There is no denying that there are those people out there who swear by the Land Cruiser range. They will have no other. With the Land Cruiser’s reputation, can the new-for-2015 model keep those buyers loyal? Would I be a convert by the end of the test?
An impending ski trip with a bunch of teenagers was the perfect test for the Prado. Let’s face it, at near on $90,000, the permanent-AWD Prado VX is more likely to see snow or tow a boat than face a muddy field. The ski trip was with 5 teenagers and myself, so that would surely push the Prado to perform for space, pace and grace.
Make no mistake, the Prado is big and imposing. It sits in between the Highlander and the Land Cruiser 200 range, and while still the smaller brother to the enormous 200, it’s tall, long, wide. Sitting in the driver’s seat, you get a great view of an expanse of bonnet. The new model sees some styling changes from the previous model – a different headlight cluster with the almost obligatory Daytime Running Lights, a new-look grille. It the new design appealing? In the flesh, it’s a nice looking car – I think one of those ones that looks better in real life than the photos. For me, from any angle it looked good. It’s not an Evoke (deep sigh), but it carries over the good styling features from the previous Prado and freshens it up a little. I think Toyota have done a good job of balancing the look of the car with the size of it – it’s pleasing to the eye. On the other hand, this is definitely a mild refresh – other than a slightly different front, the rest of the car looks pretty much the same. A change of tail light cluster, but very recognisable shall we say.
The spare is under the rear, so while it looks clean at the back, you pay for it with a shallow cargo area. This is one of the areas where the Prado does not shine. It’s not a big cargo area when you have the 7-seater. With all 7 seats in use, you can fit a couple of skinny bags behind the 3rd row of seats and that’s pretty much it. Really skinny bags. You are going to be looking at bags on laps or having to buy a roof pod if you intend on taking 7 passengers and gear regularly.
On the plus side, the Prado’s party trick of electrically raising and lowering the 3rd row is cool, and the angle can also be adjusted electrically, individually, once the seats are up. You do have to remove the parcel tray first before raising the seats.
In fact, for those who like lots of buttons and gadgets (I am in that club) there’s plenty to play with in the new Prado. Even the base GX model is pretty well kitted out with a leather covered steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, three-zone climate control air con, centre differential lock control, cruise control, sat-nav built-in, Downhill Assist Control, economy meter, and engine immobiliser. The VX model (which we tested) adds MID controls to the steering wheel, front and second row seat heaters (great for that ski trip!), leather upholstery, a “comprehensive illuminated entry system”, wood grain accents, luggage tie down rails, four-camera multi-terrain monitor, power tilt and telescopic adjustable steering column, front and rear parking sensors, rain sensing wipers, auto-on headlights, auto-levelling headlights and front fog lights.
The electrically adjustable steering wheel gets gasps the first time people see it. When you turn the car off, the wheel goes inwards and then upwards, out of the way. When you start the car, it comes down and out, to where you had it before. Kids love it.
As mentioned, both front seats in the VX are electrically adjustable, 8-way on the driver’s side, including electrically adjustable lumbar support which ranges from zero to a knee in your back. Much appreciated on a long trip. The VX Limited model has memory buttons for the seat and steering wheel, while the GX and VX do without. The VX does have a 230-volt (100 watts max) power outlet in the rear, handy for charging phones or plugging in other lower-power devices.
The VX Limited adds a Rear Seat Entertainment DVD (RSE) with 2 Infrared Headphones and three power outlets. It also has the Pre-Crash Safe System, a cool box, crawl control, dynamic radar cruise control, multi-terrain select, and a power tilt/slide sunroof. At $99,990 the VX Limited is at the high-price end of this class of SUV.
Safety is well covered, with Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (A-TRC), Downhill Assist Control (DAC), Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Trailer Sway Control (TSC).
What’s it like to live with?
That new 2.8-litre diesel is a gem. Smooth and quiet, a little more power (130Kw vs 127Kw at the same 3400rpm), better fuel economy and emissions and a good dollop of extra torque than the outgoing 3-litre (450Nm vs 410Nm). There is a change from a belt to a chain driven camshaft and a lower compression ratio (15.6 vs 17.9). This new engine makes all types of driving a breeze. Add an all-new 6-speed automatic that is also a beauty. This new transmission picks the right gears at the right times – changes are smooth and the manual mode of the selector is also fantastic – a quick flick down of the lever gives instant response. Add to that a perfectly-placed gear selector and all is well on the drivetrain front for the new Prado.
According to Toyota, “The all-new direct-injection turbo diesel engine features the ‘world’s first’ use of Thermo Swing Wall Insulation Technology (TSWIN). The thermal barrier technology helps the engine achieve a maximum thermal efficiency of 44 percent.” So there you go. This is the same motor and transmission that will be in the 2016 Hilux – and that will be a great combo.
Interestingly, on the return trip from the mountain the auto decided it would not change up past 4th gear for 30 kilometres or so. With the smoothness of that new motor, I couldn’t actually tell until I saw the rev counter reading 3000 at 100km/h. That wasn’t right. It came right by itself and was no doubt just some electronic glitch. Perhaps it just needed rebooting.
I read very little about the Prado before driving it – in fact I only read most of the press material when writing this review. We took a trip over that curvy road that is the Rimutaka Hill. For those who don’t know it, let’s just say it’s favoured by motorcyclists and you should get the picture. It is windy and is often where anyone who has trouble with car sickness will throw it all up. The Prado shocked me. It handled bloody brilliantly. In fact, I wished I had gone on my own instead of with my wife and daughter so I could have gone faster. The issue was that while the leather seating in the VX is comfy, it is also slippery. My daughter had to hang on in the back seat while I pushed the Prado around the corners. And it had plenty more, but words from the passenger seat slowed me down. This Prado handles. It feels like it’s sitting flat – it may look different from the outside – but it just goes around corners, totally belying its tall stance and 2.2-ton weight. Grip is fantastic with the 265/65R17 tyres. I found that if I came out of a corner with a little too much body roll (rarely) then a stab of the gas pedal brought it back into line. It wasn’t just that the handling was great, it was also fun. I can’t believe I am typing this. I am grinning right now. I’d like to go back over that hill with no traffic to slow me down and no passengers…at all times keeping under the speed limit, of course. It’s no MX5, but for me it sets the benchmark for a tall, full-size AWD and twisty roads.
Then I read the press material. Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) is fitted to all VX models and this adjusts the front and rear stabiliser bars based on the movement of hydraulic cylinders. Apparently, “high roll rigidity is provided to suppress body roll and give superior on road performance.” Well Toyota, it works and it works excellently. As far as suspension goes, it’s fairly run of the mill stuff, double wishbone suspension at the front and a four link rigid rear axle with a lateral control rod. Coil springs are used on all four corners. Bumps are well controlled and handled quietly. There’s no suspension noise to speak of and the ride overall is great, even just with a driver and no other weight.
The Blind Spot Monitoring system (BSM) works a treat; unobtrusive and simple to use. In fact after driving the Prado and then getting into a car without it, I do miss that feature. It’s a simple affair of a car icon that lights up in either exterior mirror is a vehicle is in your blind spot. It’s not a replacement for checking over your shoulder, but it’s a great reminder while on the motorway. It did get confused a few times when driving beside Armco barriers and hills, but that’s a small price to pay.
Toyota’s keyless entry and start system is in place, and works exactly the same as in other Toyotas fitted with the system. No complaints here – it’s a good system. The rear hatch on the tailgate does open separately on the Prado, either by key remote or a small button to the left of the glass. It’s a handy feature that is welcome, although with the height of the car the opening itself is quite a long way up…some children might have to throw stuff in there through the open glass door, but then they couldn’t reach it to close it without having to stand on the tow-bar. This is a tall wagon, people.
The rear door on Prados open on the side, and the 2015 model is no different. It does have a decently chunky stay that locks in place to stop the door whacking your back in a strong wind or on a slope.
While the space behind the 3rd row of seats is limited at best, the leg room isn’t too bad. You wouldn’t want a 6-footer in there on a long trip, but it’s reasonable. The real bonus here is for the middle row of seats. Even without the front seats right forward, there is a huge expanse of leg room here. You will not get complaints about leg room from the middle seat passengers.
When in the front seat, you have the option of flicking down the Conversation Mirror from the overhead console. While it’s so simple – just a reflective, curved piece of plastic – it means you can see all your passengers and what they might be up to (think children…), without moving your normal rearview mirror. One of those nifty features you miss when you jump into a car that doesn’t have one.
Another of the Prado’s party tricks is when you unlock it at night – lights underneath the car illuminate, so you can see all the puddles on your way to your door. It’s a small thing, but it looks great and is quite handy. Even if you don’t remote unlock the doors, as you get close enough the lights come on anyway. A bit of safety there and some coolness as well.
Speaking of lights, the VX and VX Limited have LED headlights, while the GX makes do with good old bulbs. The VX headlights are stunning. No doubt the high stance of the car helps plenty, but the high beams of the Prado are like a couple of army search lights.
Real World Test: The Ski Trip
A run from the southern tip of Wellington to Raurimu, a weekend of skiing and then a return trip with 5 teenagers and myself would surely test the good and bad points on the 2015 Prado.
First up: Toyota, I am not a fan of the cruise control stalk. I know fellow reviewer Rob Clubley has mentioned this as well. I understand that with the controls on the steering wheel for the phone, the multi-function display, audio etc there’s no room for cruise control buttons too, but that stalk is at such a weird angle it just makes it difficult to use. I did use it often, but it was often a pain to reach under and behind the steering wheel to adjust anything. There must be a better way…
On the plus side, the front seats are fantastic. You don’t slide as much in the front as there is good side support and after hours at the wheel, no real aches or pains. The electric lumbar adjustment came in handy here, and I dialled it up a bit more every 100km or so.
Comments from the teenagers in the 3rd row were mixed. They had enough leg room, and the seats were comfy, but the headrests left something to be desired. The front of the headrest have padding that’s about 5mm thick, then it feels like there’s a piece of wood after that. Not comfy at all, apparently. Still, overall the experience of being in the 3rd row was a good one. The space between the two seats came in handy for junky stuff that teenagers seem to haul around with them, especially when they are teenage girls.
Needless to say with 4 teenage girls in the car, the JBL stereo in the VX got thrashed all the way there and back, switching between different cellphones via Bluetooth. Connecting initially via Bluetooth was a breeze. Audio is a little strange as at lower or just normal volumes, the stereo doesn’t sound any different/better, even though it has 14 speakers. However I can confirm that, after much pressure, Taylor Swift at max volume sounds crisp and clear and has zero distortion. The volume level was such that I could only tolerate it for 30 seconds or so, but it sounded excellent. One thing that I felt a bit strange is the lack of adjustment for the stereo. There is the normal bass, balance, treble, fader, and that’s it. Something more would have been nice.
With what gear we had and the almost full load of passengers, performance was about the same as if there was just the driver. This new 2.8 is great. Economy however was a mixed bag. The official Toyota figure is a combined rating of 8.2L/100km. For the first week before our trip away I was averaging 11.5 with a mix of city and a trip across to Masterton. On the way to the mountain, a reset on the Himitangi Straights saw 10.5 at a steady 100km/h with no wind at all. Not good. Then, on the return trip I reset it again and got 8.8 on the Himitangi Straights, again with no wind. Hopefully it’s because these new engines need quite a few miles on them before giving their best. On dropping the test Prado off (which I did not want to do), it had ticked over 3800km.
One thing that is not noticeable until you think about it, is wind noise. There is none. Even at 100km/h or so, there is no wind noise around any pillars or mirrors. You hear some tyre roar, but only because everything else is just so quiet. Well done, Toyota.
What it’s up against
|Brand / Model||Engine||Power/Torque(Kw/Nm)||Fuel L/100km(combined)||0-100km/h(seconds)||Price Highest to Lowest|
|Land Rover Discovery 4||3.0L DOHC diesel 6-cyl||155/520||8.8||10.7||$90,000|
|VW Touareg BlueMotion Wagon||3.0L DOHC diesel 6-cyl||150/400||7.4||9.0||$89,900|
|Toyota Land Cruiser Prado||2.8L DOHC diesel 4-cyl||130/450||8.0||$88,490|
|Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited||3.0L DOHC diesel 6-cyl||184/570||7.5||8.2||$87,990|
|Mitsubishi Pajero Exceed||3.2L DOHC diesel 4-cyl||150/448||9.2||$87,590|
|Ford Territory||2.8L DOHC diesel 6-cyl||140/440||9.0||$69,990|
4.0 litre V-Type 6 Cylinder, 24 valve QUAD Cam, Dual VVT-i Petrol engine (1GR-FE) with 6-speed automatic transmission, 207kW/5600rpm, 381Nm/4400rpm
Land Cruiser Prado GX 2.8 Diesel $78,490
Land Cruiser Prado VX 2.8 Diesel (tested) $88,490
Land Cruiser Prado VX 4.0 V6 Petrol $89,490
Land Cruiser Prado VX Limited 2.8 Diesel $99,990
The good and the bad
What do we think?
On the Autoclique Facebook page, Simon Lockie said, “Cruisers are excellent at doing what they do.” He is 100% spot on. I didn’t think I would like the Prado as much as I did, but I lurv it. It’s big and imposing and at times impractical, but there is just something about the 2015 Prado which clicked with me. It makes my ’06 Dodge Ram diesel I used to own seem so agricultural I don’t want to think about it.
I did not want to give the keys back and I wanted to give it a 5-star Chevron rating, but I can’t do either of those things. The price is still a stumbling point for me – there are some tasty SUVs cheaper than this Prado. A Disco, a Touareg or a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited for about the same money? I’d hate to be making that decision.
Also, though it performs well, it still has the least power in our comparison chart. Even with the increase in torque over the previous model, when towing a heavy load the Prado could struggle compared to others in its class.
But it’s the overall dynamics of the Prado which make it as good as it is. That engine/transmission/handling combo is brilliant and I doubt that there’d be an unhappy 2015 Prado owner.
I’m going out on a limb here and giving it 4.5 Chevrons. It really is that good.
Rating – Chevron rating 4.5 out of 5
|Vehicle Type||Permanent AWD SUV|
|Starting Price||$78,490 + on-road costs|
|Tested Price||$88,490 NZD|
|Engine||2.8-Litre, DOHC 4-cylinder common rail diesel|
|Transmission||6-speed automatic with sequential shift|
|0 – 100 kph||n/a|
|Kerb Weight||2285 kg|
|Length x Width x Height||4760 x 1885 x 1890mm|
|Fuel Tank||87 litres|
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||5 Star ANCAP ratingSafety: 7-airbags – Driver Dual Stage, Front Passenger, Front Side, Front/Rear/3 Row Curtain, Driver’s Knee|