by Brad Leach - 14/04/10
Critics guffawed when Toyota revealed a three-door model was part of the all-new Prado lineup, 18 years after it last sold the three-door LandCruiser. For Toyota the logic was simple: there’s a market for these vehicles.
Sales growth in this sub-segment of the SUV segment confirms Toyota’s smart thinking.
Toyota reckons go-anywhere adventurers and sports lovers were demanding a vehicle like this; after a week in a Prado three-door, we reckon Toyota might be underestimating the appeal of the ‘Baby Prado’. For starters the rear legroom embarrasses some so-called ‘full-size’ SUVs – so that’s a big tick for families.
Prado three-door is available in two highly-equipped model grades – SX (mirrors the five-door GX) and ZR which gains leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, electronic rear differential lock, CRAWL Control, four-camera Multi Terrain Monitor (MTM) and touch screen navigation amongst a bewildering array of extra features.
Both are powered by Toyota’s 3.0-litre, four cylinder turbo-diesel engine, and both drive through a unique five-speed automatic transmission.
Toyota reckons Prado three-door is ideal for fishing enthusiasts, boating, jet-skis, dirt bikes etc and is backing that market with its 3,000kgs towing capacity (20 per cent more than Prado five-door).
But don’t think this is a basic, lightweight trailer-tower. Inside are the usual Prado luxury/ convenience features and, technically, the Baby Prado has all the goodies to take you just about anywhere.
Toyota improved the 3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel for the latest Prado with new injectors and a front-mounted intercooler for the turbocharger, which provides better cooling efficiency. Compliant with Euro IV emissions standards, it’s a twin overhead camshaft design with twin counter-rotating balance shafts to reduce NVH.
Maximum power is 127kW and peak torque is 410Nm. To compare: Mitsubishi’s three-door Pajero turbo-diesel (you can also buy a petrol version) delivers 147kW/441Nm from its 3.2-litre engine.
For refinement, Toyota has delivered one of the best Japanese diesels with commendably low noise levels at cold start and at all speeds.
A dial is used to electronically control high/low range transfer and ZR models gain a push-button control to select the rear differential lock (included in the CRAWL control extreme off-road package).
First things first – rear seat legroom. We climbed aboard, set our driving position and were astonished at the amount of rear seat legroom the Prado three-door provides – great work from the Toyota designers there and weekend fishing trips with four or five adults are definitely on the agenda for Prado three-door owners.
New Prado has one of the classiest interiors you’ll find this side of European SUVS. Toyota has managed to get the tactile stuff right and everything from the steering wheel to the audio and air-conditioning controls are nice to touch, clearly labeled and simple to use, even when clambering over some tough terrain.
Instruments are the usual two-dials with Toyota’s large seven-inch touch screen for the satellite navigation, air-con and audio on the center console.
The nice, thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel adjusts for rake/reach and, on the ZR model we tested, has remote buttons to control the 12-speaker Pioneer CD/DVD audio system that is Bluetooth and iPod compatible and comes with USB and 3.5mm inputs.
Up front, things are very comfortable and the Prado delivers one of the best driving positions in ‘SUV Land’.
Luggage space is impressive with 1.43 cubic metres available with the second row seats folded flat. Weekend adventurers will also be pleased with the sturdy hydraulic strut to keep the large tailgate open.
Prado’s body-on-frame ladder chassis technology comes straight from the LandCruiser and remains the favoured choice for serious off-roaders. The new-design body is more aerodynamic than the previous Prado and includes front and rear spoilers, front spats, under-body covers and deflectors.
The overall looks, including the three-dimensional vertical grille, are evolutions of the superseded Prado but the new model has gained some noticeable curves around the front quarter panels.
Prado three-door has a 2455mm wheelbase (2790mm for the five-door) and a rear overhang of 1135mm (110mm less than the five-door). It sits 1875mm high which Toyota says is 15mm lower than its predecessor, but our ZR three-door certainly felt like a ‘Tall Boy’ to the Car Showroom team.
For those keen on serious off-road action, Prado three-door affords a 32-degree approach angle and beats the five-door in breakover angle (25 degrees) and departure angle (26 degrees).
First time SUV buyers need not be shy of the Prado three-door. Despite the big step-up to climb inside, all-round visibility is excellent and the ZR model we tested had the high-standard Toyota reversing camera.
As usual for diesel Prados, day-to-day driving was refined and quiet, even when the three-litre turbo-diesel is asked to work hard going up a steep hill or accelerating into freeway traffic.
Around town, some ‘porpoising’ is noticeable when stopping – this is a trait of short wheelbase SUVs and is a compromise for their superior off-road ability. In a similar way, the Prado three-door easily accounted for Melbourne’s tram and train track crossings with just a tad more harshness than the five door.
Over our high-speed mountain roads test route, the knobbly off-road biased tyres performed admirably and the Prado three-door was a competent performer.
But take the Baby Prado into a recreational environment like beach sand and everything falls into place – even towing a heavy boat trailer to where the fish are biting, the Prado three-door will get you there in style. Naturally all of the high-tech driver aids you associate with Toyota for both on-road and off-road driving will help you on the way.
The blokes in the Car Showroom office loved the Prado three-door and during our week with it spent their nights dreaming of that weekend fishing trip and mountain bike adventure. However some of our partners struggled with the weight of the rear door when loading shopping and children’s bikes aboard – they requested a power door opening for the next Prado facelift.
An excellent all-rounder that shows how clever Toyota is at reading the needs of the local SUV market. Prado three-door isn’t just a downscaled five-door, this vehicle will introduce a new world of potential buyers to the Prado family.
At $55,990 (SX) or $65,990 (ZR as tested) it’s not cheap but comes absolutely bursting with high-tech 4WD equipment and very high levels of luxury features.
Mitsubishi’s three-door Pajero is the most direct rival and it’s quite a bit less coin ($47,490 for the entry-level diesel). Pajero offers a petrol engine alternative and the turbo-diesel out-muscles Toyota’s but it’s not quite in the same league for luxury/technology kit and overall the Prado reigns supreme for driving dynamics.
At $35,590, the turbo-diesel Jeep Wrangler presents a commendable American alternative. The Jeep is a pearler off-road but fall short of the Prado for on-road refinement.
It’s a Prado from Toyota so everything works well; surprisingly spacious interior
Muscle-up to open the cargo door in a wind.
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