WORKSITE WHEELS: The refined off roader

Like a pair of RM Williams boots, the Toyota Prado has become a constant over the years. Users have come to expect a certain level of quality and are willing to pay the required amount of folding to get it.Apart from some running updates including a new diesel engine two years ago, the current incarnation of the Prado has been on the market for about six years.Toyota WA public relations manager Lindsay Taylor told that a completely re-styled new Prado will be launched in November this year, although the drivetrains from the current range will be retained. Shortly after the current shape Prado was launched in Australia in 2003, it became Australia’s best-selling medium-sized four-wheel drive and it remains so today. The Prado’s closest competition is the Mitsubishi Pajero, and the Prado consistently outsells it by a considerable margin.So, what’s its secret? Well, its most striking feature is its mechanical refinement and relatively competent handling in spite of dimensions that would suggest the opposite.It may well be an acceptable drive by modern sedan standards, but consider that it is 1.9m high and has a kerb weight of 2180kg, and the way it drives is rather impressive.The Prado’s most significant recent update was the new 3.0-litre common rail turbo diesel engine, introduced in late 2006. The new twin-cam, four-cylinder oiler (known in Toyota circles as the 1KD-FTV engine) delivered considerably more grunt than its predecessor, generating 127 kilowatts at 3400 revolutions per minute (up from 96kW) and 410 newton-metres of peak torque at 1600-2800rpm (up from 343Nm at 2000rpm). While still a “proper” four-wheel drive in the sense that it has a separate transfer case, considerable ride height and good approach and departure angles, the Prado is a step down in size from the now massive LandCruiser 200 Series.That still doesn’t make it small, but it is at least slightly more compact than its towering, 3t big brother. While the turbo diesel does move the Prado’s 2.1 tonnes admirably, you are always aware this is a fair amount of bulk for the engine to move and for the brakes to stop. However, this doesn’t mean you have to muscle it around town, and its major controls are as easy to operate as those of a normal sedan. Again, this is something of an achievement in physics considering the weight and momentum of the Prado’s large wheels and tyres, the separate transfer gearbox, the driveshafts sending power to all four wheels and the height of the vehicle as a whole.The Prado’s 4.0-litre V6 petrol and 3.0-litre turbo diesel engines are available on all four Prado specification levels – GX, GXL, VX and Grande. The VX and Grande models are fitted standard with the electronic five-speed automatic transmission, while the lower-spec GX and GXL models have a six-speed manual box with the auto as an option.The one we drove came with seven seats. These can either be removed completely or folded up against the sides of the interior rear section.We had the Prado during a week of extreme heat in Perth, with the thermometer inching past the 40C mark. The air conditioning was truly tested, and did well, sending icy cold air all the way to the back of the cabin via roof vents specifically for the second and third rows of seats. However, some of the Prado’s assets that make it such a capable and robust four-wheel drive can also work against it when it comes to user friendliness in the city. An example of this is the heavy rear door, a one piece that opens to reveal the entire rear section. The door also carries the spare wheel, which is presumably there because (a) there is no room under the floor because of the long-range fuel tank; and (b) it would simply be unacceptable for a Prado to carry a space saver. This is great for its offroad ability, but the weight of the door, combined with a hinge that has to be manually locked to stop it from closing, can make it hard work, particularly for smaller people.

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