New diesel Toyota Prado tested on and off road
TWO years ago Toyota's LandCruiser Prado was comprehensively refreshed.
After a road test our main gripe concerning Australia's best-selling large SUV was its need for powertrain advancements.
This month, our prayers have been answered. The Prado range has ditched its 3.0-litre turbo-diesel and five-speed automatic, replacing with an all-new 2.8-litre turbo-diesel mated to a new six-speed auto.
Big news? It's huge actually. This new drivetrain will not only power this revised Prado, but is also the same unit that arrives next month in the new HiLux ute and Fortuner seven-seat 4x4 SUV.
In other words, before long a large chunk of the Australian population will be experiencing this engine every day for their work, leisure and off-road driving.
And there's more. The GXL model - which make up 77% of all Prado sales - now receives sat nav and an expanded Toyota Link as standard, while range-topping Kakadus get rear cross-traffic alert designed to warn of approaching traffic when reversing.
We Aussies love the LandCruiser Prado. Since its launch here in July 1996 we've bought more Prados than any other SUV, amassing sales of over 236,000.
Prados featured only petrol engines until 2000 when a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel arrived, and by 2006 the oil burners outstripped the petrols in sales.
By 2008 80% of Prado sales were diesel, it was 90% in 2012 and this year 98.8% opt for the diesel rather than petrol variant.
It's questionable why Toyota still offers a petrol option in its Prado range, but Toyota Australia said it wants to ensure every customer is catered for (some still balk at the idea of a 'dirty' diesel motor), so a revised 4.0-litre V6 has also been introduced, with 5kW more over the outgoing petrol variant and returning 11.6-litres/100km.
But really, if you're one of the very few who's not a diesel convert, the all-new 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel now on offer should be the final reason to drop your petrol loyalty.
Compared to the 3.0-litre diesel of old, power is up 2.4% to 130kW, torque improves a mighty 9.7% to 450Nm (with automatic transmission - it is 420Nm with the six-speed manual), while fuel economy is bettered by around 10% to 8.0-litres/100km (auto) and 7.9-litres/100km (manual).
And prices? At the start of 2015 Toyota lopped between $2730 and $7630 from its Prado range in response to the duty reductions flowing from the Australia-Japan free-trade agreement.
The new models bring some increases over these reduced prices, with the entry-level diesel GX five-seater up $1000 to $52,990, the best-selling diesel GXL up $1500 to $59,990 while range-topping Kakadu diesel stays at $84,490.
Automatic gearboxes add $2000 across the range (VX and Kakadu are automatic only), while petrol models (GXL, VX and Kakadu only) are $1000 cheaper than the diesel equivalent, if you still insist.
On the road
First impression on start up is Toyota has brilliantly achieved what it set out to do with this engine - make it a quieter and smoother unit, particularly at idle.
This has been done through comprehensive development, including using a low friction timing chain, vibration management methods to the turbo and oily-bits engineering to suppress combustion noise in the cylinders.
Our test Prado GX's cabin was almost devoid of engine sound after pressing the start button, and when pulling away you could have been fooled into thinking it was a petrol such was the absence of diesel clatter.
Put your foot down and there's the recognisable but subtle diesel note, but it's far from obtrusive and again, almost petrol like. The torque however is wonderfully diesel and once the turbo wakes up (maximum torque arrives from a low 1600rpm) there's decent pull, but never a great deal of urge at kickdown, perhaps expected from a 130kW four-cylinder lugging a Prado with a kerb weight well over two-tonnes.
It's as you were for the rest of the Prado's on-road drive. It calmly and effortlessly eats through the kilometres in assured comfort, absorbing imperfections and only feeling its top-heavy size when pushed into a corner too hard.
The new six-speed automatic is also hard to fault. A huge advance over the outgoing five-speed and cog swaps were scarcely noticeable and certainly not intrusive, and a long sixth gear proved ideal for cruising.
Our on-road test through town and across country roads returned an impressive 8.5-litres/100km with three on board. Still want that petrol?
Off the road
The Toyota LandCruiser Club of Australia's Willowglen training facility was our off-road playground, and here it is true Prado territory.
Testing the GXL here in low range the Prado reminded why it is still quite rightly regarded as a supreme 4x4 tool. Dispatching with steep inclines, water crossings and wombat holes with laughable ease, the new engine and six-speed auto again never felt stressed, making a serious off-road course look laughably easy. No hint of bogging, wheel spin or sliding to speak of on the chunky tyres with pressures reduced to around 24psi.
On the steepest hills the crawl down in low range and first gear manually selected - and Downhill Assist Control engaged - was remarkable. For everything else, the gearbox had a knack of choosing the right gear for you to maintain a stress-free power delivery.
My co-driver - an experience off-roader - even lamented the lack of reassuring diesel note at times, so effortless was the Prado motor's performance.
What do you get?
Aside from engine and gearbox, few changes arrive for Prado so the dashboard is starting to show its age compared to rivals.
The GX model comes with five seats or for $2500 extra you get the full seven, there's a reverse camera across the range, and the GXL now has sat nav and Toyota Link as standard. Step into a VX or Kakadu and you get an electric kinetic dynamic suspension system, while Kakadu gets more luxury, a few more active safety goodies and an electronic rear differential lock.
The diff lock is not available on any other grade of Prado - even as an option - which will disappoint those wanting to tackle the most serious of off-road challenges, while towing rate remains at 2500kg.
Toyota dominates the large SUV market in Australia, and the new engine and gearbox first seen here in the Prado is sure to cement that position.
The new diesel is a refined and very capable treat perfectly matched to the Prado's core market uses for on and off-road life.
A brilliant six-speed auto completes the package, and we know the Toyota range is in safe hands with the drivetrain soon to arrive in HiLux and Fortuner.
What matters most
What we liked: Incredibly smooth, quiet and refined diesel engine, much improved six-speed auto gearbox, Prado's enduringly brilliant off-road abilities.
What we'd like to see: A bit more shove from the engine, a more modern instrument panel, optional electronic rear diff lock for non Kakadu models.
Servicing and warranty: Three-year/100,000km warranty with services required every six months or 10,000km. Prados are covered by Toyota Service Advantage capped-price servicing at $220 per service.
Model: Toyota LandCruiser Prado Turbo-diesel.
Details: Four-wheel drive five-seat or seven-seat large SUV.
Engine: 2.8-litre in-line four-cylinder turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 130kW @ 3400rpm and torque of 450Nm @ 1600rpm (auto) and 420Nm @ 1400rpm (manual).
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic or six-speed manual, constant 4WD, lockable centre LSD. Kakadu model has electronic rear diff lock.
Economy: 7.9-litres/100km (manual), 8.0-litres/100km (auto) combined.
CO2: 208g/km (manual), 211g/km (auto).
Towing (braked): 2500kg.
Bottom line: GX 5-seat $52,990, GX 7-seat $55,490, GXL $59,990 (autos add $2000), VX $73,990, Kakadu $84,490. Petrol automatics also available for GXL, VX and Kakadu for $1000 less.