarity for big four-wheel drives.

Go off-road and the Prado continues to impress - as its design suggests it should. The Grande's gadgets certainly work on some very severe terrain we pitched it against, but both the GX and GXL also acquitted themselves on a rough, tough drive program around Alice Springs that included steep uphills and downhills, deep sand, ruts, rocky climbs and baked hard surfaces littered with ball bearing gravel.

Throughout all this passengers were being well looked after by a quality interior. The dash and centre console is evocative of LandCruiser and feels and looks good.

The front seats are big and comfy and there's plenty of room for full-size adults in the second row. The third row is kids only though. Access is a quite easy one-touch motion. However, with the third row seats in place don't expect much in the way of luggage room.

You sit lower in the new Prado - by about 30mm - but it feels a lot more. That's got to be due to the styling that has really squared the vehicle off. Previously it had a narrow, tall, perpendicular look and feel to it. This styling seems to us a big improvement, our only concern being the chrome grille on GXL and Grande, which looked overdone.

Overall though, criticisms of the new Prado are few and far between. This is a quality vehicle that is significantly improved over its predecessor. It is a medium 4WD star and provides some very serious opposition for the previously untouchable Mitsubishi Pajero.

It will also give Holden and Ford something to think about as well.

Prado engine gives clues

IT's not only off-road types who should be paying attention to the new 1GR-FE 4.0-litre V6 engine in the Prado.

Something like this could soon be powering Aussie-built Camry and Avalon.

Buried in the press material for the new Prado, Toyota admits the all-alloy engine "will form the basis for the next generation of medium to large capacity Toyota petrol engines".

Translated that means this is the first in a new modular engine family from Toyota. What eventually comes here may only share the block and pistons with the Prado unit.

Whatever it gets, no doubt Toyota Australia is licking its lips at the prospect of eventually having an engine that would put it right back in the performance ballpark.

At the moment the 3.0-litre V6 1MZ-FE is the only choice Toyota Australia has for its locally built cars and at 145kW and 284Nm it lags badly behind its locally-built opposition.

Various options have been considered to bump up power, including growing capacity out to a maximum 3.3-litre or supercharging. The latter scheme is currently under consideration to give Sportivo a real boost.

The 1GR-FE in its current form is an all-alloy 60-degree V6 with an exact capacity of 3995cc provided by a 94.0 x 95.0mm bore and stroke.

Up in the cylinder head there's dual overhead camshafts, four-valves per cylinder and Toyota's intelligent variable valve-timing system, VVT-i, which offers infinitely variable inlet valve timing within a range of 50 degrees.

The new engine weighs in at 166kg, 11 per cent less than the old 3.4, while the number of engine parts have been reduced by seven per cent.

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