In Australia, there is no doubt Toyota is the king of 4x4 SUVs. When it comes to all things off-road, Toyota is where the vast majority of us Strayans turn. Now that’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.
What’s interesting about Toyota’s proper off-road models is how they are not only practical, they are desirable. The brand’s big SUVs are an aspirational purchase for many. Anything that wears a LandCruiser badge comes with a certain set of expectations, it simply needs to be robust, reliable and capable.
Despite the smallest LandCrusier being officially called the LandCruiser Prado, most owners and fans refer to the car as the Prado. The LandCruiser name remains the preferred identifier for the larger 200 Series wagon.
Now the Prado doesn’t really need to be spruiked, it’s currently Australia's best-selling large SUV. Instead of just leaving it at that and adopting an ‘if it ain't broke don’t fix it’ approach, the 2018 Toyota LandCruiser Prado has been bolstered with additional equipment at a lower cost. Prices have fallen between $600 and $1200 depending on the model.
Toyota provided us with the entry-level GX and the mid-spec GXL for evaluation. The seven-seat GXL is generally the model with the feature list that appeals to family buyers.
The GXL trim level adds Bi-LED headlamps, daytime running lamps, LED fog lamps, privacy glass, roof rails, side steps, seven-seats, an upgraded steering wheel and three-zone climate control. Regardless of the extra kit in the GXL, the GX is now generously appointed and presents a very compelling value proposition.
The base model automatic Prado is very hard to ignore, with the GX getting 17-inch alloy wheels, from the outside it doesn’t look like a range opener, it’s only the non-body coloured mirrors and door handles that give the game away.
Both the GX and GXL are available with a manual transmission with prices starting at $53,490 and $59,990 respectively (before on-roads). Our advice is to walk past the manual shifters to the automatic variants which attract a $3000 premium, this may seem a bit steep at first glance, but there is more to consider.
All LandCruiser Prado automatic models now include the pre-collision safety system (PCS) with autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian detection, active cruise control (ACC), lane departure alert and auto high beam as standard. Previously, the best safety kit was reserved for the considerably more expensive VX and Kakadu variants – well played Toyota.
Selecting the six-speed automatic transmission also brings with it 450Nm of torque and a braked towing capacity of 3000kg which is a handy 30Nm and 500kg more than the manual. Automatic GXL models also get a rear differential lock.
There are a few options for buyers to consider, the GX can be optioned with seven-seats for an extra $2550 while the GXL can go a little fancy with a premium interior pack that adds leather-accented trim, ventilated and power-operated front seats, and heated front and second-row seats for $3500.
For 2018, the exterior design changes focus on improving the Prado’s drivability. The new bonnet is sculptured in the centre to enhance downward visibility while the fenders have been updated to allow drivers to better identify the vehicle extremities. There’s also a revised grille with broad vertical bars and cooling openings.
Some thought has also been given to off-road performance, the lower corners of the front and rear bumpers have been reworked and now kick upwards to enhance manoeuvrability in the rough stuff. The headlamps have been restyled with the main beams positioned inboard to avoid damage from obstacles when off-road driving.
It’s the inside where the updated Prado has undergone the most changes, the command centre layout remains with the built-up centre stack, but the polish is significantly better.
The Prado’s interior was an area we criticised when we drove the car last year. Things are now much improved. The infotainment screen is now larger and incorporates satellite navigation. The instrument cluster has also been updated to include a driver information display that's in colour and far easier to read.
The velour trim on the seats is very soft and nice to touch, however, it does look out of place in 2018 in a 60K car. Surely, it’s plausible to switch to a high-quality cloth trim such as the one found in the RAV4.
It's easy to see why the Prado is a popular family car, the second-row is incredibly spacious offering a high level of comfort.
Pleasingly the third-row seats fold flat into the boot floor. There is still something of a compromise, to keep the ancillary fuel tank, the spare wheel remains mounted on the tailgate meaning it opens out instead of lifting up.
While examining the back of the Prado, we encountered the rear cargo blind, it’s a very clumsy apparatus that it is far too fiddly to be considered family friendly.
The Prado is now exclusively driven by diesel. The slow-selling V6 petrol has been dropped, leaving the familiar 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine as the sole powerplant. In this tune, it’s good for 130kW and 450Nm, peak torque can be accessed from a lowly 1600rpm.
For this test, we uncovered a new off-road loop in order to make the Prado work a little bit harder to demonstrate its capabilities.
Simply put, the Prado is an excellent off-road wagon. The permanent four-wheel drive, hill descent control and ground clearance make the Prado perfect for attacking an off-road track. We know the LandCruiser will always be the king of all things off-road, yet the Prado has its advantages on account of its smaller proportions. The slimmer Prado makes navigating narrow off-road trails considerably easier.
Any corrugated surface is easily ironed out, a few runs down uneven dirt roads demonstrates how cosseting the suspension is. Country folks flock to Toyota for reasons such as this. It feels invulnerable when hammering down a bush track.
Forward vision out of the Prado is excellent, those up front enjoy a great view of the road, combined with the large windows, all-around visibility is impressive.
There will generally always be on-road compromises with an off-road SUV of this size, yet Toyota engineers have done a remarkable job to deliver a proper dual-purpose wagon. The level of interior comfort lends itself to being a good choice for a daily hauler to bus the family around.
Whether in town or on a highway run, it’s a supple ride, the Prado settles quickly and provides a well-insulated drive. The high level of refinement is comparable to any passenger car.
Handling is where the Prado’s heft cant be concealed, the body roll is really what should be expected from an SUV with a centre of gravity this high up. In all seriousness, it’s a small price to pay for the Prado’s overall usability.
After a combined 1569 kilometres of on and off-road testing in the GX and GXL, we returned a fuel consumption figure of 9.9L/100km. This is about 20 per cent more than the claimed figure, but considering the mix of driving situations we subjected the cars too, anything around the 10-litre mark is a very strong result.
Toyota continues to offer a very competitive capped-price service program. The first six services are a bargain at $240 each. The downside is maintenance intervals are set at 6 months/10,000km. We live in hope that all Toyota models will adopt the far superior service plan that accompanies the C-HR.
The old-school three-year/100,000km warranty looks anaemic in 2018 but Toyota buyers don’t care. The brand’s well-established reputation for build quality and reliability along with record sales have insulated it against the need to boost its warranty coverage.
Regardless of which Prado variant you choose, it’s very unlikely you’ll be disappointed. It will handle anything a busy family can throw at it.
The 2018 version of the Prado is its best yet, the significant safety improvements, functional styling changes, greater towing ability and refreshed interior only serve to increase its value, especially in the entry variants.
Last year, we questioned whether or not the Prado was just a poor man’s LandCruiser, it convincingly proved it wasn’t. It’s the same story here, the Prado isn’t just a smaller version of the 200 Series, it’s a genuine rival.
2018 Toyota Prado Specifications
Price from $56,490, plus on-road costs (auto) Engine 2.8L In-line four-cylinder, turbo-diesel Power 130kW @ 3400rpm Torque 450Nm @ 1600rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 8.0L/100km Tank Capacity 87L Sub fuel tank 63L Length 4995mm Width 1885mm Height 1845mm (GX) 1890mm (GXL) Wheelbase 2790mm Kerb Weight 2240kg (GX) 2325kg (GXL) Ground Clearance 219mm Turning circle 11.6m Wading depth 700mm Service Intervals 6-months/10,000km Warranty three year/100,000 kilometre
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