Tim O'Brien | Nov 25, 2009 | 1 Comment

The outgoing 120 Series Prado has gained a reputation for being one of the most capable independent front suspension (IFS) equipped 4WDs on the market.

This leaves the new 150 Series Prado with some hefty shoes to fill. In more ways than one, the new car has some rather large feet to fit into them.

The new Prado is longer and wider and physically more imposing.

There will of course be some new owners who will question the extra girth. Spending Sundays buffing out the 'bush pin-striping' - the inevitable scratches and scrapes down the sides - after the Saturday foray into the bush won't appeal to everyone.

Let's be honest here, the 120 Series was about the perfect size.

The reality is that the new Prado has been designed to appeal as much to SUV buyers as it does to those who really need a 4WD. So it's grown a little to better accommodate the needs of a family, although, oddly, its seven-seat layout is one down on what the previous model offered.

It really isn't pretty to look at either. With styling that now aligns more closely with the Kluger and Land Cruiser, the Prado has outgrown the slimmer less cluttered lines of the former model, and settled into adult life looking well fed and a little 'cartoonish'.

On the face of it, you could be excused for thinking that the Prado has gone a little soft and flabby, but that would be judging a book by its cover. And in this case, mistakenly.

The new Prado is in fact extremely capable off-road, thanks in part to a range of electronic aids that will allow the novice four-wheel driver to take their Prado further off-road than they ever thought possible.

In fact, Toyota was so sure of the new Prado's improved skill set, that they pointed us towards a technically challenging 4WD competition track just outside of Orange in Central NSW.

 

The Drive

Three circuits were mapped out to highlight the Prado's abilities, including moguls, steep downhill sections into water, and stony washed out creek beds.

The three door diesel Prado was used to tackle the most extreme trail, its shorter wheelbase and better approach and departure angles making all the difference.

The three-door showcased Prado's downhill assist control (DAC), while the two higher spec five-doors on the other circuits were fitted with Toyota's CRAWL low-speed, off-road cruise control system.

While DAC is impressive and assists in maintaining low-speed control on steep sections of the track, it was CRAWL that truly impressed.

Toyota's CRAWL system allowed seemingly impossible-looking terrain (up or downhill) to be tackled without needing to touch the throttle and only having to brake when choosing to come to a complete stop.

Engaged in low range, there are five dashboard selectable CRAWL speeds that can be changed on the fly, as the terrain changes. There is no mistaking when CRAWL mode is engaged, the brakes get a serious and audible workout via the ABS system, as it assists in maintaining maximum traction and a constant speed.

CRAWL may remove 'the challenge' that experienced four-wheel drivers crave, but even they will appreciate its ability to put serious throttle and vehicle control, over the roughest terrain, in the hands of the novice.

You can certainly still get stuck, but the reality is that a Prado fitted with CRAWL will open up a world of adventure for the inexperienced.

Some wheel time on gravel roads in the top-of-the-range Kakadu proved that the Prado (in the Kakadu's case, fitted with KDSS) is a solid dirt road performer. Stable, predictable and comfortable, the front end steadfastly refused to be bumped off-line by mid-corner corrugations.

The five-link live rear axle was also well-mannered, but not to the same degree. Mid-corner corrugations and lumpy bitumen did result in some skipping and harshness.

An IRS rear would certainly improve on-road driveabilty incrementally, but Toyota has chosen not to compromise the excellent wheel travel, and off-road-ability that the live-rear-axle provides.

There is no getting away from the fact that the new Prado is big, and this translates into the way it handles on bitumen. It will comfortably waft you anywhere you choose to go, but it's not a vehicle designed to be hurried through corners with a huge degree of finesse.

Mums will appreciate the light steering and commanding driving position, families will appreciate the room, off-road driving enthusiasts will appreciate the Prado's intended purpose.

The Prado's interior is typically Toyota, offering a sense of well-crafted durability. The dashboard's centre stack is reminiscent of some Land Rover offerings, and while its not as handsome as most Land Rover interiors, it is functional, well laid out and easy to use.

Both of the Prado's engines are now more powerful, and according to Toyota more fuel-efficient. The V6 is still the same smooth, quiet and well behaved unit, with enough torque to see it breeze through the off-road work on the day.

It also proved itself to be an unobtrusive highway companion, although those expecting performance gains with the new model may be disappointed. The extra power has largely been 'soaked up' by the increase in weight.

The diesel is now the more popular choice for Prado buyers, but our experience at the wheel of the 3.0 D4D diesel Prado was limited to the three-door on the low speed extreme terrain course.

At low-range speeds and on-boost, it was a willing performer. And while the 3.0 D4D is now comprehensively outgunned by more modern diesel designs, it will continue to be the engine of choice for Prado buyers wanting the best mix of performance and fuel efficiency.

 

The Verdict

Thanks to its Driver Assist Technologies, the Prado now offers a genuine combination of capable 4WD and family-friendly SUV. One that will be just as at home outside the local school as it is on a rocky trail in the high country.

It's more powerful, offers improved efficiency and off-road ability, and is more comfortable than ever before. It's also wider, heavier, more expensive and the 'new look' may take some getting used to.

We'll reserve our final verdict until we can conduct a full road test of the diesel and petrol variants. In the meantime we can confirm with a degree of confidence that the 150 Series Prado has undoubtedly moved the game along.

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