In short: The Toyota Prado 3-door SX is ideal for a two-person family.
• It’s comfortable
• It’s easy to drive
• It’s a genuine off-roader
• It’s cheap on fuel
• It will eat up the kilometres effortlessly
• And if you’re a grey nomad it won’t entirely destroy your kids’ inheritance
The longer story: Toyota released their three-door Landcruiser Prado in Australia last November and it’s the first time in over 20 years that Toyota has had a three-door short-wheel base Landcruiser of any sort in their line up.
If you’ve ever driven one of those early three-door Landcruisers you may find it hard to believe that something as smooth and refined as today’s three-door Prado could have ever descended from something like that early three-door Landcruiser.
I occasionally get to drive one of those early short-wheel base Cruisers and I have to tell that they’re a beast. Back then hairy-chested blokes loved their Cruisers and today’s grey nomads are going to love the three-door Prado just as much.
Today’s short-wheel base Prado comes in two varieties … the SX and the ZR. The base model SX can be yours for $56,000 plus on-road costs while the very up-market ZR will set you back $65,000 plus on-road costs. Both are powered by a turbo-charged 3.0litre diesel coupled to a five-speed auto transmission.
Despite being the base model the SX comes with a range of features and creature comforts that will appeal to most people.
The standard SX comes with a reversing camera, dual-zone air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, centre diff lock, headlight control, traction control, stability control, ABS, limited slip diff, side-curtain airbags, Bluetooth intergration, a three-tonne towing capacity … and that’s just a few of the items on the extensive list of standard equipment in the base-model.
The ZR comes with such extras as leather upholstery, heated seats, a sun-roof and a range of computer controlled presets that will help the novice four-wheel driver get over a wide variety of terrain that he or she might not otherwise feel confident in tackling.
Despite having played in some of that terrain in the ZR at Toyota’s Prado media day back in November I came away from a week in the SX thinking that, while all those extras in the ZR are nice, the SX would certainly be my choice of vehicle.
Engine and transmission
As I said a moment ago, the short-wheel based Prados are powered by a 3-litre turbocharged diesel. Now I have seen several reviewers who suggest that this engine is old and tired and you could do so much better with some other maker’s four-wheel drive but seriously … what were they expecting?
Do they expect the Prado to perform like a V8 Supercar? This is a big, heavy four-wheel drive so you’re not going to get neck-snapping acceleration when you put your foot to the floor. What you do get is plenty of acceleration … more than enough to pass the next caravan … or three … and enough torque to tow your own van, boat or trailer at speeds that won’t make you look like you’re leading a funeral procession.
Sure there is some lag from a standing start while you wait for the turbo to cut in … and that nearly got me into trouble on several occasions … but as far as performance is concerned the Toyota Prado has nothing to be ashamed of.
The transmission is smooth and even though it comes with the option to let you change gears yourself you’ll probably never use it. For the optimum economy all you need do is put it into drive and let it look after the gear changes for you.
Toyota claims 8.3L/100km for the three-door Prado in combined city and highway operation and that’s probably about right … but maybe you can do better.
On the trip down the highway from Hervey Bay to Brisbane I set the cruise control to the maximum permissible speed of 110k/h and the onboard computer showed a steady fuel consumption of 8L/100km while the Prado just cruised along.
In the city, when we swapped drivers and were struggling through fairly heavy traffic, the fuel consumption figure dropped to around 7L/100km and my partner who was driving at the time wasn’t using any special driving techniques.
So maybe Toyota’s figures aren’t too hard to beat.
I have to say that I found both front seats to be outstanding … I spent a lot of time driving the Toyota Prado and a lot of time as a passenger. The rear seats … well they’re hard to get into and hard to get out of and they seem ok for a short trip but I’m not sure I would want to travel far as a backseat passenger.
If you have a child who needs to be fitted into a capsule or child’s seat then you’re going to struggle to get them in and out of it. If you’re child tends to get a little car-sick on long journeys … well you’ll probably wear it before you can get their straps undone and get them out of the vehicle.
You may wonder why such a relatively small vehicle as the three-door Prado would need dual-zone air conditioning … I know I certainly did when I first got into it but not any more. It’s surprising what constitutes a comfortable temperature level for two individuals and being able to vary the temperature by one or two degrees from one side of the vehicle to the other can make quite a pleasant difference.
We managed to test the Toyota Prado in what has been one of the hottest weeks in coastal Queensland this summer and I have to say that the air conditioning in the SX was outstanding. Outside the temperature might have been creeping up to the mid 30s but inside it was a very pleasant 22.
The front passenger seat does not have as much rearward travel as the driver’s seat does and I guess that because there needs to be some access to the rear seats. That means that front-seat passengers with long legs can’t stretch out quite as far as they might like to.
At first I thought that this was going to be a problem for me but on long trips I didn’t even notice it.
Ride and Handling
Make no mistake about it, despite all the creature comforts the Toyota Landcruiser Prado is no soft-roader. It’s build to take on the toughest terrain so you have to be prepared for a firm … but definitely not harsh … ride.
That’s perhaps one of the biggest differences between the old and the new short-wheel base Toyotas. The beast from the 1980s that I occasionally drive is choppy and harsh and a ride in that will compact your discs and damage your kidneys. Hit a corner hard and it rolls like a drunken sailor on shore-leave
In the latest short-wheel base Toyota there’s very little chop and your spinal chord and kidneys are safe. Hit a corner hard in the three-door Prado and there’s almost no roll at all … certainly none in comparison to its hoary old ancestor.
On tar the Prado SX handles like a much better than average car while on corrugated dirt roads it will rock along at the speed limit without any hassles at all. While you may want to back off on the curves it will still take you through them without coming close to setting off its traction control alarm.
If you’ve read Toni’s account of her experiences in the Prado SX that you can see here you will have noticed that she drove the Prado out of Brisbane when we picked it up. That was her first experience of driving a big SUV and she had no problems with it at all.
The steering is light and there’s great visibility from the driver’s seat so you shouldn’t have problems in heavy traffic. Getting into parking spots in shopping centre car parks is something else and it may take you a little while to master the art of parking the Prado in just one parking spot.
The SX Prado will certainly keep you honest off-road because it lacks all those computer pre-sets that come with the ZR. The ZR can fool you into thinking that nothing will stop you while the SX will keep you honest because it will get you to wherever you want to go if you have the skill needed to tackle the terrain.
Ground clearance in the Prado three-door is outstanding and, because it’s a short-wheel base vehicle it will clamber over terrain that would snag any long-wheel base four-wheel drive.
Dashboard and Controls
Basically everything is within easy reach of the driver and some controls are even duplicated on the steering wheel. Strangely, even when you look at the instruction manual, finding the button for the fuel filler cap can be difficult the first time. It’s not clearly marked and it’s tucked away almost under the dash.
All other controls are clearly marked so you’re not guessing at what they might do if you press them. I know that gives me no excuse for turning the hazards on while we were in the middle of the Gateway Bridge but I swear we hit a bump and I missed the button I was aiming for and hit the hazards instead.
The gauges are clear and easy to read and I really did like the lighting on the instrument panel for, even in daylight, the instruments are illuminated. That might sound a little strange but even here in Queensland you can find yourself in the dark in the middle of the day.
The Prado comes with an interesting array of bells, whistles and warning tones too and I’m sure there are a few that I didn’t encounter during our week-long test. Perhaps the most important warning tone is the one that tells you that whoever happens to have the key has moved out of range of the vehicle.
That’s one of the joys of keyless entry and keyless start. If you happen to leave your keys in the house and the vehicle is still close to them it is possible to start the vehicle and drive away and then you’re really in trouble because once you turn it off you won’t be able to start it again … hence the warning tone.
Of course, if you want to really annoy your wife or partner, you can leave the motor running while they wait in the Prado as you go into the bank or the post office … and out of range of the vehicle. By the time you get back they’ll either be insane or ready to amputate several important parts of your anatomy.
For a relatively big vehicle the amount of space in the back of the three-door Toyota Prado is a bit limited and that rear door is big and heavy. Fortunately on this new Prado Toyota has introduced a locking mechanism that allows you to lock the door open.
However, there is one word of warning about that locking mechanism … if you’ve been doing some dirt road running you will find that it gets very dirty … so don’t brush up against it if you’re dressed for a night out.
Of course the luggage space can be increased by folding down the rear seats and that’s not a difficult operation at all … but getting them back into place is another story.
Like the tailgate, those rear seats are heavy and take a real effort to pull back into place. Even with my gorilla arms I had to climb into the back of the Prado to drag them back into place and they’re damn heavy!
After we returned the Prado the early-morning regulars at our favorite coffee shop asked me if I was sorry to be back in our regular drive … and I had to say that I was. The Prado SX is a vehicle that is fun to drive … it’s comfortable and it’s incredibly economical on fuel … far more economical than the 2-litre 2000 model Honda CR-V that I usually drive … and it will take me into some rough terrain where other vehicles won’t.
So would I buy one? Well there’s no doubt that the Prado SX is not perfect but most of the niggles that I have with it are minor things that may not bother other people and certainly may not bother you.
They certainly don’t bother me so much that the Toyota Prado SX won’t be on the top of the list of vehicles that I will be considering when I want to retire and travel. While I may never tow a caravan I still want to be able to ride in comfort and watch those kilometres slip by as I head for Cape York or somewhere equally as rough and challenging.