ALTHOUGH IT'S THE BABY brother to the 200-Series Landcruiser, there’s no escaping the fact that the new Prado feels massive.
Behind the wheel, the overwhelming sensation is one of size. Its footprint isn’t especially huge, but the Prado’s corners feel distant from the driver’s seat. No surprise there, the new model is longer and wider than the one it replaces.
You sit high up in the Prado, and the large windscreen and side glass give a commanding view of the road ahead.
Small cars however can disappear when next to the Prado, and the silhouette of the door-mounted spare obscures much of the driver’s rearward vision. A good thing then that a reversing camera is standard on all models bar the GX.
Outward visibility may not be great for suburban school runs, but the interior is spacious, comfortable and well laid-out.
The tall centre-stack places the climate-control buttons a hand-span away from the steering wheel, the gear shifter is comfortably placed and the tilt/reach adjustable steering wheel is a plus. The front seats are comfortable, although the beige velour upholstery may not be to everyone’s taste.
The second row seats slide on their own set of rails and feature adjustable backrest tilt, but the centre position is narrow and best suited to smaller children. Legroom is at least generous.
The third-row seats are best reserved for small adults and children. Better yet, keep them stowed away. When raised the third row seats dramatically cut luggage room, leaving a space comparable to that offered by a small hatchback.
Once underway, the Prado gives the impression that it's out of its element on suburban tarmac.
Its truck-like steering ratio, heavy and notchy gear lever, slow throttle mapping and soft suspension suggest that the Prado is better suited to off-road excursions than asphalt, and the consensus is that yes, it is.
The five-link coil-sprung live rear axle is great for wheel articulation on rough tracks, but not as skilled at dispatching lumpy tarmac at speed. The Prado’s soft damping produces a comfortable ride over rocky paths, but produces a wallowy, roll-happy ride on urban roads.
The agricultural gearshift is a result of the manual transmission’s robustness; the throttle mapping is also to favour heavier work and the slow, heavily-assisted steering is for much the same reason.
The Prado’s suite of electronic traction aids helps it venture way, way off the beaten track; the Landcruiser’s smaller sibling is by no means less capable in the bush. Its smaller size, in fact, makes it easier to thread between obstacles.
On the road though, is where most privately-bought Prados spend their time, and it is in this environment that it’s not so impressive.
The 4.0 litre 1GR-FE petrol V6 is a tractable engine, but it doesn’t like to be pushed hard and its noisy belt-driven fan produces a Hoover-like howl at mid to high rpms.
With 202kW and 381Nm on tap, the V6 is not exactly wanting for power or torque. However, having to lug the Prado’s substantial 2220kg kerb weight blunts its performance, and progress is never swift.
The six-speed manual gearbox that was fitted to our tester didn’t like to be hurried through gears either, and it took a while to learn how to change gears without crunching the lever through the gate.
The five-speed automatic would be a better proposition for around-town driving, and perversely it’s also the transmission that yields better fuel economy. Toyota claims the petrol automatic consumes 11.5 l/100km on the combined cycle, while 13.0 l/100km is claimed for the manual-equipped GXL petrol.
Our testing saw an average of 13.8 l/100km over an even mix of urban and highway driving, showing that the manual-equipped petrol Prado is a thirsty animal indeed. In the face of such numbers, the diesel would be a wiser choice.
The Toyota Prado has grown bigger, changed its skin and gained a suite of new technology for the 2010 model year, making it better to drive in normal use while also providing far greater off-road capability.
But in truth the Prado seems a size too big for suburbia, its chassis and running gear better suited to the outback than shopping centre carparks.
The interior may be a few centimeters larger than the last-gen model, but buyers with lots of children to cart around may be miffed at the loss of a centre seat on the third row.
At $60,990 for the GXL manual, the Prado is good value for those looking for a capable off-roader that’s still got an air of civility.
However, if your plans don’t involve the occasional trip to the great outdoors, just $1,000 more will get you into a top-spec Toyota Kluger Grande 2WD – a car that also offers a tall ride height, seven-seat capacity and roomy interior, but with less compromised on-road dynamics and better fuel economy from its 3.5 litre petrol V6.
Alternatively, $4000 extra will get you into the better-handling VW Touareg, while Ford’s excellent Territory Ghia AWD can be had for $57,490.
In short the Prado is an excellent car when in its element. Take it into the bush to appreciate its true talents, but don’t be surprised when it’s not so stellar in the urban jungle.