The Prado is available with a choice of two engines, a hefty 4.0-litre V6 petrol and the all-new 2.8-litre turbo diesel. The diesel runs circles around the petrol on the sales charts, despite being an option on every trim level from the GXL upwards – the entry level GX, popular with government and business fleets, gets the diesel as standard (which may explain why it thoroughly outguns the petrol at the checkout.)
For the last twenty years, you would’ve been able to find a 3.0-litre diesel in some form or another underneath the hood of a Prado, building a reputation for dependability and ability to keep delivering power under any condition.
The switch down to the new global 2.8-litre diesel in the name of efficiency and emissions compliance could have been a disaster – why fix something that wasn’t broken? But as Australia follows Europe’s lead to crack down on inefficient, polluting cars, the Prado has to shift with the times, hence the new, Euro 5-compliant engine.
Fortunately, though, it’s not a case of neutering the Prado in order to tick government checklists. The new diesel increases power and torque while reducing fuel consumption and noise levels.
In practice, the new engine works well, if not better, than the one it replaces. Around town and the suburbs, the Prado doesn’t feel dull and uninspiring at low speeds like a lot of torque heavy diesels, power delivery is even across the speed range; doesn’t matter if you’re at 40km/h for the school drop-off, or 110km/h on the way down to the coast.
Because it exists as a full-time 4WD, unlike some competitors, you can just turn and drive the Prado straight off-road – all you have to do is indicate. The transfer case doesn’t add any extra strain on the drivetrain, moving on to rough roads and tracks is as easy as driving on the road, the sense of confidence that is inherent with getting behind the wheel of a Prado means that you just have to find the clearest path and press the accelerator. On-road performance isn’t hampered by the full-time four-wheel drive capabilities, road holding is improved and doesn’t feel weighed down by having all four wheels powered at the same time.
This is largely a triumph of the gearbox, which manages to find the right gear for the speed, without overreaching or wringing a lower gear to death. Bumping the automatic up to six gears from the previous five also helped to squeeze some more fuel efficiency, while letting the Prado utilise the full breadth of power delivery available.
The ponderous steering that plagues a lot of large SUVs starts to show at highway speeds, and with a vehicle as large as the Prado you can feel a bit uneasy staying in the lines, but its minor – and given the lightness and ease of the steering around town, it’s a fair compromise.
Downhill assist is standard on the GXL, which helps provide sufficient engine braking and reduces occurrences of wheel lock to travel down on steep hills, especially on loosely packed surfaces off-road. Top trim Kakadu models take the off-road assistance even further to include CRAWL Control, which uses feedback from the cars sensors to operate the wheels independently to get you across a tough part of a track, like soft sand or a deep mud crossing. While it would be good to see this technology form part of the entry and mid-grade models, especially for drivers heading off-road that are a bit too over-confident or don’t have a lot of experience in properly tough off-road conditions.